The Trust Factor: A Practical Guide for Researching Charities
October 16, 2023
5 min read
You’re ready to take action for a cause you believe in. Now how do you decide which charity to rally behind?
Discovering a charitable cause that resonates with your values and sparks your innate desire to give back is a beautiful thing. But as you set out to translate that passion into action, you’ll quickly discover a multitude of Canadian charities dedicated to championing your chosen cause.
So, the inevitable question arises: how do you choose? How can you pinpoint the organizations that reflect your vision for change? And how can you ensure your contributions reach trustworthy and impactful hands?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, investing time in researching and evaluating these charities is a piece of the puzzle. This checklist equips donors with quick tips and resources to make an informed decision—one that aligns with your charitable vision and magnifies the impact of your giving.
1. Verify their registration
To become a registered charity, an organization must apply to the Canada Revenue Agency and prove their operations are exclusively charitable at law. Thus, confirming registration is an important first step to ensure your donations are directed to legitimate organizations.
Another significant advantage—registered charities can issue tax receipts, while nonprofit organizations cannot.
Use Charitable Impact’s search tool to confirm whether an organization is indeed a registered charity or another type of qualified donee. Any and all Canadian registered charities are regularly updated, allowing you to ensure the organization is legitimate.
2. Check their track record
Charities are legally required to file a Registered Charity Information Return (T3010) to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), offering a wealth of information for the public about charities and their finances.
The T3010s disclose financial information including revenue, expenditures, new and ongoing programs, fundraising activities, executive compensation, fiscal year-end information, and more. You can access the T3010 return for all 86,000+ Canadian registered charities on the CRA website.
Charity Intelligence evaluates over 800 charities using a 5-star rating system. They analyze factors like results reporting, financial transparency, funding needs, efficiency in spending, and social impact. While not exhaustive, Charity Intelligence serves as a solid starting point for your research, if they have a report on the charity that interests you.
3. Review their website
Take a deep dive into the charity’s official website. Look for information about their impact, the areas they support, and any blog posts, videos, or podcasts they may have. Reading their annual report can also provide valuable insights into their operations and achievements.
4. Subscribe to their email list
Becoming a part of a charity’s email community opens the door to regular updates on their latest activities, initiatives, and achievements. This can help you gain insight into their ongoing work and how they are using donations to make an impact.
You’ll also be able to determine if their content and narratives align with your values and beliefs. In essence, subscribing to a charity’s email list is a way to receive a continuous stream of information that will help you make an informed decision.
5. Follow them on social media
Stay in the loop with the charity’s daily work by following their social media accounts, typically easy to find on a charity’s website. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook offer glimpses into their day-to-day activities and how they engage with their community.
You might even stumble upon connections who’ve lent their support or voiced their experience with the charity, who you can communicate with directly for more information or feedback.
6. Reach out to your network
It’s one thing to read about a charity’s work, and it’s another to hear genuine stories from people who’ve seen it in action. Your inner circle can be your most trusted advisors by providing personal anecdotes that paint a vivid picture of the charity’s impact.
Take a moment to connect with the folks in your network who have hands-on experience with the charity you’re exploring. Whether they’ve contributed by volunteering, donating, or are simply familiar with the charity and/or the people within it, their insights can be incredibly valuable.
7. Give them a call
A real, direct conversation can speak volumes. Pick up the phone, call the charity, and request to speak with someone who can address your queries. If the appropriate person is not immediately available, they should return your call within a reasonable amount of time. Gauge their response and the confidence in their answers to determine your level of comfort and trust.
Hands-on involvement provides an intimate understanding of the charity’s work, a chance to meet the individuals behind the cause, and gives you direct access to ask those burning questions. It’s a first-hand experience that will provide you with a deeper understanding of the charity’s mission and operations.
Research is an important layer of the decision-making process, but just a piece of the puzzle. Alongside these practical resources, it’s important to engage in self-reflection. Consider your personal charitable giving goals, motivations, and passions—these are the driving forces that will steer you toward creating a meaningful impact.