Many philanthropy experts frown on picking a charity based on how little money it spends on overhead.
But if a donor can’t rely on that simple, easy-to-obtain measure, what can a person use to sort good nonprofits from bad?
Three nonprofit experts—Jacob Harold of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang of Indiana University—offered their advice during an online discussion hosted this week by The Chronicle and The Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Harold pointed to several Web sites that share information on nonprofits: GreatNonprofits, Philanthropedia, GiveWell, and Social Impact Research. He said that community foundations can be a good place to start when seeking advice on giving locally.
Mr. Harold advised donors to seek out groups that are clear about what they want to achieve.
“If an organization says, ‘We’re going to end poverty,’ I tend to be pretty skeptical,” he wrote. “But if they say, ‘We’re going to train 10,000 people in East L.A. and ensure that 4,000 of them get jobs between now and the end of 2013,’ I’m a bit more inclined to think they’ll use philanthropic donations well.”
Ms. Shang said she’s suspicious of groups that claim to spend nothing on fund raising. Mr. Sargeant advised donors to look at the other sources of a nonprofit’s money.
All three experts talked about finding a balance between passionate and smart giving.
Mr. Sargeant encouraged people to “maximize” the pleasure of holiday giving by focusing on “causes or issues that are dear to you at this time of year and look[ing] for the organizations that are doing the most meaningful work in that area.”
Mr. Harold quoted the advice of Philanthropedia, the ratings site: “Choose issues with your heart and choose organizations with your head.”