How to evaluate a nonprofit

Evaluating a nonprofit can be a monumental task. According to data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States. These range from organizations dedicated to protecting the environment to organizations dedicated to disease research. With so many nonprofits in the country, knowing

With so many types of nonprofits out there, knowing all of these details when you evaluate a nonprofit can feel impossible.

We know how important it is for donors to find nonprofits they want to support. After all, the first step in donating to a nonprofit is finding the nonprofit with a cause you support. You don’t have to do the hard work of evaluating a nonprofit alone though. We’ve compiled a list of helpful resources, websites, tips, and strategies you can use to make finding the right nonprofits easier for you.

Online tools to help you evaluate a nonprofit

Your first stop when it comes to evaluating a nonprofit is simply parsing the data. There are plenty of online tools available that give you details on nonprofits. Our website breaks down nonprofits into 26 distinct categories, ranging from animals to mutual assistance. 

Other sites give a more global view of nonprofits. You can find a comprehensive list of all currently registered nonprofits from the IRS. Sites like Charity Navigator provide lists of nonprofits along with recommendations.

If you’re looking for more specific information on a nonprofit, turn to sites light GuideStar or Charity Watch. These types of sites compile and summarize publicly available data on nonprofits for potential donors.

Understanding the difference between a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4)

One important caveat to keep in mind when you evaluate a nonprofit is whether they’re a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4). We’ve written about this in detail before, but to keep it short and sweet: 501(c)(3)s have limitations on the type of direct political action they can take versus 501(c)(4)s. We solely work with nonprofits classified as 501(c)(3)s. These organizations can’t directly endorse candidates or participate in other forms of direct political action. Instead, they focus more on education, advocacy, and direct community support.



How to evaluate a nonprofit's missions and goals

Once you’ve found a nonprofit supporting a cause you believe in, the next step is to evaluate their mission. Start by asking yourself what’s most valuable to you. With millions of nonprofits operating in the US, you’re sure to find one that matches your values.

Determining what ideal goals you have for your donations first helps you narrow down your choices. A simple exercise that can help move the needle is by jotting down your values. Once you’ve defined what you believe in, compare and contrast that with an organization’s mission statement and stated goals. 

Here are some other great resources for finding new nonprofits:

  1. – for advancing and mobilizing positive action for Black lives.
  2. Charity Navigator – described as a guide to intelligent giving
  3. – Tax Exempt Organization Search
  4. National Council of Nonprofits
  5. Nonprofit Explorer from ProPublica

Evaluating a nonprofit's size and scope

Next, when you evaluate a nonprofit, think about attributes like size and scope of work. Some donors love contributing to big organizations with tons of staff members and big goals. Other donors love supporting smaller organizations that contribute more directly to the causes they support. There’s no wrong answer to which type of organization you should support, it’s all about identifying your values and finding an organization that connects. 

You should weigh the pros and cons of a nonprofit’s size. Big organizations might have more staffing and more funds to spend on their cause. Keep in mind, a big staff and national presence might increase the amount of money being spent on business-related expenses like salaries and office space.

While smaller organizations might have fewer staff members and bring in fewer donations, they might also spend more in local communities or commit more funds directly to their causes.

We work with both, small and large, nonprofits. Whether you’re looking for a dedicated two-person team or someone with offices in every major city, you’ll find them. 

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Evaluating a nonprofit's accomplishments means more than how much money they raise.

When someone donates to a nonprofit or charitable organization, they hope it succeeds. However, the measure of success looks different to everyone. It’s also not always directly tied to money raised.

When you evaluate a nonprofit, instead of focusing solely on money raised, broaden your search and ask deeper questions like:

  • How many people would the ideal nonprofit help a year?
  • How much work should a nonprofit do in a year?
  • How do you measure the quality of work nonprofits do?
  • Does this nonprofit have growing goals or are they fine staying their current size?

For example, if you’re interested in helping out a local theater group you might be less interested in growth. Instead, you might want to know more about how their funds are spent. 

On the flip side, if you’re interested in fighting climate change, you might want a fast-growing organization. You might also want an organization that spends more money on advocacy.

Once you know what you’re looking for, take a look at what info they have publicly available. You can directly request key tax documents on nonprofits straight from the IRS.

If you’re not looking for financial information, almost all nonprofits share success stories on their social media channels or website. You can use these as valuable resources as you’re evaluating a nonprofit’s success. Seeing first-hand what a nonprofit is doing with their money and who they’re helping might inspire you to start giving or to stop giving and switch to a different nonprofit.

Putting it all together

Now that you’ve done your research, you can start donating to your nonprofit! Most people choose to give monthly gifts to their nonprofit, but there are lots of ways to give back. You can try RoundUp donations, making one-time gifts each year, donating physical goods, or in some cases even writing a nonprofit into your will. It’s up to you how you donate, but whatever you do, your nonprofit is sure to love it!

Thank you for reading

How to evaluate a nonprofit

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