Trusting your donation

Importance of trusting, liking, and respecting contribution recipients.

Regardless of how much a cause tugs on your heart and soul, it’s vital to also use your head and gut when making giving decisions—to help ensure that your money does the most good in the right places.

There are many nonprofit organizations that spend a lot of money on TV spots, email campaigns, and the like to make their appeal. While this can drive in huge donations, it also can be a sign that recipient organizations are using far too much of this money to cover marketing and overhead—instead of getting it predominantly to the people needing it most.

A survivor organization-specific malady is that few meet the immediate needs on the injured, traumatized, or bereaved. Many charities have charters that preclude them from giving direct cash payments.  Instead, the funds go to other nonprofits for services and resources the families may or may not need.

This is always a tricky balancing act, but the fact that it occurs regularly is why donors are well advised to use their heads and gut feelings.

Research the prospective nonprofit organization, and get a reasonably accurate picture of who they are, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it. Several steps meriting due diligence are:

  • Do a basic Internet search (including social media and media articles) using the name of the organization, and try pairing that with such search terms as “Google reviews,” “reviews,” “employee satisfaction,” “reputation,” “reports,” and “articles.” Within a few minutes, you likely will be able to get a fair idea of how the organization is viewed in the public eye;
  • Find the organization’s 990 form, detailing a variety of financial information, by going to “[NAME OF ORGANIZATION] 990.” In the case of Survivors Empowered, multiple options come up to review the information. This supplies a wealth of factual, verifiable information from which to vet the organization(s) you’re considering. Information includes Revenue, Expenses, Net Income, Net Assets, Notable Sources of Revenue, Notable Expenses, Assets/Debt, Compensation;
  • Go to one or more of the vetting organizations, such as Candid’s GuideStar or Charity Navigator and search by organization name. This may prove very valuable or it could bring up relatively small amounts of useful information;
  • Contact the nonprofit directly to ask more questions (e.g., how to target a donation to a specific activity, event, or group) and confirm information found elsewhere. The degree to which the organization is willing and able to be forthcoming and helpful will further cement an overall assessment.

A late 2023 NPR report adds a couple other vetting insights: “How to donate to a charity with purpose and intention…If you’re wondering which organizations to support or how much money to donate, Kevin Scally of Charity Navigator has some advice to help you make the right decisions…Make a list of the issues you care about…Get a pen and paper and ‘take inventory of [the causes that] matter to you,’ your family, your local community ‘and the greater global community,’ says Scally. This exercise can help you narrow down the list of issues you care about and make your philanthropy more strategic.”

The NPR report adds: “If you’re not sure about what to jot down, think about challenges you’d like to help overcome. Maybe you had ‘a family member that was afflicted by a chronic illness,’ he says. Is there some way to support them? Or look at ‘the political and social events that are happening. How do you want to give back? In what specific way?…Be wary of any fundraising schemes that seem urgent or predatory,’ says Scally.”

Armed with this due diligence, you can determine how well the nonprofit addresses the thoughts in your head and feelings in your gut—as well as your heart and soul—enabling confident, informed decision-making.

For Survivors Empowered, the best initial contact is Executive Director Penny Okamoto: cell/text 503-984-4152; She also can put interested parties in touch with founders Sandy and Lonnie Phillips.

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