December 20, 2011

5 Online Tools to Facilitate Charitable Giving

Where to find information about nonprofits and grant makers

Those looking to donate money can find information about charities by using certain web tools. Those looking to donate money can find information about charities by using certain web tools.

Philanthropically minded people often want information that goes beyond a “good feeling” when they write a check to a church, shelter or youth group or an organization working in an issue area they support, such as voter education or animal rights.

Many donors, especially those who are planning large gifts, want to know how to make their gifts more effective or to fill gaps in funding. Foundations want to ensure their grants abide by IRS regulations.

Several online providers can meet these needs.

GuideStar

GuideStar encourages nonprofits to share complete information about charitable organizations. On its website, GuideStar provides information on some 1.8 million U.S. nonprofit organizations to help those interested in more traditional giving.

Users can get current data about nonprofits and write a review of a charity (if one is not a paid employee). And GuideStar allows any nonprofit entity in its database to update its report with information about its mission, programs, leaders, goals, accomplishments and needs—for free.

Foundation Source’s GrantSafe

IRS regulations require private foundations to verify that a 501(c)(3) public charity is currently in good standing with the IRS before making a grant. Foundations are subject to penalties up to 20% of the amount of each grant made to organizations no longer recognized by the IRS as public charities because their nonprofit status has been revoked.

The most accurate and comprehensive source for this information is the IRS Business Master File. Foundation Source recently rolled out GrantSafe, a proprietary technology that makes the complicated BMF database easy to use in order to confirm the status of any public charity.

Type in an organization’s name or tax number, and a green check mark or red “X” instantly indicates its status. Foundations can also print out or save a date-stamped Validation Certificate for their files, as required by the IRS.

GrantSafe is available at www.foundationsource.com/grantsafe as a free service for those who register.

Foundation Center’s Two Widgets

The Foundation Center, a 55-year-old organization, maintains a comprehensive database of U.S. and, increasingly, global grant makers and their grants. On its website, it offers two “widgets” that provide information about grant-making entities.

One is Foundation Finder, a free lookup tool that gives basic facts on private foundations, community foundations, grant-making public charities and corporate giving programs in the U.S. It is designed for those seeking quick access to basic information about grant makers, possibly as a starting point for more in-depth research.

Another widget is 990 Finder, which allows the user to find financial information about a given organization. IRS disclosure regulations require exempt organizations to make financial information available for public inspection in the form of their three most recently filed annual 990 or 990-PF returns and all related supporting documents.

Million Dollar List

Philanthropists in a position to make very large gifts to a public charity want information about which organizations with causes matching their interests are receiving large gifts, where their peers are giving and where gaps in funding may exist.

Earlier this year, Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy launched a searchable database of big, publicly reported gifts made since 2000. The Million Dollar List covers gifts from individuals, foundations and corporations.

Here’s an example of how the tool works. Say a wealthy couple in Colorado concerned about the local environment asks their financial advisor for advice:

  1. The advisor and couple can start by clicking on Colorado in the “By Location” page of the Million Dollar List.
  2. From a drop-down menu on the next page, they can choose to view million-dollar gifts by charitable sector and reveal a pie chart; it shows that just 3.3% of million-dollar gifts received by Colorado organizations go to environmental causes—perhaps indicating that such causes in the state do need funding.
  3. Below the pie chart, a list of the top recipient organizations (by dollar amount) may prompt the couple to learn more about those organizations and the effects of those previous million dollar gifts. On the other hand, it may prompt them to seek out other environmental organizations and opportunities to be the first donors to make an impact on an organization’s work at such a large scale.
  4. The couple also can see who else is working to improve the Colorado environment—which can bring reassurance, raise a red flag or promote the discussion of pooling their gift with others for greater leverage.

Advisors can create customized searches for each client.

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