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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Watch An Interview With Charity Navigator's President & CEO

Check out Ken's Commentary to watch an unedited interview Ken Berger, Charity Navigator's president & CEO, recently had with the Florida TV station WESH. The discussion centers on charity CEO compensation and how donors can determine if a charity is trustworthy.

For more detailed data on top pay at nonprofits, visit our CEO Compensation study. And go to our YouTube channel to watch more of our videos.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Does Taking Advantage Of A Deal Entice You To Give More?

A new study by University of Maryland economists, Andreas Lange and Andrew Stocking demonstrates that donors, just like consumers, appreciate a deal and associate quality with price.

In the study, over 700,000 individuals were asked to become a member of a nonprofit organization. The economists divided these individuals into the following three groups:

  1. those asked to give a minimum of $35 to join,
  2. those asked to give a minimum of $25 to join,
  3. and those asked to give a minimum of $25 which was promoted as a discounted rate.
The first and second groups had the same response rate of 0.23%, although the first group gave more ($45.21) on average than the second ($36.32). Interestingly, the response rate was higher (0.27%) when people perceived that they were getting a special deal on their membership fee. Individuals in the third group that took advantage of the offer gave on average $37.94.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sir Elton John Sings Our Praises On CNN

In an interview with CNN, Sir Elton John discussed his philanthropic accomplishments and aspirations. What does this have to do with Charity Navigator? Well, when asked how he measures the success of his charity, Elton John AIDS Foundation, he specifies that it has earned four consecutive 4-star ratings.

"In America for the last four years, I've measured the success by the fact that we have a four-star rating from the Charity Navigator for the last four years, which means that we are doing a fantastic job. We don't waste any money, we don't gamble with our money." - Sir Elton John

Of course, regular readers of this blog know that Sir Elton John isn't Charity Navigator's only famously, musical fan. Twisted Sister's Dee Snider and Jay Jay French have been known to encourage their audiences to rely on our research when choosing charities to support.

Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who have died serving our country. If you choose to celebrate Monday's holiday with a donation, then consider one of these highly-rated charities:

Freedom Alliance
Fisher House Foundation
National Military Family Association
Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust
Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation

And remember, as we told you in our blog about the FTC's Operation False Charity Sweep, not all military and veterans charities are good investments. Be sure to do your homework when giving to these groups. To help you, we've published a list of charities - some worth funding and some worth avoiding - that support our troops.

Each day, based on a particular holiday or event (like Memorial Day), Charity Navigator’s experts select 4-5 highly-rated charities to highlight.
Subscribe now.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Facebook Users Direct $3 million from Target

In the latest of many creative on-line fundraising drives, Target has decided to let the Facebook community direct a significant contribution; it will donate $3,000,000 based on votes cast between May 10th and 25th. Users can choose between ten causes, ranging from food availability to care packages for troops to medical research. The $3,000,000 donation will be allocated based on the percentage of votes each organization wins. Some top-rated charities that are eligible for Target’s donation include 3-star Feeding America, and 4-star rated Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Kids in Need, and HandsOn Network.

Are you a Facebook user with an opinion? Visit Target on Facebook to vote until May 25th (you must be logged in to cast a vote). Be sure to check out Charity Navigator’s page, too!

Target’s Facebook contest is evidence of a growing trend among non-profits seeking additional revenue sources in tough economic conditions. Large for-profit companies looking to bolster their community relations benefit from these social-media fundraisers by promoting their charitable actions and connecting with consumers directly. You can read more about this in an article published by The New York Times earlier this month.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Operation False Charity Sweep

The Federal Trade Commission along with several state law enforcement officials are cracking down on telemarketers who falsely claim to be soliciting money on behalf of police, firefighters, and veterans charities via a campaign called “Operation False Charity.”

Caught up in the investigation, are three related 0-star charities:
Our own research shows that each of these charities spends less than 10% of its budget on its mission. In fact, in 2007 the Coalition Of Police And Sheriffs spent just 4.3% on programs!

For years, we’ve cautioned donors to be careful when giving to police, firefighters, and veterans charities. As such, we commend the FTC and its partners for investigating this issue and for their ongoing efforts to ensure that America’s charitable dollars reach the recipients that need them the most.

Just as we’ve included plenty of giving tips and guides on Charity Navigator’s website, you’ll also find helpful advice on the FTC’s “Avoid Charity Fraud” page.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Nonprofit" Hospitals

The Orlando Sentinel is the latest FL media outlet to cover executive compensation at charities. In a column by Scott Maxwell, the paper examines CEO pay at Central Florida's nonprofit hospitals noting that the CEO of Winter Park-based Adventist Health earned $3.5 million in 2007. The column touches on Senator Grassley's long standing interest in ensuring that nonprofit hospitals are providing sufficient charity care --- a topic that Charity Navigator's President & CEO explored in his blog post Rip-off Non-profit Hospitals.

