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, April 29, 2016

Give Happiness This Mother's Day!

With Mother's Day just around the corner (May 8th), are you still looking for a meaningful gift for mom? It’s hard to think of a more thoughtful gift than making a charitable donation in her honor! And when you make that donation via Charity Navigator's Giving Basket, we will send your mom an email informing her that you made a gift in her name. (You can even wait until the morning of mother's day to make that donation and we'll make sure she's notified before the end of the day.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It's Not Our Money

Photo Credit: Direct Relief
One of the key challenges facing charities responding to a disaster is how to handle donor-designated money. Direct Relief, a 4-star charity, eloquently describes their stance on donor designations, and the obligation entrusted to them by donors during a crisis. Please see our feature article on how Direct Relief and other organizations have responded to the tragic earthquake in Nepal one year ago.

Several years ago, following another emergency in which Direct Relief became the focal point for significant charitable contributions, the amount of restricted-by-donor cash contributions for that event exceeded our entire planned operating budget for the year. When I mentioned this had happened to our then board chair who was onsite handling phone calls, she said, “Well, this isn’t our money. The people calling are giving money to Direct Relief, but it’s for the people they’re seeing on TV living through hell.” Simply said, and exactly right – then, and in every similar event that inspires private giving to help the people or country that experiences a disaster. The Asian tsunami. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The earthquakes in Haiti, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The recent cyclone in Fiji, and current flooding in Houston and earthquake recovery ongoing in Ecuador. And Nepal.

For Direct Relief and all American nonprofits, “honoring donor intent” has long been a bedrock principle – but we recognize it’s difficult to assess adherence to, since the only standardized basis of comparison is a single, lengthy IRS form that all groups submit annually and requires groups like Charity Navigator to interpret and make the contents understandable for the public. It’s impossible to honor donor intent without giving donors the opportunity to express that intent. That’s why seemingly little things, like the specific language on website donation pages and in solicitations are so important – particularly in high-profile, deeply compelling emergencies such as occurred in Nepal after last year’s tragic earthquakes.

But, the anniversary of the Nepal tragedy also reminded us of the special obligation that Direct Relief has to the people of Nepal, having been entrusted with funds directed to our organization for their benefit. It seems an important – maybe the most important – obligation, and we hope we get it right, even though it’s different from the legal requirements and norms so obviously essential to inform those who made generous contributions that allowed Direct Relief to assist as it has and will continue to do.

-Thomas Tighe, President and CEO, Direct Relief

To read the full piece by Mr. Tighe, please click here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Millions Making A Difference


One of the largest natural disasters in recent memory, being the Nepal earthquake, is now approximately a year into its recovery. Thousands were killed and injured, in addition to almost half a million people losing their homes as a result of the series of earthquakes. Overall, about 8 million people were affected by the tragedy that left Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, in turmoil and devastation. Since this time last year, 330 humanitarian agencies have launched 2,200 various programs and services to assist the people of Nepal.

After a tragedy of such magnitude, many people around the world become eager to give a helping hand by donating to charities. However, with so many charities providing relief efforts, a common area of uncertainty becomes “where and how would my money have the most impact?”.

Our goal as America’s leading charity evaluator, has always been to guide intelligent giving in all aspects. Holding true to our mission, when the quake hit last year, we published giving tips and a variety of high-rated charities who provided assistance to Nepal. One of the useful tips that we gave, was to follow up in the upcoming months after the earthquake, for the purpose of seeing how donations were put to use.

For the benefit donors who wanted to know the impact their money had, and charities who wanted to report their results, we produced a report entitled “Nepal Earthquake: One Year Later.” This report consists of responses from 35 charities who have been providing assistance to Nepal over the past year. Some highlighted data from this report are:

  • Donations: These charities reported that they received a total of $230.7 million in donations to support their Nepal earthquake response.
  • Collaborative Efforts: 34 out of 35 charities reported that they collaborated with another charity and/or organization while providing relief in Nepal.
  • Range of philanthropic responses: These charities engaged in a variety of charitable activities in Nepal including reconstruction of homes and schools, building orphanages, providing medical supplies and eyecare, delivering food and water, mental health care, and more.
With the prevalence of programs and services in Nepal, it is easy for some to lose sight of the fact that there is still an immense amount of assistance needed in Nepal to improve their conditions. Of the 35 charities who submitted responses, 28 of them are still accepting donations towards their relief efforts in Nepal.

