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The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Charity News Roundup

In case you missed it, here are some of the charity headlines making news this week:

  • Several stories in the news this week focus on donations of noncash items:
    • The Boston Globe reports that charities are benefiting from donations of household items from college students as they move out of their dorms.
    • In Florida, a charity that refurbishes donated computers and gives them to schools just celebrated donating its 10,000th free computer.
    • The IRS has found that “a 2005 federal law aimed at stopping donors from inflating the value of gifts of used cars” resulted in auto donations dropping 67 percent “from about 900,000 in 2004 to 297,000 in 2005.”
    • A woman in Washington who thought she was merely donating a can of food to a local food bank, “accidentally donated a fake soup can full of her family heirlooms.”
  • A number of charities fell victim to fraud and theft this week:
  • Finally, the slumping economy is even hitting the super-rich, which is in turn affecting the charities that depend on their support. The Robin Hood Foundation gala, for example, which attracts hedge fund managers and other titans of Wall Street, raised $56.5 million in 2008, compared to $71 million in 2007.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Father's Day Gift Idea

With Father's Day just a few weeks away, are you at a loss for what to get dad?

If your dad is anything like my father, then he doesn’t need or want another shirt or tie. So how about giving him the gift of charity? It’s hard to think of a more thoughtful and unique gift. But, maybe you’re not sure which charity your dad is interested in supporting. No problem. Purchasing a Good Card gives him the ability to select the charity to receive the donation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Presidential Candidates United in their Commitment to Help Darfur

John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement today declaring their resolve to end genocide in Darfur.

You can learn about charities working to bring an end to the conflict in Sudan by accessing our interactive world map.

World's Biggest Foundation Hires New CEO

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently revealed that its new leader will be former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes. With close to $40 billion in assets, this is by far the largest private foundation. How big? The next four largest foundations – Ford Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation – each have assets totaling only about a quarter of the Gates Foundation.

We wish Mr. Raikes all the best as he leads the Gates Foundation in its efforts to practice responsible and effective philanthropy as it gives away $2.5 billion this year.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Charity News Roundup

In case you missed it, here are some of the charity headlines making news this week:

  • American charities have raised more than $50 million in response to the cyclone in Myanmar and earthquake in China. This amount is considerably less than the “more than $3 billion donated in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunamis”. The Associated Press speculates that these disasters have not seen the same levels of giving as previous disasters because of “disaster fatigue,” while the Washington Post cites experts who blame factors such as “a domestic economy that has left many Americans with little disposable income, a distrust of disaster relief charities and geopolitical tensions.”
  • While some Americans affected by the mortgage crisis are turning to their churches for help, a church in New York City got some major help of its own from anonymous donor who provided $20 million to save the church from demolition.
  • A Mississippi charity that helps to offset the effect of rising food prices on the poor by rescuing surplus food not only has to deal with rising gas prices, but with thieves who stole gas out of their trucks last week.
  • Inmates at a Maryland prison are also helping to feed the poor by growing vegetables and donating them to local nonprofit groups.
  • In separate incidents, two prominent cancer charities were victims of fraud this week. In St. Louis a woman claiming to raise money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure was actually raising money only for herself. In Illinois, a man falsely claiming to work with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event made off with 100 Chipotle burritos intended to be sold to raise money for the charity.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

U.S. Economy Continues to Create Challenges and Opportunities for Charities

The troubled U.S. economy continues to impact disadvantaged Americans and the charities that exist to serve them.

  • The State of New Jersey is reporting that 175,000 people had electric service suspended in 2007—15 percent more than in 2006. Fortunately, there are many charities whose sole purpose to help people avoid having the electricity or other utilities shut off. If you would like to support one of these organizations click here to review their ratings and then use the Network for Good Donate Now button featured on the charity's Charity Navigator ratings page.
  • USA Today featured an article about the changing face of hunger in America due to rising food prices. One way you can help the hungry in your community is through a donation to your local food bank.
  • One charity that is able to turn the national foreclosure crisis to its advantage is Habitat for Humanity. The Associated Press reports that “Habitat for Humanity chapters have seized buying opportunities in neighborhoods affected by the mortgage meltdown, snapping up scores of empty lots and unoccupied homes- some for as little as half price.” Habitat is able to make the best of a bad situation by turning empty lots and houses into housing opportunities for the poor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Charity Navigator Wants You!

