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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

11:59 deadline tonight!

Contributions are deductible in the year they are made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2016 count for 2016. This is true even if the credit card bill isn't paid until 2017. Also, checks count for 2016 as long as they are mailed in 2016.

That means that today, is your last chance to front load your giving as experts are recommending. Go to Charity Navigator now to find a charity you can trust and use our Giving Basket to make your donation before the day ends.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Good Apple vs Bad Apple

"How many bad apples are there in the nonprofit sector?" This is a question we regularly hear from donors. And, I'm happy to say, that the answer is pretty positive. Out of the 8,000+ charities we rate:
Our analysis shows that no matter the cause a donor wants to support, there is a charity engaged in that work that is worthy of their trust and support. But this analysis also reveals that a small percentage of bad apples do exist. However, donors can easily avoid these bad apples they do their due diligence and they are proactive in their giving.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Baking Done. Decorating Done. Shopping Done. Donating _______?

Have you been busy crossing tasks like baking, decorating and shopping off your holiday to-do list? What about making those year-end donations? If that's still on your to-do list, then don't fear. We're here to help! That's right, to assist you in making an informed decision before the year ends, our analysts have updated hundreds of charity ratings. Consider it our gift to you this holiday season.

Best wishes in all your charitable endeavors this holiday season,
The Charity Navigator Staff

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Students #GiveBecause

These High School students share why they are passionate about charitable giving. Watch their video and then share your #GiveBecause. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Metric Mondays #9: Whistelblower Policy

Welcome back to Metric Mondays! This week, we're looking at an important measure of Accountability & Transparency: the whistleblower policy.

Whistleblower policies outline the procedures an organization has in place for handling employee complaints. It also provides a confidential way for employees to report financial mismanagement.

Federal law protects employees from retribution if they expose financial or accountability mismanagement at both for-profit and nonprofit companies, and having a set policy in place for handling such situations helps ensure the organization is in compliance with the law in these situations.

Further, the IRS states in its instructions to the 990 that, "A whistleblower policy encourages staff and volunteers to come forward with credible information on illegal practices or violations of adopted policies of the organization, specifies that the organization will protect the individual from retaliation, and identifies those staff or board members or outside parties to whom such information can be reported."

The 990 requires that organizations check "yes" or "no" on Part VI line 13 of the 990, disclosing whether they have a policy in place. Charity Navigator believes it is crucial to an organization's Accountability practices to have such a policy, and as such we rate whether an organization discloses that it does on the 990.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Charity Navigator Staff Talks to Kids About Coding

Computer Science Education Week is an annual program that helps inspire K-12 students to take interest in computer science. This year's CSEdWeek ran from December 5 - 11. Two of Charity Navigator's own staff, Matt Dragon (Senior Software Engineer) and Minyong Cho (Front End Web Developer) took part, last week, by talking about careers in the programming field with kids at local middle school. Matt and Minyong also discussed with the students how the skills developed while learning how to code can translate into many other parts of life, even if they don't become a programmer.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Importance of the Charitable Deduction to the Social Sector

President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed tax plan includes provisions that will limit the charitable deduction, which has long been considered a staple of the philanthropic sector’s development efforts. According to nonpartisan think tank Tax Foundation, Trump’s proposal will, among other things, cap itemized deductions at $100,000 for single filers and $200,000 for married couples filing jointly, where currently an individual can deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income, in most instances.

This could severely limit the total amount of donor dollars directed to the social sector. In an open letter, the Charitable Giving Coalition defended the practice, stating, “The charitable deduction is different than other itemized deductions in that it encourages individuals to give away a portion of their income to those in need. It rewards a selfless act, and it encourages taxpayers to give more funds to charities than they would otherwise give.”

