How to check the legitimacy of a charity

By Joshua White

It’s always nice to donate money to a good cause, be it people in dire situations or animals in need of care. Unfortunately, however, there are many scam entities that hide behind a facade of good intentions.

The good news is that there are methods you can use to determine whether a charity is legitimate. Jannie Smith, regional manager at GivenGain in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, fills us in on some of these.

What questions should you ask a charity?

Smith recommends that you ask a charitable organisation the following questions before making a donation.

  • What campaigns are they currently running, and how will these help the local community?
  • If you are a high-profile donor or a company, can you arrange a visit to the organisation’s premises before donating?
  • How will your donation be applied? Will you, as the donor, get feedback on this?

What further measures can you take?

Public opinion can serve as a good initial checkpoint, Smith says.

“Have a look at the charity's website and social media profiles, as well as the information, comments, and feedback shared by that community. Recent action, updated posts, and a substantial social media following are usually all good indicators of the validity of a charity.”

“Most donors trust charities and don't do too much vetting,” he says. “Often, they get positive reviews from another member in the community or in their network, which they feel is sufficient.”

However, in order to be certain, Smith recommends some additional checks.

“You can request the charity's non-profit status document, which should be readily available. Many charities also upload their latest financial statements to their website for greater transparency.”

“If the charity's official bank account details are available, stating the charity's name, this indicates that the bank has also performed a measure of vetting from their side,” he says.

Online registries are another good source for confirming a charity’s validity. These include:

These measures will help you guarantee that the organisation you are planning to support is legitimate.

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