Tips for choosing charities

Engage your brain, as well as your heart

If your heart is not touched by a cause you are very unlikely to give away hard earned savings. But you should also carry out some rational analysis to back up the arguments. This should lead to more successful and rewarding decisions.

Stop worrying about overheads

It’s perfectly understandable to be worried about efficiency but analysing overheads is often a misleading way of evaluating this. Charities can save money by cutting corners but in the longer run that will reduce effectiveness. Focus on the ability of the management team, then trust them to spend wisely.

Look at who else is supporting

In the UK we are fortunate to have many highly professional grant making charities. They are inundated with requests for funding, so they are able to pick and choose the best. If you are tempted to support a charity that has failed to attract any funding from these organisations, ask why?

Early intervention pays dividends

In the long run it’s much cheaper to build a fence at the top of a cliff than provide an ambulance when people fall over. Re-election priorities often discourage politicians from funding programmes that do not produce results before the next poll but that provides an opportunity for charities to intervene early at the first sign of trouble ahead.

Look for Matched Giving opportunities

Matched giving happens when someone else promises to top up your donation. It’s valuable for two reasons: it means that the value of your donation is increased and that someone else is sufficiently confident in the programme to provide the matching. A great example is the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

Donations go further in the developing world

For example in Africa:

  • Less than 50p can provide a deworming treatment that will massively improve a child’s quality of life
  • Less than £50 restores sight to a blind person
  • Less than £4,000 saves a life by providing mosquito nets, as well as improving life prospects for many others.
High profile disaster appeals rarely offer the best value

Tragic though these are, in the overall scale of human deprivation disasters are relatively minor. Every day, on average, more than 15,000 children aged under 5 die and most of these deaths are preventable. If you are tempted to support these appeals then check out fts.unocha.org first to see which are most in need of funding.

Where’s the evidence about impact?

It’s an appalling indictment of the Third Sector that few charities can tell you objectively what impact they are achieving. Not only does that make your donation feel less useful, it also makes it near impossible to manage the organisation. Ask for the Impact Report. If it doesn’t exist, be extra careful!