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, June 24, 2010

Today's Video

Today's informative video offers tips for avoiding scams when helping BP Gulf oil spill charities.
If you are looking to make a financial contribution, then check out our list of charities. And if you want to volunteer your time to help, then check out our tips.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ken’s Recent Talks About Accountability & Transparency In The Nonprofit Sector

Check out Ken’s blog for video footage and power point presentations corresponding to two recent presentations --- Charities Review Council’s Annual Forum and the AFP Westchester’s meeting --- he made about the importance of accountability and transparency in the nonprofit sector.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Our New Twitter Hashtag: #CharityRatings

Charity Navigator just created a Twitter Hashtag, #CharityRatings.

We've started using it via our Twitter account (@CharityNav) and we hope you will too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tune In To Telethon Tonight

Tonight, 60 days since the BP Gulf oil spill began, Larry King will host a telethon, "Disaster in the Gulf: How You Can Help" to help raise money to benefit the victims.

We'll have to wait a few days to learn how much this fundraiser brings in, but know that prior telethons have raised significant sums:

  • telethon for Haiti raised $66 million
  • 9/11's "A Tribe to Herores" raised $150 million raised
  • Hurricane Katrina's "Shelter from the Storm" telethon raised $40 million

Charities that will receive money from CNN’s program include the United Way, National Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy. You can learn about other charities helping by visiting our Hot Topic about this disaster.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More Data About Volunteers

Continuing our discussion from earlier this week about volunteers, I thought it would be interested to have a look at where Americans are spending their time helping out. In this case, volunteering mirrors charitable donations with religious groups getting the largest percentage of volunteers (35.6%). Americans reported spending the least amount of their volunteer activities assisting with sports and arts groups (3.5%).

Drilling down to the city level (looking at 27 cities included in our Metro Market Study), we find the following for the years 2007-2009:

  • 7.3% of volunteers in DC spent their time assisting Civic charities whereas only 3.1% help with these types of groups in Orlando.
  • Educational charities are a bigger focus of volunteer efforts in L.A. (32.5%) than Orlando (22.1%).
  • 6.1% of volunteers help out in Hospitals in Houston as compared to 15% in Nashville.
  • Orlando’s residents (46.8%) are very focused on helping Religious causes, while San Francisco’s (24.6%) spend less time assisting in this area.
  • San Diego has the highest percentage of volunteers helping with Social Service charities (17.1%) and Tampa has the least (9.4%).
  • Sports/Arts causes see the highest percentage of assistance in San Francisco (5.2%) and the lowest in Cleveland (1.5%).

Of course, just like with our Metro Market Study, the types of nonprofits in the area have a big influence on the data.

Finally, here are the results of our poll that we created earlier this week to find out where you volunteer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

AG Investigates Car Donation Industry

This week, New York’s Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, announced an investigation into the car donation industry (this includes fundraisers, individuals and charities). His office says that it has uncovered “fraudulent practices that deceived donors and diverted funds from those in need.”

We’ve had concerns about this industry for many years and have always recommended that donors bypass the middlemen and donate their vehicles directly to financially efficient charities that have proof of their programmatic accomplishments. As such, we commend the AG for taking steps to protect donors and to ensure that New Yorkers’ charitable dollars reach the recipients that need them the most.

Here’s a list of the organizations being investigated:

Bless the Kids, Hewlett
Hope for the Disabled Kids Inc., Ozone Park
2-star J.O.Y. for our Youth, Inc. d/b/a Kars 4 Kids, N.J.
Tree of Life, Brooklyn
LeChaim Society, Brooklyn
0-star Heritage for the Blind, Brooklyn
Children in Crises, N.J.
Breast Cancer Society, Ariz.
Children's Cancer Fund of America Inc., Powell, Tenn.
Children's Literacy Program, Westminster, Md.

