How to Find and Give to Deserving Charities

How do you find those small, local charities that are doing good work but that are barely known - those that we call the forgotten charities?

Find a deserving charity

Whenever there’s a national disaster in a faraway place such as the recent Maui fire, millions of good citizens want to spring into action. How can I help? Where can I give that my contribution goes the furthest? Many times, the recommendation is to give to large, established charities that have resources on the ground and to avoid small, unknown groups that could be scams.

But what about a disaster or even a sad story in your hometown? How do you find a group that you can make a difference? Is the recommendation the same? To add to the confusion, sometimes only large or well-funded charities come up in search results. How do you find those small, local charities that are doing good work but that are barely known – those that we call the forgotten charities?

Here are our suggestions:

Ask around to friends and school leaders. Do you have friends that work in the charity or nonprofit development space? When there was an earthquake in Nepal several years ago, I asked a friend who had worked with Save the Children on the ground. She directed me to her organization or the Red Cross as the best way to go.

Google search with “near or around me” This method will probably surface those well-resourced charities, but it’s a start. For example, searching “environmental charity near me” in Rockville MD, brings up three groups with contact information and maps, along with a list of even more. In addition, the first content listing includes links to a website called Great Nonprofits. Even better, Google features the answers to other questions people might ask, such as “What is the most effective nature charity?” 

If you are agnostic about a cause and are just looking to help, another option would be to search for “small charities near me.” One of those listed in my search was literally down the street. You can’t get more local than that.

Look for Facebook community groups. For example, Aspen Hill, a Maryland neighborhood that spans areas of Rockville, Wheaton and Silver Spring, has a robust Facebook group that features recommendations and suggestions for local charities. These are particularly effective if there’s a specific event such as a house fire or flood where victims need direct and immediate attention.

Watch for stories around the holidays and Giving Tuesday. In December 2021, CNN ran this story about five lesser-known charities and made it easy to donate to any or all of them with one click. These charities run the gamut from supporting rural eye care to matching seniors with shelter pets to donating frequent flyer miles to refugees. Giving Tuesday is traditionally the Tuesday after Thanksgiving; this year’s date is November 28, 2023.

When you’ve found a charity that is less well-known, make sure you check it out, using a site such as Charity Navigator. “Our comprehensive ratings shine a light on the cost-effectiveness and overall health of a charity’s programs, including measures of stability, efficiency, and sustainability. The metrics inform donors of not just where their dollars are going but what their dollars are doing,” according to the Charity Navigator website. The GoFundMe website, which is thought of as a resource for small-scale, one-cause donations, is also a good resource for well-rated charities in different categories that need help. The 30 charities featured here, ranging from animal welfare, social justice and civil liberties to education, Alzheimer’s and immigration, are listed based on GoFundMe platform activity. Additionally, all charities on the list also have at least a 70% rating on Charity Navigator.