New World Foundation (NWF)’s tips for getting involved with an organization that makes a real difference:
1. Be skeptical: Be skeptical about what you are drawn to first because you will be drawn to people who are the most like you, and these are likely to be people who are least connected to those who suffer most.
2. Go local: Look for a local organization that you feel uncomfortable with, that is working locally for change (e.g. helping Katrina victims through a local organization rather than the Red Cross). Use your discomfort to be especially open to new opportunities. Habit and comfort can close your mind.
3. Stay connected: If you feel safer with a national organization, check that is has direct and good relations with local groups (e.g. Oxfam in the US and abroad).
4. Track record: Look for an organization with a track record and for one run by leaders with a track record. The track record might not necessarily be in the same kind of organization.
5. Visit: Go visit if you can. Paperwork does not tell you anywhere near enough. Good writing and good business plans do not necessarily tell you who is effective on their issues.
6. Humility: Do not assume that what you know well is applicable to situations you do not know well. In the nonprofit world the bottom line is not finite, it is a moving target. What is important is building a long-term agenda and identifying achievable benchmarks for the short-term.
7. Understand Limited Resources: Keep in mind that what looks like a weakness in management might not be a weakness in leadership, it might be a weakness in the resources. For example, an Executive Director might also head fundraising or publicity, but this could be a reflection on the limited budget of the organization.
8. Leverage: Do not confuse a service activity like being kind with creating the possibility of change. Mentoring a child is always a good thing to do, but it does not help anyone beyond that individual, it does not address the conditions that produce millions of such kids.