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, September 30, 2009

Samoan Tsunami

An earthquake of magnitude around 8.0 occurred in the Pacific off of the island of American Samoa at dawn on Tuesday (local time). The earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit American Samoa, Western Samoa and the island of Niuatoputapu in Tonga. So far, at least 100 people are dead and tens of thousands more are in need of shelter, food and water. President Obama has declared a major disaster. FEMA reports that shelters are open and that they are housing several thousand displaced people.

Relief Web has lots of information about the tsunami/earthquake including maps of the affected region and reports from charities providing relief. CNN’s Impact Your World, one of Charity Navigator’s partners, also includes lists of charities, updated news and photos.

If you are touched by this tragedy and are considering making a donation, then we encourage you to review our Tips For Giving In Times Of Crisis before you support one of the charities involved in the relief efforts:

Are Charitable Donations Distributed Wisely?

Ken Berger, Charity Navigator's president & CEO, was on Fox Business News today as part of a panel on philanthropy that included Howard Husock, Vice President of the Manhattan Institute and Steve Goldberg, author, Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets and member of Charity Navigator's new Advisory Panel. They discussed whether we need a stock market for charities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Volunteer Data

Are you one of the 61.8 million Americans who volunteered last year? Curious how volunteer rates in your state compare to other sates? Ever wonder what activity volunteers most prefer to do? Check out this cool widget created by Volunteering in America which answers these questions and more:

And don't forget to check out Charity Navigator's Guide to Volunteering.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nonprofit Pay Still In The News

In August, Charity Navigator published the results of its annual CEO Compensation Study. Our report, which exmained CEO pay at over 5,400 charities, showed that the average CEO's compensation increased 6% over the previous year.

Today, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released its own survey and their findings mirror ours. Specifically, the Chronicle took a look at CEO pay for 325 large nonprofits and found that it increased a median 7%.

USA Today and NPR are covering the story and their articles include quotes by Charity Navigator's president & CEO, Ken Berger.

Non-Cash Donations

Tax data for fiscal year 2006, shows that individuals who itemized deductions on their tax forms (24.7 million) deducted a total of $52.6 billion for noncash charitable contributions. 6.2 million of these individuals filed Form 8283 which is used when the noncash donation exceeds $500. Of the total noncash donations, 49% of it was donated stock which totaled $23 billion. This was an increase of 40% from the prior year (2005). The amount ($6.3 billion) deducted for clothing fell 10.8% from the prior year, the first time that figure declined in the past few years. The drop could be a result of a tax law change in 2006 that stated these items had to be in "good condition or better" in order to allow for a deduction. If you are interesting in making a noncash donation to a charity, please be sure to read our tips on the subject here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Survey For Good

Pause to Support a Cause, an innovative new program created by the CMO Council, compensates consumers who take part in market research surveys by making a donation to the consumer's favorite charity. Charity Navigator is a partner in this program and also a charity eligible to receive funding.

Go ahead and learn more about how it works. Then sign up and select Charity Navigator as your charity of choice.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rutger's Ethical Leadership Speaker Series

Charity Navigator's president & CEO, Ken Berger, recently joined the Board of Rutgers Business School’s Institute for Ethical Leadership (IEL). The IEL seeks to create awareness and education about the importance of ethical leadership. In pursuit of this mission, the Institute presents a series of forums focused on “real dilemmas and their potential solutions.” The first presentation in this year's series will focus on the leadership challenges we face in difficult times.

Here are the details about the first event.
  • Topic: Creating an Ethical Organization Culture and Dealing with Ethical Issues
  • Keynote Speaker: Nicholas J. Valeriani, Company Group Chairman, Worldwide Franchise Chairman – Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Johnson & Johnson

  • Panel of Chief Ethics and Compliance Officers: Lee Augsburger, Prudential Financial; Jacqueline E. Brevard, Esq., Merck; Andrea Bonime-Blanc, Daylight Forensic & Advisory, LLC

  • When: Thursday, October 8, 2009, 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

  • Location: Rutgers Business School,1 Washington Park, Newark, NJ Lecture Hall 220, 2nd Floor

  • Fee: $45.00 includes continental breakfast

  • Register now .
If you have questions about this program, then please contact IEL at 973-353-1134 or leadership@business.rutgers.edu.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rehab for Humanity

As foreclosures sweep the nation, there is at least one reason to be hopeful: newly discounted prices are making it possible for community groups to purchase and renovate homes for low-income families. Many organizations that have traditionally built new homes for low-income families, such as Habitat for Humanity, are now finding it more cost-effective to rehab foreclosed homes. This serves the dual purpose of providing adequate housing for those in need and protecting heavily foreclosed neighborhoods from additional neglect. In this way, housing groups are able to affect whole communities rather than just a single family at a time.

