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How Do I Know If a Charity Organization is Legitimate?

These days, skepticism runs high even when it comes to the motivations for groups that consider themselves charitable organizations or foundations. Accountability and transparency can be hard to come by, but legitimate organizations do exist and it has never been easier to search out not only their missions but also their fiduciary and ethical integrity.

Sure you can do a quick Google search to read up on a company, but be sure to read beyond an organization’s own website and words to get the full picture of all they offer and advertise. To better ensure the true ethos of a group, why not enlist the expertise of a third-party, unaffiliated network to complete your due diligence. 

Below are five organizations that provide rating systems and accountability measures to help you better understand where your hard-earned dollars are going. 

Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau, the gold standard for consumer advocacy, is a long-standing organization that has a list of over twenty standards for charity accountability. Some of these include areas like governance and oversight, avoiding conflicts of interest, measuring program success, finances, fundraising, and privacy issues.  When searching out your preferred charity on their Give.Org database, you can see which standards the charity fails to comply with. 

Charity Watch

Charity Watch, “America’s most independent, assertive, charity watchdog,” touts rating analytics for over 600 charities. Their database grants free access to detailed ratings for top charities, offers insight into which charities pay their executives the most, and offers tips for how to donate and give more effectively. One tip, in particular, urges users to, “ask if the charity is registered by federal, state, and/or local authorities.”

Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator’s website is incredibly intuitive and interactive. Users can search over 160,000 charities and even search specialized lists by category, such as Top 10 Most Followed Charities, Top 10 Charities Worth Watching, and Top 10 Charities with the Most Consecutive 4-Star Ratings. Charity Navigator also offers the conveniences of “the Giving Basket,” which is a feature that allows users to set up recurring donations as well as the ability to give to multiple charities at once. 

Consumer Reports

While Consumer Reports does not have a free searchable database for investigating charities, they do regularly post lists of best and worst charities to support. Consumer Reports also reminds visitors to their site, “By doing this vetting, you can feel more confident that the group you’re donating to deserves your support. Charities differ a lot in how much of the money they raise goes for programs instead of covering the expense of raising money.” Most people who give do so with the idea that their giving will impact the good of the group for whom the charity advocates, not the shareholders, executives, or operational costs.

Guide Star

Guide Star offers a very user-friendly interface for searching the viability and reliability of its database of charitable organizations. Each organization has its mission clearly visible, and summary, programs and results, financials, and operations tabs are clearly visible. There are also appealing graphs that display statistics related to charity like total volunteer hours, membership growth, impact, and participation metrics. In order for an organization to be listed on Guide Star, they have to self-report or update their non-profit profiles. For some organizations, simply filling out the framework may help them to fully articulate their best practices. 


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