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, July 31, 2009

Bad Ending To National Parks and Recreation Month

Due to California's ongoing budget crisis, Gov. Schwarzenegger just cut another $6 million out of the state's parks system. As a result, up to 100 of the state's 279 parks and beaches may be forced to close. The 2-star California State Parks Foundation and the state parks department are asking for donations from foundations, corporations and individuals to help keep the parks and beaches open.

If you are troubled by this development, then you may want to consider not just supporting California's park system, but other parks across the country. The following video, about National Parks and Recreation Month, provides about some financially healthy charities dedicated to preserving our parks.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Few Words From Donors and Charities

"We had the highest percentage of new donors ever after receiving our third consecutive four-star rating and we found out, when we asked, that almost all of them came to us through Charity Navigator. Thank you for introducing us to so many new friends."
- Amy McGuire Porter, Executive Director, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health

"Here's how I used [Charity Navigator]. First, I examined the charities to which we donate now, many of which ranked poorly. Next, I looked at your categories and chose the ones that best match our values. Using your superb data, I was able to narrow down the overwhelming number of charities to the specific ones we want to support. Then, I allocated the total we could afford to give among the causes. This research took a lot of time but the result is a godsend. I now have a planned approach to donating. Now when I receive mail solicitations, I just toss those that don't match and open only those that do. No more feeling guilty. No more agonizing over heart-rending appeals. Eureka!"
- Charity Navigator User

"When I read the list of newly rated charities I recognized several from which I receive repeated phone calls asking for donations. Your listings add to my ability to resist the tearful pleas for disabled deputy sheriffs or whatever. The 0-star charities are the ones inundating phones and mail boxes with their solicitations. You are doing private donors a very great service by listing them warts and all."
- Charity Navigator User

"When an outside organization like [Charity Navigator] rates you, it gives the individual donor a reliable source from which to make a judgment about us."
- H. Dennis Smith, Executive Director, Northern Illinois Food Bank

Visit our site to read more comments from donors and charities.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

CN Site Visitors Respond!

Wow!--we would like to thank the 225+ Charity Navigator site visitors who have thus far responded so generously to our asking our users to help support our services. We are most grateful for your willingness to step up to the plate to help. If everyone who pays us a visit contributed just $1, we could easily and comfortably meet our annual budget. But, of course, not everyone does--so, to those of you who have so graciously made a contribution, we cannot thank you enough. Want to help but haven't as yet? Click here.

On another note, and in the interest of total transparency, Charity Navigator's latest IRS Form 990 filing (and filings from the two prior years) as well as our audited financial statements are available on the site. You can link to them here. For future reference, they can be accessed by clicking on the About Us tab at the top of the home page and scrolling down to the Financials link in the left column.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Car Donations a Thing of the Past?

In a time when donations are already down significantly and many charities are struggling financially, the newly passed “Cash for Clunkers” program may decrease the number of automobile donations given to charities. In an effort to stimulate the sale of automobiles and encourage people to trade in their less fuel efficient vehicles, the government will give people a cash incentive for trading in their cars in favor of more efficient vehicles.

When faced with a choice between up to $4,500 towards a new car and the tax benefit of donating your car to charity, charities are concerned that consumers are more likely to choose the cash, further hurting charities that rely on automobile donations to stay afloat. While the program has been restricted to only the most inefficient vehicles, specifically with the impact on charities in mind, it may be too much in this time of economic difficulty.

If you are considering donating your car to charity, we suggest you read Charity Navigator’s
Guide To Donating Your Car for tips on this subject.

Monday, July 27, 2009

NJ Nonprofit Symposium

The Nonprofit Institute for Philanthropy and Leadership at Bergen Community College will hold its second annual symposium on Wednesday, September 23, 2009. This year’s event, “Succeeding Despite Today’s Difficult Economic Times,” will feature discussion on the nonprofit sector, breakout sessions, networking opportunities and a keynote address by Steve Adubato, noted New Jersey television commentator (Caucus: New Jersey; Inside Trenton) and author. Charity Navigator's president & CEO, Ken Berger, is also presenting as part of a panel discussion titled "Surviving Tough Economic Times – Staying Focused on Your Mission."

