How to Vet a Charity

Published on: Feb 28, 2019
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If you are inclined to make charitable donations, be aware that there are a million-plus legitimate charities that Americans can support, but countless other “charities” that are actually fraudulent shell organizations. Frequently, they use similar names to purposely trick contributors into thinking they are well-known charities. Before you give, make sure your chosen organization is not only legit but aligned with your values and the way you believe a charity should be run.1

This is no small task, as charitable organizations aren’t always as transparent as they might be. Many times, their financial records available to the public can be years out of date. Even if they are current, not many people can analyze financial documents with clear understanding. Plus, it’s not always clear what acceptable metrics can be used to compare against charitable organizations’ financial proclivities. In fact, some of the more trustworthy charities may direct more of their donations to their stated cause rather than updating their website with clear and accurate information. This presents a quandary for the uninformed giver, as good charities may spend more time helping others while slick, sophisticated-seeming organizations may use donations less efficiently.2

It’s important to be an informed giver, whether writing a check for thousands of dollars or dropping change in a local fundraising jar. Vigilant vetting is an important part of philanthropy. Be sure to get the full name of the prospective charity soliciting your money, because the first and easiest line of defense is to conduct a Google search using the name of the charity plus words like “scam” or “complaint.” For more in-depth investigating, check out the following government and charity watchdogs to research a specific organization:3



As for general guidelines, it’s a good idea to have in mind the cause or charity you’d like to support rather than be swayed by a cold solicitation. If you do get a call, email or mail request from a charity with which you’re not familiar, don’t feel rushed into making a contribution. There’s no reason a legitimate charity should try to pressure you to pledge money before you have a chance to do your own research; it should be willing to take donations at any time.4

Bear in mind that many legitimate charities contract with outside telemarketers to make these types of calls, so a portion of your contribution will go to pay that marketing organization. Consider if that’s how you’d like your charitable gift to be used.5


William P. Barrett. Forbes. Dec. 11, 2018. “How To Check Out a Charity Before Giving” Accessed Jan. 18, 2019.

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