Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.
Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.
Yet most people make their decisions to give to charity based on little more than bumper sticker slogans and carefully spun information from professional and volunteer spokespersons trained to appeal to us in the hope that we will reach for our checkbook even without thoroughly vetting the worthiness, impact and relevance of their cause.
So how can we become better informed and more responsible donors? It may require a little work, but it is really not that difficult to pull the curtain back and let some much needed light shine in on charities.
Perhaps the single most reliable and comprehensive source of information about a charity comes from its annual IRS Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax) which most charitable organizations are required to file each year. Religious organizations such as synagogues are not mandated to file a 990 but most other 501(c)(3) organizations are. To find a 990 for a charity, go to www.guidestar.org and sign in if you have used Guidestar before or create a free account for instant access to their database of tax returns on more than 1 million charitable organizations.
The IRS partners with Guidestar to make all 990s available to the public for examination. Charities are required to provide the public with a hard copy of their 990 upon request, but looking online is fast, convenient and free.
What will you find on a 990? Just about everything you could possible want to know. The form includes extensive information about an organization’s demographics, mission and purpose, financials (revenue, expenses, assets and balance sheet), fundraising expenses, cost to raise a dollar, program services and accomplishments, board of directors and management, compensation of key employees, compliance with policies and procedures that help determine the organization’s willingness to be transparent, how they use their money, and much more.
Donors should spend as much time researching the performance and impact of charities as they do evaluating the performance and features of their next smartphone. As with all consumer choices, the watchword for charitable giving at all times is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. And with resources like Guidestar and other tools that help donors make wise choices, there is no excuse to send money to any but the most effective organizations, which fulfill missions that touch the hearts and the minds of donors. For the sake of those who truly need your support, please give – but give wisely not just on Giving Tuesday but every day.