Finding New Groups to Support with Your Charitable Dollars

With more than one million registered charities in the United States alone, how do you decide what to support?

So much of this goes back to your giving strategy. Once you have that strategy, the organizations you pick serve as the means to achieve your broader goals.

Because of that, you need to pick wisely.

If one of your goals this year is to re-evaluate, expand, or even shrink the slate of non-profits you support, you’ll want to spend time carefully surveying the landscape. Here are three ways you can strategically approach the selection process.

(Note: these recommendations come from our Investing in Liberty guide, a set of nine recommendations from DonorsTrust president Lawson Bader for better giving to organizations that support the principles of liberty. Download your own compete version here).

1) Notice board affiliations and other connections

The authors, bloggers, podcasters, pundits, newsmakers, business executives and community leaders you trust likewise can point you to non-profits doing important work. You might not be able to interact directly with these folks, but examine their bios. What board affiliations do they have? Have they ever worked for or served on advisory committees to these groups?

A trusted expert’s involvement on a board or as a spokesman may suggest that it is an institution to consider. The same goes for glowing comments about a group in a written piece by someone you respect.

The idea here is not to mimic precisely the behavior of others. Instead, friends and trusted outsiders serve as terrific research tools for discovering new avenues for achieving your charitable goals.

2) Watch the other side

One surprising proxy for gathering information about prospective organizations to support is to learn what their opponents, or even competitors, say about them.

There is a maxim in the public policy world that if the other side is attacking you, then you must be doing something right. That trail of anger from those you disagree with can lead you to discover new and interesting organizations.

Take, for example, an issue such as right to work legislation. In media reports, are there organizations that union leaders openly attack? If ending forced unionism is your pet issue, then those organizations at the receiving end of union wrath may well be an interesting group for you to explore.

3) Read what they send you

An important sign of a non-profit’s effectiveness is how it communicates with its donors and stakeholders. After you’ve made a few small gifts or simply signed up for news updates from some of the organizations you’ve examined, the mail and emails will begin to roll in. That’s a positive, and a helpful tool for you as the donor. (By the same token, though, too much mail might indicate the group may be focused more on raising funds than on being effective.)

Many of us are in the habit of throwing out the direct mail letters that slide into our mailbox day after day, but those packages can give you a clear sense of an organization’s core mission and key initiatives. Opening the letter won’t obligate you to send a gift, but it just might offer new insight to help you better understand what a group is doing.

Not every piece of mail or email will be asking for a gift, though. Strong organizations will share victories, promising new programs, and other strategic updates from time to time. To be sure a charity continues to pursue the mission you want to support, it is incumbent on you to review these updates.

You’ll find terrific variety among the groups working in the areas you support. The suggestions above will help you weed through all the options and narrow in on a few that seem interesting.

From there, a bit of further research and direct engagement with the group will likely be the best way to understand if an organization matches your values and aims, and is therefore worthy of your strategic investment. 

We hope this helps. As always, if you would like specific guidance or recommendations for groups to support, please call us directly. Our aim is to ensure your giving strategy is not only principled, but also effective and matches the changes you would like to see.


  • Peter Lipsett

    Peter Lipsett is vice president at DonorsTrust. He also leads DonorsTrust’s Novus Society, a network of donors under 40 committed to growing their philanthropic know-how. He has a dual degree in political science and theater from Davidson College and finally got a practical credential with an MBA from George Mason University.

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