We Buy Cars Inc., Bellerose Village
Cars that Help, Staten Island

Louis Cardillo, Bellerose Village
Arthur Glass, Staten Island

If you are considering donating a vehicle, be sure to check out our tips and keep in mind that the IRS is scrutinizing such donations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Volunteering Is In Vogue

The Corporation for National and Community Service has published a report, Volunteering in America 2010, that examines how much, where, and which Americans volunteered in 2009. By their estimates, 63.4 million Americans volunteered for a total of 8.1 billion hours. Unlike the dip in donations charities experienced last year, volunteering increased by 1.6 million people. They approximate that the dollar value of all this donated time is around $169 billion.

The report’s interactive website allows you to download the data. Seeing as we just released our 2010 Metro Market Study (that looks at the financial health of various philanthropic marketplaces around the country), I decided to see how these same cities compare in terms of volunteers. Here’s what I found in taking a closer look at 27 cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St Paul, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, Washington, DC):

  • Not surprisingly, large cities have more volunteers. NYC had the most number of volunteers from 2004 to 2009.
  • From 2004-2005 and in 2008, Nashville had the least number of volunteers. In 2006-2007 Orlando had the least and in 2009 Milwaukee had the least.
  • NYC had an average of 2.39 million volunteers from 2007-2009, while Nashville had an average of 144,000.
  • The average volunteer rate from 2007-2009 was the highest in Minneapolis-St. Paul (37.4%) and the lowest in Miami (14.8%).
  • Portland (48.2) reported the highest average volunteer hours per resident for 2007-2009. Miami reported the lowest (20).

For more information about volunteering, check out our Guide.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Individuals Donate Billions In Noncash Gifts

A day doesn’t go by without us receiving a call or email from a potential donor looking to find a charity willing to take his/her noncash gift. From cars, to household items, to medical supplies, to food, to horses – you name it we’ve had a donor asked how they can give it away to a worthy group. And a new report from the IRS confirms what we’ve experienced – American’s like to donate noncash items.

According to the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin for Spring 2010, nearly 24 million taxpayers (who itemized deductions) took $58.7 billion in deductions for noncash donations in 2007. The number of taxpayers using Form 8283 (required for donations that exceed $500) increased more than 12% from 2006 to 2007. Also, the amount claimed via 8283 increased almost 13% from ’06 to ’07.

What types of things do donors like to give away?

What types of nonprofits are more likely to receive such gifts?

In the not too distant future, we hope to expand our search tool so you can quickly find charities interested in your noncash gifts. In the meantime, we recommend that you use our site as a tool to find a well-run charity in your region. Then, contact that charity directly, using the information we provide, to determine if the organization is interested in receiving your goods. And visit the Tips and Resources portion of our site to learn if your donated good qualifies as tax-deductible.

Friday, June 11, 2010

More About Giving In 2009 and Predictions For 2010

The Chronicle of Philanthropy had an online discussion this afternoon about Giving USA’s annual report on donations which was published earlier this week. Participants included an expert in religious giving (these charities got 1/3 of the donations in 2009), a researcher from Boston College (who says giving is down 10% since the start of the recession) and a professor who is a key participant in the Giving USA study (they say giving is down about 5% since the recession). Here are some highlights from that informative chat:

  • Larger religious charities did better in 2009 than 2008. In particular, those with >$25 million in contributions saw donations increase 1.75% while those with $3 million in contributions or less saw giving decrease 10.75%.
  • Overall, religious groups are reporting a dip in giving of 1.8% from ’09 to ’08.
  • Those charities that were able to maintain and strengthen relationships with existing donors faired the best. This may be why larger religious charities are doing better --- they have greater visibility and more staff to cultivate relationships.
  • Giving USA’s historical data shows that it takes 3-5 years for giving to bounce back to pre-recession levels.
  • There doesn’t appear to be a correlation between the economy and religious giving.
  • Giving is influenced not just by an individual’s actual level of wealth, but also by the individual’s fears about their future wealth. Thus continued volatility in the market this year could dampen giving.
  • Wealthy donors, in the high tax brackets, are concerned about the possibility of higher taxes in 2011 in combination with a limit on the deduction percentage for their charitable giving.
  • The experts recommended that charities continue to budget conservatively for the next couple of years in anticipation that all types of gifts (individuals, foundations, corporations, government) will be slow to rebound.
  • It was suggested that charities move away from expensive types of fundraising endeavors, such as direct mail, and put more emphasis on less expensive, online tactics, such as electronic newsletters, Twitter and the like.
  • Small charities could improve their fundraising efficiency by relying more on Board members for assistance in stewardship. It was noted that having a Board member make direct contact with a donor – by phone, in person or by letter – could be very effective.

