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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.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Glimpse Into Charity Navigator's Advisory System

How do you know if your donation is used for the right reasons? 

Before I interned at Charity Navigator, this question had rarely come to mind.  I had always assumed that if I made a donation, it would be to an organization that I trusted to use my money wisely.  Even through my prior experience working for two other nonprofits, I never thought to ask questions like, “What percentage of an organization’s total expenses are spent on its programs?” or “How much does an organization need to spend in fundraising costs in order to raise $1?”  I began to realize how naive my thinking was, and just how little I knew on the topic of nonprofit excellence.  I became eager to learn more and excited to begin my summer internship at Charity Navigator.

Upon my first week as an intern, I learned the ins and outs of fact-checking a charity.  I was introduced to the IRS Form 990 and learned how to analyze this report on a charity’s operations and overall performance.  I was also able to review Charity Navigator’s methodology for rating organizations, as well as its rubrics detailing news credibility, how to issue and remove advisories, and the Charity Navigator Advisory Issuance Committee (CNAIC) Handbook.  These documents helped me familiarize myself with Charity Navigator’s principles and approach to rating organizations and alerting donors to causes for concern, and prepared me for my future tasks.

As the Advisory System Intern, I specifically became familiar with charities that are not performing as one might think they are or should be. I observed the CNAIC meetings and was able to listen to discussions about embezzlement, Attorney General investigations, fake entities, and more -- dismayed to learn that not all well-known organizations are operating as smoothly as they may appear to be.  Through the use of publicly validated information, I began researching organizations with offenses that could warrant a CN Advisory.  I also conducted annual reviews on advisories; if an organization did not rectify their wrongdoing, I made sure that the advisory would remain posted on the website. My main concern became to expose misconduct, and provide donors with all of the relevant information they would need prior to making a donation.

When I walked into the Charity Navigator office, one of the first things I noticed was the banner spanning the wall above my desk, which reads “Guiding Intelligent Giving.”  After interning here for the past few months, I have watched this process in action.  If you want to know if your donation is being used for the right reasons, visit their Charity Navigator page.  There are facts and figures about the operations of the organization, the IRS tax forms that they file, advisory information, impact data, and every other bit of information that we can find to aid you in your decision-making process.

Interested in joining Charity Navigator's team? Learn about our current full-time and internship opportunities here.

This post was contributed by Elizabeth Haines, the Advisory System Intern at Charity Navigator.  She is currently studying Industrial and Systems Engineering at Lehigh University, with a minor in Entrepreneurship.

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