Registration is $65 and includes breakfast, lunch and a copy of Adubato’s latest book. For more information or to register, please contact Ilene Kleinman at (201) 447-7160 or e-mail ikleinman@bergen.edu.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Layoffs and More Layoffs

The recession continues to cause the charitable sector to constrict. Layoffs have become so pervasive in the sector that the Chronicle of Philanthropy is keeping a running list of charities and their cost cutting measures.

As previously discussed in this blog, arts charities often suffer worse than other types of nonprofits during a recession. As such, it wasn't surprising to see that the most recent listing includes many cultural groups like the Philadelphia Orchestra and Skylight Opera Theater. But it was troubling to see that the list even includes large, well-known funders like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Ad Opportunity for Charities

Want to run an ad in The Wealth Management Resource Guide -- created by Trust & Estates Magazine, the premier magazine for Estate Planners? Now's your chance! The magazine is giving a special 35% discount to all charities rated by Charity Navigator. By listing your organization in the Wealth Management Resource Guide, your organization will be in front of some of the most prominent High-Net Worth advisers in the country.

For more information on this great opportunity contact Adam Strominger (212.204.4249 or email adam.strominger@penton.com) or click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

AIG/Starr Foundation Part 2

We continue to follow the battle between AIG and the Starr International Foundation. The latest news is that a federal jury ruled that a $4 billion endowment owned by the Starr Foundation was not improperly seized from a fund set up to pay bonuses to employees of AIG. That is good news to many charities who received grants from the Foundation. AIG was under the impression that some of those funds could be used to pay bonuses to AIG employees which led to the legal fight. Documents were produced at the trial that show the funds were held in a charitable trust which eventually became the Starr International Foundation. The ruling keeps the money with the Foundation....for now.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Money's List of Best Places to Live

Each year, Money Magazine publishes a list of the Best Places to Live. We thought it would be interesting to look at some of the charities located near the winning cities.

Top Small Towns
  1. 4-star rated Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Flatirons Habitat for Humanity and Western Resource Advocates are among the 15 charities rated by Charity Navigator that are located near the #1 Best Place to Live, Louisville, CO.
  2. Chanhassen, MN, voted 2nd Best Place to Live, is home to 4-star charities Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners and Children's HeartLink.
  3. Charity Navigator rates 20 charities that are within a few miles of #3 Papillion, NE, including 4-star charities Omaha Symphony and Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska.
Best Towns for the Rich and Single
  1. 4-star charities Santa Monica Baykeeper and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network are two of the 11 charities we rate that are located near Hermosa Beach, CA which earned the distinction as the #1 best place for the rich and single.
  2. Arlington, VA, the second best city for the rich and single, is home to nearly 40 of the charities we've rated.
  3. Beautiful Coronado, CA comes in third on this list. Our database contains 18 charities located close to Coronado including the newly rated Invisible Children.
Use our zip code/radius search feature to identify charities near your home. Or, if you live outside of the US, use our interactive world map.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports is advising its readers to check out Charity Navigator's ratings to ensure that their donations are not going to charities, like Point of View Ministries and Defeat Diabetes Foundation, that have earned consistently low scores. Their data comes from our article, Monitoring Long Term Performance, which includes a list of charities that have earned multiple 0-star ratings. On a more positive note, both articles also point out the longer list of charities that continuously receive our highest 4-star rating.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pay and Care at Nonprofit Hospitals in Washington

In two reports, The Charity of Hospitals and Million-Dollar Doctors, John Ryan of KUOW radio examines the amount of charity care provide by nonprofit hospitals in Washington State as well as the level of pay for the top executives at those hospitals. Charity Navigator’s president & CEO, Ken Berger, weighed in on both topics.

On the first issue of charity care, Ken noted that "the average nonprofit hospital in many parts of the country, the amount of charity care they provide is abysmal, it's like 2.5 percent, and you're considered the best in your class. What that tells us is that there's something profoundly wrong with the current definition of what it's acceptable to do to be defined as a nonprofit hospital."

