Ascertaining an Organization’s Legitimacy

There are millions of organizations represented on the Internet – organizations that you might turn to for information, support, services, or to make a contribution. While most of them are probably good folks doing good things quite legally, some may not be. How can you tell? Anyone can establish a web site, even a web site with an “org” at the end. Here are some resources that can help you find out more about nonprofit organizations online and off.

American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP)

Calling itself “a nationally prominent charity watchdog service whose purpose is to help donors make informed giving decisions,” AIP offers ratings that are based in large part on a group’s willingness to provide serious donors with basic documents such as annual reports, complete audited financial statements, and Internal Revenue Service form 990. Articles, tips, and related information are also included.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance (
“The Alliance reports on nationally soliciting charitable organizations that are the subject of donor inquiries. These reports include an evaluation of the subject charity in relation to the 23 provisions of the voluntary CBBB Standards for Charitable Solicitations. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance also offers guidance on making informed giving decisions and publishes the quarterly Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide.”
Charity Choices
“This website is a simple way for federal employees and anyone else to learn about more than 240 charities.” The sites listed all participate in the federal government’s Combined Federal Campaign, which means they have met 10 accountability standards.
“GuideStar is a searchable database of more than 640,000 nonprofit organizations in the United States. Type a name in the Charity Search box to find your favorite charity, or use the Advanced Search to find a charity by subject, state, zip code, or other criteria.” Guidestar gets its financial information from the IRS Business Master File of 501(c)(3) nonprofits, the IRS Form 990 or 990 EZ, which are financial returns filed by nonprofits with more than $25,000 annual revenue, and the GuideStar Basic Financial Statement, a form for nonprofits that do not file with the IRS.
A project of “Action without Borders,” Idealist maintains a database of 20,000 organizations in 140 countries. The [Verified] flag by the name of an organization means that the organization has submitted a copy of its IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter, or its latest newsletter or brochure.