Charity Navigator likewise believes that encouraging giving is vital to the success of the nonprofit sector. As we see in our data at the end of every year and as you can see in the graph below, charitable giving spikes significantly as we approach New Year’s Day, which indicates how effective tax-based giving incentives are.
Amount donated using Charity Navigator Giving Basket in late 2015
While we cannot know whether what has been proposed will come about, it is better to operate under known conditions than to wait for what may come. In light of both the proposed changes and simply the uncertainty of a new political landscape, Holland & Knight, a private wealth services firm, along with other prominent financial institutions, is advising that donors prioritize charitable giving as we head towards the end of the 2016. Based on this, we encourage our users to make the most of current tax incentives this giving season, while we can still be certain they are in place.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Remember our Troops this Holiday Season

As of September, there are approximately 1.3 million American troops deployed worldwide.. The holiday season makes being away from home particularly difficult, whether you’re on the other side of the United States or across the globe. Numerous charities work to let our soldiers know that America is conscious of and grateful for their sacrifices.

Operation Support Our Troops - America sends care packages throughout the year to troops. So far, they’ve sent over 1.6 million care packages. During the holidays donors can choose to send either a standard package or stockings to soldiers. The stocking option includes ornaments, a Christmas card, and holiday candy.

Operation Gratitude has sent over 1.7 million care packages to American troops since its inception. Through Operation Gratitude, donors can send personal letters to troops, veterans, new recruits, and wounded warriors. Donors can also send clothing, hygiene items, food, and games, among other items.
During the holiday season and beyond, these 4 star charities help translate your thoughts of gratitude into heartfelt gifts to our troops.

Interested in supporting troops in other ways? Take a look at our curated list of charities supporting veterans and active duty servicemembers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Over $10 Million Donated

In the last thirteen months, over twenty thousand donors have used Charity Navigator's Giving Basket to safely and securely donate more than $10 million to nearly 7,600 charities! Our users love the convenience of being able to research charities and then give without having to leave our site. Other users love the Giving Basket because it allows them to give generously and anonymously. And still others like the fact that they can give to multiple charities in a single checkout, set up monthly donations and keep track of all their giving in one place. 

4-Star Charity Gift Guide

Mission: The Snow Leopard Trust aims to protect this endangered cat through community-based conservation projects that are based on an improved scientific understanding of snow leopard behavior, needs, habitats and threats.

The gift: You can adopt a cub, family of snow leopards, a family of snow leopards, and more! When you do, you’ll get a package of items including plush toys and tote bags.

Mission: The Houston Food Bank aims to lead the fight against hunger and envisions a world where all have access to food.

The gift: When you make a donation on someone’s behalf, the Houston Food Bank will personalize and send one of their holiday cards to them. The card will read, 'In the true spirit of the season, a generous gift has been given in your honor to the Houston Food Bank by you.'

Mission: To catalyze a global market for ideas, information, and money that democratizes aid and philanthropy.
The gift: Through GlobalGiving, you can purchase your loved one a gift card, which will allow them to choose a project that matters to them to support.

Mission: The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee exists to provide captive elephants with individualized care, the companionship of a herd, and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being, and to raise public awareness of the complex needs of elephants in captivity, and the crisis facing elephants in the wild.
The gift: When you adopt an elephant, you’ll receive a certificate of adoption, a photo and bio on your adoptee, and a one year membership with the organization.

Mission: Seva Foundation partners worldwide to create self-sustaining programs that preserve and restore sight.

The Gift: The Seva Foundation let’s you give the gift of sight. You can restore the eyesight of a child, train eye care professionals, and give glasses to those in need. A beautiful card detailing how this gift will change lives will be sent to the recipient of your gift.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday's Giving Tip: Donate Anonymously and Kiss Junk Mail Goodbye

Has this ever happened to you? You make a small donation to one charity and suddenly tons of other charities are sending you solicitations. 

That's because the first charity shared your contact information with other charities. One way to prevent that is by taking advantage of Charity Navigator's Giving Basket. This donation platform lets you, the donor, decide how much personal information you want to share with the charity - from your full contact information to none of it. Giving anonymously kills two birds with one stone - the charity itself can't pester you with endless appeals nor can it sell your contact information to others.

Join the more than 6,000 donors who, last year,  gave over $7 million to 18,000 charities. Get started donating now!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Women Give 2016

Image from IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Women Give 2016, a report by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, explores “whether generational shifts in charitable giving intersect with women’s changing decision-making roles within families.” Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Women Give 2016 is the first study to explore the impact of gender and generation on charitable giving.

