How to Choose a Charity When Giving

Did you know the average person makes 24% of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?  This means charities receive 41% of their donations in the last few weeks of the year.  This is why Americans, among the most generous people on the planet, are overwhelmed with requests to support an infinite number of causes.

With over 1.5 million charities in existence throughout the United States, how does one receive the highest impact or return on investment with their gift? 


Donors should take the time to ensure their hard-earned dollars are going to the most efficient and effective causes close to their hearts. Here are some tips and resources donors should be familiar with as they make their end-of-year gift:

Charity Navigator suggests researching the charity for its fiscal responsibility, ethics and effectiveness. There are ways to examine a charity’s finances. 

The charity should have an

  • Audit
  • Tax form (i.e., Form 990)
  • Annual report readily available on its website to make a review user-friendly

Ensure a charity is accountable and transparent. Charities that are open books and follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities. 

Look for signs of effectiveness. The charity’s ability to bring about long-lasting and meaningful change in a community is the key reason for its existence and for your donation. Make sure you find evidence of its impact. Many times, this is what an annual report brings to light.


A key indicator of a charity’s position is if it is credentialed.  Ask if the charity is currently accredited in its field by a bona fide and relevant accreditation body. It either is or isn’t.

Does the charity have strong leadership? Good charities usually have formidable leaders, more so even than in the for-profit sector. Look for a charity with a dynamic, proven leader. Organizations with high turnover usually struggle, and the inability to retain quality leadership is often a red flag for instability. Avoid charities that don’t change their board leadership on a regular basis or where turnover of their chief executives is frequent.

Prior to making end-of-year gifts, research a charity on the following websites:

Charity Navigator touts itself as the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities.  It examines a charity’s financial health and its accountability and transparency.  It uses a 4-star designation for its top-rated charities.

GuideStar Candid states that it is the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations. It provides information about each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance and more. It uses a Platinum Seal for its top-rated charities.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) rates national charities through its affiliated website and some local charities on a state-by-state basis. South Carolina does not rate local charities. However, accreditation of businesses, including charities, is another level of scrutiny for trust and integrity. In addition, the business or charity may earn BBB’s highest rating of A+.

GreatNonprofits states that it is the leading platform for community-based stories about nonprofits and uses an individual-based rating system.  Stories and reviews are typically submitted by clients, donors, volunteers and others.  Top-rated charities receive a badge and certificate based on a minimum level of positive reviews.

Local reviews may also assist the donor with its overall impression of the charity. Publications such as Charleston City Paper, The Post and Courier and Mom’s Choice offer “Best Nonprofit” or similar polls throughout the year. While these are popularity-based, they do have merit.


At Charleston Animal Society, we have worked very hard at becoming South Carolina’s most honored charity 11 years in a row.  The Animal Society has consistently earned top rankings. In addition, the Animal Society has been named Best Nonprofit by every poll it has entered, including Charleston Magazine, Charleston City Paper, The Post and Courier, Lowcountry Paws, Moultrie News, Mt. Pleasant Magazine and Mom’s Choice.   

The Animal Society was the first combined animal shelter and clinic in the entire Southeast to earn the coveted American Animal Hospital Association accreditation and one of only two nonprofits to earn this distinction at the time. Its highly credentialed staff are unmatched by any other animal organization in South Carolina and most in the country.

All of this takes a tremendous amount of time and hard work to earn the community’s trust. The Animal Society is committed to the highest standards of excellence and believes that the animals it cares for and our community deserve nothing less.

This holiday season, remember to do your homework before giving and thank you for your generosity, trust and confidence.