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When people donate financially to a nonprofit organization, it’s understandable they would want to make sure their money is going to a good cause.

Mark Flash, executive director of the Lake Health Foundation in Concord Township; Katie Collin Moore, gift planning officer at the Cleveland Foundation in Cleveland; and Natalie Leek-Nelson, president and CEO of Providence House in Cleveland, all said one of the most important questions a potential donor can ask before giving away their money is if the nonprofit is a registered 501(c)(3) organization with the IRS, which would confirm the nonprofit’s legitimacy. Another option suggested by the experts is using a website that tracks nonprofits to find out how effective the organization is.

“I think, obviously, people want to give where their hearts are, I think they want to ask what are the results of the organization,” Leek-Nelson said. “Who are you helping? How many people or animals or whatever are you helping? What results are you achieving with the dollars that I’m giving you and can you prove that to me? I think a lot of people that are looking for organizations to donate to, an easy thing to do is to go to GuideStar or Charity Navigator and look them up.”

Flash said potential donors also need to ask themselves certain questions, as well.

“I guess first of all they need to ask themselves a couple of questions,” Flash said. “Why are they making the donation and what impact do they want to make? Is this an emotional gift? Are they thankful maybe for some medical care or education or something like that? Are they doing it for a financial reason, for taxes or estate reasons? Or do they want recognition, do they want their name on a building or department or something like that? That is one of the questions they should ask themselves before going into something: why are they doing it, what are they trying to accomplish?”

Collin Moore said it’s important that donors do their own research before giving any money.

“What donors should be doing when they’re thinking about making their next gift, is starting with some research of their own and really thinking about what they want to accomplish with their philanthropy,” Collin Moore said. “Whether they come up with some broad topics or something a little more specific, which can really help guide them as they’re doing research. And then as they are looking at actual nonprofit organizations, there are a number of tools they can look at then to see what they’ve come up with as some of their goals. Does it match some broad topics that an organization might have on their website or have listed on GuideStar or Charity Navigator that can help an individual understand if an organization might be a good fit for them? But it has to start with the donor or prospective donor doing some real research on their own as to what’s really important to them.”

Another thing to consider, Flash said, is the choice between donating to a national organization or a local organization.

“If it’s national, a lot of times they really don’t see where their money’s going, they don’t see the impact that it’s making,” said Flash, who also noted many national nonprofits have a local presence. “If they do give on a local level, they can really see the impact they’re making. That’s a bit harder at the national level.”

Leek-Nelson also recommended not just using one’s heart when deciding to make a donation.

“It’s pretty straightforward but I do think it’s really important (you) just don’t let your heart lead on all of this,” she said. “Make sure you are doing the research and finding organizations that are really being good stewards of the gift. Everybody is giving because they want their dollars to help someone or something advance and become better and you need to make sure the organizations you are giving money to are doing that.”

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