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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Charities Respond to the Flooding in North Dakota

Over the past week some areas of North Dakota have seen significant flooding. Here is a list of some of the charities assisting those in need:
Convoy of Hope
Operation Blessing International
PetSmart Charities

Spread the Word to End the Word

Special Olympics is having an awareness day that works to have Americans stop and think about the use of the word "retard." Today, March 31st, young people across the country will attempt to raise awareness and collect pledges that vow to never use that word. It is an effort that will try to get people to use respectful language when talking about those with intellectual disabilities.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Is Your Charity Prepared To Weather The Economic Storm?

From the Wall Street meltdown, to the foreclosure crisis, to the rising unemployment rate, our economy has taken a turn for the worse. As a result, charities are bracing for the fact that many Americans will have less money to give this year. How can you tell if your favorite charity is prepared to deal with a dip in contributions?

Take a close look at the charity’s working capital ratio as displayed on its Charity Navigator ratings page. Often referred to as a ‘rainy day fund,’ this metric helps illuminate how vulnerable a charity is to changes in giving patterns. Those with 6 months to a year’s worth of working capital are well positioned to sustain their programs while those with very limited working capital are at risk. The good news is that 60% of the charities we’ve reviewed have at least 6 months of working capital on hand. The bad news is that 9% of the charities have less than a month’s worth and thus are at risk of having to cut programs or staff.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Vote Earth

Earth Hour
is conducting the world’s first global election on Saturday, March, 28th and it is up to you to decide who will win: Earth or Global Warming.

Earth Hour first started in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund in Sydney, Australia. That year, 2.2 million homes and businesses turned off their lights for one hour to make a statement about energy conservation. In 2008, about 50 million took part. In 2009, Earth Hour is aiming to get 1 billion people to participate.

All over the world, cities, companies and millions of individuals are expected to turn off their lights. In the United States, Pennsylvania, California and Arkansas have been the first states to pledge their support. Many key landmarks are also expected to participate, such as: the Las Vegas strip, the Empire State Building, Opera House in Sydney, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Great Pyramids in Egypt, and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia to name a few.

How do you vote? At 8:30pm (your local time), Vote Earth by simply switching off your lights for one hour, and join the world for Earth Hour.

Alzheimer's Disease Rates Increasing

With the baby-boomer generation aging by the minute, and people living longer due to medical advances, diseases like Alzheimer’s are becoming more prevalent in society. As the incidence rate goes up, so does the need for a cure and improved treatment options. This article in USA Today describes some of the findings of a recently released report, 2009 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, and reiterates the importance of continued support for people battling the disease, as well as the critical funding needs for organizations doing Alzheimer’s research. Charity Navigator rates several organizations that are performing and/or supporting this research, as well as organizations that are supporting patients and their families currently waging the battle against the disease. You can review those by clicking here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Which Charitable Gifts Qualify for a Deduction?

With the April 15th deadline for completing taxes quickly approaching, do you know how much you can deduct, what types of contributions are deductible and how to best itemize deductions on your income tax returns? Take our ten question quiz to find out if you are an expert on the rules governing charitable tax deductions.

For more information about the tax implications of giving, visit our site here and here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Celebrities Go Head-To-Head for Charity

Between March 16th and March 26th, celebrities are throwing down to see which starlet can bring in the most money for their charity of choice. Nine celebrities, each promoting a favorite cause, are competing to raise the most money for their charities over the ten day period. The competition is sponsored by PayPal, and is being promoted on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Whether you donate because you want to support Save The Whales, or just want Team Hayden Panettiere to beat Team Alec Baldwin (supporting top rated Actors’ Fund of America), today is the last day to get in your contribution, so be sure to visit the site and pledge now.

As of March 24th, Team Corbin Bleu is leading the pack with over $3,000 for Stand Up to Cancer. Team Kyle Petty is in second place, bringing in over $2,000 for four-star rated Victory Junction, a children’s camp for kids with serious or chronic illnesses. Linkin Park’s team is in last place, with around $250 for Music for Relief. So, if you’re a Linkin Park fan be sure to head over and donate now, because in the end, every donation does matter!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Much Donor Money is Wasted in Your State?

