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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Finding New Ways to Reach America's Hungry

A recent article points out that food pantries and soup kitchens are beginning to think about the way they deliver food to America's hungry. The story points out that operating a food pantry during regular business hours prevents many working poor from being able to pick up food. High overhead costs are also a large factor in running a traditional soup kitchen. In the article, the President of D.C. Central Kitchen speaks about how he sees the current situation. It seems mobile food pantries may be the future. The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas already has a mobile pantry delivering food using a refrigerated truck. Changing the business plan of organizations like this will not happen over night, but it is good to see charities thinking out of the box in order to serve as many as possible. We will watch to see how it plays out in the future.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to Feel Better-Off During a Recession

Kimberly Palmer from U.S. News & World Report says that now, when times are tough, is the most important time to give to charity. Not only will it help charities in need, but it will help you feel better about your own finances. And she recommends that donors use Charity Navigator to find a charity worthy of support.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We Hear You

For more than a year, donors have been discussing CEO compensation, excessive fundraising expenses and aggressive telemarketing efforts on our site. They’ve also shared the reasons why they support specific charities. And some charity leaders have even posted explanations for less than stellar ratings.
You can find out which organizations have generated the most discussion by visiting our new Top 10 list of the Most Commented Charities and see which charities have new comments by checking out our homepage. Visit our site to start posting your own feedback now.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ken's Commentary

As we continue down the road of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, questions remain about how this will impact individual giving of time and treasure (i.e. volunteerism and individual contributions) to charity...

Visit Ken’s blog to read the rest of his most recent post, "Is There a Hierarchy of Giving?"

Charity Moves Ahead, Despite the Economy

This recent New York Times article reports that the Brooklyn Academy of Music is going ahead with a five-year $300 million campaign to expand the organization’s facilities. In the midst of economic turmoil, this announcement is surprising to many. And while the Academy admits that this is a challenging time to raise money, leadership of the organization believes that now, more than ever, it is important to look toward the future.

The expanded facilities will include a small, flexible theater, large rehearsal space, classrooms, offices and a green roof; these new spaces will attract new performers and new traffic for the neighborhood – ultimately improving the local economy. Not to mention that the construction project itself will create local jobs, requiring 125 construction workers daily and involving more than 800 tradesmen.

As we’ve said before, the impact of arts organizations on a local economy is significant, and frequently the benefits these institutions bring to an area are not recognized until it is too late. If you’d like to support an arts organization, we recommend you research before you give. You can view a list of highly rated arts organizations here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Free 990s on Our Site

Have you been inspired by a charity's mission and wanted to support its efforts only to find out that it isn't rated by Charity Navigator?
Although we evaluate, for free, ten times more organizations than anyone else in America has ever attempted, many deserving (and not deserving) ones exist that we haven't gotten to yet. To help remedy this situation, we turned to our friends at The Foundation Center. Thanks to our new collaboration with them you can now quickly access Forms 990 (the information tax returns that we use to evaluate charities) for the charities that we do not currently rate. Not only is this online tool free, but The Foundation Center’s database often provides significantly more than three years worth of 990s for each charity.

In conjunction with this new resource, we offer our guidance for interpreting the data. We hope you’ll also find our tips and the 990 finder helpful in conducting your own due diligence. The Texas Attorney General’s charity division found it so useful that they republished our tips on their new site.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Charities Benefit from Star Power

A recent ad campaign run by the A.S.P.C.A. raised an unprecedented $30 million for animals-in-need. The ad featured Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLaughlin in an emotional appeal that became the most successful ad in the organization’s history. While the A.S.P.C.A. campaign generated an unprecedented amount of revenue, it certainly wasn’t the first of its kind. Other examples of celebrity/charity ads include UNICEF with David Beckham and Stop Hunger Now with Jeremy Piven, Lance Bass, Vanessa Williams, and others.

You can see more charity-celebrity associations on our list of “Top Ten Celebrity-Related Charities.