With this report, we look for donors to have a complete breakdown and understanding of how their funds have been used for Nepal’s recovery up to this point. Check out our report now to learn more about how each charity responded and if they need additional support from donors to continue their work in Nepal.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nepal: Building Stronger Homes And Livelihoods

Photo Credit: Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is one of the many organizations that responded to the Nepal earthquake disaster one year ago. The following is their report on their response. Please see our One Year Later guide for more information on how Catholic Relief Services and many other charities responded to this catastrophe.

The catastrophic earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, not only claimed thousands of lives, but also toppled more than 500,000 homes and businesses. There is a massive demand—and urgent need—to rebuild.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, it is now one year later and Catholic Relief Services’ work continues, training skilled and unskilled workers in earthquake-resistant construction techniques. Among those we’re helping is Jyam Bahadur Thapa Magar, 55, a seasoned construction worker. He has been building homes in Bungkot, Gorkha district since he was a teenager.

“I learned how to build houses from the elders. I learned by seeing them working,” he says. “I made houses that same way my whole life, until I took a training from CRS.”

What Jyam has learned has changed his approach to building. He is forming walls differently, using stones to strengthen corners and digging deeper and wider foundations that will help the homes be more resilient to future shocks. His favorite part of what he’s learned is seeing the homes he’s built using the new construction methods adding, “It will be strong in any earthquake. That is the most important thing for all houses, including mine.”

-Jennifer Hardy, Regional Information Officer, Asia, for Catholic Relief Services

Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Earth Day!

It’s Friday and it’s Earth Day! What better way to celebrate than by helping to protect and preserve our beautiful planet. This year, the focus is on planting billions of trees, parting ways with fossil fuels and making cities completely renewable. If you would like to learn more about organizations helping to defend our planet’s well-being, check out the following highly rated charities:

For a complete listing of environmental protection and conservation organizations, check them out here. Happy Earth Day fellow Environmentalists!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Legendary Prince Dies

Today, we've learned that Prince has unexpectedly died at the age of 57. An multi-talented entertainer, Prince was a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and an actor. Moreover, he was a pop culture icon.

As we mourn the loss of such a great performer, consider making a donation to one of the charities he supported as a way to celebrate his life. Two such charities, both with 4-star ratings, are the City of Hope and Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Optimize Your Generosity

Written by: Sandra Miniutti

This funny video takes one from our play book --- after a disaster give cash, not supplies. To quote our tips:

Do Not Send SuppliesKnowing that people are desperately in need of basic supplies like food, water and shelter, it is hard not to want to pack up and send a box of supplies. But this type of philanthropy is simply not practical or efficient. Even if mail could get to an impacted region, no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing. Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.

Please, keep this in mind when you consider your options for supporting disaster recovery efforts. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

CHARITY Act Introduced

On April 6th, Senators John Thune and Rob Wyden, introduced S. 2750, the CHARITY Act, in a signal to lawmakers of the importance of charitable deductions to the tax code.  The bill states that “it is the sense of the Senate that encouraging charitable giving should be a goal of tax reform.” The Act proposes five key amendments:
  • Making it mandatory that all nonprofits file their yearly Form 990 electronically, and that the IRS make all Form 990 data available “in machine readable format as soon as practicable.” There is the opportunity for the IRS to make allowances for up to two years for small organizations for whom filing electronically would cause “undue burden”
  • Allowing donor-advised funds (DAFs) to be beneficiaries for IRS rollover gifts
  • Decreasing the excise tax rate for foundation investment income to one percent from its current two percent and no longer requiring foundations to calculate payout rates from earlier years
  • Increasing the standard mileage deduction for volunteers to the same allotted for medical and moving purposes
  • Permitting more favorable taxation of business profits, which have been donated to a foundation, and where the business operated independently of the foundation’s donors, and all net operating income has been donated to the foundation.

