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Watch Community Foundation CEO Chris Askin and Program Officer Lauren Renda talk with KTVN Morning Achor, John Potter about grantmaking due diligence.

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Checking Up on Local Charities

Here’s how to make sure your donation dollars are being used on actual programs here in Reno…
Tuesday, January 28th 2020, 2:18 PM PST by John Potter

We have many worthy charities in town. At the Community Foundation of Western Nevada, program officer Lauren Renda has always worked for non-profits. She wouldn’t have it any other way: “It’s very, very rewarding. Every day is different and you definitely learn a lot.” And for non-profit vet Chris Askin, there’s nothing more fulfilling. The organization’s president and CEO told me, “Personally and professionally, I can’t imagine having done anything different other than working with a non-profit.”

But as long as charities have been around, so has excessive spending on the wrong things. Charities suffer when scandals and scams occur. Donors have doubts and limit their donations. But while many suspicions are unfounded, you should do some digging before giving. Askin says, “People need to pick their charities based on what they accomplish, not based on the name or even on the charity’s reputation.”
And that’s just what the Community Foundation of Western Nevada does: finding the most worthy charities in town for wealthy donors who need the guidance. The organization was founded by James Webster III, who came to Reno from New Jersey, saw there was no community foundation here, and started one in 1998. Here, they investigate. Lauren says that includes “everything from basic research to looking at financials and going on-site visits.” Askin adds, “We go looking through the charity’s tax returns for several years, looking up who’s on the board and the background of the board members.”

There’s also a nationwide resource that ranks charities on their stewardship of donor dollars. CharityNavigator.org ranks local charities too. Askin says, “Charity Navigator is a national website that measures the performance of charities through metrics. Primarily through tax returns, but also with additional information.”

The site reviews about 9,000 charities nationwide, and here are their top rankings for financial health, accountability, and transparency in Reno: After the Community Foundation of Western Nevada, is the Nevada Humane Society, followed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Truckee Meadows. In 4th place is Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. All have 4-stars, with scores over 90. Lauren says, “That is a rating based on transparency and services provided.”

Next re the 3-star charities: The Nevada Museum of Art, KNPB and the United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra all with scores over 80. Artown is ranked at 2 stars. Overall, we’re told that local charities are a better bet, where you can visit the charities and actually see the work. Lauren Renda says they’re more accessible: “You can see the impact being made which is really great and rewarding for a lot of donors.”

They both say, do your research. They also suggest ways to donate that don’t involve money, like contributing your time and using your skill where it’s needed and giving back in a meaningful way. 

If you’re interested in seeing how other charities rank, we have links to both the Community Foundation, and Charity Navigator below:

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