07/09/2014 05:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Choose a Worthwhile Organization

It's hard to accept the fact that an organization to which you choose to dedicate your time and service may not be the worthwhile organization you originally thought it to be. Fortunately, most philanthropic organizations are wonderful, well-intentioned organizations that truly care about the people they help as well as people who work tirelessly for them.

What Makes a Worthwhile Organization?

Confirming the authenticity of an organization, especially before you donate money, should be your top priority when choosing which charitable organizations you wish to help. If you are suspicious of a certain organization's legitimacy, you can do one or more of the following:
  • Check the organization's CRA, BBB or IRS status (politely asking representatives about the organization's credentials may not give you accurate information).
  • Research online to find out if the organization has a website and a physical street address.
  • Does the organization have a clear mission statement delineating its goals and common purpose?
  • Does the organization freely offer detailed policies that establish expectations, advocate financial accountability and transparency and specify policies regarding internal operational procedures?
Additionally, the IRS lists tax-exempt, philanthropic organizations as those organizations operating for the purpose of:
  • Providing help for the underprivileged, distressed or poor
  • Advancing science, education or religion
  • Maintaining or constructing monuments, buildings and other significant works
  • Reducing tensions in neighborhoods
  • Eliminating discrimination and prejudice
  • Defending civil and human rights
  • Improving deterioration of a community
Why are Some Organizations Not So Worthwhile?

Sometimes we miss "red flag"warnings that indicate an organization may not be operating ethically because we find it hard to accept such dishonest agencies exist. Alternately, some not so worthwhile organizations may actually run a legitimate agency but be so disorganized and severely understaffed that working for or donating to them is simply not constructive or helpful to others in need.

Be aware of the following warning signs that an organization may not be what it purports to be:
  • If the name of the organization is similar to the name of another well-known agency.
  • If all they offer for an address is a number
  • If representatives use high-pressure tactics for donations
  • If organization members are unwilling to provide information about their IRS status
  • If they come door-to-door asking for donations (read the Tips for Cash Giving section for some guidance)
When You Know You've Picked the Right Organization

Volunteering to help an organization or donating funds when you can't volunteer makes anyone feel warm and "fuzzy" inside. These strong, positive emotions give life meaning when it may seem, at times, that a sense of meaning and purpose is eluding you. When you choose to volunteer for an organization, it should feel like you are being encouraged by fellow members to utilize your talents and strengths as much as possible to benefit others less fortunate. Worthwhile organizations will also contribute to achieving personal growth goals, teach a deep understanding about cultural differences, allow you to make profound, lifelong friendships and help you gain insight into yourself, others and the human condition.


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