By: Anne Digenis

The head and the heart can oftentimes be at odds when it comes to charitable giving. As humans, we all love feeling like we are making a difference and helping others, but a part of us also wants to know what type of measurable impact our charitable investments might create.

Without tools to research local nonprofits, people tend to put their trust in the good intentions of charitable organizations. It becomes easier to let our hearts take over and let secondhand accounts of impact guide our giving. It could be a convincing conversation with a friend, an exciting nonprofit event or an emotional appeal letter. All of these are important attributes to an effective nonprofit, but none of them provide the whole picture. That’s why, as a philanthropic advisor, I think every charitable decision should be paired with good research.

For decades, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington has been assisting its fundholders in making informed decisions about charitable giving. Because we are committed to serving a specific geographic area, our staff has a more in-depth understanding of the communities, issues, causes, and nonprofits in southwest Washington.

We do this in many ways, but it most often involves gathering research and results data on local nonprofits and issues. This knowledge bank has always been a phone call away for our fundholders. However, we also realize that there are thousands of other donors across southwest Washington. Each of them wants to give to an outstanding nonprofit, and our goal is to provide a resource that can help them research local nonprofits and evaluate their giving decisions with accurate data.

While it’s impossible to provide personalized services to everyone who doesn’t have an advised fund at the Community Foundation, we can provide them access to many of these insights. To accomplish this, we recently partnered with GuideStar to develop and release our online Nonprofit Directory. Now, every donor, volunteer and nonprofit in southwest Washington has the ability to search our comprehensive database and find local organizations that best align with their goals.

GuideStar is a perfect partner for this project, because they are a public charity. They understand the complexities of running a nonprofit and the diversity of organizational models within the sector. Because of this, GuideStar provides comprehensive nonprofit profiles that are also neutral, which allow the user to make better informed decisions about their charitable goals. Other online tools focus heavily on basic tax forms or equations, which can promote misleading indicators such as the overhead ratio.

GuideStar’s rating is simply based on the amount of information and transparency a nonprofit provides. The idea: if there is complete transparency, donors can use better data to make better decisions. This quick video explains their bright idea and big vision perfectly.

By partnering with GuideStar, we hope to gather more comprehensive data and build a better source to research local nonprofits. While you won’t see a rating in our directory, you will find some very useful information on the mission, financials, programs and impact of nonprofits in southwest Washington and the Portland metro region. Below is a quick breakdown of what information is included in the Nonprofit Directory and how to use the data when making a charitable gift.

Financials & Forms

Reviewing an organization’s detailed financial documents provides information about what it costs the nonprofit to operate its organization and outlines the community programs it offers, oftentimes providing you with insight about where some of their funding gaps are. Information included in these documents can be a starting point for a more in-depth conversation with our staff or the nonprofit.

People & Programs

Knowing the individuals that comprise an organization’s key leadership provides valuable insight about the expertise and capacity of a nonprofit. It also shows how they are approaching their mission and the implementation of its programs and practices. Moreover, those programs give you a roadmap of the work going on in the community, ultimately enabling you to determine if the end product is something you want to support.

Mission & Impact

Reviewing an organization’s stated mission and impact provides a clear picture of what the organization’s purpose is and how it works to provide the community with services that positively impact people’s lives. This section may also list an organization’s current goals, the strategies used to achieve these goals and the progress they are seeing along the way.

As you can see, there is a lot of information to glean from our Nonprofit Directory. And for those who become Community Foundation fundholders, we also offer an array of more personalized services such as philanthropic advising, site visits, giving collaboratives and strategic grantmaking workshops. These tools go above and beyond to ensure that our fundholders can connect with the organizations they support and understand the culture, philosophy and strategy behind each organization’s mission.

Whether you’re searching our Nonprofit Directory or taking field trips as a fundholder, our tools offer another step toward making impactful, fulfilling grants. We are excited about this opportunity to empower all donors in their quest to build relationships and shared investments around promising community organizations and projects.

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About The Author

Anne Digenis

Born in Seattle and raised in Portland, Anne Digenis is a graduate of Clark College and has resided in Vancouver for over 30 years. Anne has been working at the Foundation since 1997, providing ongoing assistance to donors by matching their charitable interests with community needs.