Many charities use professional fundraisers to solicit donations with only a small portion of the amount raised actually going to the charity. Many State Attorney Generals are now keeping track of this data and we have reviewed most of what is available. You will be surprised to see that sometimes the fundraisers keep anywhere from 20 to 90 cents of each dollar donated. Of the states we reviewed, Connecticut was at the bottom of the spectrum as that states professional fundraisers only gave 32% of what they collected to the charity. The highest percentage we found was in North Carolina where fundraisers in that state handed over 59% of what they collected. For data in more states please view our video on the topic:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tax Tips

What does Charity Navigator, Kiplinger and USA Today have in common? Video tips to help you prepare your taxes. Of course, ours focus on helping you maximize the tax benefits of your philanthropic endeavors. And although we filmed these last year, the tips still apply.

Ken's Commentary: Making Wise Giving Decisions - A "Two-fer"

In this week's post, Charity Navigator's President & CEO shares two transcripts - a Chronicle of Philanthropy webinar and a Public Radio International interview.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I-Team Investigation Part 2: Strong Association between Charity Navigator Ratings and Donations

Yesterday, we told you about an investigative report by the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee into the financial health of two charities. Today, we're able to share their follow up piece which talks about the impact Charity Navigator's work has on donors' decisions. According to UWM Assistant Professor Daniel Neely's research, "every place we looked, every turn we made, there's a strong association between what Charity Navigator reported as a rating for the organization and donations coming into the organization."

Spring Cleaning

With the official first day of spring finally here many people are starting to air out the house, open the windows, and getting ready for their annual spring cleaning. This is a great time to get rid of those items that have not been used or worn in a while. While cleaning out the closets, please keep those less fortunate in mind. There are many charities willing to accept your gently used wardrobe. In addition, there may be many things in and around your house that you no longer have a use for. Not sure where or how to donate? Charity Navigator has a Guide to Donating Noncash Items. You can also review our article on the Tax Benefits of Giving which includes a section on the deductibility of noncash donations.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another Veterans Charity In the News

was completing her blog this morning about the 0-star Disabled Veterans Associations, we came across a TV investigative report about another veterans charity --- the 1-star Wisconsin Paralyzed Veterans of America. What made investigative reporter Aaran Diamant take a closer look at this group? The fact that the professional telemarketer soliciting for this charity keeps 85 cents of every dollar they collect! As a result the Wisconsin Paralyzed Veterans of America spends more than half of its budget on fundraising with only about a third going to help veterans.

At the end of this report, Mr. Diamant tells viewers that "you're better off hanging up and donating to the organization directly." We couldn't agree more!

(The story also highlights the 1-star Special Olympics Wisconsin's high fundraising expenses.)

Take Care While Supporting Veterans' Charities

Veterans' charities pull at our heartstrings. They remind us of the sacrifices made by our nation's brave servicemen and women. And they provide us with an opportunity to thank the veterans who defended us in our own small way. So it's especially shameful when an organization purporting to support our veterans abuses or misuses contributions from earnest Americans. The 0-star Disabled Veterans Associations (DVA) has done just that. The DVA has gotten into some legal trouble over its policy of using for-profit fundraisers who kept most of the money for themselves. Only 2.3% of the DVA's total functional expenses were put toward the programs for which the organization is ostensibly meant to exist in FYE 2007. Users of our site have also expressed concern over the similarity in their name to a reputable 4-star charity, the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust. So take care if you're looking for an honest charity that successfully provides assistance to our nation's veterans.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Will the Economy Affect Your Charitable Giving this Year?

The recession is hurting untold numbers of Americans but, of the 17,365 charitable donors surveyed in January by Cygnus Applied Research, the majority (52%) said that their level of giving would remain unchanged in 2009. A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article highlights key findings of the survey.

Among the most notable:
  • 50% of those who plan to give the same amount as last year indicated they would make sacrifices in other areas of their lives in order to do so
  • 87% who have pledged multi-year gifts will honor those commitments
  • 30% don't know what impact the economy will have on their giving
  • Just 17.5% intend to give less--and those who are giving less will give smaller gifts rather than halt support altogether
  • More than 40% of respondents had lost jobs or seen reductions in their income
The results of this survey are incredibly encouraging in many respects and reinforce what we here at Charity Navigator have had the privilege to witness over and over again. That is that Americans are amazingly generous and will always step up to the plate to help others--in good times and in bad--and will oftentimes make significant sacrifices to make it happen. Read Cygnus Applied Research President Penelope Burk's "An Unexpected Gift from Donors" blog entry here. The comments are extraordinary!