Research shows that when women participate in charitable decision making, millennial and Gen X couples tend to give more, at an average of $1,385 annually, up from the $1,269 when only men decide how to give.

Image from IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
“Conventional wisdom says younger generations—Millennials and Gen Xers—are less generous than their predecessors. However, a closer look reveals that giving by young single women Gen Xers/Millennials is holding steady compared to their counterparts 40 years ago; giving by single men and married couples, on the other hand, has dropped.”

And in terms of fundraising, “evidence suggests that these conversations will be more effective if the conversational content resonates with the motivations and preferences of women.” You can read the full report here.

Investing in women and girls is an impactful way to make a difference in the lives of millions. Explore our Hot Topic on 3 and 4 star charities focusing their efforts on supporting women and girls locally and internationally. These charities work on a variety of different causes and issues, such as education, health, social services, and women’s rights.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Remembering Pearl Harbor today? Consider donating to highly-rated charities such as:

Find more charities that support veterans and active duty servicemembers on our site.

Donors Give More on this Day, than Any Other Day of the Year

Towards the end of October 2015, we launched the Giving Basket – a tool that makes it easy for our users to donate on our site. Looking back at the data, we see that Giving Basket donors gave at a pretty constant rate for most of November 2015. In early December 2015, we see a moderate uptick in giving around #GivingTuesday. After that, giving steadily grew until it spiked right around New Year's.  

Just how big was this bump in donations at the end of the year? Well, 56% of all the donations that flowed through the Giving Basket in November and December occurred in the last 5 days of the year. And 25% took place just on New Year's Eve. Furthermore, this isn't just a trend seen in our data. Other giving reports show the same pattern.

So, what’s driving all this giving just before and on New Year’s Eve? Although donors often site other motivating factors when asked about their year end giving, it seems that the obvious answer is the charitable tax deduction. That’s because donors who wish to take advantage of this tax break must make their donations before the end of the year.   

Whether or not the tax benefits of giving motivated you to donate, be sure you know how much you can deduct, what types of contributions are deductible and how to best itemize deductions on your income taxes. Check out our tips now for help in answering these important questions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

One of "America's Worst Charities" Closes Down

Photo by Hitchster
At Charity Navigator, our work to guide intelligent giving means not only highlighting effective organizations, but also informing donors about organizations which are performing poorly. Shiloh International Ministries was one such organization. Over the 13 years in which we evaluated the organization, only once did it receive anything above a 0-star rating, and then, in 2005, it only earned 1 star.

Shiloh International Ministries, highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times as one of America’s Worst Charities, has now closed down. The organization, which according to the article has also operated under the names Handicapped Children's Services of America, American Veterans Network, Adolescent AIDS Foundation, and Help Hospitalized Children Fund, is no longer listed on the IRS Business Master File, which lists all exempt organizations registered with the IRS.

While there are many reasons for this organization’s chronically low rating, one factor was the high amount spent by the organization on fundraising. In the organization’s most recent rating, Shiloh International Ministries spent 81.9% of its total expenses on fundraising, 13.2% on administrative expenses and just 4.7% on program activities - which go toward fulfilling an organization’s mission.  Only 2 of the over 8,000 charities that we rate spends that little on programming and only 5 spend that much on fundraising.

The organization also failed to follow many industry best practices, including not having a CEO compensation process, not reporting CEO compensation on its annual Form 990, filed with the IRS, and having no independent voting board members.

We hope that during this holiday season, you find Charity Navigator a helpful resource in making your giving choices and are able to avoid organizations which won’t use your donation wisely!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Metric Mondays #8: Conflict of Interest

Last week, we focused on fundraising expenses. Today’s Metric Monday will address conflict of interest.

Like the name alludes, a conflict of interest occurs when an individual’s obligation to further the organization's charitable purpose is at odds with his own financial interest. A conflict of interest policy therefore has two directives: to encourage disclosure of potential conflict, and protect both the organization and, by extension, those it serves. When enforced, this kind of awareness and abstention from voting on matters involving conflict serve to strengthen an organization’s governance practices. Without one, or without enforcing it, an organization is vulnerable and may be subjected to intermediate sanctions if a conflict occurs. In extreme cases, this may also put its tax-exempt status at risk if the organization is not operating in a manner consistent with its charitable purpose.

