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Few Donors Consult Charity Watchdog Organizations

(Jan. 3, 2012) Only about one in five donors report using charity watchdog websites to inform their giving decisions, according to a recent study.

Roughly three-fifths or 59 percent of donors used Internet search engines to assist them in their donation decisions, but the large majority did not go to the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, Guidestar or other sites that offer ratings and comparisons of charities in the U.S.

Overall, 78 percent of donors do not use any watchdog rating when making a decision to donate money.

Donors who do consult charity watchdog organizations reported a higher level of donation.

However, the report noted that being rich, computer savvy, highly educated, or engaged in volunteer work doesn’t make people any more likely to use watchdog organization ratings and information.

Donors who gave more money and people who were engaged in advocacy were more likely to seek out the independent evaluations.

“The vast majority of social investors and charitable givers really make their decisions predominantly on personal connections and emotional ties and things of that nature,” says Ken Berger, president and CEO of the watchdog Charity Navigator, as quoted in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). “The whole movement toward using independent data is still in its infancy.”

One reason people may neglect watchdogs is an implicit trust of nonprofits, the study authors note. Another is that it’s too much trouble: To use a watchdog to choose a nonprofit, you first have to choose a watchdog. There are competing methods of assessment and “some nonprofits are considered a safe bet by one organization and not by another,” said author Ram A. Cnaan. Also, donors are often just motivated by the warm glow of giving, not by assessment.

“All of us who are concerned about providing third-party information have an obligation to continue to educate and encourage people as to the importance of doing so,” Berger added.

The findings were published in Nonprofit Management and Leadership (Summer 2011) and were based on data collected in 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Harris Interactive.

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