During the current COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people are in need. Many new service providers have sprung up offering ways to help. Some of them claim to be charitable organizations, but anyone looking for assistance of any kind should be wary of scammers trying to take advantage of the situation.
More Resources: Scams to be Aware of During COVID-19
To avoid predators during this difficult time, it’s a good idea to do some vetting of any organization before going to them for help. Make sure you know how to evaluate a nonprofit organization’s credibility and legitimacy. There are certain “badges” an agency can earn if they demonstrate their services and practices are legitimate.
At credit.org, we work hard to maintain many badges of quality. As a nonprofit organization, it’s important to us to demonstrate our commitment to excellence in the services we offer.
Some of these badges appear on our website, and we consider them imprimaturs of quality that we are proud to display.
If you’re seeking assistance from a nonprofit organization and are concerned about their reputation for integrity, consider some of these badges as a way to evaluate an agency’s services:
The Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Credit.org is a Better Business Bureau Accredited business with an A+ rating as this article is being written. It takes commitment to maintain this rating, and we think the BBB is a good place to start if you’re evaluating any nonprofit.
The focus of the BBB is on complaints—if too many consumers complain about your services or practices, your grade goes down. Of course, every organization will have a few complaints, so the BBB also heavily factors how well an agency responds. How quickly are the complaints answered? Are the customers who complain satisfied by the quick response? These are important factors in maintaining a high rating with the BBB.
Because the BBB rating is directly influenced by consumers, we think this is an important thing to pay attention to. No matter what relationship the organization has with the BBB itself, if it is flooded with complaints from the public, that organization’s rating will suffer. The way to truly maintain a great BBB rating is to avoid giving people a reason to complain, and if they do, respond promptly and take every complaint seriously.
Council on Accreditation (COA)
The Council on Accreditation works with organizations that offer social or human services in the U.S. They conduct in-depth onsite reviews of the agency, its services, and how the organization is run.
The review conducted by the COA is rigorous, and must be repeated every four years. Accreditation is a peer process whereby a private, non-governmental agency grants public recognition to an organization that meets or exceeds nationally established standards of acceptable educational quality.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development approves agencies that provide housing counseling. They also offer HUD Certification for housing counselors, to ensure the person helping the homeowner, renter or home buyer is qualified and knowledgeable.
One thing we can say from experience is that HUD approval takes a lot of work. There are regular audits and reviews that require any housing counseling agency to be very diligent, so we consider anyone who maintains HUD approval for their counseling services to be well recommended.
National Foundation of Credit Counseling (NFCC)
Credit.org is a member agency of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Membership requires strict quality, as well as ethical and financial standards. Annual audits, 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and adherence to the NFCC Member Quality Standards are required.
We’re proud of our long association with the NFCC, and we think any agency that maintains membership can be considered a quality operation.
We’re proud to work with the United Way. The United Way focuses on agencies providing education, financial stability, and housing services. They expect any nonprofit they work with to have sound fiscal & management practices, and demonstrate cost effective, measurable results.
If you’re looking to give to a worthy charity, or looking for help from a trusted source of community enrichment, you can do no better than the United Way and its network of affiliated nonprofits.
Guidestar.org helps you get information about nonprofits and their effectiveness. Not every nonprofit will participate, and those who do can earn a seal of transparency, which is awarded at various levels (like bronze, silver, gold, etc.).
To earn a gold seal, an agency must share information about their accomplishments, how they measure their effectiveness, their capabilities, goals and strategies. An agency that is forthcoming about their mission and publishes their Annual Reports should be able to be researched through Guidestar.
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
The US Department of Justice’s Executive Office of US Trustees must approve an agency to offer bankruptcy counseling and education. This approval is not an endorsement and does not assure the quality of any agency’s services. It’s simply a requirement. So without this approval, an agency cannot provide bankruptcy counseling & education as required by US law.
Whatever services one needs, whether they are credit coaching, debt help, or home buyer coaching, it’s important to seek out only the best service providers. By digging a little into the memberships and accreditations an organization maintains, you can be sure the services being offered are legitimate and designed to improve your life and financial well-being.