As for pay, Ken pointed out that among the largest of the 5,400 charities rated by Charity Navigator the average CEO compensation is about $250,000. He said, "I can't buy the arguments that there aren't some doctors out there who would be willing to do this work for less than millions and millions of dollars."

You can learn more about these topics by reading Ken’s blog post Rip-off Non-profit Hospitals.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Founder and CEO of Teach for America featured in New York Times

Teach for America (TFA) Chief Executive and Founder Wendy Kopp was interviewed by the New York Times in an article that appeared July 4th. When asked how she creates a sense of mission within her organization, Kopp directly addressed program outcome measurement, the subject of a recent Charity Navigator site visit with TFA. By abandoning traditional actions like developing strategic plans in favor of isolating priorities, TFA has become a pioneer in measuring success. When all individuals in the organization are working towards defined goals and measurable outcomes, the long-term results seem to fall in to place, according to Kopp. In the article, she described this approach to outcome measurement:

We spent the last year asking ourselves, “Where do we want to be in 2015?” And that led to this analysis of our priorities. How are we going to measure our success? What should our goals be? … It was this massive, from-the-ground-up inclusive process that just got everyone aligned with our priorities and goals.”

Charity Navigator recently met with Matthew Kramer, Chief Program Officer and President at TFA – a charity that has earned seven consecutive four star ratings. While discussing program outcome tracking within the non-profit world, we had the opportunity to learn about TFA’s current approach and were impressed with TFA’s model system. You can watch a video footage of the interview here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Interview with Teach For America's President

Staff from Charity Navigator recently toured the national headquarters of Teach For America, a charity with 7 consecutive 4-star ratings. Our President and CEO, Ken Berger, interviewed TFA’s President and Chief Program Officer, Matthew Kramer, about his charity’s efforts to measure outcomes. Here are highlights from their conversation:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Concerts: New Ways of Giving Back

With summer in full swing, what is a better way to enjoy it than with some live music. This year you can enjoy the summer line up and also give back. Along with charity concerts, some organizations have come up with some innovative ways for concert goers to give back through volunteerism and donations.

FreeFest, hosted by Virgin Mobile, has set aside over 3,000 tickets and is giving them to fans who have volunteered time helping the homeless. Thirteen hours of service at select homeless organizations gets a VIP pass; eight hours earns general admission. And those who already have tickets are being asked to donate $5. Blink 182, Weezer, Franz Ferdinand, Jet, Public Enemy, to name a few, are some of the artists expected to perform.

If you can’t make the concert but want to volunteer, take a look at our Guide to Volunteering for tips and information. Also, take a look at this list of highly rated charities that serve the homeless.

Another innovative organizations coupling charitable giving and concerts is Tickets-for-Charity. Tickets-for-Charity works directly with artists, management, venues and promoters to make high-demand live event seats available at face value plus a separate donation directed to partner charities. They currently partner with more than 30 highly-respected charities nationwide including Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, CARE, Feeding America, and United Way of America.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The "Lunch Box"

David Arquette, mostly known for his role in the movie "Scream" and as the spouse of Actress Courteney Cox, will be living in a plexiglass box for two days as a fundraiser for Feeding America. Feeding America is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. The box David will be living in will be above the Madison Square Garden marquee in New York City. The goal is to raise $250,000 for the organization while he lives in the box this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Charity Muggers

What is a Charity Mugger, also known as a "chugger" in England? According to Sandy Stonesifer, from the Slate, these are folks that approach you on the street and attempt to coax you into supporting a charity. Read her column to find out how best to respond to these types of appeals.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Giving To Women’s Causes Increasing

A recent study by the Foundation Center, in cooperation with the Women’s Funding Network, has found that foundation giving to women’s and girl’s causes has outpaced general foundation giving. Most of this giving is done via so-called women’s funds, which are explained as “grant making entities that seek out and invest in women-led organizations and programs that are building solutions to core challenges in communities”. According to the study, between 1990 and 2006, foundation giving to women’s causes rose 223 percent (adjusted for inflation). In contrast, during the same time period, overall foundation giving increased 177 percent.

