What to know before choosing a charity

As a little kid, I remember thinking that the very first thing I would do, once I started making money, was start donating to a charity that supports animals. I didn’t know the logistics of charitable giving. All I knew was that I had a deep compassion for animals and that I wanted to help.

Well, when you’re a kid, what sort of “media” do you really see when it comes to helping animals? Ding, ding! You guessed it! The tear-jerking, grab a tissue box, mood killing commercials from the ASPCA. I mean, the sad videos combined with the soft melodies of Sarah McLaughlin were more than enough for me. So I did just as I planned as a child! I got my first job and immediately signed up for monthly donations to the ASPCA.


Now let me preface this blog post with a few things – I am in no way saying that the ASPCA is bad, nor am I saying that the organization is crooked. I do believe that they do good for animals… HOWEVER, and this is a big however, I blindly decided to support them with ZERO research (naive mistake on my part, I know) and I don’t want you to do the same.

So after some long overdue, admittedly a lot of depressing, research, I have one single piece of advice to give, if in doubt, donate on the local level.

And here’s why…

When looking at huge charitable organizations, they are not all bad. Yes, I am definitely grateful for the dedication that others have to give to those people or animals who are in need. However, the larger an organization gets, the cloudier the ins and outs of all of the small details get.

To give an example, going back to the ASPCA (since they were the organization that I first donated to) in 2013, the CEO of the ASPCA earned $591,723. I’m sorry, WHAT? Now before I freaked out, I had to ask myself, or google rather, “what is appropriate compensation for the CEO of a large charity?”

Well, according to a study by Charity Navigator, the median compensation for a charity’s CEO among the various charities that it rates is $123,462. With more research I found that this can range even on the higher end to 200,000 depending on the size and intake of the company.

Yep, you can see the HUGE difference here.

Look, this information is easy to come by if you just look into it. So instead of only bringing light to certain organizations, let me help you make a decision that is not only the best for you in terms of not wasting your money, but more importantly, best for the animals.

Let’s remember the real reason we are choosing to find an animal charity to donate to. Simply put, we want to help save the animals.

Starting point… look at the charity’s mission statement. I honestly think this speaks volumes about each organization. Beyond that, I am able to quickly understand and/or identify with them. Don’t be afraid to use social media, but on the flip side, don’t let it be your only resource. I can tell with just a few clicks through a website if the organization is run by people who care or run by automated computers.


Secondly, you want to make sure that the charity you are thinking about donating to  has been granted a 501(c)(3) designation by the IRS. Basically this is a “classification” given to an organization that proves that they have a charitable purpose in mind while collecting money. In addition, this means that your donations are also tax deductible.

Most importantly, find out what the charity’s spending ration is. We all know that a charity needs to spend money to raise money. BUT, what percentage of the money you are giving is actually going to the charity at cause? How much of what they raise is being used towards their “mission” and how much is divided out for miscellaneous purposes. I know it might sound intense and over board, but it is pretty easy to find the tax records for most charities. Once you see that, there is no making excuses, it’s pretty black and white at that point.

Long story short, a good rule of thumb: the best organizations spend at least 75 percent of their budgets on the actual mission of their charity. The leftover percentage is then used  for marketing, fundraising and administration.

So bottom line here, the higher the spending ratio, the better!

Get the cold, hard facts before choosing a charity. A reputable organization will lay it all out there for you to see. If anything seems shady, I would hesitate to donate.

Drive down to the local no-kill shelter and donate a bag of dog food. Drop off some toys you found in the clearance bin at the pet store. Give away your pups dog bed they no longer use. Give your time to walk and pet the dogs in your community who don’t yet have the love of a family. Open your home to foster dogs who are short on time in a shelter.

There are many ways to save the animals, and donating money is a beautiful and simple way to help those innocent souls in need. Just make sure your money is filling the animal cause that speaks to your heart, and not the wallet of a rich elite.