Not all charities are created equal. That became abundantly clear for reporters at the Tampa Bay Times, who spent the better part of the past year investigating “America’s Worst Charities” in partnership with The Center for Investigative Reporting. So at the behest of readers, who expressed overwhelming concern about where their charitable donations were going, the Times and the CIR teamed up to create an online tool that makes charity research a little easier. Charity Checker is the first website that aggregates ratings and reviews from some of the most prominent online watchdogs — BBB Wise Giving Alliance, CharityNavigator, GreatNonprofits and GuideStar — and publishes the results in one place. While not every one of the 1.6 million charities in the U.S. are included, most of America’s largest and most popular causes are covered, giving citizens a starting point for making informed decisions about how to donate their money.
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In today’s connected world, it’s too easy to be duped by charities that actually do very little to help the causes they claim to support. “We learned that it’s sometimes extremely difficult to tell the good charities from the bad,” Chris Davis, investigations editor for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote in a piece introducing Charity Checker. “Some of the nation’s most wasteful charities pick names that mimic popular organizations. Others use accounting gimmicks to overstate the good they’re doing.”
So how can you prevent giving to fraudulent causes? One way is through research, although, many citizens don’t have the time to spend hours pouring over an organization’s financial statements or investigating a charity’s board members, nor do they know what red flags to look for. Charity Checker does some of the work for you, by posting a “Donor Advisory” on charities that are flagged in negative news stories or are on the Times-CIR list of the 50 Worst Charities. Users can also click through from Charity Checker to original data sources to read more in-depth analyses from watchdog groups, or contribute their own experiences on GreatNonprofits to help shift the conversation. It may not be perfect, but Charity Checker is an easy-to-use tool that was a long-time coming. Hopefully, the more people use it to research the causes they want to support, the easier it will be to direct your dollars to the causes you care about.
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