Celebrity spokespeople are often featured in commercials that aim to raise awareness and support from the public. By harnessing “star power” and featuring pop culture icons in an ad or on a website, charities can quickly and effectively grab the attention of viewers to get their mission across. Adding authority and differentiating the appeal from a standard emotional plea are additional benefits of running a celebrity fund drive. Some well known celebrity-charity associations include UNHCR and Angelina Jolie, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and Mary-Tyler Moore, and A Hole In The Wall Gang Fund, founded by Paul Newman.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Expanding the Federal Do Not Call List?

At Charity Navigator, we always advise donors not to give over the phone, instead doing preliminary research on our site, and then avoiding the middleman by giving to the charity directly. This will ensure that no telemarketing firm will take a percentage of your donation before sending it on the organization of your choice. Unfortunately, it will not stop the phone calls coming in asking for your money.

However, answering the phone in Kansas might become a little less harrowing if Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt has his way. He is proposing that telemarketers calling on behalf of charities should be required to disclose the amount of any donations that will make its way to the charity. In response, the Attorney General’s office has stated such a requirement may interfere with telemarketers’ free speech rights.

The author of the article describing the Senate Majority Leader’s proposal poses an interesting alternative: Instead of a required disclosure of percentages, could the federal “Do Not Call” list be expanded? Due to current limitations in the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, those calling on behalf of charities are exempt from adhering to the Do Not Call list.

What do you think? Would you support an expansion of the Do Not Call list to include charitable organizations and the professional telemarketers calling on their behalf?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Fan

First Lady Michelle Obama supports informed giving and recommends that Americans use Charity Navigator to find charities worthy of their support.

Ken's Commentary

I mentioned a while ago about a professor I had in graduate school who argued that the difference between non-profits and for-profits is becoming more of a business decision rather than a meaningful...

Visit Ken’s blog to read the rest of his most recent post, “Rip-off Non-profit Hospitals.”

Another Casualty of the Economy?

As uncertainty about the economy continues to force businesses to make difficult decisions, the most recent trend is to eliminate or reduce matching gift and volunteer programs, reports the Wall Street Journal. An easy way to increase the impact of an employee’s donation to their favorite charity, these programs are now being viewed as a benefit some companies just can’t afford to keep. Many large companies, such as Northrop Grumman, General Motors and Proctor and Gamble, are cutting back or eliminating these programs completely. And for charities that are already struggling, this could reduce contributions even further.

However, the Seattle Times’ Business of Giving blog indicates that this problem isn’t as widespread as the Wall Street Journal might indicate; in general, more matching gifts are added each year than eliminated.

Without a doubt, we are in the throes of unprecedented economic problems, and it remains to be seen what will happen to these programs in the future. Regardless, if you’re not sure whether your company has a matching gift or volunteer program, you should find out and take advantage of it when possible. And of course, it is important to make sure your donation is going to a charity that is going to use it efficiently; as always, we recommend you use our site to find a fiscally healthy charity before your give.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

How Will You Celebrate the National Day of Service?

Monday is Martin Luther King Day. Many schools and places of business close for this federal holiday to honor the memory and accomplishments of Dr. King. Rather than spend the day on frivolous activities, Congress wants you to put this day off to good use by participating in a community service project. In fact, there are several government sponsored sites dedicated to encouraging the public to volunteer on Monday including one by the Corporation for National and Community Service and one created in response to President-elect Obama’s call to action. Charities featured on Charity Navigator, including Hands On Network and Volunteers of America, also list volunteer opportunities on their sites. And our Guide To Volunteering offers lots of advice if you are new to giving your time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Online Donations Show Slower Growth in 2008

Network for Good reports donations through its service were up 33% in 2008 over 2007, to more than $71 million. In comparison, online gifts grew 51% from 2006 to 2007.

About 75% of the donations processed by Network for Good come from individual charity sites. The remainder comes through Network for Good’s site or from other portals, such as Facebook Causes and Charity Navigator. In 2008, nearly $3 million was processed from Charity Navigator’s site representing a 16% increase over 2007 (the first full year in which donors were able to donate on our site).

Two other sites that encourage online giving reported 2008 giving results:
  • GlobalGiving says gifts were up 200% in 2008 to $8.8 million.
  • JustGive.org experienced a 16% drop in gifts to $21 million in 2008.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Many Can't Afford To Heat Their Homes This Winter

USA Today reports that more than 7 million households are likely to receive assistance paying their heating bills this winter thanks to funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. You can learn about, and support, charities that help the low income population pay their heating and electric bills on our site. We also offer an expanded listing of charities providing emergency financial assistance to those faced with a sudden financial crisis.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We Love Our Donors!

