Americans are famously generous to charities.
Appeals arrive throughout the year, but when the holidays approach they may outnumber the greeting cards we all receive. Often the pictures and appeals are compelling, and the packaging slick. Many include small gifts such as labels or stamps. Such appeals make us want to give; indeed, they may make us feel guilty if we do not give.
How is one to judge such appeals and the work they reflect?
Here at the Augusta Warrior Project, we struggle daily with the public’s confusion over similarly named groups or groups that claim to serve the same military population as do we. Not every group with “warrior” in its name is honorable. Not every group with a slick brochure targeting the CSRA spends its money on services in the CSRA.
SOME GROUPS are national, with no local offices or services. Some are primarily fund-raising groups that spend a disproportionate amount of the money they raise to pay friends to do more fund-raising. Sadly, some are outright frauds playing on our desire to give and do good.
There is a way to know if a group is legitimate and to find out where and how it spends its money.
Guidestar.org is an independent website that provides nonprofit agencies the opportunity to publish their tax forms and detail their services. Also, people may go there to rate agencies on their performance.
The standard for nonprofits is to keep their overhead and fund-raising expenses below 15 percent, though up to 25 percent may be considered legitimate under certain circumstances. CharityNavigator.org is a similar website for charities with budgets of more than $1 million.
Here are some other things you can do:
• You can look at an organization’s results. If you can’t find them posted anywhere, consider that a red flag.
• Compare the money they spend on programs and services to the money they spend on overhead and fund-raising.
• Ask yourself how much of each of your dollars you want to pay for their fancy office space and promotional materials. Again, if this figure is hard to find, consider it a red flag.
• Look at the companies behind the nonprofit. Are they reputable? Are they local? If they are not local, your money likely will leave the CSRA. If you’ve never heard of the companies who support them, chances are they may well be the very fund-raising companies hired by the nonprofit!
YOU’VE HEARD the motto “shop local.” The Augusta Warrior Project wants to propose something similar: Give local. Use your head as well as your heart. Give to those you know who will do real good, right here, for people in need.
You need not go outside the CSRA to find those who need assistance. Know the nonprofit you support. Look for the fully transparent organizations, with little to no fund-raising costs, and all overhead under 15 percent.
(The writer is the executive director of the Augusta Warrior Project, www.augustawarriorproject.org.)