Prior to the proposal of this bill, a judge had ruled that the IRS must release Form 990s in digital format. The IRS complained that doing so is not within their current capacity, due to a budget that has been reduced repeatedly in recent years. The component of the CHARITY Act which would require all nonprofits to file their Form 990s electronically would help the IRS transition more easily into making all Form 990s available in machine-readable format.  

In its current state, with only one additional cosponsor gained since its proposal and its introduction during an election year, it is unlikely that it will move forward. However it is an important step in signaling the importance of charitable deductions. It also provides language which could influence or be applied to broader tax reform farther down the line. 

Friday, April 15, 2016


By Ashley Post and Mariah Ross

This month, Charity Navigator is celebrating another year of helping donors, like you, give more confidently to high-performing charities. In light of our birthday, we’re taking time to reflect on our past. Here are a few things you may not have realized about Charity Navigator:

1. We didn’t start off as Charity Navigator.
For our first few months of existence, we were The Giving Information Foundation. It’s clear that you agree, Charity Navigator just has a better ring to it.

2. Why the Compass?
After the name was locked in, branding was discussed. Our team decided a nautical theme worked best for us. The Compass was chosen because it helps guide, just as we aim to guide intelligent giving.

3. When we first launched our site, we had a very different look.
We launched Charity Navigator on April 15, 2002 with 1,100 charity ratings - instantly making us the largest, independent charity rating service in America. Within ten years, we grew that number to 5,500. And now, we rate over 8,000 - which account for ½ of all giving in America (when excluding houses of worship).

4. We’re located in the Garden State!
While we’ve had different offices, Charity Navigator has always been based out of New Jersey

5. Last year, 9.1 million people came to our website.
That’s a huge amount of people invested in our research on the non profit sector! You spent 36,000,000 minutes vetting charities on Charity Navigator.

Whether you’ve been with us since the beginning or you’re new to our service, Charity Navigator is here for you--providing you with the charity ratings and complementary tips you have come to rely on. Please consider joining us in celebrating our birthday by giving a gift today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Car Donations: the Charity, You, and the Third Party

Non-monetary gifts are a common route donors take to give to the charities they support. Donations of food and clothing to various charities are relatively typical, but what about vehicles? Each year, a large amount of Americans choose to donate their cars, boats, and RVs to charity. At surface level, it seems like a pretty good idea, especially if your vehicle isn’t running. You call the charity, they tow it away, and your work is done.      

Unlike a donation of food or clothing, you and the charity are not usually the only parties involved in processing car donations. An overwhelming majority of charities who accept vehicle donations process these gifts through a third party for a fee. Whether or not a third party is involved is not always clear to the donor throughout the transaction process. It is often challenging to find out what payment the third party receives for selling the vehicle. That amount can be shockingly large.

In past years, if you wanted to donate your car to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, you would do so through Wheels for Wishes, an organization that has recently been placed on CN’s Watchlist. Wheels for Wishes is an alternate business name of the Car Donation Foundation, which recently underwent investigation by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. According to the report released by Attorney General Swanson, the Car Donation Foundation gives between 18-22% of its gross revenue to charitable causes. Its gross revenue over the past four years totaled over $108 million.

Make-A-Wish Foundation has since entered into contract with a new organization that guarantees at least 70% of the value of vehicle will go directly to the charity you donate. 70% is a fantastic improvement from 18-22%, but it still might be unsettling to donors who believed that their entire donation is going to charity.

If your primary motivation in donating a car, boat, or RV is charitable giving, you have two solid options. The first is to sell the car yourself and donate the profit. This is the only way to be truly certain that your entire donation is going to the organization of your choice. The second is to call organizations in your area and ask them if they could use a car. Often times, charities need cars for transportation and will use it for charitable work instead of selling it.

Check out our Guide to Donating Your Car for more information.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Kristen Stewart Birthday Project

This year, one of our four star organizations, the Lange Foundation, is the recipient of proceeds collected through the Kristen Stewart Birthday Project. The initiative was started entirely through Stewart’s fans. In honor of her birthday, fans of Stewart select a charitable organization to raise donations for. Being that Stewart has rescued several dogs, the Lange Foundation is a great selection.

