Evaluating Nonprofits

By Deb Dubin, Chief Philanthropy Officer

I’m often asked for the best place to look for unbiased, honest evaluations of nonprofits and their performance. The quick answer: there isn’t one trusted place that you can go to for this information. Seeking some clarity often requires triangulating through a combination of websites and some old fashioned, in-person intuition.

I usually start my nonprofit research with GuideStar (now Candid), which can be used to find data that has not been selectively curated or ranked. It’s a neutral place to look for basic organizational information like asset size. The site also offers a free tax return lookup feature, allowing you to glean insights like how much key employees are paid. It’s not a particularly evaluative resource, however, beyond offering “transparency” grades for the listed nonprofits.

Some donors rely on websites like Charity Navigator (limited to organizations with $1M or more in revenue) which uses criteria like impact and accountability. GreatNonprofits shares crowdsourced reviews by nonprofit clients, donors and employees. CharityWatch (viewed as more of a “watchdog” site), reviews 600 charities with $1M or more in public support.

The caveat to websites like these? While the Internet is a useful and powerful research tool, search results can be manipulated. Data may lag behind the current reality, and crowdsourced reviews coming from nonprofit clients or current/former employees may not consider the whole picture. Meanwhile, grassroots organizations that are doing highly effective work may not appear on these websites at all, due to their smaller size. Most importantly: because evaluators are often not located in proximity to where the work is being done, charity ratings might mask what’s actually happening on the ground.

Often the best way to evaluate nonprofit fitness is to connect within your local community through trusted sources. See who serves on the Board. Look for seasoned nonprofit leaders who value transparency and measurable impact. Show up in person. Ask questions, including “how can I serve?” View your engagement as a partnership.

Clients: With our robust national network, Moneta can be a powerful resource in this process. Reach out when we can be helpful.

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