You can make an assessment of the financial status of  charities and non-profit groups to help you decide which among them needs your support most. It's simple. It takes a short time and you don’t need internet access or a computer. Remember the telemarketers take up your time by calling you and interrupting you often at inconvenient times such as family dinner and want you to take out your credit card and read off the details. Your contact details may be passed on to other agencies so you get more annoying time consuming calls. The telemarketer will want  access to your money within a couple of minutes but giving to charity deserves more attention than that. Doesn't it? You need to see the latest financial report of the charity. These will be produced every year and accompany the annual report which is released at the annual general meeting (AGM). AGM's are usually held in October each year. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is though you need to see the financial reporting of their last annual report.

Method One: Go online to the organisation's website and search for the last annual report or email them and ask for a copy of it to be sent. Charities aren’t required by law to publish their annual reports. They will be available to members of the charity but most prominent charities do put their annual reports online to show you that they are behaving themselves – or at least jumping through the hoops in regulation form. Look for the financial records section in the annual report. In there is a wealth of information. For example you can find out how much income they got from different sources. They will probably get money from the public through government funding, it could be more than several million annually. They will get money for charging for their services such as delivering meals to the frail aged or holding pajama parties for young teens. They may get corporate donations. And fundraising. And interest on the money they have in the bank. You may or may not find information about cost of fundraising as a percentage. If not you can email them and ask. The degree with which they co-operate is the degree with which you might cooperate with their claims to need more funds.

Method Two (no internet access or computer): Phone the charity and ask them to send you a hard copy (ie paper copy, booklet) of the financial records for the latest financial year. Tell them that you are a potential supporter. Do not accept charges – you will donate to them if you are satisfied with the report.

If the charity doesn't publish this information online don't support them and advise them why you are not doing so. We know of telemarketing charities who have not published their latest financial information. Same goes if providing you with a copy is too much for them. If they can call tens of thousands of people unsolicited then they ought to be able to comply with your request.

If you can't do either of these ask someone to do it for you. Anyone who does this will be engaging in an excellent citizen building exercise.

If you  spend say 20 minutes absorbing some of the information (not all of it, that's not necessary) you will have more relevant information than the combined knowledge of  the entire call centre team even if they have had years of  “experience.”

You are entitled to act differently of course. You may think: “I don't wanna do all that. It seems hard. It sounds suspiciously like I am being asked to think about this. It would be easier just to get ripped off by a fundraising telemarketing salesperson again."

How to understand the financial report of a charity or non-profit group  This booklet is published to help Board members of non-profit groups but the information is suitable for any citizen who has an interest in one of these groups. As as a supporter that includes YOU especially. Fundrazing has no affilliation with Westpac.