How to Find Great Nonprofits

With over 7,000 registered nonprofits in San Francisco alone, it’s not hard to find nonprofits in the Bay. It’s almost laughably easy. But, finding a nonprofit and finding a great nonprofit are two very different things.

On In Lieu Of, I feature a new Bay Area nonprofit each week. The most common question I get is, “How do you discover the nonprofits you feature?” It all comes down to keeping an open mind and devoting some time to research. The research piece is key. We know intuitively that some nonprofits are better stewards of donations than others.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to discover great nonprofits:

  1. Word of mouth. - Your own network should be your fist source for nonprofit information.  67% of households in the US donate to charity annually and 25% volunteer. Chances are your friends and family volunteer or donate to a couple of nonprofits that they are big advocates for.
  2. Follow reputable grant makers. - If grant makers are doing their job, they are doing your work for you. Foundations spend big bucks researching nonprofits and maximizing the impact of their dollar. Why not draft off of them? Check to see who they are funding and why. (If you are looking for a great example, one of my favorites is Tides. I discovered The Bread Project through them.)
  3. Online research. - Sometimes it really is as simple as hopping online and sifting through the madness. When I take this approach, I religiously consult three different sites: Giving Compass, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator. Giving Compass is a one-stop shop for overarching information on the nonprofit sector. They make it easy to learn, connect, and ultimately take action. GuideStar and Charity Navigator both provide objective data driven assessments on nonprofits.

If you have a method or website you swear by, I'd love to hear it! Email me at