Hopefully you remember our Metric Monday: Loans to/from Interested Parties post. In it we provided a fit example of a potential conflict of interest that must be managed by a nonprofit. In that post, we learned that while it’s legal for employees and trustees to make personal or business loans to a charity, the corresponding influence that person may gain over governance proceedings puts the organization at risk and must be guarded against. A conflict of interest does not include questions involving a person’s respective duties to two organizations, such as serving on the boards of both organizations, when it does not involve a material financial interest of, or benefit to, that person.

Although nonprofits are not required to publicly share the content of their conflict of interest policies, we review the Form 990 to make sure charities report having one in place. It is good industry practice that staff and board review this policy on a frequent basis and organizational leadership understand how to best manage conflicts when they are revealed. In our evaluations, we deduct 4 points from the Accountability and Transparency score when this policy is absent.
To learn more about our Accountability & Transparency metrics, check out our Accountability & Transparency Methodology.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

International Volunteer Day

Volunteerism is one of the contributions that we, as general citizens of our society, use to impact positive developments within our world. Mandated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985, December 5th is annually recognized as International Volunteer Day. This celebration gives organizations and volunteers the opportunity to make their efforts and contributions recognized on a local, national, and international level by agencies, communities, government authorities, and more.

The calls to action that volunteerism represent highlight the initiative of people to come together and improve the quality of life for all beneficiaries. The United Nations Volunteers Programme mobilizes UN volunteers to serve in UN agencies, in both peacekeeping operations and development programs. Their dual mission of promoting volunteerism and mobilizing volunteers has been practical, in parts due to their online volunteering service. This service allows organizations and volunteers to team up and tackle sustainable development challenges through online volunteering from any device.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization in 2015. The importance of volunteerism is not to be understated, as it is estimated that American volunteers complete the equivalence in work, of about 9 million full time employees. Everyone has the choice of volunteering, as there are thousands of different ways to make a positive and sustainable difference in your, or someone else’s community.

All it takes is one action to make the world a better place for everyone to share. Whether you donate your time at a youth center, volunteer to be a tutor, or even provide disaster relief for those in need, your efforts help change lives for the better on a daily basis. Public service and volunteer opportunities are available through numerous federal organizations such as the Peace Corps, Citizen Corps, Joining Forces, and many more. International Volunteer Day not only recognizes volunteerism, but it celebrates the kindness and selflessness that millions of people display on a day to day basis, for the greater good of society and humanity as a whole.

For International Volunteer Day 2016, recognize those who dedicate their time to creating a better community for everybody involved or take the initiative to become a volunteer yourself. You can get started by using our site to create a list of charities that match your interests and are located near your home. Then follow up with each charity directly to find out how you can help. Be sure to check out our Guide To Volunteering for more tips.

IRA Charitable Rollover

 [Photo credit: Lending Memo]
Last year, President Obama signed the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 into law. Included in this package of changes to tax code is a permanent inclusion of IRS Charitable Rollover. This permanent change removes the uncertainty that has cropped up several times in recent years; after originally expiring in 2008, the incentive was temporarily renewed 5 times.

The IRA Charitable Rollover allows individuals who are 70 1/2 years old to donate up to $100,000 to charitable organizations directly from their IRA, without that donation being counted as taxable income when it is withdrawn. To qualify, contributions must come from a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, and they must be made directly to a public charity. Additionally, the donor may not receive goods or services in exchange for the donation, and they must retain a receipt from each charity to which a donation is made.

