Vetting a Non-Profit Beneficiary For Your Event
What the RVA Beard League does to determine which charity to support
Our Rules of Thumb
Note: These are the policies we’ve come to adopt for the RVA Beard League, one size does not, nor should, fit all.
Global pandemics and North American championships notwithstanding, at the end of each April we hold our annual charity facial hair fundraiser, the Mid-Atlantic Beard & ‘Stache Championships. The fall before, we solicit nominations from members for smaller, local charities to support. While private fundraisers and GoFundMe’s to help others can be a worthwhile pursuit, we tend to go for better organized operations with some transparency as to where the money we raise is spent. It’s important to us that the money we raise and the time and effort we all put into raising it goes to do good, and get as much bang for our buck as possible. So these are the steps we go through with each prospective non-profit beneficiary.
At the First Ever MABSC in 2012, we supported a worthy, but large, charity in town. They provided a media pack and custom signage, but that was about it. After all was said and done, when we brought in our (admittedly meager) $1,400 donation check, their enthusiasm did not remotely match ours for the time and effort we put into it. Ever since then, we’ve decided to go with more modest non-profits who need our help more or don’t have the staff of the ones who hold galas or mailers so that our donation would have a bigger impact on their programs and allow them to do even more.
We also usually don’t consider animal or children’s charities because of the easier “sell”. We try and support the less-sexy causes that impact the lives of the people of Richmond who a Sarah McLaughlin song doesn’t really help. That being said, we’ve held other fundraisers that do support animal or children’s charities, that’s just the policy we’ve decided to adhere to for the Mid-Atlantic Championships.
Our other standard policy is to “spread the love” and find new or different charities each year to work with to help as many people as possible, and to work with different groups throughout Richmond.
If you don’t have a specific non-profit in mind, then identify the area you want to impact (medical charities, homelessness, food pantries, local libraries, wildlife/environmental causes, pets, etc.) then see what non-profits are around that help meet that need. Check out their websites and social media profiles to see what they're doing and who they’re helping, how often they’re updated, and what events they’ve held in the past. Overall, are they a group you want to spend your time assisting, and your club to be associated with?
We try to get a list of 4-6 charities that we could work with over the next 6 months leading up to our competition. Once we have their names, we look them up on the IRS’ website and take a look at what they’ve reported. There’s usually a good amount of information in there that can help make your decision easier.
- IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search
From there, search by Organization Name or Employer Identification Number (EIN) their IRS-issued ID. As an example, we’ll look at the James River Association.
James River Association
EIN: 51-0211913 | Richmond, VA, United States
Their profile page will list their most recent IRS filings. Review the last year or two, keeping in mind anything recent will likely be affected by the pandemic. Earlier filings from 2019 and 2018 may provide a more complete picture of their work. We’ll go through what information to look for in the next section and what info is useful.
In addition, there are two major non-profit record organizations: GuideStar and Charity Navigator. Both sites present slightly different profile information from each other, so it’s good to check and collect information from both.
- GuideStar Search
Profile for the James River Association: https://www.guidestar.org/profile/51-0211913.
- Charity Navigator - Advanced Search
Profile for the James River Association: https://www.charitynavigator.org/ein/510211913
If you scroll down further to the Program Expense Ratio section, they take care of the math for you.
The program expense ratio shows where their money is spent. For the James River Association, they’re spending 75% of their money on Programs, with 11% spent on Administrative costs and 14% on Fundraising. We always like to see as high a number spent on Programs vs. the necessary overhead of administrative and fundraising costs.
Based on those numbers, we’ll make a cheat sheet of all the charities we’re considering.
