Some further clarification of the issues I raised in an earlier piece.
Judging people favorably is sometimes a halachic requirement, and sometimes just an admirable trait, even when not absolutely required. Never, however, does it require throwing discretion to the winds. When the need is great enough, we become suspicious. (See Rambam, Commentary to Mishna, Yoma 1:5, end, regarding measures taken to insure that the High Priest did not follow Sadducee practice in the Holy of Holies.) Specifically in reference to charitable giving, halacha is pretty clear. While you may give a small amount without investigation, a larger contribution calls for a checking of credentials (Yoreh Deah 250:3; see Shach loc.cit. #4. The value of a larger gift is not immediately clear to me. The Taz #1 writes that an amount greater than the cost of a single meal is definitely a larger gift.)
If you are interested in learning more about how tzedakos rate when measured against each other, and how most IRS-recognized charities opt to keep their exemption from opening their books to the public, I would recommend two sources – one general (www.charitynavigator.org) and one Jewish (www.just-tzedakah.org ). Between them, you will find all sorts of pleasant and unpleasant surprises, such as a downloadable shiur on priorities in tzedakah giving, the extremely high overhead of some charities (sometimes over 90%), and the highest rating possible given by the non-Jewish site to one of Israel’s venerable agencies, Yad Eliezer.
Back in my yeshiva days, we used to get sent out periodically to raise funds. Often, the amounts raised in a distant state hardly covered the cost of the airfare and lodging. It was wonderful and necessary experience for us students, teaching us how to interact with people often far less observant, as well as the difficulties and responsibility of fundraising. Yet, it bothered me that those from whom we collected would have been more than surprised to learn that the vast majority of their check was being directed to a travel agent, not to the salaries of rabbeim. It was enough to turn me into a cynic about charitable efficiency for a lifetime.
In the long run, some tzedakos would likely have to streamline their operations if enough people demanded open books. What do you do in the short run if you are interested in cost-efficiency? You can get useful information on some charities at the websites named above. Alternatively, you can donate to “boutique” charities that are known to have little or no expenses and overhead. These are run by zealous volunteers (often from the business community) who carefully oversee all aspects of the operation. Some of my favorites are Tzidkas Yosef Naftoli (food packages just before Pesach and Sukkos to selected recipients), Keren Y&Y (vouchers good for purchase of food items only at the local makolet(grocery), which in turn agrees to provide the items at a discount), and the marvelous work of tzedakah sleuths Rabbis Goldberg and Dovid Leib Cohen with the absolutely neediest in Israel. These organizations are super-lean, and run personally by people of the highest integrity and scrupulousness.
Jonathan Rosenblum commented that the thrust of his original article was that he was more concerned with the effect that fraud has on the broader society than with the waste of tzedakah funds. He picked the right parsha to make his point. Our Torah reading this week includes the hefty fine that comes with stealing cattle and sheep, far in excess of that which is imposed for stealing other items. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the discrepancy. Certain occupations, he writes, are made possible only through public trust. It was simply impossible in antiquity to fence in all animals. People raised domesticated animals only because others reapected their ownership rights. Cattle-rustling robbed people of more than a few animals. By disrupting the common trust, it made raising cattle impossible for the many, and thus was a much more serious crime. The parallel is clear.