How should we choose our charities? Turns out our criteria needs some serious updating! Thankfully, there are some brilliant leaps forward to make our giving do the most.

Image: Boat on a beach with the sunset in the background

Source: Pixabay

It turns out, there are some wildly important new ways to think about “charity”, and how we navigate the process of giving. Today at Ever Widening Circles (EWC), we may expand your way of thinking on this by leaps and bounds.

First, here’s a fun fact: Did you know that we are still using the principles of “The Puritans”, from the 16th Century, to police our notions about giving to charities?

This, and countless other transforming insights, are offered up in the TED Talk we’ll be pointing you to today by Dan Pallotta. Dan is an entrepreneur and author, who is best known for his involvement in multi-day charitable events that have raised millions like long-distance Breast Cancer 3-Day walks, AIDS Rides bicycle journeys, and Out of the Darkness suicide prevention night walks.

This talk shakes up almost every notion most of us have about what makes for successful charities and successful giving. This one’s a jaw dropper. Enjoy!

Via: TED 1

Wow! We are dealing with massive problems, and our charitable organizations can’t generate any scale because of our 500-year-old beliefs about selfishness and selfless giving!

I did the math and discovered we are letting for-profits out-grow non-profits 3,300 to 1!

That’s incredulous, given the scale of the complexities we are trying to tackle!

If you’d like to look at this topic with even more evidence, take a look at a great article I found at online to support Mr. Pallota’s observations about the shortcomings of judging non-profits by one standard.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Okay, I could reiterate all the other wonderful points in that talk, but the bottom-line is that we need to totally up-date our notions about what constitutes a “great” charity.

And here’s the good news, there are some wonderful resources for us out there. For instance, I used to exclusively consult an organization called Charity Navigator before I supported a cause. But I learned today that their approach may be a bit short-sited.

Most importantly, Mr. Pallotta successfully demolishes the idea that charities are bad if their administrative costs are high. Turns out we can’t sum up their effectiveness by simply looking at the percent an organization spends on administration.

A really well-administered charity might have a really high percent spent on administration. But if they are 10 or 100 times more effective in raising money or they assist a lot more people, then the costs may be completely justified.

So what can we do?

Here is a link to a fabulous, concise blog posting from Mr. Pallota that spells things out for us in a cookbook manner.

If that’s still a little too complex for you, here’s my new plan for doing a quick check on an organization before I give:

1. I’m going to take a quick look at Charity Navigator to see if there are any red flags. First, the charity in question needs to have a three-star rating or above on Charity Navigator.

2. Then I’m going to look them up on to try to sort out their growth and effectiveness. (That’s the real indicator of value.)

3. Next, I’m going to have a look at their website. Go to their “about” page (or their founders’ story) and read carefully for bits of authenticity that really resonate. You should be able to feel the founder’s sense of vision and perseverance coming through. If not, you might want to take a pass on them.

4. Lastly, my best advice is to always research the founder’s background, outside of the website.

I was once asked by an amazing babysitter of ours to donate to a charity that looked like it was doing great work in Haiti after the earthquake. Fortunately, I checked out the founder’s back story by searching his name online and not just looking at the organization’s website. Turned out he and his wife had done time in prison for fraud, and they were going around promoting the notion that Oprah Winfrey was the anti-Christ! Yikes!

We showed what we found to the young girl who asked us to support them and she did not heed our warnings. It turned out rather badly for her, but she probably learned a valuable lesson.

From that day forward, I always check out the founder or CEO. If they are sketchy, I pass on giving to the charity. (It’s actually really easy to search founders’ backgrounds.)

Now that sounds like a lot, but once you get the hang of it, it takes ten minutes to go through those four steps and you can feel much more sure of yourself when giving.

Lastly, a quote from Dan Pallotta, our guide through this way of thinking about how we give:

“I want people to consider themselves a philanthropist no matter how much or how little they are giving. Even if you are giving $25, you are still a philanthropist. I advise people to figure out what cause they want to have an impact on, and take time doing research to find out the organization they feel is doing the best work on that problem. Then, make them your charitable partner for life. Continue to follow their progress, continue to learn about them, and continue to invest in them. You make a lot of inquiries before you buy a car – do the same thing before you cast your vote for a charity with your contribution.”

Well said, and our thanks to another EWC thought-leader.

Image: Thistle flower up close

Source: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

We hope this detour into possibility was helpful. People who visit us here at Ever Widening Circles (EWC) regularly are likely to be “givers” by nature. EWC users are going to be curious, smart, and optimistic, and we don’t just follow like sheep. With the best intentions, we will question important decisions.

So maybe now we know a little more about getting the best bang for our charitable bucks?

Thanks for spending some time updating your outlook! You can count on that from every EWC article!

Hop over to our homepage to get a feel for the insights and innovations we are pointing to, while most of the mass media is just talking about the doom and gloom.

Stay open, curious and optimistic! After writing or editing over 1000 articles on the great things happening in the world, I can tell you, it’s going f to be ok.

~ Dr. Lynda

There’s More To Celebrate!

Scroll down a bit on this page to find a few more articles I recommend to continue this train of thought! Every article on EWC will take you on a little journey of wonder. If you like the trip, subscribe to get our daily piece delivered straight to your email inbox!

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  1. Pallotta, Dan. “The Way We Think about Charity Is Dead Wrong | Dan Pallotta.”YouTube. TED, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 25 July 2017. <>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world. Hear her latest conversations with thought leaders on the Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast--new episodes every Wednesday!