Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How To Pick a Charity

Some of you may remember we had a recent book discussion in the Let's Talk Bread series run by Bread for the World members in Oak Park, IL. The last one was centered on Paul Colliers' book, "The Bottom Billion." One of the aspects of the discussion seemed rather timely as many of us prepare for making decisions about end of year giving. The question came up, "How do you pick a charity for your donations?"

I'll admit to not having read "The Bottom Billion" (I just acquired it yesterday), but we talked about the idea that to solve the thorny problems of extreme global poverty, risks must be taken. The same old solutions are not working, so some organizations are going to have to go out on a limb and probably make some mistakes. Other solutions that are working need to be scaled up in order to build capacity and reach the bottom billion people. In either case, risk-taking or capacity-building, that doesn't bode well for the criteria many of us use for deciding where we give our donation dollars. Program expenses and administrative expenses are data points we look at when we use tools like Charity Navigator to help us know how a prospective charity might use our hard-earned cash. But if a good org is scaling up, might it look like it has abnormally heavy administrative costs for a while? If a ground-breaking org is taking risks, would those numbers look pretty iffy when it makes mistakes?

What do you think? How do you pick a charity? Will you use different criteria this year? Feel free to shamelessly plug your favorite charities here!