“People will invest thousands or even millions in an organization but only about 10 percent actually evaluate the charity,” Meehan said. “Advisors can help clients by looking for certain things in a nonprofit such as a focused mission, reports on how that mission is being achieved and empirical measures on whether they are having an impact on societal issues.”

“Be careful of organizations that spread themselves too thin,” added Jonker.  “Look at the organization’s website and see if they do quantitative evaluations of their work.”

Performance is measurable even in things that seem unmeasurable. If gifts are being given to a philharmonic orchestra, for instance, the donor can see how well the players perform and find out what kind of reputation the orchestra has.

“Most of an advisor’s clients will have two or three causes they are focused on; most of the donations will go to those organizations, where a lot of research has been done,” Meehan said. “Then the client may want to add another charity that has great potential but is a little risky, and another that is new.”

Jonker added donors will want to consider how to make contributions so they will have the most impact such as making a multi-year commitment or agreeing to fund operating expenses so the organization can build upon itself.

“Philanthropy is increasingly oriented toward getting greater impact, rather than getting recognition for the donor,” Meehan said. “Donors don’t want to sit on boards or attend fund raising dinners. They want to have a direct impact.”

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