Researching Charitable Organizations: Our Family’s Story

The Rest / Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Several years ago, a priest spoke at our church about becoming part a charity that allows you to financially sponsor someone in a developing country. I don’t remember many of the specifics that he shared but I do remember that we – as a family — were moved.

After the Mass, pictures and brief bios of those needing sponsors were displayed in the lobby of the church. As we tried to choose a friend for our family to sponsor, an issue arose:


The charity we were becoming a part of — Unbound (formerly CFCA)– looks for sponsors not only for children, but for aging adults as well.

My son wanted to sponsor a child. But my daughter wanted to sponsor an adult, as she has always enjoyed being around the elderly more than children. (I’m not sure what this means for my prospects for grandkids, but I’m comforted to think I’ll be well cared-for in my old age.)

My husband and I agreed to pay two monthly sponsorship fees, and the kids agreed to correspond with the friends we would sponsor, both of whom were from the Philippines.

Where Does Your Money Go?

Fast forward three years or so and we’ve had a good experience with CFCA. We regularly receive letters from our sponsored friends and the kids write back. (One of our sponsored friends, Orlando, starts his letters to my son with, “Dear Uncle Grant.” He even sent us his report card in the last letter.)

But my son has, over the years, wondered how we could know that our sponsored friends are the people that actually write/dictate the letters to us? And how we could know that they’re receiving the money we’re sending?

Those aren’t bad questions and they’re ones that have crossed my mind too.

At the risk of being cynical, when you send your money off in blind faith to CFCA — or any other organization — you just hope that it’s reaching the people for whom it’s intended.

Evaluating Charities

We had become a part of CFCA through our church, so I had a certain amount of confidence that someone had done due diligence, but I had never actually done any myself.

So recently I went online to Charity Navigator – a website that evaluates charitable causes based on their performance in two areas:

  1. Financial health
  2. Transparency and accountability

I was relieved to see that the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging has a four star (exceptional) rating from Charity Navigator.

That’s the highest rating that Charity Navigator awards and – according to the site – it means that CFCA “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause.”

I also looked up another organization I have blogged about: Kiva. Kiva also has a four star rating.

And then I started taking advantage of all the ways you could look for information on the Charity Navigator site.

  • I looked up charities in categories I have a special interest in.
  • I searched for charities in my city and in my state to see which ones were listed and how they were ranked.
  • I pulled up the world map to see how you could look for charities that serve a particular country or region.
  • And I registered for a free account so I could use the “my charities” feature to track CFCA, Kiva, and other charities we donate time or money to.

An Unexpected Result

The information provided at Charity Navigator was invaluable. And I was relieved to find out that this organization that we’ve committed a fair amount of money to is a good steward of the funds they receive.

But the experience of researching our charities had another result: it caused me to recommit myself to our original intent. I felt some of that initial resolve we experienced three years ago when we stood at that table in our church lobby.

Until now my role has been simply to pass the letters from our sponsored friends along to my kids, mail their return letters, enter the donation amount in our online check register each month, and tally up the amount at tax time.

Those are all necessary things, but in clicking through to the CFCA site from Charity Navigator, I learned more about the organization and found myself motivated to do more. I discovered that besides making a monthly sponsorship donation we can:

  • Donate extra funds for birthday and Christmas celebrations in the areas where CFCA works.
  • Make extra donations that are earmarked for specific things like housing, scholarship, and disaster assistance.
  • Write to our sponsored friends online. (This discovery led me to write my first letters to Jovita (my daughter’s friend) and Orlando. My intent was that my kids and their sponsored friends would experience something positive by corresponding with each other, but there’s really no reason I shouldn’t participate in that too.)

In short, CFCA became not just a charity we give money too, but “my charity” just as Charity Navigator allows me to designate it on their site.

Look, charitable giving can be confusing. Are we giving enough? Are we giving to the right organizations?

But, just as with intentional spending, there is something very satisfying about intentional giving. That is, finding one or more organizations that you feel confident about and can fully commit to.

You can use Charity Navigator to research an organization by entering its name in the box below.

How do you approach charitable giving? Do you have an organization(s) that gets your time or money? Tell us about it in the comments.

6 Replies to “Researching Charitable Organizations: Our Family’s Story”

  1. Great post! You’ve definitely done your due diligence. Glad you’re spreading the word about both CFCA and Charity Navigator. We need to make sure we’re not giving blindly!

  2. My husband and I are just starting our journey of sponsoring a child. Like you, we heard a priest speak about CFCA. Also like you, we didn’t do the due diligence as we felt comfortable since we heard about CFCA at church. But it is always to good to hear the affirmation. Thank you for sharing your findings!

  3. We’ve been sponsoring a child for 30 years, since CFCA began. And I was a volunteer in the early days, down in Venezuela.

    CFCA has always been a stellar group, and superior steward of funds. I should know, as I distributed these funds every month! Keep up the good work CFCA!

  4. Thank you for the comments, everyone. And how wonderful to hear from a new sponsor as well as one who has been sponsoring for 30 years. What a great testament to the organization!

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