As people who care about the world and our communities, we have a view of the civil society in which we wish to live. We each have personal values and interests that guide our priorities for making change. Often we choose to engage with partners in the community who carry out this work.
There are over 85,000 charities in Canada of which approximately 75,000 are registered as charitable organizations carrying out charitable activities. It is no easy task to identify charities whose mission match our mission and which are operating effectively.
There are a number of tools to assist with identifying organizations which carry out activities in one’s general interest area – be it environment, health care, social services, education etc. There are tools for purchase, and there are free resources as well to help with this, such as the Canadian Donor’s Guide, Charity Village, Canada Helps and Canada Revenue Agency.
Once we identify charities in our general areas of interest, we can dig deeper to find out about the types of programs that the charities carry out and to hear their stories on how they are having an impact.
People frequently ask me for guidance on how to evaluate a charity. Often they seem to focus on the percentage of a charity’s funds that are used for administration and fundraising. Administration and operating costs are only one aspect of an organization’s effectiveness.
Imagine Canada’s newsletter on the narrative related to fundraising and administration expenses describes how administrative expenses reflect the real cost of operating an organization. Activities that ensure strong governance, accountability, and every day essentials like rent and computers are critical to an organization fulfilling its mission. Fundraising cost ratios are affected by a number of factors like the age, location and public awareness of the organization and the stage and type of fundraising activities they engage in. Because overhead ratios are influenced by so many factors, they are NOT a good way to measure effectiveness.
The real things to look for are whether the charity has good management, whether you believe in the charity’s mission and how the charity is actually having an impact and can show results for making change.