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, January 29, 2015

What Do You Want Us To Write About?

This blog, which launched in 2008, includes more than 1,300 entries. That's a
lot of posts! Which got us wondering- which entries resonated the most with our readers? So, we took a look and found the all time Top 10 Most Popular Blog Posts are:

  1. Do The Charity Scores Look A Little Different Today?
  2. Part II: Don't Believe Everything You Read on Social Media
  3. Are Text Donations Safe?
  4. Top 10 Best (or Worst Charities)
  5. 7.0 Earthquake Hits Haiti
  6. Non-Profit CEO Pay and Government Funding
  7. Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation
  8. How Much Do Charity Leaders Make?
  9. The Obama Budget and Charitable Tax Deductions
  10. Help the Victims of the Deadly Cyclone in Myanmar
While it is interesting to look back, we want to make sure this blog continues to interest our followers in 2015 and beyond. So, we invite you to contact us and let us know - which topics do you want us to cover?

Want to work at Charity Navigator?

Now's your chance. We've got openings for:
  1. Senior Web Developer
  2. Chief Operating Officer (More information about this opening can be found on our CEO's blog).
Learn more about the benefits of joining our team on our website.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Charity Oversight - Whose Responsibility?

True/False - A bona fide 501 (c) 3 public charity has been vetted and is regularly monitored by the federal government? 

That's a big FALSE! 

As a recent article points out, the IRS (the agency charged with nonprofit oversight at the federal level) falls way short on charitable oversight due to limited resources. Although the sector continues to grow (filings of Form 990s grew 5% from 2011 to 2013), the rate of audits dropped to 0.71% of charities in 2013 (down from 0.81% in 2011).

What does this mean for donors? It tells us that just because a group is a bona fide nonprofit doesn't mean you can assume it is effective, ethical or efficient. Donors MUST do their homework and vet charities before giving. Charity Navigator's easy to understand 4-star charity ratings are designed to help donors make informed choices about the charities they support. Our goal is to enable donors to quickly do their due diligence so that they have the peace of mind of knowing their hard-earned money is helping great charities carry out their worthy missions. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Part II: Don't Believe Everything You Read on Social Media

As we've previously noted on this blog, there are messages and images circulating on social media claiming facts about various charity's finances that simply aren't true. Here's the latest one we've come across (it claims that the data is from Snopes, but it is not):

Before you  rush to believe anything good or bad about the charities included in the graphic, let's see what one of our analysts, Kevin Doyle, found in comparing the above to our evaluations.
  • We can't offer an evaluation of the Salvation Army because it is recognized as a church by the IRS and thus exempt from filing the Form 990. Without that document, we (and anyone else) lack the necessary data to report on its compensation practices or its spending on programs.
  • We rate 56 Ronald McDonald House chapters. Their ratings range from 2-star to 4-stars and they exhibit a range in program spending and CEO pay.
  • We do not evaluate Lions Club International as it is a 501(c)(4) and we focus our analysis on 501(c)(3) public charitiesLions Clubs International Foundation spent 83.7% of its budget in FYE 2013 on its programs/ services. The organization's senior executive administrator received $226,049 in compensation from its affiliates.  
  • Since it is a 501(c)(19), we do not rate Veterans of Foreign Wars. (If you are interested in charities that Support the Troops, then see our list of such charities in the Hot Topics section of our site.)
  • For its FYE 2013, ALSAC - St. Jude Children's Research Hospital devoted 69.3% of its budget towards its programs/ services (well below the figure listed in the graphic).
  • Regarding World Vision, we have a significantly higher CEO compensation ($405,975 for FYE 2012) than the graphic.  Our program expense number is similar but not quite the same, at 84.7%.
  • We evaluate more than 50 chapters of Make-A-Wish and they've received a range of ratings, report a range of CEO salaries and a range of spending on programs.
  • Caryl Stern, President & CEO, of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF received a compensation of $476,001 during the charity's FYE 2013 and the charity spent 91.1% of its budget that year on programs/ services.
  • During the March of Dimes' FYE 2012, it spent 66% of its budget on the programs and services it exists to provide and its CEO's compensation was more than half a million dollars.
  • We currently rate more than 360 chapters of the United Way. However, the President & CEO of the national office of the United Way received a compensation of more than $1.2 million during the charity's FYE 2012.
  • The American Red Cross spent 90.4% of its budget on programs in its FYE 2013, much more than the graphic indicates. And the compensation for the CEO of the American Red Cross is considerably lower, coming in at $564,864 in FYE 2013, than the graphic. (Check our our CEO Compensation study for tips on determining if that is a reasonable level of pay for a CEO of a $3.4 billion charity.)
  • There are many chapters of Goodwill and we rate more than a dozen of them. We do not rate them all, as many do not fit our criteria for evaluation
So, rather than pick charities based on something you've found in your social media stream, consider becoming a more proactive giver and take the time to find great charities doing the charitable work that is most important to you. Our advanced search tool will help you search our 8,000+ charity ratings to find the charity that best fits your philanthropic goals.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How Do You Find Those Forms 990?

Did you know that each charity's page on our site includes its Forms 990 (the informational return charities file annually with the IRS and the source of much of the data used by Charity Navigator to rate charities)? That's right, you can view both rated and unrated charities's Forms 990 right from our site.

For a rated charity:

  1. Click on its IRS tab 

  2. Then scroll to the bottom of the page

For an unrated organization:

  1. Find it in the search results tab titled 'unrated organizations' 
  2. Scroll to the bottom of its page

And if the charity isn't rated, our site includes tips to help you interpret what you are seeing on the Form 990.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 5 Tips for Your 2015 Philanthropic Endeavors

Charity Navigator's Top 5 tips for charting the best course for your 2015 philanthropic endeavors.

1.First, determine what causes are most important to you.

2.Next, develop a list of charities engaged in that type of work.

3.Then, using Charity Navigator’s free website, narrow that list to just a few that are financially healthy and accountable and transparent.

4.Check on the charity's results by calling or visiting its website. Use our new Results Reporting methodology as a guideline.

5.Finally, map out a plan and budget for the year (consider setting aside some money for disaster giving), then let the organization(s) know your intentions. Knowing your plan helps the charity keep its fundraising expenses at a minimum while focusing on the programs you intended to support in the first place.