Update: Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee, of which Senator Grassley is a member, released policy options for financing the reform of America's health care system. In that document, the committee calls for a changes in the rules that establish hospitals as nonprofit. Here's an excerpt:
"Under the policy options, non‐profit hospitals would be required to maintain a minimal level of charitable activity, limit charges to uninsured, indigent patients, and limit aggressive collection actions. Hospitals that do not meet those requirements would be subject to an excise tax."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Online Sales and Donations Slow

eMarketer reports that growth in online sales is tappering off and is forecasting flat online sales in 2009. New research by The Chronicle of Philanthropy shows that the online habits of consumers and givers is pretty similar. According to the Chronicle's findings, median growth rates for online donations were 45% in 2006 and 42% in 2007, but just 28% in 2008. A consulting company quoted in the article noted that many of the charities they work with are not experiencing an overall drop in donations, but rather just a slow down in the growth of this revenue source.

At Charity Navigator we are seeing a similar trend in the online donations flowing through our site to the charities that we rate. Looking just at first quarter results, the number of online gifts made on our site (via our partnership with Network for Good) increased 65% in 2008, but just 37% in 2009. At the same time, the average gift size dropped 24% and 16%. Thankfully for the charities, the increase in the number of online donations was enough to compensate for the shrinking size of those gifts. Just as the consulting firm in the Chronicle's article noted, the total given online at our site grew by 29% in 2008 and 14% in 2009.

Although there is much discussion in the nonprofit sector about online donations and the potential of social media applications (such as Facebook and Twitter) to raise money, the Chronicle's study points out that the typical charity still generates just a fraction of its total donations via online sources. In this particular survey of 203 charities, online gifts accounted for 0.7% of total gifts.

Finally, eMarketer's analysis determined that consumers are spending more time researching purchases. Given the popularity of Charity Navigator's charity ratings, we can surmise that this is also true for online donations. With less discretionary funds available for philanthropic activities, donors are going to greater lengths to ensure that their donations are going to well-run and efficient charities.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Endangered Species Day

Today, May 15th, is Endangered Species Day. This day is used to bring attention to the issue of endangered species and promote the importance of protecting certain animal species. Many events will be held today at at parks, zoos and aquariums across the country that focus on this issue. You can view a list of 4 star rated charities dedicated to endangered species here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out: Grandiose Charity Benefits, In: Informal Events

According to The New York Times, this year charities are taking a less is more approach with their special events. Why? Given the recession, many attendees no longer have the discretionary income to pay for expensive tickets to charity galas. And the public backlash against wealth (think of the AIG bonus scandal), has other benefactors thinking twice about their attendance at high-end events. As such, the article highlights some ways that charities can lower their expenses (use balloons instead of fresh flowers for decorations) and thereby reduce the price of a ticket without impacting the bottom line.

Our research shows that special events can be woefully inefficient ways to directly raise charitable funds. So encouraging charities to pare down their costs and strive for greater efficiencies is a trend we welcome. However, given their ability to generate publicity and cultivate long-term relationships (called friendraising by some), we’re not so naive to think that charities are going to abandon their use of benefits all together.

We're curious about your thoughts on this development.

  • Nonprofit fundraisers – Has your charity scaled back the grandeur and ticket price of its special events this year? If you’ve already had your event, are attendance and sponsorship down?
  • Donors – Do you think it is tacky to attend an elaborate event in light of the recession? Have you put a cap on your special event spending this year?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CEO Compensation Taking a Hit

It shouldn’t come as a surprise with the economic turmoil that CEO compensation has taken a hit in 2008. Even though a Bear Stearns employee is suing for the $2 million bonus he thinks he is owed, most CEOs understand all too well the impact to their personal wealth that the market and economic circumstances have had. The biggest impact was on bonuses received by CEOs, which were down 27% according to this USA Today article. In addition, in response to the downturn, some CEOs of big corporations have turned down their salaries all together, and received $0 during the 2008 fiscal year.

Of course, the average CEO compensation for those organizations in our database, at roughly $149,000 doesn’t compare to the millions that for profit CEOs bring in per year, but we do see some similarities. We see more evidence in FY 2008 of CEOs either receiving the same compensation as the previous fiscal year, or taking a pay cut compared to the previous fiscal year. In addition, public outcry over CEO compensation is at an all-time high in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds, which can be seen in the tremendous number of comments our users leave on this subject.

In the end we hope that highly qualified leadership will remain in place to lead charitable organizations through the tribulations faced today, and that the process for setting the compensation will be documented, as it now needs to be reported to the IRS.

