As I noted in my two-part series on how to review a nonprofit's financial records, a good review is only helpful if the organization is an honest one. Fortunately, there are ways to find out if an organization has had problems or disciplinary actions in the past. Below are the best four tools I have found to research nonprofits I am unfamiliar with.
1. Use the Times/CIR national database of regulatory actions (http://charitysearch.apps.cironline.org).
2. Look up the nonprofit on a variety of charity watchdog websites, such as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (http://give.org), Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. These organizations rate nonprofits and provide warnings if they find reason for donors to be wary.
3. Google the nonprofit and then it's CEO to ensure no negative stories or press are revealed.
4. My favorite site when reviewing a new nonprofit is Great Nonprofits (http://GreatNonprofits.org), because you can read reviews from the public about their personal experiences with various nonprofits. Not all nonprofits have an adequate amount of information, especially small or new organizations. If you are reviewing a nonprofit that is claiming to have been around for a long time, however, and they are not listed on Great Nonprofits, I would consider that a red flag in itself.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, make an appointment and go talk to the leader of the nonprofit you are looking into. Often, just seeing the programs and/or talking to the staff can help you immensely.
Do you know of any other techniques or tools to ensure you are donating to a quality nonprofit? If so, please let me know in the comments!