A First-Time Donor’s Guide to Choosing Causes, Organizations, and Forms of Engagement

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Stepping into the world of philanthropy can feel overwhelming, even for experienced philanthropists. With more than 86,000 registered nonprofits across Canada, there are plenty of worthy organizations that you can direct your contributions to. 

Whether you’re a first-time donor or someone looking to deepen your philanthropic commitment, this guide aims to simplify the process of choosing a cause and nonprofit, helping you chart a path toward maximum impact and alignment.

Step 1: Start with the Cause(s)

Start your journey with introspection. Which causes resonate with you, not just emotionally, but also with your values? Take some time to reflect on what events sparked your interest, and explore which causes align with your lived and professional experiences.

For example, if you’re an educator who is passionate about empowering young people and cares about climate change, your values and experience could make you a valuable contributor to youth-led organizations that work on either direct action or advocacy.

By understanding your own values and interests, you can identify causes and charities that resonate deeply, offering both personal connection and societal impact.

Step 2: Screen for the right kinds of charities

Once you’ve identified your cause, the next step is to find organizations aligned with your values. Use tools like CRA’s Charities Listings or CanadaHelps to research registered nonprofits. In researching nonprofits, there are several qualities to screen for such as efficacy and ambassadorship.

EFFICACY: Effective nonprofits will have lower overhead (the percentage of their funding that’s spent on administration vs programs/activities), which lets them translate more of every dollar to the cause and community. In your research, also look for organizations that have more of a grassroots presence in the communities they serve, and have a narrower, well-defined position on the kinds of change they want to accomplish, as both are important indicators for how well that organization is going to make an impact in people’s lives.

Great nonprofits are also excellent ambassadors for the communities and causes they serve. That means having a strong culture of transparency and representation, which you can gauge by how the organization discloses their financial standing and whether it highlights long-term impact in its communications (such as newsletters, success stories, etc.).

A big part of ambassadorship is deep engagement. You can gauge whether a nonprofit is doing so by how well the communities they serve are represented across, and integrated into, the organization. Building on our example from before, if you’re screening youth-led climate advocacy organizations, look for those whose membership isn’t just young(er), but also comes from communities that would be most adversely affected by climate change.

Step 3: Choose Your Form of Engagement

The final step, now that you have your causes and organizations, is to decide how you want to engage. Beyond monetary donations, you can volunteer your time or leverage your professional skills, expertise, or communities. Depending on your preference and schedule, you may be more comfortable with one-time volunteering or gifts, or you might be able to engage on a recurring, monthly/weekly basis.

Regardless of how you’re able to engage, each nonprofit on your shortlist will have different needs, and this is a great opportunity to reach out and have a conversation about how and where your contributions could be put to their greatest use.

Ultimately, charitable giving is a deeply personal and rewarding journey. 

PS

If you’re looking to explore philanthropy further, or if you’re part of a nonprofit needing assistance navigating the fundraising landscape, our expert navigators at Anchor can help you find firm footing in even the choppiest waters. Specializing in marketing for nonprofits, charities, associations and education institutions, we offer deep industry knowledge and expertise – working to make every charitable journey more meaningful and impactful.

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