New tools help givers, and those in need, find answers.
Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor
In June 2006, when Wendy Maholic learned that her husband, a master sergeant, had been killed in Afghanistan, her thoughts turned to her 10-year-old son. As she struggled with her grief, she wondered how to help fill the hole left by the loss of his father.
As months passed, Mrs. Maholic learned of a small, up-and-coming charity in Colorado called Knights of Heroes, which provides free, all-inclusive summer camps and long-term mentoring programs for sons of fallen soldiers.
A week of fishing, canoeing, and horseback riding with other children and adult male role models – especially ones who ostensibly knew what Andrew was going through – seemed perfect, but Maholic was apprehensive. The camp was located in Colorado Springs, Colo. She and Andrew were in Fort Bragg, N.C. No one in her immediate circle of friends and family had heard of the organization.
It seemed promising. The camp even offered to arrange for mothers and sisters to be lodged nearby during the
session. But she needed more. Like many parents in search of advice, she went online and discovered what she needed – and a new way to evaluate charities.
With the explosion of social networking and user-generated online content, a new crop of websites promises to use similar techniques to help donors, volunteers, and clients assess nonprofits. In some, reviewers are asked to provide commentary on their personal experiences; others poll constituents. It's not fail-safe. But the approach arms donors with information that goes beyond the financial information provided by traditional charity-rating services. It also exposes charities to far greater scrutiny, which some nonprofits have struggled to warm up to.
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