So, let us know--how will the economy affect your charitable giving this year?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

American Ireland Fund
US-Ireland Alliance
St. Patrick Center
Greenhill Humane Society
Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Plantation

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

Cereal Windfall for San Francisco Food Bank

The San Francisco Food Bank was recently the recipient of thousands of boxes of cereal from cereal maker Kellogg. Now that Kellogg has ended their marketing relationship with Olympian Michael Phelps they decided to donate the boxes of cereal that featured Phelps on front of the box to the food bank. The end of the endorsement deal was a result of a picture of Phelps smoking marijuana being made public. It appears that Michael Phelps indiscretion was the food bank's gain.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ken's Commentary: We Are A Critical Friend To The Charitable Sector

I believe the most common perception of Charity Navigator is driven by the label we are given by the media as a watchdog organization. Due to the sad reality that most media stories require conflict and controversy, we are most often contacted for comment when they suspect unethical behavior of some charity. Hence, we are most often thought of solely as a watchdog organization that highlights bad charity leaders and practices. Charity Navigator does much more than that.

Visit Ken's blog to read the rest of this post.

Corporate and Foundation Giving

According to Giving USA, corporate giving accounted for 5% of all giving and foundation gifts accounted for 12.6% in 2007. With the recent events in the overall economy it seems many companies will be cutting back their giving. A recent study of 158 companies found that 45% of them have reduced giving in 2009. In another study, The Foundation Center found that only two of 100 Foundations would be increasing their giving this year from the previous year. Unfortunately, these findings are just more bad news for overall charitable giving.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hawaii Opera Theatre Succeeds, Despite the Economy

Despite the trouble some arts groups have experienced during this economic downturn, the Hawaii Opera Theatre continues to thrive, as this article reports. Of course, we here at Charity Navigator are not surprised; our evaluation indicates that Hawaii Opera Theatre is a financially healthy organization that not only operates efficiently on a day to day basis, but is also positioned to sustain itself in the future.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Have A Question About Donating? Now's Your Chance To Ask.

Do you have questions about how charities work, how they spend your money and how to make the best possible decision about where to donate?

Then, join Ken Berger, Charity Navigator's president & CEO, on Tuesday, March 17, at noon (Eastern time) for an online discussion, "Making Good Giving Decisions," when he'll be answering these questions and more.

Pose your own question or just follow along at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Your Guide to Intelligent Game Shows

If you've been following NBC's reality/game show hybrid The Celebrity Apprentice, you may have noticed the phrase "all proceeds go to charity" being tossed around. While the phrase is meant to assure people that their contributions to the teams will go to support a worthy cause, you may be wondering exactly which causes are being represented and just how well those contributions are being managed. So if you weren't sure who you were rooting for, maybe their charities will help you decide:

  • Annie Duke - Refugees International, 4-stars
  • Andrew Dice Clay - StandUp for Kids, 3-stars
  • Brian McKnight - Youthville USA
  • Brande Roderick - CPYC (California Police Youth Charities), in our queue to be evaluated... interested in sponsoring an evaluation for this charity?
  • Clint Black - International Rett Syndrome Foundation, 4-stars
  • Claudia Jordan - NAPSAC Foundation
  • Dennis Rodman - CASA (Court Appointed Special Adovates) of New Orleans
  • Herschel Walker - Alternative Community Development Services (dba Project Turnaround)
  • Jesse James - Long Beach Education Foundation
  • Joan Rivers - God's Love We Deliver, 2-stars
  • Khloe Kardashian - The Brent Shapiro Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Awareness
  • Melissa Rivers - Lili Claire Foundation
  • Natalie Gulbis - Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 2-stars
  • Scott Hamilton - The Cleveland Clinic Foundation
  • Tom Green - Butch Walts & Donald Skinner Urologic Cancer Research Foundation
  • Tionne Watkins - Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia
If you're curious about any of the charites not currently rated, you can find out more about them through our tip on Evaluating Charities Not Currently Rated by Charity Navigator. And you can find other celebrity-related charities here. Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

(GUEST BLOG) An Inventive Way of Giving: Miles and a Video Crew

My daughter and I have teamed up to create a ingenious and creative way to help charities. Through our company, Two Parrot Productions, we donate enough miles to fly a video crew to remote third-world countries (and we are usually on that crew personally) and create a documentary film for the charity to use for fundraising and education. As a production team we have filmed on all seven continents (but not to SA or Antarctica for non-profits, yet). The final documentaries take place in Moldova, Congo, Guatemala, Burma, Cambodia, Rwanda, Jordan, Romania, Ghana, Tanzania, Indonesia and Thailand.

