Where can I get good information about which charity to support?

By Sally Bagwell 17 May 2012

So, you’ve decided you want to give to charity, you know what issues you want to address, and you’re ready to choose some charities to give to.

It feels like it should be easy; we’re all acutely aware of growing social needs at home and abroad, and there is no shortage of organisations working to address those needs. But it’s not always obvious which charities will have the greatest impact on the causes you care about, or where your money will make the biggest difference.

Yesterday I attended NPC’s Selecting Great Charities training with representatives from twelve grant making organisations, where we discussed exactly these questions. It was interesting to hear about the different approaches they took and common challenges they faced in finding and choosing between charities. At NPC we have a lot of experience helping people get started with their giving and, although it can seem tricky to begin with, finding good information needn’t be a chore if you know where to look.

There are plenty of websites where you can search for charities to support, or find information about charities you already have in mind. The Charity Commission is the best place for detailed information on English and Welsh charities; using the advanced search you can narrow down a list of potential charities according to activity, beneficiary group, geography, and size. The equivalent information for Scotland is available online from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. Other suggestions for researching and donating online include Charities Aid Foundation, GuideStar UK and CharitiesDirect for UK registered charities; Local Giving which provides information on vetted local projects; and See The Difference and The Big Give for worldwide projects and charities.

Alongside all this online research, don’t forget to talk to people! It may not seem very scientific, but asking which charities other people are passionate about is a brilliant way to find charities you might otherwise miss. Try asking what causes your family, friends and colleagues support, or use requests for sponsorship (through websites like Just Giving and Virgin Money Giving) as an excuse to find out more.

Attending events to meet other people who are thinking about their giving can be a fun way to exchange ideas and learn from other donors. Donor communities such as The Funding Network or London Funders exist to share knowledge and introduce donors to projects, and you can find funder communities in your geographical or interest area through Philanthropy UK’s directory.

If you are interested in a particular cause or issue area, it can be useful to look at membership bodies with a specialism in those issues; for example, for charities tackling homelessness, you might look at Homeless Link. NPC’s sector reports can help you identify the appropriate membership bodies or specialist funders who often publish lists of the charities they support. To find projects in a particular area, the local council for voluntary service (CVS) may be able to put you in touch with local projects, or funders who know which charities are having a big impact in the area. Similarly Community Foundations are geographically focused charities which can assess and shortlist potential local projects based on your interests. By linking with experts you can find not only effective charities to donate to, but also a wealth of information about the needs of the people they exist to support.

Once you’ve found all these great charities, the difficult part is choosing between them. We recommend narrowing down your list to a couple of charities on which you want to do further research—perhaps based on your interests or priorities, or their location or beneficiary group.

And when you’ve identified your final choices, it’s worth taking a little time to look at how effective they are—NPC’s little blue book is a good tool if you want to look at a charity in detail. But If your time is more limited, you can analyse a charity in two hours using the same principles. In this way, you can be sure your giving is informed, high impact, and making the biggest difference possible to the causes you care about.

Over the next few months we’ll be publishing a series of blogs dealing with common questions NPC consultants get asked in their day-to-day work. This is the second in a series of Q and As for donors written by NPC’s Funder Effectiveness team, based on their experiences of working with funders of all kinds. You can read more about their work here.