Maximizing the Impact of Your Charitable Gift: Five Tips for Vetting Charitable Organizations

May 01, 2024
Senior Wealth Planner Nicole Jackson Leslie provides five tips for vetting charitable organizations before you give.

There are many ways to give to charity. You can make a direct contribution using cash, appreciated securities or other assets, or you can give through vehicles such as a private foundation, donor-advised fund, or charitable trust. But how can you ensure your good will is carried out after your contribution is made? Here are five tips on vetting a charity to make sure your decision to make a gift is an informed one.

1. Make Sure the Charity Is in Good Standing.

You can confirm whether a charity is in good standing through the Tax Exempt Organization Search function on the IRS website. Search for a charity by name or employer identification number to find out when an organization was first recognized as tax-exempt, whether its tax-exempt status has been revoked and whether contributions are tax-deductible.

2. Conduct a Financial Health Check.

Charitable organizations are required to make their three most recent tax returns available to the public. Review a charity’s tax returns (Form 990-PF for private foundations and Form 990 for other exempt organizations) and supporting documents for information relating to its annual income and expenditures, including grants made and salaries paid. Federal returns can be found on the IRS website, and returns for the state(s) in which the charity is registered can be found on the state’s attorney general website.

Go beyond the numbers and review the organization’s most recent annual report for more detailed information on what a charity has done in the past year to further its purposes. Annual reports are often available on the charity’s website and include information on its budget, fundraising efforts, programming, and goals for the next year and beyond.

3. Get Involved.

If you really want to get to know an organization before you donate, consider reaching out to see if volunteer opportunities are available. In addition to a financial contribution, you would be donating another valuable resource – your time – while gaining an insider perspective on how the charity allocates resources and serves its community. If you are considering volunteering, it can be helpful to contact the charity you are interested in and ask if you can interview current volunteers, donors, or board members. Hearing about their experiences and opinions on the organization’s leadership, vision, and impact will help you get comfortable with the organization, and may inform your decision of whether and how to give.

4. Beware of Scams.

Unfortunately, there are scams out there that take advantage of others’ generosity. The tips listed above should help you rule out any illegitimate charities, but if something still does not feel right, check with your state’s attorney general office. As always, be wary of phone calls and emails soliciting donations, especially for cash or gift cards. Do not provide account numbers, wiring instructions, or other personal information without verifying the recipient organization.

5. Rely on Your Network.

Tap into your personal and professional network to learn which charities are in line with your mission and will help further your philanthropic goals. Ask family, friends, colleagues, or advisors who sit on nonprofit boards to tell you more about their involvement. Use these contacts to learn more about an organization’s financial health, reputation within the community and vision for the future.

If you have a cause in mind but are not sure where to start, reach out to a community foundation for guidance. These foundations often have long-standing relationships with numerous charities and may be able to make introductions to leaders within those organizations and other philanthropists who share your interests.

Finally, ask your advisors for guidance. If you are contributing through a donor-advised fund, the fund manager may have professionals on staff who can help you sort through charities and guide your research. Your trusts and estates attorney may also be familiar with organizations related to your cause.

Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH) has many tools available to help guide your philanthropy, from identifying your mission to conducting due diligence on charitable recipients. Reach out to a member of your BBH relationship team for more information on our philanthropic advisory services.

Contact Us

Up Next
Up Next

Finding True North: Defining Charitable Mission to Guide Your Philanthropy

We review why a charitable mission is important and provide guidance on how to approach crafting a mission statement that enables you to take philanthropy beyond just “being charitable” or “giving back.”

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (“BBH”) may be used to reference the company as a whole and/or its various subsidiaries generally.  This material and any products or services may be issued or provided in multiple jurisdictions by duly authorized and regulated subsidiaries.  This material is for general information and reference purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice and is not intended as an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy securities, services or investment products.  Any reference to tax matters is not intended to be used, and may not be used, for purposes of avoiding penalties under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, or other applicable tax regimes, or for promotion, marketing or recommendation to third parties. All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed, and reliance should not be placed on the information presented.  This material may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted, or any of the content disclosed to third parties, without the permission of BBH.  All trademarks and service marks included are the property of BBH or their respective owners. © Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. 2024.  All rights reserved. PB-07347-2024-04-30

As of June 15, 2022 Internet Explorer 11 is not supported by

Important Information for Non-U.S. Residents

You are required to read the following important information, which, in conjunction with the Terms and Conditions, governs your use of this website. Your use of this website and its contents constitute your acceptance of this information and those Terms and Conditions. If you do not agree with this information and the Terms and Conditions, you should immediately cease use of this website. The contents of this website have not been prepared for the benefit of investors outside of the United States. This website is not intended as a solicitation of the purchase or sale of any security or other financial instrument or any investment management services for any investor who resides in a jurisdiction other than the United States1. As a general matter, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. and its subsidiaries (“BBH”) is not licensed or registered to solicit prospective investors and offer investment advisory services in jurisdictions outside of the United States. The information on this website is not intended to be distributed to, directed at or used by any person or entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution or use would be contrary to law or regulation. Persons in respect of whom such prohibitions apply must not access the website.  Under certain circumstances, BBH may provide services to investors located outside of the United States in accordance with applicable law. The conditions under which such services may be provided will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis by BBH. BBH will only accept investors from such jurisdictions or countries where it has made a determination that such an arrangement or relationship is permissible under the laws of that jurisdiction or country. The existence of this website is not intended to be a substitute for the type of analysis described above and is not intended as a solicitation of or recommendation to any prospective investor, including those located outside of the United States. Certain BBH products or services may not be available in certain jurisdictions. By choosing to access this website from any location other than the United States, you accept full responsibility for compliance with all local laws. The website contains content that has been obtained from sources that BBH believes to be reliable as of the date presented; however, BBH cannot guarantee the accuracy of such content, assure its completeness, or warrant that such information will not be changed. The content contained herein is current as of the date of issuance and is subject to change without notice. The website’s content does not constitute investment advice and should not be used as the basis for any investment decision. There is no guarantee that any investment objectives, expectations, targets described in this website or the  performance or profitability of any investment will be achieved. You understand that investing in securities and other financial instruments involves risks that may affect the value of the securities and may result in losses, including the potential loss of the principal invested, and you assume and are able to bear all such risks.  In no event shall BBH or any other affiliated party be liable for any direct, incidental, special, consequential, indirect, lost profits, loss of business or data, or punitive damages arising out of your use of this website. By clicking accept, you confirm that you accept  to the above Important Information along with Terms and Conditions.

1BBH sponsors UCITS Funds registered in Luxembourg, in certain jurisdictions. For information on those funds, please see

captcha image

Type in the word seen on the picture

I am a current investor in another jurisdiction