Would you be interested in joining America's largest charity evaluator? We are currently looking for an outstanding college grad to join our team of high performing Program Analysts. Each year, millions of donors turn to Charity Navigator before contributing billions of dollars to charity. If you are ready to help us guide intelligent giving, we want to hear from you. You can read more about this opportunity here.

Brain Tumor Charities

Senator Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor today, after suffering a seizure on Saturday. While this certainly is devastating news for the Senator and his family, there are several organizations rated highly by Charity Navigator that do medical research, and provide assistance and support to brain tumor patients and their families. These organizations can be found by clicking here.

Red Cross In The News

Facing a $200 million deficit, the American Red Cross recently requested federal money to ensure that it can pay its employees that help coordinate state and federal disaster resources.

In other news, a federal judge dismissed most of Johnson & Johnson’s trademark lawsuit against the Red Cross.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Colleges and Universities Feel the Squeeze

As the economic downturn is felt across the country, state governments are looking for new sources of revenue – and wealthy colleges and universities are coming under increased scrutiny.

Massachusetts lawmakers recently considered an amendment to the state budget that would impose a 2.5% tax on any college with and endowment of over $1 billion. The proposed assessment could affect nine Massachusetts colleges and universities (Harvard University, Amherst College, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Smith College, Tufts University, Wellesley College, and Williams College.)

On the national level, Congress and the IRS are considering whether colleges and universities are providing a service to the public that is proportional to their wealth. While a tax seems unlikely at this point, many in academia are already explaining why taxing universities is a bad idea and extolling their many benefits to society

In California, state budget shortfalls have led to funding cuts for California State University and University of California systems, leading their boards to increase fees (for the sixth time in seven years) to cover the gap in funding. Considering that the credit crunch is already affecting the ability of prospective students to get loans, these universities are very concerned about their ability to remain competitive. Students, in the meantime, are left wondering if they will be able to afford a college education.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Charity News Roundup

In case you missed it, here are some of the charity headlines making news this week:

  • Many articles have focused on the disasters in Myanmar and China, including this piece in the Washington Post on charitable giving inside China, and this post from Freakonomics author Stephen J. Dubner speculating why the total giving for these disasters may fall well below that of other recent disasters.
  • The United Way of America has released details of a 10-year plan that aims to focus the charity’s efforts on reducing the high-school dropout rate, assisting working families, and increasing healthy behaviors.
  • A study has found that, all else being equal, young people are as likely to give to charity as older generations.
  • In celebrity news, actor Charlie Sheen has asked that, in lieu of gifts, guests to his upcoming wedding make a donation to the LA-based charity Chrysalis, while singer Mary J. Blige “is establishing a foundation to help women develop careers and gain self-confidence.”
  • Finally, add to the many reasons that we urge donors never to donate to charities over the phone the fact that the person to whom you are giving your credit card or bank account information just might be a convicted felon.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Despite Increased Scrutiny Mentally Ill Patients are Still Abandoned on the Streets of Los Angeles

Last week, employees from College Hospital, located in Costa Mesa, California drove a mentally ill patient 42 miles and abandoned him on the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. The patient was driven from the hospital, located in suburban Orange County, and left in downtown Los Angeles near the Union Rescue Mission. Sadly, this is not the first time something like this has happened. Since 2005, prosecutors in LA have looked into more than 50 cases of hospitals illegally “dumping” patients in Skid Row. Click here to learn how you can help provide assistance to the approximately 11,000 homeless individuals living on Skid Row. If you would like to find out more about the conditions faced by the poor locally and support a charity that addresses the problems of the homeless in your area, then you can find one by browsing through our list of Homeless Services charities.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cyclone Giving

As we said yesterday, cyclone related giving is off to a relatively slow start as many donors remain hesitant to contribute while Myanmar's government continues to block aid from reaching the victims. How slow? Here are the tallies so far for a few of the charities that are engaged in the relief efforts (as printed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy):

Save the Children: >$3 million
World Vision: >$2.75 million
International Rescue Committee: $1.375 million
Mercy Corps: approximately $1 million

From Bad to Worse

Just as aid is starting to make its way into country, a new cyclone threatens Myanmar and the two million people left homeless after Cyclone Nargis hit earlier this month.