The Lange Foundation rescues cats, dogs, and horses, rehabilitates them, and places them in a forever home. Once adopted, the animal’s progress is monitored in their new homes. The animals available for adoption come in all sizes, colors, and ages. Check out their website to learn more!

Interested in volunteering with animal sanctuaries? Check out our Guide to Volunteering!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Donations Bins: Where's your Clothing Going?

Written by: Taylor Duffy

We've all seen those clothing donations bins, but do you know where your clothes are actually going?

The New York Times reported that although well-intentioned donors might think their clothing is helping people in need, their donations are “often sold in thrift stores or in bulk overseas, with the proceeds going to for-profit entities that can be impossible to trace, or even to contact.” Community residents might consider these bins eyesores, or city law might ban these bins from their streets and sidewalks (they are legal on private property with the owner’s consent). However, the process to remove them from local neighborhoods is often difficult and time consuming.

According to Gothamist, “The textile-recycling market has become more than a million dollar industry in the United States, and clothing donors unwittingly contribute to it by donating to the illegally-placed bins.” Unfortunately, people believe they’re supporting legitimate non-profits, when in fact they’re giving to for-profit companies. Such a misleading or deceitful set-up is often discouraging to well-meaning donors.

So how can you make sure your donations are going to charities you can trust? 

  • Be sure to only donate clothing and items that are in good used condition, or better. Otherwise, you cannot make the deduction on your taxes, nor can the organization use the item.
  • Bringing your donation to the charity itself is an easy way to ensure your donation is getting to the right people. Organizations such as Goodwill have the locations of their donation bins listed on their website, as well as designated drop-off spots, manned by a non-profit representative that can give you a tax receipt. 
  • Determine the fair market value of the items so you can appropriately deduct the donation on your taxes.
  • Or, you can sell the items you want to get rid of, and donate the money to the charity of your choice. 
See our site for more tips for donating noncash items or to find a charity you can trust.

Monday, April 4, 2016

New Education Cause Areas!

This April, we introduced six new cause areas to the Education category. These cause areas all come from what was previously considered Other Education Programs and Services. We hope to provide a better user experience by improving our taxonomy of charities on our site, which will ultimately help you more easily find a charity you can trust!

Our new education cause areas are:

Early Childhood Programs and ServicesEarly Childhood Programs and Services 
Early Childhood Programs and Services include nursery schools, kindergartens, and/or other education services that provide foundation-level learning and/or literacy for children prior to entering the formal school setting.
Scholarship and Financial SupportScholarship and Financial Support
Scholarship and Financial Support organizations support and enable students to obtain the financial assistance they require to meet their educational and living expenses while in school. This cause includes organizations that financially support education, including school foundations, alumni associations, student service organizations, and booster clubs.
Special EducationSpecial Education
Special Education organizations provide services, including placement and individualized programming, instruction, and support services, for children and youth who are gifted or have disabilities that require appropriately modified curricula, teaching methodologies, or instructional materials in order to learn.
Adult Education Programs and ServicesAdult Education Programs and Services
Adult Education Programs and Services organizations focus on leadership and/or professional development for adults. These programs typically operate outside the formal educational system and provide an array of opportunities for adults to expand their knowledge in a particular field or discipline. Adults are encouraged to explore and develop skills in a new area of interest, learn English as a second language, or complete their high school education.
Youth Education Programs and ServicesYouth Education Programs and Services
Youth Education Programs and Services include organizations that provide programming, classroom support, and/or instruction to school-aged students regarding a variety of disciplines, including art education, outward bound learning experiences, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and other classroom programs that enhance formal education. Postsecondary programs are included in this cause and typically offer formal preparation for semiskilled, skilled, technical or professional occupations for college-age students.
Education Policy and ReformEducation Policy and Reform
Education Policy and Reform charities promote and provide research, policy, and reform of the management of educational institutions, educational systems, and education policy.