Cats | Dogs | December 7, 2017

Choosing an Animal Charity

Val Culpin
By: Val Culpin
bunch of dogs

At this time of year, we often want to support charities and organizations that are doing good work in areas of interest. For many of us, that means supporting animal charities. But how do you whittle down the choices to decide which organizations are worthy of your donation? Here are some tips to help you when choosing an animal charity.

What is your focus?

Before you open your checkbook, decide to volunteer, or go shopping for a charity, you need to identify what you want your donation to do. What is important to you? The choices are many.

  • Do you want to support small local rescues or shelters who operate on heart, soul, and volunteers, only with tiny shoestring budgets?
  • Perhaps you would like to support an organization doing research into certain health issues in dogs or cats? Or maybe you want to help feed the pets of the homeless or destitute or support a reputable service animal organization?
  • Do you want to focus on cats or dogs or all animals?
  • Is there a specific breed or type of dog or cat you want to help? For instance, maybe you want to help organizations that rescue greyhounds from the track and rehome them, or perhaps you want to support organizations that look after feral cat colonies.
  • Where does the charity operate? Do you want to support a nationally or internationally based organization or a local one?
  • Do you want to support a well-established charity or a newer one that is trying to make its way?

Finding the Right Charity for You…

Focus on the charity’s mission. Once you have chosen a few possibilities, start to dig deeper into those chosen few to find out where your donation would go. There are quite a number of websites to help you choose, and who have already done much research and collected valuable information on each charity they list. Just do a web search for ‘Choosing a charity’. These websites have all kinds of great tips to help you wade through the process. They will also help you weed out non-legitimate causes who market themselves as charities.

A popular way to evaluate a potential charity for your donation is to find out how much of your dollar goes directly to the cause and how much goes to ‘overhead’. Although we all want all of our dollars to go to the cause, the reality is that in order to stay on track, organize their mission and collect data to see what impact they are having, charities need that ‘overhead’ to be successful in their mission. Dan Pallotta is well known for his TED talks and for organizing the very successful AIDS Rides and Breast Cancer 3-Day walks a number of years ago. Of doing research into charities he says, ‘Don’t ask about the size of their overhead. Ask about the size of their dreams.’ As long as the overhead percentage isn’t out of all reason, expect that any charity who is legitimate is going to have overhead expenses which must be covered.

Once you have narrowed the search down to two or three organizations, contact them and ask questions. What progress is the charity making towards its goals and how is that being accomplished and measured? Ask to see their Annual Report. Is it inspiring and does it show you how their mission aligns with your philosophy? Ask about their privacy policy, too. You don’t want your information being sold to other non-profits, mailing houses or telemarketers so they can further solicit your support.  Be patient when waiting on answers to your questions as many of the smaller organizations are run solely by volunteers who are each doing ten different things, and it may take a few days for someone to respond.

Many donations are motivated by personal connections. Maybe a friend asks for your support for a certain charity, or perhaps a news story motivates you to donate. Major charities raise money based largely on how they market themselves, but many worthy smaller charities who don’t have the marketing know-how, budget or extra hands simply are not able to do much marketing. This doesn’t mean they are any less worthy. Likely as not, they are exceptionally passionate about their cause and running on a shoestring budget or paying expenses out of their own pockets. So if you are leaning towards a charity who is letting the whole world know what they are doing out there, do your research to make sure they are backing up their claims and making a difference. When it comes to animal charities it is often the small, grassroots organizations who are out there in the trenches and making a difference.