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, June 29, 2012

Time To Give

Time To Give via Bigstock
Most of us give around the year-end holidays when we are inspired by the religious season and we're thinking about the year-end cut off for our charitable deductions. But charities need your support year round. In fact, many charities struggle  with cash flow in the summer as donations tapper off. Be a lifesaver and give your favorite charity a surprise donation this summer. Or take the time to learn about a new charity and see how your money can help it further its mission.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How to Report Misconduct by a Charity

If you suspect that a charity is engaged in unethical or unlawful activity, then we encourage you to report that information to the government authorities that are responsible for regulating nonprofits. 

At the federal level, nonprofit regulation resides in the hands of the IRS. The IRS website offers instructions for filing a complaint about a nonprofit by either:

In most states, nonprofit regulation is the responsibility of the Attorney General or the Secretary of State. The National Association of State Charity Officials’ website provides links to many of the state offices that regulate charities.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How To Stop Solicitations By Mail

A day doesn't go by without a donor contacting us wanting to know how to stop charities from sending so many solicitations in the mail. While there is no foolproof way of removing your name from all mailing lists, following these steps should allow you to see a decrease in the number of mailings you receive.
  • Only donate to charities with a demonstrated commitment to donor privacy. 
    To help you determine which charities are committed to protecting your privacy, Charity Navigator's Accountability & Transparencyevaluations include an assessment of each charity's donor privacy policy. To meet our criteria, a charity must have a written donor privacy policy that states it will not to sell or trade the personal information of its donors. In addition, we require that the policy be prominently displayed on the charity's website or in its marketing and solicitation materials.
    As a Charity Navigator registered user, you can use our advanced search feature to find a list of charities that are financially efficient, match your charitable interests and have a confirmed donor privacy policy.

  • When you make a donation, make sure you 'opt-out.'
    Of the charities we've reviewed, many have 'opt-out' policies. We notify you when this is the case so that you, as a donor, know that you must tell the charity that you wish not to have your personal information distributed to any other entity. Depending on the charity, you can 'opt-out' either by calling, writing or clicking a button when making an online donation.

  • Register with services that aim to stop junk mail. 
    Although there is no regulation that mandates that charities (and corporations) honor your requests to opt-out of their mailing lists, these services may still be of help.
    • Through the Mail Preference Service program, the DMA maintains a list of individuals that do not wish to receive unsolicited mail. Be sure to specify that you do not wish to receive solicitations from both commercial and charitable organizations. If you fail to do so, then the DMA will automatically place your name on the list provided to for-profit entities only.
    • Take a photo of the junk mail you wish to stop and send it to PaperKarma. They’ll contact the mailer for you and ask that they remove you from their distribution list.
    • You can report unwanted mail to Catalog Choice and they’ll process your request for you.

  • Call or write the charity directly. 
    Contact the charity that sent you the solicitation and ask to be removed from their mailing list. Additionally, ask for the contact information of the organization that sold them your name- the source of your troubles. Then contact that organization to request that it too refrain from selling or trading your personal information. Be sure you have the appeal letter on hand in case the charity needs specific information from it in order to locate your name in its records.
    Even if you plan to support a charity that sends you too frequent mailings, we recommend that you contact the charity and let its staff know of your giving plans. Will you donate once a month, once a quarter, or once a year? Responsible and well-run charities will welcome your call. They prefer to have donors that they can depend on to give without having to be reminded. This helps the charity improve its fundraising efficiency and ultimately dedicate more time and resources towards the programs you wanted to support in the first place.

  • Refrain from giving small donations to many charities. 
    The quickest and most surefire way to wind up on mailing lists is to make lots of small charitable donations. Small donations, such as $25, barely cover the costs the charity incurred in soliciting the gift. To recoup those costs, many charities will simply sell the donor's name to another charity doing similar work.
    Charities obviously tend to be much more protective of donors that give large gifts. The charitable marketplace is crowded with many charities pursuing similar missions. Since the majority of donations come from individuals and not foundations, corporations or the government, charities are in competition with each other for your donation. A charity would never divulge a mid- to high-level donor's personal information to another charity. The revenue it could generate by selling the donor's information simply doesn't outweigh the risk of losing that donor to the other charity. If you've taken the time to find an efficient and effective charity whose work in which you believe, then it shouldn't be too difficult for you to decide to concentrate your giving on that charity instead of spreading your money around to many charities with whom you are less familiar.

  • If all else fails, give anonymously.
    Take advantage of Network For Good's online giving system which Charity Navigator uses to enable you to give online at our site. Their system offers the option of giving anonymously.
Visit our website for more tips for donors. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our Very First InfoGraphic!