Some of the projects have been donated completely gratis, while more complex documentary films have required the charity to participate financially in the post production costs. According to my daughter, Jessica Kizorek, "by the end of 2010 we will have given away the equivalent of 2,000,000 miles, and will have created a dozen videos for charity. We are planning on continuing this now through the middle of 2011."

Two Parrot just came back from shoots in Tanzania and Cuba and presently is giving away 350,000 British Airway miles (and a video crew) through an on line auction at the Business Traveler Magazine's website. What is interesting about this auction is that it will automatically benefit one charity immediately (the winning bid goes directly to the charity) but it could also benefit another charity if that charity was the winning bidder (they would end up with the raw footage of their choice). Visit the Two Parrot site for samples of the kinds of documentary non-profit videos that we've created thus far.

Why are we posting this guest entry on Charity Navigator's blog? Because Charity Navigator helped match up Two Parrot with five of the charities who eventually benefited from our grants.
-by Bill Kizorek, senior partner,Two Parrot Productions

Ken on CNN

CNN recently interviewed Charity Navigator's president and CEO, Ken Berger, about the Obama administration's proposal to decrease the charitable tax deduction for those who make $250,000 or more. Ken's comments aired on The Situation Room, Lou Dobbs and AC360 (below).

For a more detailed explanation of Ken's thoughts on this topic, please see his latest blog posting, A Horrible Idea From The Obama Administration.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tracking of Federal Funds Lacking

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says that federal funds directed through nonprofits, estimated at more than $200 million in 2006, are not followed throughout the process. These funds, which support federal programs, include grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts for services.

A couple of specific complaints are mentioned in the report. First, that the relationships between the government and the nonprofits are frequently complex and multi-directional, making it difficult to keep track of the funds as they make their way through the system. Another complaint is that the status of nonprofit recipients is often self-reported and not always verified; additionally, no consistent definition of a nonprofit is used.

To improve the relevant data, the Government Accountability Office recommends that the Office of Management and Budget use a consistent definition of nonprofit in its searchable website, USAspending.gov, and that a system be developed for better tracking of sub-awards. Recommended steps include measures to improve the identification of nonprofit organizations by the agency as well as outside analysts. It is also reported that potential ways to validate a nonprofit’s status are being considered.

States Rethink Laws Governing Endowment Spending

Over the past two years, 27 states and Washington D.C. have repealed laws that prevent charities from tapping their endowments when those funds have decreased from their original value. NJ is the latest to consider taking similar action to help nonprofits that have seen their endowments erode as the stock market has declined. No doubt, NJ’s nonprofit community welcomes the opportunity to use funds as their board best sees fit. But opponents caution that spending the principle can put these charities in an even more precarious financial position. What do you think?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ken's Commentary: A Horrible Idea From The Obama Administration

On Friday, February 27th, a film crew from CNN came to my office to tape my answer to the question, "What do you think of the Obama administration proposal to decrease the charitable tax deduction for those who make $250,000 or more?"

Visit Ken's blog to read the rest of this post.

Girl Scouts Rebranding, Cookies to Stay

After facing falling enrollment, Girl Scouts of the USA is giving its badges, vests, and cookies a make over (but don’t worry – Thin Mints are staying!). Girl Scout troops are moving away from traditional programming and instead adding internet-based activities to boost membership and interest from its school-aged participants. Blogs, video chatting with international scout groups, and interactive websites are all elements of the new Girl Scout brand. Troops are also looking for younger leaders (out: Moms, in: college students) and focusing on fresh issues and topics such as environmental awareness and engineering. You can read more about these and other changes in a Washington Post article here. You can also see the Charity Navigator ratings for many more Girl Scouts troops here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Obama Budget and Charitable Tax Deductions - Update

After a large backlash from the non-profit community (reported by Charity Navigator here and here), President Obama's administration has now stated that they will rethink their plan for reducing the tax deduction for charitable giving. During congressional hearings this week featuring Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, it was hinted that the administration may modify or drop the plan to reduce the deductions. This also comes on the heels of an Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy study that showed if this policy was enacted in 2006, giving would have been reduced by $4 billion.