Giving incentives such as the IRA Charitable Rollover have a tremendous impact on the social sector. According to Independent Sector, the provision led to more than $140 million in gifts during its first two years.  Because it is available to taxpayers whether or not they itemize their tax returns, the rollover helps older Americans, who are more likely not to file itemized returns. Extending this charitable provision permanently provides needed clarity in the tax code and allows for Americans to make giving decisions without wondering whether the provision will continue to exist.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Charity Mailing Addresses Explained

With the giving season upon us, donors will be receiving a multitude of appeal letters from various organizations. Donors using our website will often note that the mailing address that they find on these appeals and the physical address that we list for that same organization are different. This can cause confusion and often leads a donor to question whether or not the appeal letter is genuine. However, this is a perfectly valid and common practice for nonprofit organizations.

There are a variety of reasons that an organization’s mailing address would differ from their physical address, but the most common reason that this occurs is that the organization may be using a professional gift processing center. These firms are contracted by the charity to efficiently and safely process your donation. The use of gift processing centers can help take the burden of processing donations off of the organization’s often small development team, which in turn allows for faster and cheaper donation processing. In addition, these centers provide security measures that would be impossible in most nonprofit offices. These measures can include banning employees from bringing in bags, not allowing trash cans and using extensive security cameras to monitor the staff. This is all so that donors can rest assured that their donation will be processed effectively and will get to the organization that it was intended for.

Additionally, organizations with a multitude of branches or chapters may have a designated donation processing office of their own. Donation requests by various office locations may simply be directing their donations toward their more centralized development offices, where specialized employees of the organization are better equipped to process and document your donation.

When available, we include an organization’s donation mailing address alongside their physical address in the Charity Contact Info box, located in the upper left corner of a rated organization’s listing. However, not having a listed mailing address does not necessarily mean that the organization does not utilize one.

If you are concerned about a solicitation you receive for any reason, we encourage you to contact the organizations directly. You can do this by either visiting their website’s “Contact Us” page, or by using the contact information that we provide for rated organizations at charitynavigator.org.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December Giving Calendar

Today, we kick off our December Giving Calendar. It is full of tips and donating facts to help you make the most of your year-end giving!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Charity Navigator Users Are Generous!

World AIDS Day


World AIDS Day is observed annually on December 1st, and has been since it became the first global health day, in 1988. This day is used to unify people in the fight against HIV and to mourn those who have been lost due to the illness. The pandemic of HIV is prevalent all over the world, as there are approximately 34 million people currently living with the virus. In addition, the virus has taken the lives of more than 35 million people since its being first identifiable in 1984. Community organizations, government and health officials, and individuals all over the world observe the day and commit to educating people on methods of treatment and overall prevention.

Each World AIDS Day is focused around a specific theme, which are all chosen after consultations with numerous organizations associated with the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. This year’s campaign is entitled “Not Retro, Just Wrong”, focused on helping to end the stigma of HIV diagnosis and put it in the past, where it beings. The stigmas associated with with HIV often come from opinions and assumptions derived from 2 and 3 decades ago, during a time where much of the virus was unknown. However, HIV is no longer a death sentence, but now a virus that if properly treated, can effectively be lived with.

For millions of people, HIV is a daily fight that is reliant on not just medication, but support, empathy, and understanding by those not living with the virus/disease. To take a stand against HIV, engage in social media initiatives that help end the stigmas often associated with the virus/disease. You can do this by posting a funny retro picture of you or anyone close to you on social media with the hashtag #HIVNOTRETRO, showing that some styles reappear themselves over time, but the HIV stigmas do not need to be one of them. Other ways to get involved can be by sharing #HIVNOTRETRO campaign at your school, university, or workplace, or by encouraging people to wear retro clothing. Another way to get involved is simply by having honest conversations with the people around you, based on the stigmas associated with HIV, as many stigmas are due to lack of knowledge and misperception.  For anyone interested in holding a World AIDS Day event, please visit the World AIDS Day site, as the simultaneous raising of awareness and fundraising is encouraged.

Below we have put together a number of charities to assist anyone interested in donating to a cause benefitting HIV/AIDS. Please be sure to visit the charity’s profile to analyze their accountability, transparency, and financial standing. Use World AIDS Day to help make a difference, by encouraging those around you to get tested, have conversations about the importance of safe sex, and remember to wear a red ribbon on World AIDS Day, as the ribbon is a globally recognized symbol that shows support to the millions of people currently living with HIV/AIDS.