I’m not going to name any name’s here, although I easily could identify multiple organizations that fit one or more of these categories. I could also add more items to this list, but for the sake of simplicity have narrowed it down to 10 good reasons not to donate to an organization. Please, I beg my readers, don’t give money just because your heartstrings get tugged. Before writing out that check do a little research to make sure that it will truly have the greatest impact possible. Most of the things mentioned on this list can be identified simply by looking at the organization’s website. Others will require a little more effort to discover but it will be worth it to know that your donation will not go to waste. If everyone analyzed their donations based upon a checklist similar to this, then maybe years after the donation we wouldn’t have to be asking “Where’d the aid money go?”
1. Naked Children on Website
See Donate or Siyovle Dies or A Noteable Difference. If you wouldn’t want your kids portrayed that way on someone’s website, than don’t donate to an organization who portrays someone else’s kid’s that way for the sake of invoking pity donations.
2. More Outsiders than Locals on Staff
I will never understand when I look at a website for an organization that’s working in Haiti and everyone on the “Who We Are” section is white. Seriously? But this goes for any organization. If it’s an org working in inner city New York and all the staff is from small town Iowa, then there’s also a problem.
3. The Words “Poor” “Needy” “Starving” or “Less Fortunate” to Describe those Intended to Benefit from their Programs
Similar to #1. If you wouldn’t want those words describing yourself or your family, then don’t support an organization who describes their demographics that way.
4. Based Primarily on Methods of Charity Giving
If your donation just goes to something that gets given away and used up right away, it doesn’t go very far. Invest in programs that are sustainable and create foundations for future development instead.
5. Celebrity Endorsements
Unless the organization is dedicated to teaching acting to kids who don’t have a chance to learn acting than it shouldn’t matter if it’s endorsed by an actor. Same goes for singers, unless it’s about music, it shouldn’t matter that a famous singer supports them. Look to see if the organization is supported by development experts or other quality organizations. (Imagine a photo of Sean Penn, Shakira, and Oprah in Haiti here. I’m not infringing on copyright.)
6. Dependent on a Single Charismatic Leader
If the person in charge is able to get donations just because they’re a smooth talker and shrewd business person, and not on the merits of their programming then you need to be careful of what the donations are going for. Also, if there isn’t a system set up to succeed if that one leader for some reason isn’t able to continue leading suddenly, then the organization won’t survive. See Some NGO Doodles.
7. Financial Reports not Easily Accessible
Any organization that receives tax-deductible donations should have these readily available on their website. Some bury them as far in the website as possible. But any organization can also be looked up on GuideStar and all recent IRS form 990’s can be accessed there. If there are no records even on GuideStar then you should really be concerned. Either they’re trying to hide something or are just crappy at accounting. Either way, not a good place to send your money.
8. Not Supported by Local Authorities
This one probably isn’t easily known through internet research alone, but if you can do the research it can really tell you a great deal about the organization that you’re looking at. Contrary to popular belief, NGO’s really don’t run the world, but many like to think they do. This means that they do their own thing without ever consulting the local authorities (mayors, deputies, police force, development officials, etc.) But those who are able to collaborate with the local leaders are much more effective at using their resources and stretching them as far as possible.
9. Big Buildings, Small Participation
Make sure that the physical structures built, owned, or rented by the organization are justified by the level of activity carried out by that organization and the number of people involved. Far too many donor dollars go to waste by organizations that think that building bigger facilities will lead to more activity but then the spaces go to waste. Make sure that the org is already using every inch of its facilities to their fullest potential and proven the expectation of growth before donating to anymore building.
10. Doesn’t Collaborate with Other Orgs
Similar to #8. If any organization thinks that they can do it all on their own then they will be wasting a lot of money where they could have collaborated with another local organization to make both of their resources reach further. No one can do it on their own. See The Politics of Caring.