In challenging times, many people feel a renewed desire to give back to their community and support those facing greater disadvantage – and giving to charity is a wonderful way of doing so.
In Australia, the amount of people donating regularly is trending downward, with lack of disposable income one of the main reasons for not donating, which makes sense considering wage growth has not kept up with the cost of living.
Concerns about donated funds not helping those in need, or too much being directed towards administration, also ranked highly in the list of reasons for not donating.
The rise of fraudulent organisations and online scams has heightened skepticism, leaving potential donors unsure whether their funds will be used in a way that benefits the people or cause it is intended for.
Charities are not all created equal, and organisations vary greatly in the way they operate, their financial structure, and the impact they have on the communities they support.
Many people reasonably assume a charity is a good cause unless they have explicitly heard otherwise, yet it is far more common than one might think for a charity to achieve little to no positive impact.
Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of charities in Australia, making selecting a beneficiary quite overwhelming, if you don’t know what to look for.
Here are some tips on how you can find trustworthy charities to donate to.
Finding a trustworthy charity
When considering donating to an organisation, it helps to pay attention to their financial and governance systems.
These should be publicly available and transparently demonstrate how all donated funds are spent.
You should also be able to find, or request, evidence of a charity’s positive impacts on their beneficiaries, including regular performance evaluation against their core principles and objectives.
Naturally, not everyone can engage in this level of detective work. Fortunately, there are resources like The Good Cause Co., which regularly assess the performance of charities, and maintain a list of the most reputable Australian organisations.
Such resources and directories can be a great starting point when considering a donation, however just because a charity isn’t listed, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are illegitimate or untrustworthy.
There are many reasons why a smaller or newer charity may not be listed, and these grassroots organisations may well be doing wonderful work.
Appraising the quality of a lesser-known charity isn’t as straightforward, but there are plenty of ways to make sure your donation is doing as much good as possible.
Checking the charity name against the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s register or the local state or territory registry are great places to start.
You should also always ask representatives requesting a donation to show identification and proof of authentication to accept funds on the charity’s behalf.
In today’s world, rife with scam callers who may prey on people’s empathy and goodwill, it’s important to protect yourself by confirming the legitimacy of anyone asking for financial contributions.
Being pressured to donate on the spot can often be a warning sign, so if you feel uncomfortable, say that you would like some time to think about it and request their details so you can contact them when you feel ready.
It’s also a good idea to research the organisation’s recent projects or activities, by perusing their website or reading annual reports, and make up your own mind about their legitimacy and impact.
Everyone has different priorities and values, so what is a worthy cause for one person may be less important to someone else.
It can also be useful to research or directly ask about any funding bodies that may have vested interests, to ensure your donation is making an impact uninhibited by powerful stakeholders and their own agendas or profit-making objectives.
One thing I always look for when considering supporting any type of benevolent cause is whether the people directly affected by the issue are actively involved in high-level decision making.
The traditional charity approach of doing things ‘for’ disadvantaged groups in society is outdated, paternalistic and often unhelpful or even harmful.
People who face additional barriers in society, be that disability, mental illness, sexism, or racism, are the experts in their own life experience and the types of solutions that will make a difference.
When talking to charities and not-for-profit organisations, I always like to ask how they ensure they are empowering their benefactors to have a seat at the table and influence all levels of operation.
If they can’t answer this satisfactorily, I will often direct them to resources about why true representation matters and invite them to contact me when they have made steps towards inclusion that is genuine rather than performative.
Other ways you can help
Many people are not in a financial position to afford monetary donations, but fortunately there are lots of other ways to help.
Volunteering, signal boosting important messages by following organisations on social media and sharing their posts, or donating goods you have at home that you no longer need can all make a significant difference to those in need.
The collective impact of many people making small changes should never be underestimated for its potential to create a safer, kinder, and more equitable world.