Determining if a non-profit is credible

This time of year people reflect on their own blessings, and look for ways to share with those less fortunate. With more than 8,000 non-profit organizations in Alabama, there is no shortage of worthy causes. But how does a person determine if a nonprofit is trustworthy?

There are checks and balances out there to make sure non-profit organizations are operating. The takeaway to consumers is check it out before writing a check.

"Supporting non profits and their missions really is an individual donor choice. And what I think it's analogous to is making any sort of investment," said Billy Baxter, Executive Officer at the Alabama Association of NonProfits.

The organization supports non-profits in Alabama by providing management and organizational training. Baxter says a little research can go a long way when it comes to determining the trustworthiness of an organization. "Whether you Google things, whether you talk to neighbor who knows about the organization, that sort of research pays off in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck," said Baxter.

Beyond Google and word of mouth, Baxter says a growing trend is for organizations to establish credibility by participating in what he calls "outside evaluations". The Alabama Association of NonProfits offers one.

"The standards for excellence program. Where these instructors take an organization through the paces and make sure that they have all of the things in order that they should. Financial controls. Human resources policies, good program management for example," said Baxter.

Baxter says there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to determining trustworthiness. However, there are some qualities to consider. One is longevity. "One of the things that might cause a little caution, not necessarily wrong, if it's an organization that just started, particularly if it just started during the holiday season, or if it start up after a disaster when people's emotions are high," said Baxter.

The Jimmie Hale Mission is one example of an organization that has been around since 1944. The Mission's executive director Tony Cooper says it's something that makes them worthy of consideration for the public's support. "We're coming up on our 70th anniversary, so number one we've been around for a long time. Now that doesn't make you an expert but it helps. The fact that you;ve been a around for a long time and people have trusted you for all these years is one check mark that can be checked off," said Cooper.

Also, ask if the organization has an open-door policy. Stop by for a visit and ask yourself if it's a place where you would want to volunteer. "We encourage people to come visit and come look around. We have the 'I had no idea' tours. So just coming and looking around and seeing the work that's going on," said Cooper.

Lastly, and perhaps the most important, check the organization's financial records. Overhead spending is the ongoing expense it takes to operate an organization. Furthermore, financial records submitted to the internal revenue service are public record.

At the Jimmie Hale Mission, not only do they have copies of their IRS 990 form on hand, they also provide donors with copies of audits and annual reports online{} under the "financial stewardship" page.

Cooper says it's simple. Do right by the community, and the community will return the favor.

"They've worked hard for their money. And when they share out of compassion they want to make sure that the money that they're giving is addressing the needs that the organization says they're going to do with it," said Cooper.

For information on non-profits in your area visit