If you'd like to help housing groups rebuild communities, take a look at the ratings for organizations dealing with foreclosure today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bills, bills, bills… can you pay your utility bills?

In this weak economic climate, more and more Americans are having their power shut off as bills get harder to pay. Utility companies are seeing a record number of customers that have had their power cut or are in danger of being disconnected. With the winter months looming ahead this is a concern. Although there is some regulation where utilities may not cut power off during extremely cold weather, the regulations vary state to state.

Already this year, the federal Administration for Children and Families distributed a record $5.1 billion to states to help low-income households pay energy costs.

If you would like to help families hurt by the economic slump, consider donating to charities that are helping people financially with their utility bills. You can view a list of those charities here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Celebrities Help the Philanthropic Sector

Whether it is recording public service announcements or auctioning off designer clothing, many celebrities are donating their time, talent, and resources to the non-profit community. We’ve posted about celebrities helping charities before on this blog. When a celebrity becomes involved with an organization’s work they help spread the charity’s message while bringing in additional funds. Elton John, Jimmy Carter, Paul Newman, and Paula Abdul are just a few of the dozens of celebrities helping charitable causes across the country. To learn more, watch the short video below or see our list of celebrity-related charities by visiting our celebrity hot topic page.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New for Charity Navigator Supporters!

By popular demand, we have added two new donation payment options to the Support Charity Navigator page on our site.

Because so many of you told us that you already have accounts with PayPal
and Amazon, we decided that we want to do all we can to make your donation experience as seamless and hassle free as possible. And, from the initial response, it seems that these new options are a hit. We thank you for
your support.

Please Note: These options are available only to donors to Charity Navigator; if you wish to donate via our site to any of the charities featured on it, Network for Good is the only option available at this time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Philanthropy Courses at Bergen Community College

In addition to his participation in a panel discussion at the upcoming Nonprofit Symposium, Charity Navigator's president & CEO, Ken Berger, will teach a course at NJ's Bergen Community College this fall. Measuring Nonprofit Organizational Performance will review the tools and techniques that are currently in use to measure nonprofit organizational performance in the areas of efficiency, capacity, suggested best practices and outcomes. This course will be held on November 25.

For more information or to register, please contact Ilene Kleinman at 201-447-7488 or ikleinman@bergen.edu.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Children’s Aid Society Earns Its Ninth 4-Star Rating

Congratulations to our first ever recipient of nine consecutive 4-star ratings, Children’s Aid Society! We applaud CAS for its consistent demonstration of exceptional financial health.

If you’re interested learning more about other consistently financially healthy charities (as well as some with chronically poor financial health), check out
this article.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Celebrate the End of Ramadan

As the end of Ramadan approaches, Muslims world wide prepare for the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr (Festival of Fast-Breaking). After a month of fasting, spiritual cleansing, and charity, Muslims will celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr on September 20th. During this festival, families get together, share meals, wear new clothes, and exchange gifts to commemorate the occasion.

In the spirit of Ramadan where charity and compassion are revered, consider giving Good Cards when exchanging gifts. Good Cards work like a gift card except the recipient of the card can give to a charity of their choice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Podcast with Charity Navigator's President & CEO

Charity Navigator’s president & CEO, Ken Berger, recently discussed our plans for expanding our methodology for evaluating charities with The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Listen to what Mr. Berger had to say:

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. As the years continue to pass, it is important to still keep in mind those directly affected by the attack and the assistance that is still required. Many charities (listed below) still have programs related to the effects of that day and remain in need of support. We hope you keep them in mind today and promise to never forget the events of September 11th, 2001.

*The September 11th Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center is working towards their opening in 2012. We are currently compiling an evaluation of that organization and with your financial assistance we can complete the evaluation. For more information please email our Development Office at development@charitynavigator.org.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Case Study: Becoming a Top-Rated Charity Can Improve Donor Support and Increase Revenue

By Kim Sharkey, CFRE is the CEO of The Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis.

“On behalf of Charity Navigator, I wish to congratulate The Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis on achieving our coveted 4-star rating . . . As the nonprofit sector continues to grow . . . savvy donors are demanding more accountability, transparency and quantifiable results from the charities they choose to support with their hard-earned dollars.”- Ken Berger, President & CEO of Charity Navigator, in a letter dated January 30, 2009

In today’s economic environment, or any economic environment for that matter, determining ways to maximize donor support is a key strategic advantage. Many charities struggle with maintaining and growing donor dollars. At The Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis, we embarked on a path to improve our fiscal responsibility as a strategic step to increasing revenue. Improved ratings by charity watchdog groups, and the operational improvements that enable them, can allow a nonprofit to better qualify for institutional and corporate support, as well as remove barriers to larger donations from private individuals.

The Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis was founded in 1984 to offer programs for people with multiple sclerosis based on the philosophy of founder and former Olympic skier Jimmie Heuga. Heuga pioneered the use of exercise to help manage the disease. Programs have expanded to include focus on the whole person and family living with the impact of chronic MS.

The Center, headquartered in Edwards, CO, serves people with MS in the US and Canada. We operate with an annual budget of $1.8 million, a staff of fourteen and an adjunct programs staff of one hundred. We are governed by seventeen board members residing throughout the US.

The first critical step to implementing an operational improvement plan is getting stakeholders to recognize that something has to be done. A simple assessment of revenue results for several years can highlight issues within the organization. Changing operational methods is not easy. There needs to be a catalyst for change, or tipping point, which creates enough tension to get an organization through the recognition stage and into taking action.

Prior to 2006, the organization had no operational reserves, and had to exercise a line of credit in 2005 to maintain basic services. With 80% of revenues resulting from one principal event, the Snow Express, donor fatigue after 20 years of fundraising had become significant. The staff was consumed with running events, leaving little time to pursue other revenue opportunities.

Numerous discussions regarding the declines in event revenue had not resulted in a commitment to change at either the board or staff level. Borrowing money in 2005 was the catalyst. A capital campaign was decided to be the solution, and immediate steps were taken to launch one ASAP. Fortunately, a professional fundraiser serving on the development committee insisted in the use of a feasibility study as a first step to ensuring campaign success.

The study was performed by Roecker Consulting Group. Results included details regarding donor and stakeholder perceptions on use of funds and focus on mission. The inputs were not favorable. It was clear that success of a capital campaign was unlikely. This issue of donor trust became the tipping point. We made the strategic commitment to improve perceptions through operational excellence, communications and transparency in operations.

At a joint strategic planning meeting of Board and staff, we established a task force, with defined goals, objectives and tactics, to implement nonprofit best practices at The Heuga Center. Our decision to make quality improvements came directly from stakeholder feedback received in the feasibility study. Use of a strategic planning process was instrumental in aligning objectives and ensuring support at all levels. The goal “to be a top-rated charity” was one of three strategies determined to improve perception, increase donor trust and enable fundraising success.


We selected charity watchdog groups - one of which was Charity Navigator - as agencies to provide independent assessment of our operations. These organizations are highly respected for inputs on nonprofit quality. Additionally, we were accepted by the Combined Federal Campaign and became a listed charity for their fundraising. These sources use different rating methods and can provide a balanced assessment of nonprofit operational quality.

Our Best Practices Task Force took on the challenge of understanding the evaluation methodology of each group. Action lists were established and implementation of operational improvements began. Initial discussions with the rating organizations were very useful in defining what we needed to do. Implementation was rapid, because most of the issues were related to how we did things, rather than what we did. Filing of our 2005 IRS 990 had resulted in an overall Charity Navigator rating of one star, including one star for operational efficiency.

By 2006, we had significantly changed our use of funds. Fundraising activities were managed to an expense ratio target. Events that didn’t meet the new requirements were eliminated, or put on ‘probation’ for the next year to assess effectiveness. Issues preventing grant proposal success were resolved. A series of policies and procedures were implemented to initiate the changes and ensure operation to the newly adopted practices. Filing of the 2006 IRS 990 resulted in a total rating by Charity Navigator of four stars, including three stars for operational efficiency.


The focus on operational efficiency made us look at all aspects of our organization. We used the inputs from a variety of sources to determine what best practices were. Our efforts had sweeping results across the entire operation, including the Board of Directors and the management of a separate endowment fund.

The overall effect has been to transform our organization into one that is focused on our mission, using more than 80 percent of our funds to support programs and services. We have ensured transparency in financial reporting and validated our results with three sources, as well as an independent auditor. Each day we spend less time on fundraising and more time improving programs and services and defining new ways to achieve our mission. We have finally been able to invest in infrastructure which will enable us to reach more people living with multiple sclerosis than ever before.

"This year I resolved to make a will and living trust. I wanted to leave a bequest to an organization which meant something to me and related to my life experiences. I conducted research on MS organizations, looking for those that were making a difference and were fiscally responsible. I had previously learned that a four-star charity rating was important. As a result I selected The Jimmy Heuga Center. I liked The Heuga Center’s emphasis on physical fitness and its expanded program of wellness, so that those living with MS and their families can achieve the optimum quality of life.” - Andra Orebaugh, Major Donor

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer Camp Philanthropy Style

As a teen, I remember having a variety of summer camp options. There were the traditional swimming and sport camps. There were career specific camps like astronaut camp and sea camp (which I did attend). But I do not recall any camps that focused on philanthropy.

