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How do you choose from so many charities?

By Lisa Jensen
Special to The PREVIEW

In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city’s welfare problems.

Frances Wisebart Jacobs, Msgr. William J.O’Ryan, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman put their heads together to plan the first united campaign for 10 health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases which could not be referred. That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become United Way.

Over 125 years later, United Way is still focused on mobilizing the caring power of communities and making a difference in people’s lives. Times have changed and technology has changed, but the need for services and the need for collaboration remain. With so many good causes, how do you choose which charity deserves your time or money?

Guidestar (www.guidestar.org) is an organization that collects and organizes information about charities, and provides this information at no cost in order for donors to be able to make better decisions. Guidestar says that, “introspection and research are the best ways to protect yourself as a donor.”

As a first step, Guidestar recommends clarifying your beliefs and preferences. Next, make sure the charity’s mission aligns with your vision. Thirdly, verify the charity’s legitimacy. Then do your research and, finally, trust your instincts.

Guidestar’s Philanthropedia division (www.myphilanthropedia.org) suggests the impact an organization has is the most important measure of whether one should support that group.

Impact is measured in different ways. For example, Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program notes that while achieving their ultimate goal to end violence, the number of reported incidents may actually increase in the shorter term as education and support services empower women to tell what they had previously kept secret. United Way funds a court advocacy program that is part of this process.

Some impacts are more immediately tangible. For example, the Red Cross estimates that with $1,200 they can provide items needed by a family of four who has experienced an emergency such as a house fire. This same amount, or $100 per month, provides mentoring for one child for one year through Big Brothers Big Sisters.

You may choose to give to a specific project or program that is dear to your heart. Philanthropedia suggests giving unrestricted donations that will enable a charity to operate effectively while delivering those programs.

GuideStar, Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance have written an open letter to the donors of America asking that besides overhead, we, “pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership and results.”

The three organizations point out that what is called “overhead” includes investments in training, planning, evaluation and internal systems that allow a charity to sustain or improve itself.

So many charities — how do you choose? If you choose to make a donation to United Way, your generosity benefits a broad range of nonprofit organizations and thousands of the people they serve, right here at home. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.unitedway-swco.org or contact the local office at 731-0484.

This story was posted on March 6, 2014.