When it comes to choosing a charity, there's a lot of information out there — if you know where to look.
There are watchdog groups that analyze finances and websites that pull together reviews. State governments collect data. So does the IRS. You could spend weeks collecting information on a single charity and weeks more trying to sort it all out.
The Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with The Center for Investigative Reporting, has built an online tool to make charity research a little easier. Our "Charity Checker" website, for the first time, aggregates the ratings and reviews already offered by several of the nation's most prominent watchdog organizations.
With a simple search, you can see their results, all in one place.
The need for better information and easier access became crystal clear to us over the past year as we investigated "America's Worst Charities." Reporters at the Times and CIR spent many months tracking down information about nonprofits and analyzing it. We learned a lot from our investigation.
We learned that it was easy, so easy, for charities to gin up donations even when they spend almost nothing on the people they promise to help.
We learned that it's sometimes extremely difficult to tell the good charities from the bad. Some of the nation's most wasteful charities pick names that mimic popular organizations. Others use accounting gimmicks to overstate the good they're doing.
As much as anything, we learned that the American public is hungry for more information. A month after we published "America's Worst Charities," the series had been viewed online more than 10 million times. We had thousands of comments, letters and emails from across the country. More than 350 people had a request: Could the Times and CIR investigate a particular charity?
We decided Charity Checker was the logical next step.
The site (you can find it at tampabay.com/charitychecker) isn't perfect. There are lots of charities, good and bad, that haven't been rated or reviewed. And Charity Checker can't delve deeply into each of the thousands of charities that show up there and tell you definitively whether you should give or not.
But we think it's an excellent starting place for people who want to check out a charity before they give. We do our best to flag charities that are under a serious cloud of suspicion. And we share the ratings and reviews of nearly all the major watchdog organizations that do this kind of work. We provide an unfiltered look at their data and make it easy to jump to their websites for more information.
We encourage you to log on and see what others are saying about a charity. You may even want to write a review of your own through GreatNonprofits.org. Charity Checker makes that easy. And hopefully makes finding information on a cause a little easier too.