Welcome to Charity Navigator's Blog!

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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tick Tock

The clock is ticking! You have just a few hours left to make a gift to a qualified charitable organization in order to reduce your 2008 tax bill.
  • Go to Charity Navigator’s site now and give online by clicking on the ‘Donate Now’ button located on your favorite charity’s ratings page. An added benefit of giving through our site is that you’ll be able to access your 2008 giving history when you are ready to complete your tax return.
  • And if our evaluations have helped guide your charitable decisions this year, we hope you’ll consider a donation to Charity Navigator. We are a 501 (c)(3) public charity and donations to us are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Follow Your Charitable Investment

Once you give this holiday season, remember to contact your charity next March or April and find out how they're using your money. You’re not looking for a list of itemized expenses, but instead a progress report to give you a sense of how responsive they are to you and if they can communicate their progress clearly. If your charity can’t tell you what kind of results they created from your investment, find one that will.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Did Your Charity Get Lost In The Election Funding Crunch?

Billions of dollars were spent on the 2008 presidential election. Unfortunately, some of this money was diverted from good charities that were looking for it when their donors decided to invest in the campaigns instead. Some charities - those that were able to capitalize on the issues - actually benefit from contentious campaigns. But others - usually smaller, local ones who lack the resources to tie their marketing campaigns in with the election issues - suffer. Find out if your charity took a hit this year when their expected donors turned away from the charity, and towards the candidates, and if so, see if you can help.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month

We’ve created a short video that highlights financially sound charities working to prevent drunk and drugged driving. You can learn more about the many ways to support the cause and find out about which highly-rated charities are working to prevent driving under the influence. You can watch the video here and find an expanded list of organizations involved with this cause here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Food For The Poor

We at charity navigator would like to applaud Food For The Poor for earning their 8th consecutive 4-star rating. This is the first charity in our database to achieve this feat. We commend Food For The Poor for their commitment to responsible philanthropy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Did You Know?

  • Slightly less than half of the organizations evaluated by Charity Navigator have accumulated at least a year's worth of working capital to fall back on during economic downturns.
  • During December 2007, nearly ten thousand donors accessed Charity Navigator's ratings and subsequently gave more than $1.6 million online through the site. More than 2,200 charities were on the receiving end of all this generosity.
  • Of the more than 5,000 charities evaluated by Charity Navigator, the vast majority spend at least 75% of their budgets on the programs and services that they exist to provide, 10% or less on fundraising fees and 15% or less on administrative costs.
Visit our site to read more Holiday Factoids.

Ken's Commentary

Check out the two new posts on Ken's blog:
  1. Feeling the Pain 
  2. Ten Ebeneezer Charities

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two Reasons To Avoid Bell Ringers

  1. Dropping some change in the bucket outside the mall is fine, but responsible philanthropy, the kind that changes the world, is more sophisticated.
  2. You can't deduct the change you drop in a bucket without a receipt.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seeing Stars

We’ve got great news for donors! News that should help you feel good about giving this holiday season. The majority of charities on our site have 3 and 4-star ratings, meaning that they are good stewards of donors' contributions.

Here’s the current distribution of star ratings among the 5,300+ charities on our site:
31% have 4-stars
36% have 3-stars
23% have 2-stars
9% have 1-star
1% have 0-stars

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jon & Kate Plus St. Jude

Product placement seems to be the way of the future for advertising with all sorts of consumer goods making appearances in our favorite TV shows and movies. Now it seems that charities are getting in on the act.

Recently, I came across an episode of Jon and Kate Plus Eight in which the Gosselin family visited the 4-star St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I’m not sure who funded this - Kmart, where the family shopped for gifts for the kids in the hospital, Despereaux, the story that Kate read to the children, or some other sponsor – but I am sure it was a boon to St. Jude.

From the beautiful murals on the walls, to the parent’s testimonials, to the children’s smiles, to the dedicated staff, the public got to see how the hospital helps children and their families. This one show probably did more to expand this charity’s brand and generate contributions than conventional types of marketing and fundraising approaches (such as special events and direct mail appeals) could ever do. As such, I doubt this will be the last we’ll be seeing of charity product placement.

Year-End Giving and the Economy

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University recently found that confidence in raising contributions is at an all time low among the approximately 160 fundraisers that responded to their survey. Charity Navigator’s survey, in which 741 nonprofit professionals responded, shows a more mixed outlook with varying confidence levels by mission and location.

Toys for Tots Sees Increased Demand This Year

The latest in how the economy is negatively impacting charities comes from the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. The charity, which gives toys to needy children during the holidays, is receiving increased requests for toys this year while experiencing decreased donations. Receiving our highest rating for the past three years, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation has demonstrated its commitment to financial health; if you are interested in helping a child in need during the holidays, consider making a donation to this well-rated charity.

Support the Troops

We know many Americans intend on supporting the troops at this time of year. So we've compiled a list of the highest and lowest rated charities that offer services to the military, their families, wounded soldiers and veterans.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Corporate Givers Use Charity Navigator

Commtouch, a firm specializing in the development of anti-spam and other software to protect e-mail, recently used Charity Navigator to identify a charity worth supporting. Visit the company’s blog, Commtouch CafĂ©, to find out why they picked the 4-star charity Trickle Up.

December Update Part II

In an effort to provide charitable donors with the most up-to-date information available for year end giving decisions, today we publish another 245 updated ratings and offer both new and updated Top Ten lists. In this tight economy, make your contributions count by using our trusted and unbiased evaluations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mission Statements - Not Just for Charities

An article in The Wall Street Journal points out that high-end donors are creating mission statements to guide their charitable endeavors. But this best practice should be followed by all donors- no matter how much, or how little they have to give. In fact, it is the first tip in our article Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors.

