Hollywood Do-Gooders, Beware: 6 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Cause

Steven Speilberg Natural History Museum - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

Steven Speilberg Natural History Museum - H 2014

A philanthropic consultant tells THR how to properly vet an organization

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There are many ways to engage with a cause, but the work of one nonprofit will likely touch the heart, soul and mind more than others. But before a celebrity or entertainment executive — or anyone in the industry — decides where to focus their time and/or contributions, more significant vetting is required than just looking at reports from watchdog groups.

1. What is the mission?

Research the organization to understand what it hopes to accomplish and that it has a compelling and convincing statement of purpose.

2. Why is it important?

There are so many important causes out there, but it's key to decipher if the group has a realistic action plan that is likely to be accomplished.

3. Who is on the group's board of directors?

Look for individuals who are familiar with the issue and who can help the organization accomplish its goals. It's best to see names that will assume responsibility of ensuring the financial health of the nonprofit and are prepared to give their time to provide effective governance of the group. I always meet with the group's leadership in person, which I strongly recommend, in order to really understand their priorities, their program plans and the results they hope to achieve.

4. What is the organization's annual budget?

It's important to know how the budget is raised and spent and what the cost items are. One example of an expense that would cause concern is if the staff is permitted to fly first class. Another is the hiring of personal relatives and friends rather than having a transparent process.

5. Who are the senior staff in charge of daily operations?

Find out what their credentials are and what expertise they have for leading and managing the group.

6. What do press reports say about the group?

Be on the lookout for either positive or negative coverage of their activities and whether they are often referred to as an expert source on the relevant topic. It's also imperative to do additional research by word of mouth.

Margery Tabankin, a philanthropic consultant for 27 years, has worked with Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, and J.J. Abrams, among others.

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.