We applaud and most gratefully acknowledge the 3,131 donors who in 2008 supported Charity Navigator's mission to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of over 5,300 of America's largest charities. Your gifts to us benefit all who rely on us to help them form intelligent giving decisions. All of us here at Charity Navigator deeply appreciate your generosity and extend our best wishes to you for a wonderful New Year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Charity Can Combat Generation Me

The Motley Fool ran an interesting article offering 7 tips for parents that wish to prevent their children from becoming part of what the author, Dayana Yochim, calls the entitlement epidemic. Check out tip #5 which recommends involving children in a charitable cause. Our site offers more advice on how to engage your child in philanthropy, but we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Gracious Giving in in Difficult Times

We here at Charity Navigator want to thank the legions of big-hearted donors whom we assisted in directing close to $2 million dollars to their favorite causes in the month of December. It is always a privilege for us to provide guidance and be a trusted resource for those inspired to give--in these times, we are especially honored to play a role in donors' vital decision making about which charities to support. We thank you again and wish you well in your 2009 philanthropic endeavors!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Continued Trouble for Arts Organizations

The faltering economy continues to take its toll on arts organizations across the country. The most recent such news comes from the Field Museum in Chicago, which lost a significant portion of its endowment due to declines in the stock market (see our President's comments on this here). As a result, the organization is facing some major decisions involving budget cuts, layoffs, and exhibits for the year.

While arts organizations are certainly not the only charities having trouble in these tough economic times, Charity Navigator has always maintained that they generally suffer more than other types of organizations. This is primarily because the needs they address aren’t considered to be critical by the general public; however, as we have pointed out in the past, cultural institutions play a larger role than you might think at first glance. If you’d like to support an arts organization, we suggest you research your donation before giving. You can view a list of highly rated arts organizations here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Charities Impacted by Madoff Scandal Receive Help From Foundations

The Washington Post reports today that several nonprofit organizations that were victims of the Bernard Madoff investment scandal are receiving financial assistance from larger foundations. Human Rights Watch, The Center for Constitutional Rights, Brennan Center for Justice, and the Advancement Project are benefiting from an on-line, end of year campaign run by MoveOn.org. The fundraising drive raised donations that were then partially matched by large foundations – a total of $1.2 million will go to the four nonprofit groups.

Would You Give Your Raise to Charity?

Given these challenging economic times, many people will not get a pay raise this year. But one politician that is getting an increase says he’ll donate it to charity.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Military Conflict in Gaza

We've just posted a new Hot Topic for those that would like to donate to a hightly-rated charity helping the victims caught in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Charity Work is Big Business

Here are some interesting facts about the over 5,300 charities that Charity Navigator has rated.
  • In their most recent fiscal year, these charities generated approximately ­­$192 billion in total revenue. Total revenue generated by individual charities ranged from $6.28 billion (Harvard University), to $202,675 (Deputy Sheriffs' Fraternal Organization).
  • Of this $192 billion in total revenue, $155 billion came from the charities’ primary revenue sources. More than half of this primary revenue, some $89 billion, came from contributions from individuals, corporations, foundations, and government grants. Another $65 billion came from program service revenue, fees and contracts, and only $1 billion came from membership dues.
  • These same organizations reported spending $158 billion. Roughly 87%, or $137 billion, of these expenses were reported as program expenses. Administration expenses accounted for 9%, or $14 billion, and fundraising expenses accounted for the final 4%, or $7 billion.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Now is the time to form philanthropic goals for 2009.
  1. First, determine what causes are most important to you. 
  2. Next, develop a list of charities engaged in that type of work. 
  3. Then, using Charity Navigator’s free website, narrow that list to just a few that are financially healthy and have a donor privacy policy. 
  4. Finally, map out a plan and budget for the year and let the organization know your intentions. Knowing your plan helps the charity keep its fundraising expenses at a minimum while focusing on the programs you intended to support in the first place.