KSAT Defenders guide to choosing a charity

Tis’ the season to give, not to get ‘taken’

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Welcome to a holiday edition of the KSAT Defenders newsletter. Not yet a subscriber? Sign up for free here.

You want to do your part: Use that pocketful of change, part of that work bonus, or that extra dividend to help mend the fraying edges of this always faster, always louder, careening world we live in.

No matter what your cause or concern, there are a staggering amount of charities that want your help. So which one to pick? And how can you be as certain as possible that your “wealth” won’t end up being a waste?

The KSAT Defenders are here to help you out, with tips and tools to make your generosity easier.

TIP #1 - Just because it’s bright and shiny doesn’t mean your search is over

These days anyone can have a great website that does a sophisticated job of marketing a cause to you with bright photos of problems solved and resultant smiles. They can also convey the impression of a well-run, efficient nonprofit, with plenty of manpower, and a board of wise men and women overseeing the whole thing.

So ‘fuhgeddaboudit!’ What you really need is a 990 tax form.

TIP #2 - The 990 Tax Form

The 990 is one of the first steps to finding out if a nonprofit charity is for you. All 501(c)(3) or nonprofit organizations have to fill one out each year and there is a treasure-load of financial information in them:

  • How much revenue is coming in?
  • How much of that income is being spent and on what? If a big portion is going to salaries or fundraising/marketing, ask questions and maybe, think again.
  • Is there a charity board and, if so, who’s on it? The more business leaders, the better. But if it’s staffed with relatives of the director of the charity AND they’re being paid for it, proceed with caution.

So, where do you find one of these handy-dandy 990 forms?

By law, any 501(c)(3) must have their latest version on-hand for you to read, but you can find them on the internet, too.

One source is the site for the journalism group ProPublica. There they’ve set up a database with the latest-filed 990s.

TIP#3 - Any complaints?

And, of course, be sure to check the Better Business Bureau’s website for any client or donor complaints. A hint: Where ever a complaint is filed, it always ends up at the BBB branch and city where the charity is headquartered. So check there first or you could get a very misleading impression, either way.


For more reporting like this, keep an eye on this newsletter and KSAT 12 newscasts for a major Defenders investigation into at least one local charity this December.

We’re excited to showcase our work with you and grateful for your time. Find our other KSAT newsletters, like KSAT Explains or evening headlines, or manage your email subscription settings, here.

If you have questions or comments about the newsletter, reach out at draziq@ksat.com.

In the meantime, you can also find our latest investigations on the Defenders page.

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About the Author:

David Raziq is the executive producer for the Defenders investigative team.