How Do I Know I’m Supporting a Good Charity?

September 25, 2014
Katie Heller, Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO staff

There are a number of meaningful ways to show your support for people with cancer, from wearing an awareness ribbon to personally caring for a family member or friend who is going through treatment. With these types of actions, it’s easy to see the effect you are having—educating a coworker who asks about your ribbon or getting a “thank you” from a friend you drive home from chemotherapy.

When you make a donation to a cancer-focused charity, however, the impact of your contribution can be less clear. Where exactly are your dollars going? It’s important to be savvy with your giving because you want to ensure your money is put to good use and not misspent.  Here are some tips for identifying top-notch charities that will use your funds wisely.

1. Do your research.

It may sound strange, but a great first step is to confirm your charity is actually a charity. You also should make sure it’s the one you’ve decided to support. Double check the name, and keep an eye out for sound-alike organizations that have purposely chosen names similar to well-respected charities. Once you’ve confirmed the name, address, and phone number, research your chosen charity online or call to request printed materials. Also ask about 501(c)3 status, which marks an organization as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

2. Ask questions.

Did you know that charities are required to provide information about their activities and finances? That’s why they publish annual reports. Reach out to the charity with any questions you might have: Who runs the organization? What is the charity’s vision? How will your dollars be spent? The staff should be happy to assist you. If the answers you receive are vague or unsatisfactory, you may want to think twice before donating.

3. See what others have to say.

You can look up whether or not a charity is legally registered via the Internal Revenue Service or through the National Association of State Charity Officials. In addition, check out external validators like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, or other watchdog groups that evaluate charity quality and monitor overhead costs. Just keep in mind that while these resources are useful, their ratings are not the only, or even the most important measure of a charity’s success. It’s best to use them in combination with your own research. Also consider asking your social networks: Which charities do your family and friends support and why?  

4. Decide what you want to support.

Think carefully about what you really want to support. Is it research? Care packages for patients? Your local hospital or health care provider? Decide how you want your funds to have an impact, and then make sure the organization supports these types of programs. Not all charities approach problems in the same way, so you want to be sure you choose one that funds the activities you find most valuable.

“If you don’t have anything particular in mind, consider where you’ll get the most ‘bang for your buck.’ Look for a reputable charity guided by cancer experts that has a wide reach in funding high-quality programs, resources, and research. They will also be able to direct your donation to an area of greatest need,” said Thomas A. Marsland, MD, FASCO, Development and Fundraising Committee Chair for the Conquer Cancer Foundation, the foundation that supports Cancer.Net and ASCO’s patient education programs.

5. Talk with your doctor.

You already know that your doctor is an excellent, trusted source of information when it comes to illnesses such as cancer, and this is no different! Your doctor will know, and perhaps even be involved with, worthwhile charities in his or her field. This is especially true if you are interested in donating to a local charity or your local care provider or hospital. Doctors often know more about how the work of a particular charity affects patient care than anyone else. And, even if your doctor is unsure, he or she will likely have a strong network of colleagues and experts to ask and get back to you.

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