"It gives you a great feel for what [the experience] is really like," says Maholic, who used a service called GreatNonprofits to check out the charity. "I really got the sense that [Knights of Heroes] would treat them like their own [children]."
Her son, Andrew, has attended two camps with the charity and now receives weekly calls from his mentor. "Andrew's mentor can really relate to him," she adds. "He's been there and knows that sometimes you don't have to say anything."
Previously, donors have relied heavily on GuideStar and other firms that decipher financial data required by the Internal Revenue Service. "While financial data certainly has its place, donors and volunteers should use their heart and their head in making decisions," says Perla Ni, chief executive officer of GreatNonprofits, based in Palo Alto, Calif. "No one has a better perspective on a charity than those who experience it."
GreatNonprofits was conceived in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. "We were looking for local nonprofits that were helping local residents of Biloxi, Miss., but found that information was hard to come by," recalls Ms. Ni, who was the publisher of Stanford Social Innovation Review at the time. "So we sent someone to walk the streets and ask residents which nonprofits were doing the best work." That basic idea of gathering opinions from those served became the basis of GreatNonprofits. Since then, the service has grown to rate some 2,000 charities. Some 50,000 visitors view the site each month, according to the group.