Tips for Finding Reputable Military Charities
There are more than 40,000 charities in the U.S. that support active duty and veteran members of the Armed Forces, and people donate more than $2.5 billion annually to these organizations. So how can you ensure that you are giving your money to a group that will use it wisely and truly benefit military members?
According to Charity Navigator, an online tool that grades charitable organizations, there are a few useful steps that can help you make the most impact with your charitable donation.
- Do your research. Once you have found a military-related cause close to your heart, consider whether a nation-wide charity or a local charity would make the most impact in that arena. For example, a national charity may be more effective in doing research in PTSD, or affecting veteran-related issues in the government. A local charity may have more direct impact on military families in need in your area, or let you help veterans at your local VA hospital.
Make a list of your top charitable organizations, then dig in a little deeper to each. You’ll want to ensure the charity you are considering is a legitimate, tax exempt 501(c)(3) public charity. See what you can find out about the organization’s financial health; organizations more open with their records and governance policies are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities. Documents such as the organization’s form 990 and audited financials statement should be readily available for donors to review. Check out its Board of Directors and look for reputable members.
- Have a conversation with the charity. If you’re looking to support charities set up to make the most impact, take the time to call and speak to a representative about their goals, mission, and successes. This conversation can either help build your confidence or raise red flags. Some beneficial questions to ask include:
- What is your organization’s mission?
- What are your organization’s goals?
- What progress is your organization making towards these goals?
- What sources are available to increase my confidence in your work?
- Check the organization’s rating. Charity Navigator also offers a database of charities that it has reviewed and rated, based on an extensive list of questions and criteria. The site also features a specialized section with reviews of nearly 100 military-related charities, all rated from 0-4 stars, grouped into categories such as wounded troops, military social services, and military family support. Each reviewed charity has its own page with financial performance metrics, accountability and transparency ratings, website overview, stated mission, and similar charities.
If a controversy arises relating to one of the charities, the database may include a CN Advisory – rated low, moderate, or high – based on the credibility and timeliness of the information, the seriousness of the allegations, and whether or not the allegations have been proven to be true. The advisory typically includes an overview of the event or allegation causing the advisory.
- Follow up on your investment. After you’ve made your donation, be sure to follow up with your charity of choice in six months to a year to see how they’re using your money. This does not necessarily mean an itemized list of expenses, but the charity should be able to give you an update on what they’ve accomplished and how they are making an impact. If they can’t give you this overview, you may want to consider finding a new charity for your next donation. If they can give you a successful update, consider making a commitment to support their work for the long term.
Written by Megan Hammons