Finally, below are the results of our little survey to see if our followers - both donors and charities - experienced a drop in giving last year as reported in Giving USA.

Interview With A Member Of Our Advisory Panel

This week, The Washington Post interviewed Robert Egger - a member of our Advisory Panel. Egger, explains how he transitioned from running a nightclub to launching the well-known D.C. Central Kitchen. It is hard not to be impressed by Egger and if you take a moment to read a comment on our site, then you'll see his charity also makes a positive impression.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Did Your Giving Experience In 2009 Match Giving USA's Report?

Giving Declined In 2009

Last year, the news was pretty bleak. Giving to charity in America dropped 5.7% from 2007 to 2008. This was the biggest decline in giving in more than 50 years of tracking the data. And although it was disappointing, it wasn’t unexpected since giving is greatly influenced by the state of the overall economy. When times are good, giving goes up. And when times are bad, like during the current recession, giving constricts. Furthermore, the charitable sector lags behind the general economy so that even when times get better, it takes 6 months to a year to translate into an uptick in giving.

That is why today’s news released in the Giving USA 2010 report isn’t surprising --- giving in 2009 was down 3.6% from 2008. Here are some more details from the study:

General Data

  • Giving USA revised its figures for 2008. Now it actually reports an increase in giving for that year. Why? According to some new data, there were an extraordinarily high amount of charitable bequests in 2008. As a result, total giving in 2008 was $315.08 billion.
  • Charities in America received $303.75 billion in donations in 2009.
  • This 3.6% drop in giving represents the largest decline in current dollars since Giving USA began to track the data in 1956.
  • As in previous years, giving represents about 2% of GDP.
  • In 2009, there were 1.238 million 501 (c ) (3) organizations.

Types of Givers

  • Individuals continue to be the major source of donations representing about 75% of giving. In 2009, individuals gave $227.4 billion (-0.4%).
  • 13% of donations came from foundations in 2009 totaling $38.4 billion (-8.9%).
  • At $23.8 billion (-23.9% from 2008), bequests accounted for 8% of donations.
  • Although the recession might have made it harder for corporations to give cash, they apparently increased their in-kind donations. As a result, corporate gifts accounted for 4% of giving in 2009 and stood at $14.1 billion (up 5.5%).

Types of Charities Receiving Donations

  • As in all years of this study, religious organizations (including houses of worship) get the lion’s share of donations. In 2009, these groups received 1/3 of all donations totaling $100.9 billion (- 0.7%).
  • The next largest subsector is education which earned 13% of total donations or $40 billion (-3.6%).
  • Donations to grantmaking foundations amounted to $31 billion (-8%) or 10% of the total.
  • On a positive note, human services charities, which tend to receive a very small part of the giving pie, saw an increase in giving. Probably because these charities are helping those hurt by the recession and many donors felt compelled to support such efforts, human services charities saw donations increase by 2.3% to $27 billion (9% of total giving). Although this is good news, history shows that the bump in donations to such groups during a recession often isn’t enough to offset the increased demand for the programs and services provided by these charities.
  • Giving to public benefit charities represented 8% of the total in 2009, yet such giving declined 4.6% to $22.8 billion.
  • Health charities received 7% of all gifts representing an increase of 3.8% to $22.5 billion.
  • As predicted, arts groups continue to struggle. Specifically, giving to arts, culture and humanities organizations decreased 2.4% to $12.3 billion representing 4% of total giving.
  • Giving to international charities grew in 2009 (by 0.6% to $13.3 billion or 3% of the total) as did giving to animal and environment charities charities (by 2.3% to $6.15 billion or 2% of the total).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ken’s Upcoming Speaking Engagements: What makes a charity good or bad and how to improve its effectiveness?