Visit Charity Navigator’s site for a list of 4-star charities responding to this disaster.

Beware of Fake Charities

In case you need another reminder to research your philanthropic endeavors, check out this story about a Pittsburgh man who attempted to raise money for the bogus charity “Support Out Autistic Spring Baseball Team."

Visit Charity Navigator for a list of legitimate autism charities.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Crisis Giving: Cyclone, Earthquake, Tornadoes and Fires

The number of charities responding to the Myanmar cyclone has grown considerably since we began tracking charities last week. Although aid is starting to trickle into the country, charities still face many obstacles in their attempts to deliver aid. So far, cyclone related giving is off to a slow start. Perhaps donors are hesitant to give in light of the fact that the government continues to hinder the relief efforts. Did you donate to the cyclone relief efforts? Why or why not?
On Monday, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck China. Current estimates put the death toll at 12,000 with tens of thousands of people missing and presumably still buried under the rubble. 4-star charities Direct Relief International, Mercy Corps and United Methodist Committee on Relief are working with partner agencies in China to coordinate relief efforts such as providing financial support, staff and medical supplies. And 4-star ADRA is on the ground in China responding.
More tornados touched down recently in Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia and North Carolina killing dozens and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Once again, the American Red Cross is responding. You can also use our advanced search tool to find local charities that may be assisting in the recovery efforts.
Wildfires in central Florida have destroyed homes, forced people to evacuate to shelters, closed a major highway and left thousands without power. The Red Cross is also assisting in this disaster.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tracing the Roots of School Choice

This month, Charity Navigator published a new hot topic which I wrote, School Choice: A Market Approach to Education Reform. In it, I summarize the issues and list highly rated charities working to advance choice in education.

School choice is certainly not a new issue in education reform. Supporters of school choice celebrated the 25th anniversary of the report A Nation at Risk, a landmark in the cause of school reform. The history of school choice as a reform movement, however, dates back much further. Here are some other influential events along the way.

1776 – Adam Smith suggests that educational choice and private funding of teachers would promote competition and lead to greater success. This was the root of the voucher idea

1970 – The Office of Economic Opportunity launches the first modern voucher program in Alum Rock, CA. It runs for five years

1971 – New York City’s Harlem school districts pioneer an intra-district controlled choice program, allowing students to choose from any school in the district

1980 – Early Charter Schools appear in Philadelphia and Minnesota

1983 – Mueller v. Allen upholds a tuition tax credit for Minnesota parents sending their children to private schools

A Nation at Risk is published, reporting findings of poor academic performance

1988 – Minnesota’s statewide choice system is the first to extend open enrollment between districts

1990 – Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is the first voucher legislation allowing students to attend private schools using tax money

1991 – Minnesota passes the first Charter School Law

1999 – Florida enacts the nation’s first statewide voucher program (struck down in 2006)

2003 – Percentage of students (grades 1-12) attending a school other than their local public school reaches 15%

2005 – 40 states and the District of Columbia now allow charter schools, and there are 3,294 such schools operating nation-wide

2006 – Milwaukee’s voucher program, for the first time, pays more than $100 million in vouchers

Friday, May 9, 2008

Help Combat Hunger This Weekend, Without Leaving Home

As we’ve previously reported on this blog, charities that help the poor are some of the hardest hit by the slowing economy. This recent article talks about how food banks are experiencing increased demand while donations are decreasing.