Charity Navigator rates many organizations whose primary focus is on women and girls. If you want to get in on the trend, and research some of these charities, you can find our ratings for them on our website by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tiger Woods Defends his Philanthropy

Former NFL great Jim Brown took on Tiger Woods saying he does not do enough when it comes to "social change." In a recent interview, Jim Brown stated that when it comes to "social change" Tiger woods is "terrible." Tiger rebutted the claim by pointing to the work of the Tiger Woods Foundation and how many kids the Foundation assists through grants and scholarships. How do you feel about this dust up? Do you believe that powerful celebrities should be held to a higher standard when it comes to their philanthropic activities?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson and Philanthropy

Michael Jackson leaves behind an assortment of chart-topping albums and is best known for his remarkable contributions to pop music. While there is certainly controversy surrounding Jackson’s music career that spanned several decades, his actions to help children and other needy groups around the world cannot be overlooked.

Jackson gave millions to various charities over the years. He reportedly made the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000 for the highest number of charities supported by a pop star. A song he co-wrote with Lionel Richie, titled “We Are the World,” sold 20 million copies and generated millions of dollars for global famine relief. According to a USA Today article, Jackson supported a variety of individual organizations as well, including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Cancer Society. You can see an expanded list of charities that Jackson supported here.
In 1992, Jackson founded the Heal The World Foundation, which works to protect's the worlds most vulnerable populations - including children, the elderly, and animals - through fundraising and relief efforts. The foundation lost its tax exempt status in 2002.
A memorial service is being held for Jackson at Los Angeles’ Staples Center today. An estimated 1.6 million people registered for a random drawing that allocated 8,750 pairs of tickets to the service.
UPDATE 8/12/09: After the Heal The World Foundation lost its tax exempt status in 2002, an organization was registered with the IRS in 2008 with the same name. The new charity is not related in any way to Michael Jackson or his estate according to CBS. The website for that group features pictures and biographical information from Jackson, but it is important to note that this Foundation is unrelated to Jackson's original charitable work.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Offshore Accounts

The IRS is increasing its scrutiny of Hedge Funds and private equity investors in regards to their funds that are being held in offshore accounts. Surprisingly, a good amount of those funds include money held for tax-exempt foundations and endowments. As of now, the IRS is only looking for more disclosure from the Hedge Funds by enforcing the submission of a specific report which details the funds held offshore. There is no telling how this may affect the investing strategies of non-profits, but it may lead to some interesting transparency on where their investments are held.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Supporting Military and Veteran-Related Charities this 4th of July

To help you give with confidence to military and veteran-related charities this 4th of July, our site includes a hot topic and an article which highlight the highest and lowe
st-rated of these charities.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Americans Salute the Crown this Independence Day

After years of being closed to the public, Lady Liberty's crown is slated to reopen this Independence Day. While the base of the iconic statue has remained open to visitors, trips to the crown were halted due to security concerns after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Some Say the decision to reopen the crown represents greater confidence in our national security. Others are simply looking forward to seeing the outstanding view from the top.

Whatever the reason for making the trip, both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island require plenty of attention to keep them preserved for future generations and safe for visitors. If you'd like to be a part of preserving these American landmarks, consider making a contribution to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Ratings

Today, we issued nearly 500 new ratings. You may see some of those charities on the new Top 10 lists added to the site:
We also added about 20 new charities to our site. Many of these charities will be familiar to donors, but two, in particular, stand out.
  • The first, is Invisible Children which earned our highest 4-star rating. This charity's efforts to increase the awareness about the 20-year-long war on the children of Northern Uganda has garnered it significant media attention (check out videos from their coverage by Larry King and Oprah). In fact, you might have seen this charity in the news just last week when it hosted a two-day lobbying campaign in DC.
  • In elementary school, I remember having to rifle through musty smelling hard cover encyclopedias to write my reports. Today, when we need to look something up in an encyclopedia the vast majority of us simply access Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. The newly rated 3-star Wikimedia Foundation is the charity behind this very popular site.
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