Photo showing one hand passing a charity symbolic paper heart to another hand

You can always give money to a big, high-profile charity that embraces a number of different missions. But what if you want to find a smaller, lesser-known organization that focuses solely on a cause you care about? 

There are a growing number of online resources that can help you identify reputable charities where your donations may go further in supporting your cause. We provide a list near the end of this report of some alternative charities you might want to consider.

“Donors are increasingly interested in effective altruism—they want their dollars to make the most difference in the areas they care about,” says Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

More on Charities

Say you want to help provide shelter for the homeless in your town. If you give $50 to one organization, it might be able to give three people shelter for one night. But another homeless group that is more efficiently administered might be able to shelter 10 people in one night with that same $50 contribution.

Information about a charity’s impact and effectiveness at achieving its goals is still limited. But in recent years, several charity evaluators have begun to conduct that research and provide free effectiveness ratings.

Their recommendations often highlight local nonprofit groups and those working on targeted missions overseas, which may enable you to direct your dollars to the specific causes you care most about.


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Rating a Charity's Impact

All three of the major evaluators review the charity’s financial data, such as its budgets, tax returns, and annual reports. In addition, they may gather government and academic data, interview the group’s staff and clients, and conduct on-site visits. 

GiveWell, for example, builds a select list of top-rated charities based in part on findings from independent academic studies. Currently, GiveWell’s top-rated list focuses mainly on nonprofits that operate in regions of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and India. 

“We look for places where our dollars will go farthest, which tends to be in the poorest areas of the world,” says Catherine Hollander, senior research analyst at GiveWell.

GlobalGiving provides a platform and online fundraising tools to hundreds of small and startup charities, both in the U.S. and overseas. The organization also partners with nearly 200 corporate giving programs.

To qualify as a top-ranked charity on GlobalGiving’s website, the group must provide consistent financial data and proof of social impact, says Michael Gale, director of programs at GlobalGiving. You can search for vetted charities by going to the Explore Project page and filtering by “recognition.”

The newest charity evaluator, ImpactMatters, launched in November with evaluations of more than 1,000 charities. The statements for each of the rated charities describe the impact per dollar contributed.

For example, a donation of $1 to Water for Good provides clean drinking water to one person in the Central African Republic for one year, according to ImpactMatters. 

Granted, these effectiveness evaluations are far from perfect. Much of the data comes from the organizations themselves, which may be biased or incomplete, and for new or smaller charities, there may be little independent information available. (To find the top-rated established charities, you can check the major charity watchdogs, including BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and CharityWatch.)

Further, there’s no guarantee that an organization will be as efficient with your donation as it has been with previous contributions. “It’s a tough life being a nonprofit in the U.S. or around the world,” Gale says. “And there can be a lot of turnover among the smaller groups.”

Still, these ratings offer more insight into the effectiveness of the charities than financial data alone provides, Osili says.

The table of charities below provides a sample of the recommendations from these evaluators. Consider one or more when making your charitable donations, or look for more giving options at the ratings websites.

Some of the Most Effective Charities

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Highly Rated Charities

Cause

Charity

Mission

Rated By1

Child/Family Assistance

Chef Ann Foundation




Helps U.S. schools provide healthier lunches


GlobalGiving

Jake's Diapers


Provides diapers in the U.S. and overseas


GlobalGiving


Environment

Eden Reforestation Projects


Hires local villagers in developing countries to plant trees


ImpactMatters

High Atlas Foundation




Helps develop environmentally sustainable agriculture in Morocco

GlobalGiving


Healthcare

Evidence Action/Deworm the World Initiative


Works with government to bring deworming treatment directly to overseas schools 

GiveWell

Malaria Consortium/Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention Program



Prevents and treats malaria in Africa and Asia

GiveWell

Sightsavers



Protects eyesight and promotes disability rights overseas

ImpactMatters

Poverty Relief

GiveDirectly


Provides cash transfers to the extreme poor in developing countries

GiveWell

TechnoServe


Helps farmers and small businesses overseas



ImpactMatters

  1. Some charities may be recommended by more than one rating group.