Today, for freshman in high school to freshman in college, that option does exist at the Grab The Torch’s Philanthropy Camp. The 5-day overnight camp experience provides campers an in-depth educational experience into the business and commitment of the non-profit, foundation, cause related marketing and global greater good professional. This year's featured speakers included representatives from more than two dozen nonprofits, including Charity Navigator's own Ken Berger. Watch the video located here (scroll to the bottom of the page) to hear the participants, including Ken, describe their experience at the camp.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back To School Charity Quiz

As the new school year gets underway, the first item on every teacher’s agenda is to determine what knowledge his/her students have retained over the summer. This inspired our staff to create a short, 12 question quiz to assess your nonprofit aptitude. Our nonprofit test will reveal whether you’re ready to move to the front of the class or if you could use a refresher course.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009

International Literacy Day

With the summer months slowly drawing to a close, and schools back in session almost all across the country, it is an important time to shine a light on literacy. Since UNESCO announced September 8 as International Literacy Day in 1965, this day has been used annually to highlight the continuing issues with the literacy rate all around the globe, including in the United States. According to UNESCO, one in five people around the world is not literate, two thirds of them women. People that are not literate lack basic reading and writing skills. Imagine for a second not being able to read the newspaper, or the note that your child brought home from school. Aside from enjoyment purposes, reading and writing skills are required in almost all daily tasks, from filling out job applications to reading street signs. The need for literacy skills is pervasive in society, and many people are at a standstill, unable to improve their position in life due to the lack of these skills.

At Charity Navigator, we rate the financial health of multiple organizations that focus on improving literacy. If you feel inclined to support an organization that aims to improve literacy within the United States, you are bound to find something that matches what you are looking for by clicking here. In addition, there are several organizations that are addressing this issue on an international level. You can access a list of them by clicking here. Lastly, this list focuses on organizations that provide access to books for all.

Of course, for those so inclined, information on how to support the 'financial literacy' that Charity Navigator provides its users for free can be found here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top Modern Day Philanthropists

A proponent of philanthropy in life rather than death, Andrew Carnegie derided posthumous bequests as "... only a means for the disposal of wealth, provided a man is content to wait until he is dead before he becomes of much good in the world" and added that "... men who leave vast sums in this way may fairly be thought men who would not have left it at all had they been able to take it with them." Encouragingly, Forbes has recently released a list of the 14 most generous philanthropists following in Carnegie's footsteps and distributing their wealth while they are alive to see that their contributions are being used effectively. The list includes:
  1. Bill Gates
  2. George Soros
  3. Gordon Moore
  4. Warren Buffett
  5. Eli Broad
  6. James Stowers
  7. Herbert and Marion Sandler
  8. Michael Bloomberg
  9. Li Ka-shing
  10. Dietmar Hopp
  11. Michael Dell
  12. Klaus Tschira
  13. Stephen Schmidheiny
  14. Ted Turner
While most of us can't hope to contribute a billion dollars or more to our favorite charities such as the philanthropists on the list above have done, every bit helps. So if you feel inspired to give, visit Charity Navigator today to see how your donations would be managed at the charity of your choice and to view tips on giving.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Great New Way to Support Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator and Capital One (the "What's in Your Wallet?" folks) have teamed up to offer our valued users and donors an exciting and easy new way to support us. Today, we're launching our newest fundraising program, which will help us earn money while you simply do what you do every day. Just sign up for and use our custom Capital One Visa card and 1% of your purchases will be donated to Charity Navigator. Plus, we'll get a $25 bonus donation when you make your first purchase. The card comes with a competitive rate and no annual fee, so sharing your passion--and your support--is easy and automatic. Apply today!

If you have questions about the program, there is an FAQ section on the
application page or feel free to contact us at development@charitynavigator.org.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September Update

On September 1st, we issued nearly 330 new ratings, including those for American Red Cross (3-stars), Ducks Unlimited (4-stars), Help Hospitalized Veterans (0-stars), and Bay Area Discovery Museum (0-stars).

We also added 15 new charities to our site. These include Bill of Rights Institute (4-stars), Van Andel Institute (4-stars), and Publicolor (3-stars).

You can also check out the new Top 10 lists added to the site this month, as well as a few articles that deal with the ongoing problems charities are facing in these tough economic times. While there are concerns about continued decline in funding, a study has shown that volunteering has remained steady.

If you haven't done so already, be sure to sign up for our free, monthly, email newsletter so that you can automatically be notified about our updates.