Charity Pay

Check out Ken's Commentary for a new post about excessive CEO pay at charities in the Orlando area.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Celebrity Apprentice Generates Awareness and Funds for God's Love We Deliver

As we told you previously, the celebrities participating in this season's Celebrity Apprentice did so behalf of a variety of charities including the highly rated StandUp for Kids and International Rett Syndrome Foundation. The final episode came down a battle to see who could pull off the better charity fundraiser - Joan Rivers on behalf of 2-star God's Love We Deliver (GLWD) or Annie Duke on behalf of 4-stars Refugees International. Despite the fact that Duke raised far more ($465,725) than Rivers ($150,830), Donald hired Rivers as his celebrity apprentice. Along with the title, Joan Rivers won $250,000 for GLWD.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Donors Giving Anonymously

As recently reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, more and more donors are making donations anonymously. This primarily seems to be a trend with donors making gifts of $1 million or more, but it is becoming more popular with lower level donors as well. The explanations for this are varied; from the feedback we have received at Charity Navigator, it seems the simple explanation is that donors are increasingly concerned about the privacy of the information they provide to charities. Today’s donors are more aware that charitable organizations often trade or share their donors’ contact information with other organizations, and in order to avoid being buried by the hundreds of mail appeals that can start with one single donation, they are choosing to keep their information private.

You can give anonymously through
Charity Navigator’s links to Network for Good, found on the left hand side of each rating page. And if you’re interested in learning how to stop receiving mail solicitations, please read our tips, How To Stop Solicitations By Mail.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Recent Accolades

As the recession continues on, the need for philanthropic investments in our community grows. At the same time, donors have less to give and are more carefully scrutinizing requests for charitable support. Several media outlets, providing advice to donors on how to conduct due diligence, have highlighted Charity Navigator as a helpful tool.

  • MONEY Magazine’s May issue includes its annual “Money 100 guide to the best investments, strategies, products and people in the world of money” to help the public “find the upside of the downturn.” The magazine offers a series of questions to help donors determine which charities deserve their support and recommends Charity Navigator as a source to help answer the questions.

  • Liz Pulliam Weston from MSN Money created a list of The 100 most useful Web sites that “have to do with money in some form or another -- making it, spending it, saving it, investing it, protecting it.” Charity Navigator, one of the best sites for charitable giving, was noted to be a “charity evaluation site” with “somewhat tougher standards than most.”

  • We recently noticed that personal finance guru, Jean Chatzky, features Charity Navigator as a “useful independent resource” on her site.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Family Foundations Dwindle

According to a recent report by the Foundation Center and Council on Foundations, over one third of family foundations have either decided to or are considering spending down earlier than planned. At the same time, many of these foundations are closing down operations altogether and moving their assets to donor-advised funds. The move allows these family givers to free themselves from the burden of administrative costs and day-to-day management decisions.

Given the one million plus charities out there, the news that some family foundations are closing their doors earlier than planned could be viewed as a good thing if it translates into more money going directly to high-performing charities. By cutting out the intermediary, more money can be put toward the valuable programs that inspire your generous contributions without getting tied up in the foundation's administrative fees.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Help Our Charity Garden Grow!

Spring is now in full swing and so is Charity Navigator's Spring Donor Drive.
If you're already one of our valued donors, we want you to know how very deeply we appreciate your past support and hope you'll make an additional gift now. Not a donor yet? We'd love to have you join the more than 6,000 committed individuals, families and organizations who support our work. Check out our donor letter to find out more about the tremendous impact your gift to Charity Navigator can have. Thank You!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Search for charities by their EIN

There have always been a multitude of ways to search for a charity on our site. Now you can also search using it's EIN (Employer ID Number). This unique number is assigned by the IRS to identify a business entity. Simply type the EIN by into the search bar or use the advanced search page. On each charity's rating page you can find their EIN with their contact information.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ongoing Concerns About Charity Mailings

A few month's back, we shared one donor's concerns about excessive and expensive charity mailings. Our post got picked up by the Chronicle of Philanthropy where it generated a lot of feedback. Since then, donors continue to voice their frustration with specific charity's solicitation practices in the comments section of our ratings pages and in their emails to us.

Here's an excerpt from one email detailing a donor's efforts to get off charities' mailing lists:

"I've been contacting a lot of charities lately trying to get off their mailing lists because I find it so wasteful when they send unwanted address labels, greeting cards, calendars, etc. It's been an interesting experience - discovering which charities don't share info, which ones take the time to respond, etc. One charity has been so helpful in helping to determine which other charities are sharing their mailing info that I may contribute to that charity later this year."
Consult the Tips portion of our site to find out what steps you can take to reduce the number of appeals you receive.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

You Can Lose Your Shirt At The Track - Or Just Help A Worthwhile Charity

This afternoon, 20 horses will be racing in the 135th Kentucky Derby. Fans will be cheering - and often betting - for horses such as General Quarters, Chocolate Candy and I Want Revenge to win the race and go on to the Preakness in the quest to become a Triple Crown Winner.

Perhaps this race may prompt you to want to learn more about charities that care for horses and celebrate horse racing. Below are a few highly rated such groups.
It is also interesting to note that as the official national charity of the Kentucky Oaks, the well-known breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, benefited from the festivities surrounding the Kentucky Derby. Including Komen as a partner, a powerhouse in the field of cause-related marketing, was part of an effort to attract a greater interest among women in the Tripple Crown