“How to Evaluate Charities”- by Patricia Terstenyak

Fancy envelopes.  Attention-getting email subject lines. Emotional testimonies.  Charities are clever to solicit monetary donations; they constantly need to balance their fundraising and mission efforts.   For example, at a recent trip to an environmentally conscious hair salon, when you made a donation to help build sustainable and safe drinking water programs in Africa, you’ll get a candle as a token of appreciation.  The candle smells great and who can’t use another candle in their home?  Did I ask the receptionist about the water program evaluation methods?  No.  Do I remember the exact geographic area where they are developing this program?  No. Is safe drinking water a global public health concern?  Yes.  Why would I not want to help an underserved area?  Building on the last blog post from Julie Merker, how do we evaluate charities, specifically how do we make informed decisions on charitable contributions?

Non-profit organizations, local and national, rely on financial donations for sustainability.  There are several watchdog agencies like Charity Navigator that rate organizations and have helpful hints about making donations.  These tips include: make concentrated gifts, have a conversation with the staff, and request their financial records.  Is that information to know how your money is making a difference?  This places the bulk of the responsibility on the individual donor, but is there a way to increase the transparency and accountability of non-profits?  How can non-profits clearly communicate their program goals, objectives, and outcomes that make sense to the public?

What does all of this have to do with research and the Community Research Scholar Initiative?  Everything! As we cultivate relationships between the research community and community-based programs, we hope to see more robust program evaluation data which in turn can help non-profits make a stronger case for donations.