What Makes a Good Charity?

Anyone who considers donating their time or money to support a charitable organization hopes and expects that the organization is both efficient and effective.  Here are some attributes to seek if you are a charity, and to look for if you are a donor.

A charity should have a clearly defined mission.  Whether it is to find a cure or alleviate suffering, the mission of the organization should be clear to everyone, which includes the staff, the public, and the media.  If a charity’s name does not express the nature of the mission, then additional efforts will have to be made to build the “brand.” 

A charity should be governed by an active independent board of directors that provides oversight and guidance to professional staff.  The common mantra for board service is time, talent and/or treasure, and please do not micro manage.  Charities are subject to being judged by perception.  A board filled with relatives or related parties creates the wrong impression. 

There should be strong leadership within the organization.  The principal executive should have a dedication to the organization and its mission, and the will and strength to pursue it. 

Staff and the board should be dedicated to implementing and maintaining best practices.  Without limitation, best practices include a working conflict of interest policy, an independent board, and transparency.  Other policies pertaining to record-keeping and availability of financial information should also be in place.

It is also a worthwhile function for charities to constantly project five years out, specifying a goal and selecting what appears to be the best path to achieving the goal.  Strategic planning sessions do not have to be arduous or overwhelming.

Charities should be judged, but only to a certain extent, on efficiency.  Simply looking at fundraising costs alone is not a fair measure.  In order to achieve success, a charity must make investments in people, equipment, and fundraising.  When comparing one organization’s profile with another, a potential donor should make sure he or she is comparing charities that are involved with the same program service and have the same term of existence.

This article is just a short synopsis of what makes a good and effective charity.  Many of these subjects could be developed in much greater detail.  This article is not meant to be all inclusive.