3 Qualities of a Trustworthy Non-Profit

Having worked for a variety of non-profits, I draw clear connections between how a non-profit communicates and their values. A quick glimpse at the following factors helps me hone in on signs of dysfunction and health in an organization.

Financial Transparency

Non-profits who do not provide their 990s readily available make it hard for me to get publicly available information. If I can find 990s on their website and easily find annual reports detailing campaigns, progress, and outcomes over the year, I know that the non-profit values informing donors enough to save me the time of digging through the web.

Financial transparency means annual growth, endowment funds, salaries of the top highest paid employees and names of board members, not just a pie chart.


Healthy organizations provide regular updates on their core programs and areas of growth. Like healthy relationships, they don’t leave communication to the holidays or when they need something from me. I stay on the lookout for yearly or quarterly updates from the executive director and senior team on the strategy and mission of the organization.

The best communications are current, timely, and provide insight into how the organization is responding to changing need in its sector of service.


When I want to make a donation and know that it will end up serving the most good, I take my time and run a simple test. I call the organization and see if they return my call or make a small donation on-line and notice how they say thank you. Sometimes I sign up to be a monthly donor at a low level and read the organizations’ communications. Jay B. Love recommends doing this as an audit. Call me nerdy, but it’s definitely fun.

Stop making assumptions that all non-profits with worthy missions know how to handle your money and will value your donation.

Everyone has different reasons for giving to a social profit whether to make a tax-deductible contribution, to feel good about our standing in the community or to make an impact. While the first two are usually given, determining whether impact is a result of my donation means that I have to wake up and pay attention.

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