When it comes to the question of what makes a charity good or bad, the answer lies in several important elements such as: the state of a charity’s Financial Health, Accountability/Transparency and Effectiveness/Results. All of these elements, when combined, give a clear answer on whether a particular charity is in a good state (financially healthy, transparent, efficient), or not.

Recently, Ken Berger (Charity Navigator's President & CEO) was invited to speak at the Annual Forum event “Accountability & Transparency: More Than Good Intentions”, which will take place on June 15. At the Annual Forum, organized by the Charities Review Council, Ken will present his ideas and views on the importance of responsibility and transparency in the non-profit sector as well as the necessary steps charities need to take in order to achieve good governance.

Ken will also participate in the Inaugural Conference on Scaling (the initiative of the Social Impact Exchange) on June 17-18 in New York City. At the conference, presented by Growth Philanthropy Network, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School of Public Policy, hundreds of leaders (from grant-making foundations to high net worth philanthropists) are going to work together on creating tools for scaling top nonprofits. Ken's session is titled "Evaluating for Scale."

And lastly, on June 29, Ken will speak at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. This conference will cover one of the common issues nonprofits face, which is: "How to choose and address the right priorities in order to achieve more effectiveness?" Ken will be part of a panel discussion titled “Building a High-Performing Nonprofit Sector: Do we have our priorities right?”

Monday, June 7, 2010

Oil Spill Volunteer Opportunities

Eager to roll up your sleeves and assist with the oil spill clean up. Well, you are not alone. I was recently asked by a TV reporter for some tips to share with her viewers about how they can make informed choices about charities seeking volunteers in relation to the BP oil spill.

Here are the tips I provided:

  1. Identify charities that match your charitable interests: Determine what it is you want to accomplish – such as help those hurt by the economic impact of the spill, clean up the damaged marshlands, assist with injured animals-- and identify charities that work to achieve those goals.

  2. Vet the charities: Confirm that each is a real nonprofit and, if at all possible, confirm that it has done this time of disaster work before. Examine the accomplishments of each group until you are left with a list of exceptional charities for whom you'd be proud to work.

  3. Quantify and qualify what you can offer:
      1. How much time can you realistically give?
      2. What days of the week and time of day are you available to volunteer?
      3. What unique talents do you possess that would help with this particular disaster?
      4. What tasks are you unable or not willing to do?
      5. What do I hope to gain from the experience? (Do you want to develop a new skill set that would be transferable to the workplace? Do you want to meet new people with similar interests? Do you just want the gratifying feeling of helping?)

  4. Make a commitment: Volunteers that show up late, cancel at the last minute and produce limited results encumber the charity, costing it money and preventing it from meeting its goals.

  5. Deduct the related expenses: The value of the time you spend volunteering is not deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses incurred while volunteering (for a qualified organization) may be deductible. For example, you can deduct mileage incurred while volunteering at a rate of $0.14 /mile.

Of course, these tips are predicated on you volunteering for an actual 501 (c ) (3) public charity. If you run into community groups that are not actual charities, then tread carefully. See if they are affiliated with a bona fide nonprofit. And be suspicious of any such groups that ask for you to, for example, pay them to cover the cost of your participation.

For more specific volunteer options related to the oil spill check out the Louisiana Serve Commission’s website. You can also call them at 2-1-1 (local) or 800-755-5175 (out of state) to learn more.

Friday, June 4, 2010

We're on Our Way!

