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Being informed before you give

Knowing how your donation will be used and its impact on those who need it the most

DEAN LISK This content was funded but not approved by the advertisers.

With many Canadians feeling the tightening of their budgets because of the rising cost of living — everything from food to housing costs — knowing how any precious charitable donation you make will be used may be top of mind.

In 2020, an Angus Reid Institute survey, conducted in partnership with Cardus, Charitable Impact, Imagine Canada, Philanthropic Foundations Canada, United Way and CanadaHelps, found that 60 per cent of Canadians are doing research when it comes to charities.

But knowing where to start so you are informed about the impact your donation has — where it is going and how is it being used — can be a daunting task for some. Where do I look? What am I you looking for? And how do I measure impact?

“Give yourself permission to ask questions,” said Kate Bahen. “Your questions are legitimate. Go to the charity’s website and see if it answers the questions you have. How many people did it serve? Where does it work? What does it do? Is it financially transparent rather than we were founded in 19-something and are a good charity.

“It’s the facts, not the marketing,” she said.

Behan is the managing director of Charity Intelligence, which researches how much or how little a charity creates change and social impact with the money it receives from donors. For the last 18 years it has released its top picks for charities that have the greatest impact when it comes to how donations are used.

“About only three per cent of donors think about impact, and it is something donors did not think about 20 years ago. It was always, ‘there is a fundraiser, you give money, well done, didn’t you do good.’ And this whole area of following the dollar — where did it go, how did it help, how much of a difference did it make? — that is a radical new initiative in giving,” said Behan.

“It is not like putting together an Ikea cabinet, it is not something you can do at home. Right now, it takes PHDs, economics, statistics and an enormous amount of time. I know we spent three years measuring the impact of 92 charities.”

Greg Thomson is the director of research at Charity Intelligence. It is his team that researches each charity profile and measure how much change a charity makes with every dollar it gets. While impact is difficult to measure, he said there are things people can look for — the first being how is that charity spending its money.

“Say it has four programs, can I see how much money goes to each program, and for each of those programs what happened? How many people are served? What did they do for those people? Is there any indication that their lives were different after they helped them?” he said.

Both he and Behan point to a Canada Helps survey that found 93 per cent of respondents expect charities to invest in measuring and reporting the impact of their work.

“I want to know that there has been change that has happened. It doesn’t matter if people have been made happy or 1,000 people were served, because we do not know what ‘served’ means. It is digging in that one extra step and saying, ‘What happened, what was the change that happened?’” said Thomson.

If those contextual details are not available on the website, then Behan and Thomson said you should call the charity and ask them for the information you want to know.

“It is okay to ask questions,” Behan said. “If your questions are not being answered, then your giving deserves better. Be confident in your giving.”





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