Confident Donors Ask These Three Questions

An insider expert shares tips on how to assess a charity.

During Ramadan, campaigns seeking donations flood your Instagram feed. YouTube ads depict heart-wrenching scenes from overseas. You are emotionally moved and ready to donate. Before clicking the donate button, you wonder if your money will get to the people that need it.

This article will not help with “impulse donations”, in those cases, assume the best.

Steven Hernandez, Compliance Specialist, has provided tips on how to evaluate a charity. He has over ten years of experience in the non-profit industry. He runs “Steven Hernandez Non-profit Fundamentals” on Youtube and Instagram. Steven shared his top three questions to ask when assessing a charity.

What percentage of donations are going directly to the program?

This is the question to ask. Instead, many people ask, “How much are the administrative fees?” assuming that admin fees are the total overhead. If a company has 10% administrative fees, it is false to assume that 90% is going towards the program. Overhead includes administrative fees, fundraising, management fees, and general fees.

Overhead fees are a nuanced subject and should be taken into context. A separate article dedicated to this topic is coming. In the meantime, keep in mind that there is always a cost to doing “business”, even if that business is charity work. International organizations have fees like customs, accounting, and lawyers. Also, the bigger the project, the more complex, the more experts are needed and they need to be paid a living wage.

There are different opinions on how much funds should go towards programming. According to Charity Watch, if at least 75% of funds go to programming, the charity receives an A- rating or above.

How effective are their programs?

Even if overhead fees are zero, programs still need to be effective. Most charities will have their numbers on their website or can easily provide them. It may look like:

$3k raised, 1000 people fed.

20 families received houses

30 cataract surgeries

When measuring effectiveness, there is usually qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative is much harder to express. Some services can be more complicated. Like the overhead fee above, take numbers into context. For example, if ten people received job training in Yemen, how many landed a job within six months or a year? Since jobs are hard to come by in Yemen, maybe 3 out of 10 is acceptable.

"Ultimately, donors wield the power with their voice, their dollars, and their time. " - Steven Hernandez, Compliance Specialist

Is the charity integrated with the local community?

A problem needs to be understood before it can be fixed. Charities can cause secondary, unintentional issues by gliding in from across the ocean to fix a problem, intentions be damned. A popular example is Tom’s shoes. They had a “one for one” program. You buy a pair of shoes and they will donate a pair of shoes. However, doing so does not address the root issue and it had potential consequences like putting local shoemakers out of business.

Look for an organization that is well integrated into the community and in talks with local leaders, activists, the general population it is serving, and the government. Effective organizations listen to the people they serve and collaborate to develop solutions.

Many charities have blogs and social media accounts where they discuss these topics. If not, here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  • Which local organizations do they work with?

  • Do they work with government officials or activists in the country?

  • How do they decide which projects to take on?

  • How do they engage with the people they are serving?

  • How do they measure and track success?

Get involved and be heard

Many Yemeni-Americans are avid donors and still contact their families back home. Donors can give a voice to the people of Yemen through their feedback to charities. It can help guide the charities on what the people of Yemen want and need.

While large benefactors undeniably have a strong influence on charities, small donors can have a voice too. Those that volunteer can shape programs and introduce ideas. If the non-profit does not have volunteer opportunities available, you can informally volunteer by leveraging social media. Fundraising is critical for all non-profits. Starting a fundraising campaign within your network takes just a couple of clicks on Facebook. Those that amplify the non-profit on social media by liking, reposting, and regularly commenting on campaigns, position themselves to be very valuable to that organization.

Smaller donors making recurring contributions are influential too because, over months and years, those donations add up and are reliable. Charities already expect smaller donors to be very invested in their hard-earned dollars so do your research and offer feedback. You can send in emails, call in, or comment on social media posts to make suggestions that you think will be beneficial. Equally important, let them know what a great job they are doing when you see projects you think are great.

The work of charities in Yemen is critical. Do your homework. The next time Ramadan comes around (or giving Tuesday), have your list of go-to charities and donate with generosity and confidence.

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