Archived Story

Tips for dealing with charities

Published 5:11am Sunday, May 11, 2014

I had a call about a month ago from a woman in our community who was concerned about calls from organizations asking for money. This is something I have heard of for many years and is more common than most of us realize.

Many times the stories are compelling and the person calling is good at their job and can draw people in, but it is important for people to understand there are questions that should be asked about any nonprofit organization, especially ones you haven’t heard of.

1. Ask them how their funds are spent. You can ask about overhead expenses, but a better question to ask is how much funding is directed toward programming and what the programs do as well as the population they are serving (such as children, people in poverty, high school graduates, etc.).

2. Ask where the money is directed. Many people want funds to stay in their community or to go to a particular cause. United Ways are part of a system that allows people to designate to different areas across the state and the nation. Many nonprofits operate in this way.

3. Ask if they are listed on GuideStar or if you happen to be by your computer, check to see if they’re listed. All 501(c)(3) organizations are required to fill out a 990 and the information is then posted on the GuideStar site:

4. Please, please, please do your research and call the local affiliate (if there is one) or reach out to the organization’s central office so you can have a better understanding of what the vision and mission of the program is before you write out your check. We tend to give when we’re in the moment, but being intentional is so important. And if you have an opportunity, find a way to volunteer — you will learn so much and you will feel happy that you are supporting an organization where you have seen the impact it has made.

5. It is OK to say “no.” Organizations are always looking for funds so they can do even more outreach but everyone needs to have a limit to what they can give out. I have heard stories of people who are so generous they get into financial difficulty — that should never be the case. You are not a bad person if you choose to donate to a specific cause. And if you can’t give financially, giving of your time or talents is just as valuable.


Ann Austin

executive director

United Way of Freeborn County

Albert Lea