In conjunction with the release of our 2012 Metro Market Study, we are  excited to share with you our very first InfoGraphic. 

Please pass it along using the embed code:
<div class='visually_embed' data-category='Education' rel='infographic' ><img class='visually_embed_infographic' src='http://visually.visually.netdna-cdn.com/FromCharityNavigatorYearlyUSCharityCheckup_4fd0f35dbd5f6_w587.jpg' rel='http://visually.visually.netdna-cdn.com/FromCharityNavigatorYearlyUSCharityCheckup_4fd0f35dbd5f6.jpg' /><div class='visually_embed_bar' > <span class='visually_embed_cycle'>Browse more <a href='http://visual.ly'>data visualizations</a>.</span></div><a id='visually_embed_view_more' target='_blank' href='http://visual.ly/charity-navigator-yearly-us-charity-checkup'></a><link rel='stylesheet' type='text/css' href='http://visual.ly/embeder/style.css' /> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://visual.ly/embeder/embed.js' > </script></div> 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tell Everyone About a Great Nonprofit Supporting Children and Families

Do you support, or work for, a nonprofit that promotes children and families? These are organizations that provide child care, adoption, foster care, family counseling, parenting education, and other advocacy and child welfare services that strengthen families and promote the well-being of our children. The GreatNonprofits’ 2012 Top-Rated Awards gives you the chance to provide recognition for any group doing great work in this area.

Organizations that receive ten positive reviews from June 1st to June 30th will earn the title of “2012 Top-Rated Nonprofit from GreatNonprofits”   Whether it’s a small local group or a national one, this month you have the opportunity to help it get recognized in GreatNonprofits’ Children and Families Awards 2012.

It takes just two minutes to write a review. And your firsthand experience — as a volunteer, community member or existing donor - can have help a potential donor make a more informed decision. In fact, in a recent survey, 84% of donors said reviews were helpful in deciding whether to give to the charity.

To get started, visit Charity Navigator's website, you will find ratings for more than 160 Children's and Family Services charities.  If you've had a personal experience with one of these charities, then we encourage you to write a review, now, so that other donors can be informed by your story. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Live Radio Show for Leaders in Philanthropy

A new, free, interactive discussion, debate, and Q & A for nonprofit leaders.

When: Monday, June 11, 2012 at 8pm EST
What: CharityRadio:THE SHOW

Connect and learn from thousands of leaders throughout the charitable and business world all from the comfort of your home.

Register Today, And Your Phone Will Ring At Showtime! No Dial-In Required. Only 5,000 Lines Avaliable

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Massachusetts Says Charities Shall Not Pay Their Boards

Nonprofit Boards have a lot of responsibilities including fundraising, hiring and overseeing the CEO, setting the vision for the institution, ensuring that the charity adheres to the law, ensuring that the charity fulfills is obligations to its stakeholders, protecting the charity’s assets and ensuring that the charity’s resources are used ethically and appropriately in fulfilling its charitable mission. As a general rule of thumb, they are not compensated for their efforts. Instead Board members are typically asked to make a financial contribution to the charity. In fact, more often than not, the charity’s biggest contributors sit on its Board. 

Although Board compensation is not illegal, it can call into question a nonprofit's financial integrity. The IRS seems to think it is a concern because it requires charities to disclose on their Forms 990 if they have paid their Board members. Recently, Massachusetts’ state Senate showed its disapproval of charities that compensate their Board members by passing a bill that would prevent such activity. Although the bill still needs to be passed by the House and signed by the Governor, the state’s Attorney General had this to say in support of it, “voluntary service by board members is the practice at the overwhelming majority of public charities, and for good reason. Compensation of board members raises concerns about maintaining board independence and ensuring the proper use of charitable funds.” 

At Charity Navigator we agree. In fact, if a charity pays its Board members their participation, then we deduct 4 points from the charity’s Accountability and Transparency score.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Charities Return to Our Site

At Charity Navigator we utilize the data found in the Form 990 to rate charities. However, not every charity is required to fill out the standard Form 990 (and others aren’t required to fill out any Form 990).  Small charities are permitted to file a less detailed version of the report which is called the Form 990 EZ. This document lacks much of the data we use in our analysis of charities, so we are not able to rate charities that file the Form 990 EZ

A few years ago, the IRS changed the size threshold for filing the standard Form 990. A few of the charities on our site were allowed to file the Form 990 EZ. At that point, we lacked the necessary data to evaluate those charities. Since then, some of those charities went back to filing the standard Form 990. As such, we have begun to add them back to our site. Charities we’ve added back include:
Please note when reviewing the historical data of these charities you may see a skipped evaluation year. Of course, that corresponds to the year that the charity filed the Form 990 EZ.