A resounding thanks to all of our valued supporters who have already answered the call to help us make the next generation of Charity Navigator a reality. Your tangible endorsement of our work means a great deal to us! But we need everyone's help to get the job done. For those of you who haven't yet joined us in this effort but would like to learn more, you can read all about it here. And thanks again to all!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Most Charity-Conscious Cities in America

Additional findings from the Metro Market Report (discussed in yesterday's blog post) include:

  • Market Size: New York City (590 large charities), D.C. (500) and L.A. (198) are more crowded and competitive philanthropic markets than Nashville (30), Cincinnati (31), Nashville (31) and Orlando (34).

  • CEO Compensation: Charity executives in New York City ($190,472) and San Diego ($165,000) earn considerably more than those in Orlando ($107,569) and Portland ($110,601).

  • Fundraising Efficiency: Spending a median of just 65 cents to raise a dollar in contributions, Orlando’s charities are the most efficient in their fundraising endeavors. Seattle’s charities are the least as they spend nearly double that amount to raise a dollar.

  • Annual Growth: Charities in San Francisco are among the fastest growing, while charities in Baltimore are among the slowest.

  • Wealth: Cleveland’s and Cincinnati’s largest charities are generally richer in assets and working capital than charities in other parts of the country, while charities in Colorado Springs are less financially secure.

  • Donor Privacy Policy: Cincinnati (68%) and Milwaukee (65%) have higher percentages of charities with written donor privacy plans (stating that the charity will not sell, trade or share its donors’ personal information with anyone else, nor send mailings on behalf of other organizations); Pittsburgh (30%) and Philadelphia (40%) have the lowest percentage of charities with such policies.

  • Types of Charities: Miami, with 40% of its largest charities classified as Human Services, and Colorado Springs, with 39% of its largest charities classified as Religious, appear to be less diverse in terms of the types of charities represented. Portland and Los Angeles are more diverse marketplaces as they contain at least 3%, but no more than 19%, of each type of charity.
And here's a recap of some of the media's coverage of this study.
Pittsburgh Is the Top City For Giving

Charities in region top list in U.S.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

America's Ten Most 'Charity-Conscious' Cities
The Huffington Post

Miami Falls to Sixth on List of Most Charity-Conscious Cities
Miami New Times

Denver's large charities rated healthier than elsewhere
Denver Business Journal

Miami 6th among most charity-conscious
South Florida Business Journal

New Ranking Shows that St. Louisans are Uncharitable
Riverfront Times

Dallas, You Are Very Charitable
Dallas Observer

The Most Charity-Conscious Cities in America
Austin American-Statesman

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Charity Navigator's 2010 Metro Market Study

We've just published our most recent Metro Market Study - a report that compares the median financial performance and size of the largest nonprofits in the 30 largest metropolitan markets represented in our database of 5,500 charities. The 30 Metro Markets are: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/ St. Paul, Nashville, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Washington, DC.

By revealing the regional differences in the financial performance of the nation’s largest charities, in the level of support they receive and in the types of charities that exists in the various communities, we believe this report (our 7th) will help donors and nonprofit leaders in understanding how these differences impact that ability of charities to efficiently fulfill their missions year after year. For example, the report shows that

In terms of their overall financial health, the study’s highest and lowest rated charitable communities are:

Highest Rated
Current Ranking / Previous Ranking
1) Pittsburgh / Miami
2) Houston/San Diego
3) Dallas /Houston
4) San Francisco/Pittsburgh
5) Kansas City /Boston

Lowest Rated
Current Ranking / Previous Ranking
30) Baltimore / Detroit
29) Detroit / Indianapolis
28) Indianapolis / Baltimore
27) Milwaukee / Charlotte
26) Nashville / Portland

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 1st Update

Our June update includes new evaluations for over 624 charities and we also added 6 new charities to our site.

Please also check out the new Top 10 lists. You can also check out Ken's Commentary, a blog written by Charity Navigator's President, CEO.

If you have not done so already, be sure to sign up for our free, monthly, email newsletters so that you can automatically be notified about our updates.