How to find a legitimate charity to support

Supporting a charity – perhaps even on a regular basis – may be top of mind following Mandela Day, particularly if you did your 67 minutes and enjoyed the experience of giving back.

But how do you find the right charity to back and, more importantly, how do you find one that is legitimate?

Sadly, in South Africa there have been a number of reports about people who purport to be “do-gooders”, but who then take people’s money and vanish with all of the funds that were originally given out of goodwill.

One of the best ways to find out if a charity is legitimate is to establish whether it has been registered with the department of social development – a basic search can be conducted on the department’s website.

Online platforms such as Forgood.co.za, which link volunteers to registered charities, and Backabuddy.co.za where you can be linked to people who want to do sports or other activities to raise funds for nonprofit organisations (NPOs) can also provide you with some certainty that you are dealing with accredited organisations.

Forgood.co.za goes one step further in matching you to the right charity in your area.

“It’s so important to get the right people with the right organisations and get that match. The first step is to think: ‘What speaks to me: is it animals or children? What is my passion?’

"The next is: ‘What are my resources? Is it time, skills or money?’ From there you can find opportunities and this is where Forgood comes in nicely.

"You can search through various filters and find opportunities in your area that relate to your passion and skill,” says Katherine Robertson, programme manager of Forgood.co.za.

The right paperwork

Robertson says there are a number of other things you can do to check an NPO’s credentials.

These include asking for an NPO certificate, a public benefit organisation (PBO) certificate and SA Revenue Service clearance.

“When you want to donate to an organisation that isn’t well known what’s important, if you are concerned, is to ask for registration documentation in terms of an NPO certificate.

"You can also request a site visit. If they say no, then be wary,” advises Robertson.

However, some charities may have legitimate reasons for not inviting you to their premises.

Some may refuse because they want to protect their benefactors, for example some charities may deal with abused women and children and want to keep the details of the people living at their premises confidential so that abusers won’t try to find them.

While some government structures do make it difficult for charities to establish themselves, Robertson says we should also be concerned if an NPO claims that it hasn’t managed to get its paperwork in order.

“There isn’t an excuse if they don’t have an NPO certificate as that’s not hard to get. Not having a PBO certificate is excusable as it can be more difficult to obtain.

"A tax clearance certificate is also not difficult to get. A lot of charities do display certificates on their walls and entrance halls, and most charities have them on file anyway as they get asked for them a lot,” she explains.

Asif Mohamed, editor of online publication The Altruist, adds:

“Many charity organisations also offer section 18A tax certificates, which allow donors to claim on their VAT and for donations from their private accounts.”

Social-media following

There are also more subtle ways to check whether a charity does what it promises to do.

We live in a more connected world which means we can do a lot more snooping and research online.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can provide information on things we do every day and the same goes for charities.

Websites and social-media pages give supporters a way to find out what a charity is doing and monitor it.

“Some NPOs claim to make a huge difference but there is no evidence to back it up.

"If it is not that sophisticated, they should at least have photos of the work they do, testimonials from people who support them and they should have some statistics of how many people they assisted,” says Amanda Blankfield-Koseff, founder and CEO of the Youth Citizens Action Programme, which is powered by the Empowervate Trust.

Find out how long a charity has been around.

If they have a track record it should be easy to find.

“Look them up and see what people say about them on Facebook and you can see if anything has come up in the media about them,” adds Robertson.

Once you’ve chosen a registered charity to support, find out best way to make a donation.

Some may have registered on various online platforms in order to advertise what they do, but supporting them in this way may not be as efficient.

“Check what the commission is on each donation as some are extremely high and therefore the NPO gets a much smaller portion of the donations – like the SMS lines where the cell providers take up to 50%,” points out Blankfield-Koseff.

TALK TO US

Are you planning to support a charity regularly following Mandela Day?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword CHARITY and tell us what you think. Include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

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