Several Web sites can help you research a nonprofit organization, its mission, finances and fund-raising efforts. Here’s a few resources to get started:
(*Update: Here are examples of the kind of story you can find by looking at nonprofits’ tax forms: ‘Charity paid leaders $2.5M,’ ‘Recession squeezes private foundations, nonprofits,’ and ‘Watchdog groups urge nonprofits to account for money spent on fundraising’.)
GuideStar lets you
search for a charity’s most recent Form 990s — the financial
disclosure forms that certain nonprofit organizations must file
annually with the Internal Revenue Service. Generally, only charities
with annual expenses of more than $25,000 must file 990s. All private
foundations must file the documents.
Charity Navigator rates the financial health of more than 5,000 popular U.S. charities. It also has tips and resources such as “6 Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating” and “A Donor’s Bill of Rights.”
Check the database of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Charitable Organizations. It maintains information on over 10,000 charities that are registered to solicit donations within Pennsylvania. I understand the database is a little out of date.
A newer charity-research site is GiveWell, which focuses less on financials and more on how well the programs affect the people they serve.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal
also notes that it’s smart to see whether a charity’s progress has ever
been evaluated by a third party, rather than just the charity itself.
For example, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability lets you search its Web site for its members, which are Christian nonprofit organizations. Membership means a charity has gone through the ECFA accreditation process and complied the
agency’s standards for financial accountability, ethical fundraising and sound