Interational Women's Day, March 8, 2009

On International Women’s Day, there is a spotlight on the accomplishments and achievements of women of the present and the past. Charity Navigator rates several organizations that have been founded in honor of women like this, for example, the Jane Goodall Institute, or Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Some famous women have also been instrumental in founding organizations that have made a tremendous impact on the lives of countless individuals, such as the Special Olympics (Eunice Kennedy Shriver), the New York Restoration Project (Bette Midler), and the Women's Sports Foundation (Billie King). While these women have had a phenomenal influence in their respective causes, and their work and dedication deserve to be recognized, we also want to point out the work that is being done by countless people on behalf of the rights of women all over the world. When searching our site for women’s related charities, approximately 180 results are returned. All these organizations’ primary focus is to aid women in some way, shape, or fashion. Their work is invaluable in championing women’s causes all over the world. From providing microfinance loans so women can provide for their families, to providing a safe haven from an abusive situation, helping women secure a job, or even providing the women of tomorrow with the self-respect and knowledge to be successful, people are working to help women. We salute the work of all the organizations that help women and girls become all that they can be, and hope that International Women’s Day will inspire donors to support these organizations in their commendable causes.


A Father and Son team in Texas have started a website to help a local homeless man and bring more awareness to homelessness in general. The website offers people the opportunity to support Tim Edwards through direct donations. The creators of the site do not believe they are exploiting Tim but are helping him through a viral marketing campaign. Tim receives $100 per day to promote the site which displays some advertisements. The donations that are coming in are being held in a account which is being managed by a financial advisor and eventually will be made available to assist Tim. Currently, donations through this site are not tax deductible as the organization collecting the donations is not a 501 (c)(3) non-profit. For a list of Charity Navigator 4 Star rated 501 (C)(3) charities assisting the homeless go here. What are your thoughts on this story. Do you think that Tim is being exploited or do the ends (homelessness awareness) justify the means?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Teens Giving More of Their Time

A recent survey administered by Harris Interactive in conjunction with World Vision reveals that more American teenagers volunteer their time than work part-time jobs. President Obama's popularity with young people has been commonly cited as a possible reason for the trend. Although a controversial move, obligatory community service hours at many middle and high schools may actually be helping to get more teens engaged in service. Community service graduation requirements may translate into more committed, long-term volunteers among those students who were interested in service but didn't know how to get involved, or students who didn't know they were interested in service until they were introduced to a particular program through school. Yet this policy has not been adopted by many schools, and teen volunteerism is on the rise everywhere. This must be in large part due to increased national awareness of the unique challenges society faces and the power of individuals to respond through contributions of time and money. Since teens generally have more time than money to offer, volunteerism is a great way for them to take an interest in the issues they care about most. And since donations of time are every bit as valuable as monetary gifts, we hope they're taking a moment to review our Guide to Volunteering before investing their time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

State Charity Reports

Many charities hire professional, for-profit fundraisers to raise money on their behalf. Unfortunately, most of the funds raised do not reach the charity to which it was intended. Charity Navigator researched data regarding this practice and found some disappointing results. See our article on this topic here. And please answer the poll questions regarding your personal experience with professional fundraisers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Non-Profit CEO Pay and Government Funding - Part 2

Our first post regarding this topic has peaked some interest and since then some other articles related to this topic have been popping up. One question recently raised is whether or not limits on the executive pay at for-profits would ultimately affect giving to the charitable sector. This argument cites the fact that many large gifts to charities are the result of the generosity of Wall Street employees. The bonuses many of these employees receive are often a large part of charitable gifts made each year. Another related article focuses on the concern over the transparency of Christian non-profits and the top compensation of those running those organizations. The general call is for overall transparency, but donors are primarily concerned with executive pay of the charities they are supporting.