Though the need is there year round, many charities receive a lot of their support during the holidays.  While some of you may already know where or how you want to donate, the rest of you might not know where to start when its comes to evaluating the charities you come across.  In this post I have decided to use a charity that is a personal favorite of mine as an example for what to look for.  Families Forward (www.families-forward.org), my charity of choice, is a non-profit organization that is based out of Irvine but serves families in all of Orange County.  I chose Families Forward for two reasons:

1.   I believe in their mission and what they stand for, and

2.  My family has been personally involved with their organization for decades, and I can recommend them with confidence.

SO THEN, WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING YOUR CHARITY . . .

⇒  Find a charity that has a Cause or Mission that means something to you.

⇒ Look at their history.  Are they an established charity, or just getting started?  Of course it is okay to donate to a newly established charity, but make sure to do your research.

⇒  Where does your money go?  For example, for every $1.00 donated to Families Forward, $0.90 goes directly to funding programs and services for client families.  Anything above 85% is great, but be sure to keep in mind that newer organizations may have a higher overhead, or that some organizations may have a very good reason for the higher overhead.  Call them to find out why.

⇒  Check out their 990 tax form if you really want to get into specifics.  If you don’t want to go that far, just know that all nonprofit organizations are required to file a yearly report to the IRS, and it should be made available to you.

⇒  When in doubt, ASK.  Give them a call and ask your questions.  Or better yet, get involved and bring your children with you.  Check out Families Forward Adopt-a-Family opportunity HERE.  It’s a great way to get your whole family involved.  And remember, donating your time is sometimes the best donation of all.

⇒  Two websites you might find helpful in evaluating charities are:
(Source:  Oprah Magazine)

charitynavigator.org Rates charities on their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency.  You can also search by a cause if you are not sure what non-profit you are looking for.  (Families Forward has earned Charity Navigator’s top 4-star rating for 7 years in a row.)

givewell.orgA charity evaluator that researches how much good a given program accomplishes per dollar spent.

⇒  Want to focus your energy locally?  I am providing links to three Resource Directories for Orange County, divided by geographic region.  Created by the Office of Care Coordination, these resource guides, while meant primarily as a directory for those in need, serve as a beautiful reminder of what city, county and community can do together.

Pocket Guide Resource Directory – North

Pocket Guide Resource Directory – Central

Pocket Guide Resource Directory – South

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