James River Association
Name in IRS Master File: JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION
Any other names they may be doing business as
To easily look up details on the 3 sites
IRS Ruling Year: 1977
From IRS Line L on the first page shows how long they’ve been operating as a non-profit
Subject Area: Water resources / Rivers and lakes
From GuideStar describing the work they do
NTEE code info: Water Resource, Wetlands Conservation and Management (C32)
From GuideStar describing the work they do
Mission: Environmental Protection and Conservation
From Charity Navigator
Total Revenue: $4,871,432
Total Expenses: $3,033,469
Program Service Expenses: $2,176,224
*Program Spending: 72%
Calculated from IRS 990 forms or Charity Navigator
To see how they present themselves and their work
The James River Association is a no-go for us. Based on their Total Revenues for the past several years, all of them are 7-figures, so our impact would be a bucket of water in their proverbial river.
Reading an IRS 990 Form - Bearding Ain’t All Fun & Shenanigans
If the charity has not submitted information to either Charity Navigator or GuideStar, which is a common thing, you’ll have to sift through the numbers yourself. But don’t worry, we’ve done it plenty of times, so here are the numbers and where to find them!
Based on the annual income of the charity, they could fill out any one of 3 forms, with increasing level of reporting detail. If it's under $50k, they can file a basic 990-N postcard that provides basic organizational info. If they took in over $50k that year, there's the 990-EZ form. If they raised more than $200k, they have to fill in the standard, detailed form. What they have on file with the IRS and the info available to you depends on that.
From the IRS 990 forms that you found from the first link above (https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/), you’ll want to note each of the following. These numbers are from a filing for the Old Dominion Professional Firefighters Burn Foundation.
Year of the filing: Top Right Corner
Organization’s Mission: Part I, Row 1 - what they aim to do
The Mission of the Old Dominion Professional Firefighters Burn Foundation, Inc. is the advancement of burn care and treatment through research, prevention and education
Total Revenue: Part I, Row 12, Current Year Column - how much they took in that year, and to get an idea of what sort of impact your donation could have on their organization
Program Service Accomplishments: Part III: All the Row 4’s - how much was spent on which programs
Conducted an ABLS course with the proceeds from the DuPont grant - Expenses $4,250
Made direct disbursements to firefighters suffering from burns - Expenses $1,770
Provided refreshments for activities at the Evans-Haynes Burn Center - Expenses $397
Total expenses: Part IX, Row 25, Col A
Program service expenses: Part IX, Row 25, Col B
Management and general expenses: Part IX, Row 25, Col C
Fundraising expenses: Part IX, Row 25, Col D
Program Spending = Program Service Expenses/Total Expenses
(11,943/16,805) = 71%
Administrative Spending = Management and general expenses/Total Expenses
(4,266/16,805) = 25%
Fundraising Spending = Fundraising expenses/Total Expenses
(0/16,805) = 0%
Additional Spending (uncommon) = Any values in Column A that don’t appear over in Columns B-D
$596 was spent on “Grants and other assistance to domestic organizations and domestic governments.” which accounts for the remaining 4%
It’s good to see the breakdown of what money was spent where. Part III, Row 4 lists what programs their money was spent on, and based on our math, we can see that it was 71% of their expenditures in 2019.
Here's the full list of what we collect and compare:
Name in IRS Master File:
Year Granted 501(c)(3) Status:
AREA OF IMPACT
NTEE code info:
Total Revenue: (990: Part I, Row 12, Current Year Column; 990-EZ Part 1, Row 9)
Total Expenses: (990: Part IX, Row 25, Col A; 990-EZ Part 1, Row 17)
Program Service Expenses: (990: Part III: All the Row 4’s; 990-EZ Part III, Row 32)
Program Spending: (Calculated percentage)
Reporting From Small Non-Profits
If the non-profit has taken in less than $50,000 that year, there won’t be any detailed information like this. All they need to file is an annual 990-N (e-Postcard). If you’re interested in the work they do, in the past we’ve reached out to them, let them know what we were doing, the potential benefit to them, and frankly asked where the money goes.
From there, it’s a matter of balancing the objectives of the non-profit in question, what they do with their money, and which is the best fit for your club/event.
If you have any other tips or tricks your club has picked up along the way, let us know on social media or at email@example.com!