When I have clients who aren’t dedicated to a particular cause or organization but have a desire to give back in a significant way, I begin by discussing with them the various considerations of finding the right fit in a charity. The considerations may not be the same for every major donor, but from my own experience and hearing about the experiences of other major donors, I have identified a few universal concepts/questions that help donors decide where to give. These questions, along with additional research, can help donors find a charity that fits their needs.

Are there causes I feel passionate about? 

Any personal interests would be a great place to start when searching for a charity to support. Perhaps you had a friend, family member, or family member of an employee, affected by a disease, or you have an interest in the education of underprivileged children. Chances are there will be an organization doing work in many of the areas you might be interested in. You may even know someone on their board of directors.

Major DonorHow much money is getting into the hands of the mission?

This is a question many donors ask because they want their donation to have an impact on the end user. While there is a need for using fundraising dollars for staffing, marketing, events and other categories of running an organization, a balance must be struck between these necessary expenses and actually helping those you say you help.

Will the organization evidence their impact, growth, what they do, and where the money is being used?

This question goes back to the end user. Major donors want a transparent view of how organizations they donate to are using the money and what type of impact is being made by the efforts of the organization.

When charities have more than one mission, how can I make sure my donation is used in the area I choose?

This question comes into play for organizations that do more than one specific thing. Think of the American Red Cross, or any other organization that may receive more donations around the time of a disaster. Donors might want their gifts to be used for a specific purpose, but the organization might budget the money to other areas of need. Speaking with someone from the organization can give you clarity on if you can earmark your donation for a specific purpose and how to do so.

Major DonorCan I be involved with the organization beyond donating money?

If your interests lie in both monetary donations and volunteering, this could help you narrow your search for an organization. Consider the location helped by the charity and whether or not it would be accessible for you to help. You can also look into training or education needed to serve as a volunteer and programs available to get you involved as a donor.

Does this charity make sense for my company?

Many major donors also operate businesses. Considering the mission of the charity against the mission and values of your own business could be beneficial. Teaming up with an organization who shares your business ideals could be a natural tie in for major donors.

Major DonorOnce a funder has started developing a list of organizations she is interested in supporting, it’s time to start the background research. One place to start is the Social Impact 100 Index (S&I 100). The index has a terrific purpose; to help viewers easily see a comparison of top-performing U.S. nonprofit organizations who are evidencing their impact. The S&I 100 is focused on large organizations, so smaller and local causes may not be represented, even though they are doing great things. The index is a great starting point for viewing examples of how large charities are working, and sometimes sparks interest for a donor in a certain kind of cause. That interest turns into further exploration with other organizations.

There are other places to look for information about charities and their practices, such as the American Institute of Philanthropy and the Chronicle of Philanthropy (check out their annual Philanthropy 400 list). Also, donor advised funds often utilize resources from local “community foundations” when they consider where to distribute money. Community foundations often provide helpful information about local worthy organizations.

All of these are great resources, but major donors in search of the right fit don’t just consider one source of information when researching a charity. A prospective funder will consider different viewpoints for how the charity operations are performed and ask questions to clarify understanding or become comfortable with an unusual approach.

Major DonorI ask myself many of the questions mentioned above before I get started supporting a new organization so that I have a great understanding of the organizations I support. If you are running a charitable organization, make sure you understand the steps major donors go through to find the organizations they support. If you’re not listed in places they might search, get listed.

Find out how people are talking about your organization to find out if the cause is viewed. If you discover you need to do some public perception damage control, consider how to publicly address any negative points. Let your potential donors see what you are doing and how their donations will make a difference.

Transparency in your organization is key and that is what major donors demand.

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Michael Searcy
Michael Searcy

Thanks for sharing, Denise. There are so many great resources out there and it's always good to add others to our library.


This is a terrific checklist for potential philanthropists. Great resource links as well. As for the considerations between how much money goes to the mission and how much impact an organization has, I can't help but refer people to the principles outlined in Dan Pallotta's book, Charity Case, about the ROI on donations. Find his book at www.danpallotta.com or read our summary of the highlights at http://bit.ly/U41c3n. Thanks for the great post!

Mr Chang Soo
Mr Chang Soo

Hi Heidi Hanccok I am very impressed with you track records and comments by your friends and colleagues. Your professional service will greatly help developing world to overcome many difficulties of fund raising for sustainability and growth. I am now a retired Sr. Management Consultant in Singapore and am involved in a stand-alone pioneer non-profit social project as a volunteer in China for the last 7 years. Still going on with difficulties. Due to interest, passion and determination, I move forward with some dedicated friends. Please see website: www.rsvpichina.org I would like to have your views on this project and its value without ROI. Its about social change for millions of traditional Chinese who no idea about helping other people in needs and the less fortunates in society. The retired only care for themselves. It is a 3,000 year old deep-seated mind-set. . Thank you. Chang Soo Chairman, CEO & Chief Consultant RSVPI China Center China & Singapore

Heidi Hancock
Heidi Hancock

Hello Chang Soo, Thank you for reaching out and connecting! I am so pleased to hear that you have found the information on Mosaic's site to be helpful. You certainly have a terrific organization and your dedication to effecting a cultural shift and improving the lives of so many is apparent. The work you are doing is invaluable. I am glad you reached out at this time because I am planning a trip to China in the near future and would be delighted to learn more about your organization and its challenges. I will send you an email shortly and hope we can connect directly soon. Keep up the great work! Heidi

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