This weekend, you can help by participating in the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, co-sponsored by America’s Second Harvest - a Charity Navigator 4-star charity - among other organizations. All you have to do is leave non-perishable food donations in a bag near your mailbox, and your letter carrier will pick them up while delivering your mail. Not all post office branches are participating in the drive, so be sure to contact your local post office to find out if they are collecting in your area. If your post office branch is not participating, you can still help combat hunger in your area. Here you can review a list of food banks and related organizations evaluated by Charity Navigator, find one in your area using the filters on the left, and make a direct contribution to a local organization.

Finding a Local Shelter or Humane Society

Humane societies, shelters and other non-profits have been in the news recently regarding their euthanizing practices. At the center of the debate is whether or not it is acceptable for humane societies and shelters to euthanize animals for lack of space purposes. While this is definitely a divisive issue, donors on both sides of the debate will be able to locate organizations that match their criteria by searching for charities on Charity Navigator’s website. All no-kill shelters can be found here. The majority of humane societies do euthanize at least some animals for lack of space purposes. Humane societies can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Charities Learn that Donors Make Decisions Based on Data

Apparently, there’s an organization in Boston helping nonprofits understand what we already know at Charity Navigator - that today’s donors demand data about the charities seeking their support. An article in The Boston Globe explained how this program teaches the charities how to make effective pitches to potential donors. The reporter, Sacha Pfeiffer, sums it up perfectly when she says “many prospective donors are turned off by pitches that try to tug at their heartstrings. Instead, they want to know if an organization is well-run, financially sound, innovative, and poised to truly make a difference…”

That’s not to say that donors don’t care about the charity’s mission or the plight of those it is trying to help. Rather, donors want to differentiate between the more than 1 million nonprofits vying for their support. Basically, they want to support the charity that will give them the biggest bang for their buck, which Dale Bearden, a managing director at Babson Capital Management, articulates in the article when he says "I know they're all going to help people, so I want to give my money to someone who will help people three times as efficiently."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Video

May is recognized as both Foster Care Awareness Month and Older American Month. In this video, program analyst Matthew Viola talks a bit about these issues. He also points out some highly-rated charities to help donors give with confidence to causes related to foster care and the elderly.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Will Charities Benefit from the Tax Rebates?

Distribution of the federal tax rebates began last week. While, stores are offering all kinds of deals to get Americans to spend their rebates on consumer goods, charities are hoping you’ll donate your rebate.

What’s the probability that will occur?

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, the chances are pretty slim. Of those polled, most planned to save their rebate (32%), use it to pay off their bills (41%), or spend it (21%). Only 3% of the respondents expressed an interest in donating their rebate to charity.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Help the Victims of the Deadly Cyclone in Myanmar

In Myanmar (also known as Burma) a devastating cyclone has left upwards of 100,000 people dead. In addition, the storm has left another two million people homeless in what is the worst natural disaster since the Asian tsunami in December 2004. Click here to view our list of 4-star rated charities assisting in the aid effort. Also, consult our “Tips for Giving in Times of Crisis” for more information about maximizing the impact of your donation.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Arts Organizations Suffer in Economic Slowdown

When the economy starts to turn sour, consumers cut back on their unnecessary expenses. Charitable donations in general are often the first to go when recession looms. Some donors will still open their wallets for charities helping the less fortunate, but what about those organizations whose missions are less humanitarian in nature, like arts organizations? Most donors would rather give their money to a food bank or homeless shelter than an opera or orchestra.

Large arts institutions often invest large amounts of money in renovations and new construction. In this recent article, several institutions currently involved in such projects talk about how the recent downturn in the economy has impacted their operations. As these organizations look toward the future, planning for continued renovations and maintenance seems to be more and more impossible. If this trend continues, even planning for operations in the short term will become a challenge.

So what can donors do to help? Well, for one thing, don’t be so quick to eliminate funding for the arts from your budget. Remember that the impact of arts organizations extends outside the organization itself into the local community, and often impacts the local economy. If you must decrease your charitable giving, make sure you research the charities you are giving to. An organization that operates efficiently can do more with the same contribution than one that operates inefficiently. On our site, you can browse an expanded list of the Arts, Culture and Humanities charities, and filter them by criteria (including their rating) using the tools on the left side of the page.