Giving Back: How to Make Your Dollar Go Further

Hanna Barczyk

Four ways to ensure your money makes an impact.

Make Sure There’s Self-Evaluation.

“Many of our recommended charities don’t employ the staff that do the direct work,” says Catherine Hollander, a research analyst at GiveWell, which prioritizes transparency in selecting which organizations to endorse. Even the most hands-on NGOs will encounter problems in implementation if they don’t perform monitoring and self-critique. “Along with assessing the provided data, we’ll do site visits to help us think about what could be potential problems that arise during the distribution of their programs.”

Check for Saturation.

“It’s possible that a charity can’t productively absorb any more money,” Hollander says. Rather than make a decision based solely on its past success, you should also look at its capacity to utilize your contribution in the near future. “We took one of our top charities, the Against Malaria Foundation, off our recommended list one year because we didn’t believe they could commit additional funds after how quickly they signed distribution agreements for the insecticide-treated nets they provide.”

Read the Fine Print.

“If an organization claims that they can put 99 percent of the money they receive toward their programs, you need to figure out how that’s humanly possible,” says Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The group may be able to channel its contributions that way because its board of directors underwrites costs, but it can also mean that numbers are being manipulated. In reviewing tax returns, check if the charity is often running at a deficit or if improper payments have been made to board members.

Look for Long-Term Relationships.

Confirming that a project or initiative is able to sustain itself is essential. “You will hear many organizations say that for x amount of dollars, they can install a well in a village that doesn’t have access to water, and within just a few years you will find that the well is no longer in use, because no one was made responsible for its upkeep,” says Berman, who suggests asking for proof that there’s adequate infrastructure to respond to contingencies and requesting regular updates. Establishing a long-term relationship ensures long-term impact.