Monday, December 15, 2008

American Idol Stops Giving Back

The extremely popular and successful American Idol "Idol Gives Back" episode will not happen this upcoming season. Citing concerns over unemployement and the overall weak economy the program does not feel it would be appropriate to ask for donations from the American public. The show, a charity telethon, has run during American Idol's season 6 and 7 and has raised over $130 million. The money was then dolled out to various charities. The timing and reasoning is curious as these charities most likely could use the money now more than ever.

Charities Hurt by Madoff Scandal

Many wealthy investors have lost their personal fortunes thanks to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Sadly, as several articles point out, many charities have also fallen victim.

Our President's Views on Giving and the Recession

Check out the latest entry in Ken's Commentary- Is Giving Recession Proof?

Food Bank Bailout for New Jersey

As part of a New Jersey energy assistance bill, food banks in New Jersey that have been hit hard by increased demand and economic hardships will receive $3 million in funds. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine plans to sign a food, energy assistance bill which totals $22.5 million. The balance of the funds will go to those who are having difficulties paying their utility bills and those facing foreclosure.

Friday, December 12, 2008

NPR to cut Staff and Programming

In another saddening story of tough economic times impacting the non-profit sector, National Public Radio (NPR) has announced it will be making cutbacks due to a $23-million dollar budget shortfall. According to an article in the Washington Post, NPR is laying off about 7% of its workforce and eliminating two programs, “Day to Day” and “News & Notes.”

We’ve been watching closely as the changing economy has forced arts organizations to file for bankruptcy and food pantries have seen unprecedented demands for their services. The news from NPR is yet another face of the financial crisis – demonstrating that many organizations are now unable to provide the same services they did in fairer economic weather. Our ratings show that NPR’s primary revenue dropped from $162 million in 2004 to $133 million in 2006, but they have consistently earned three stars in our efficiency category. Even charities that are operating efficiently aren’t immune to the pressures of the current economy, and while they may not disappear completely, some of their programs might. As our President notes, it is an important time to give what you can. You can be sure your charity, and the many lives that it impacts, will be thankful for every penny.

Small Charities Must File

Thanks to a provision in the Pension Protection Act of 2006, small charities are no longer exempt from filing annually with the IRS. Starting this year, charities with gross receipts of $25,000 or less must file the Form 990-N. Also known as the e-Postcard, this simple document is due by the 15th day of the 5th month after a small charity’s fiscal year ends. If a charity fails to file the Form 990-N for three consecutive years, then the group will lose its tax-exempt status.

You can check to see if your favorite small charity has filed its Form 990-N by visiting the IRS website. But don’t expect to learn much about the charity’s operations from this report as it only provides very basic information about the charity (such as name, address and website).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finish Your Holiday Shopping Today!

Sunday is the last day that you can purchase a plastic Good Card - a gift card for charity where you get the tax-deduction and the recipient gets to support their favorite charity - if you want it delivered in time for Christmas. You still have time to buy Good Cards if you plan to send them electronically.

Buy A Good Card Now!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Inspiring Last Lecture

Beliefnet named Randy Pausch the Most Inspiring Person of 2008. Mr. Pausch was the professor, diagnosed with a terminal disease, who gave the famous Last Lecture about living life to the most. If you were inspired by his message, then you may want to support a highly-rated pancreatic cancer charity in his honor.

Baltimore Opera Files for Bankruptcy Protection Under Chapter 11

We’ve heard consistent reports of how current economic conditions are negatively impacting many charities. In the news this week is the Baltimore Opera Company, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection according to National Public Radio. The company has cancelled the remainder of the 2008-2009 season and is not refunding money to ticket holders. This recent news confirms our evaluation of the Baltimore Opera as financially unstable. Their current overall rating is two stars, with only one star in the organizational capacity category. In the past they have earned only one star overall. This indicates they have insufficient cash reserves and have shown minimal growth in recent years. If you are interested in supporting the arts or your local performing arts organization, visit us to locate a program in your area, or choose a highly-rated arts organization here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Shopping for a Cause

Check out this BusinessWeek TV spot that includes an interview with Charity Navigator's President & CEO:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Toward a More Comprehensive Rating System

Click here to read the latest entry in Ken's Commentary - A Measure of Outcome - where our President and CEO outlines Charity Navigator's long term plans to expand our rating system to include outcome measurement.

Charity Navigator's Celebrity Fans Live On Stage Tonight

Tonight, Twisted Sister performs  A Twisted Christmas On Broadway. What does this have to do with Charity Navigator? Other than the fact that some of our staff is attending the concert, it turns out that singer Dee Snider and guitarist Jay Jay French use Charity Navigator to make informed giving decisions. And knowing that many of their fans make charitable contributions at this time of year, these rock legends have been encouraging their followers to take a closer look at the charities seeking their support by accessing Charity Navigator’s ratings.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Museum Declares Bankruptcy

As we’ve been saying for months now, the troubled economy has impacted organizations throughout the charitable sector. The most recent casualty is COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts. According to this recent article, the California food and wine museum has filed for bankruptcy. Although they plan to restructure operations and re-open the museum, this problem would have been avoided if they had successfully addressed the issues of minimal growth and limited rainy day funds which were revealed in our ratings. As our current evaluation shows, this organization is far from financially healthy, receiving just one star overall. Past ratings also show that this is a long term problem, with an overall rating of just two stars in prior years.

Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, it is important that donors support organizations that will do the most with their money. If you’re an arts lover, consider supporting a highly rated museum.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December Update

Yesterday we published 393 updated ratings, 13 new charity evaluations, more new top 10 lists, articles and hot topics all in an effort to help you make smart giving decisions during this holiday season.

Best Web Site

For the third year in a row, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine has named Charity Navigator as one of the "Best Web Sites in America."