Some charity must have shared my name. I have been barraged with new requests to support groups who state similar philosophies and missions. Some have snail mailed me address labels and decals; others have promised calendars and tote bags as a membership benefit. All seem to be worthy causes. ’Tis the season to give, but how to decide which causes are most worthy?
When you are involved in your community, you have a pretty good idea of how local organizations allocate their resources. You may know the executive director, serve on the board, or know others who do.
But how do you gauge the integrity of a national or international organization? How do you differentiate between two charities whose missions, philosophies, and perhaps even names seem so similar? I’m no Grinch, but I want to make sure that any gift I give really counts; I can always buy my own tote bag.
I turn to Charity Navigator to help me make the most of my financial contributions.
Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator’s team of professional analysts has developed an “unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system” to evaluate the financial health of over 7,000 of America’s charities. Specifically, Charity Navigator's rating system examines two broad areas of a charity's performance —its Financial Health and its Accountability & Transparency.
Go to Charity Navigator, enter the organization’s name, hit return, and, if it is in Charity Navigator’s databank, you will receive a rating of from 1-4 stars. Then click on the charity name to receive three scores: Overall, Financial, and Accountability and Transparency, followed by detailed information including percentage of donations spent on programs, and the salary of the executive director.
What you discover may surprise you. Of all the requests in my stack, the most highly rated was my local Connecticut Food Bank, with an overall score of a whopping 99.68 (out of 100) followed by the Sierra Club with 97.13 I discovered one of the well-known groups in the pile only scored two stars, with 72% of its budget spent on programs and services vs. 90% or more for the top-rated charities!
There are other useful tools on the site including: A Holiday Giving Guide, Top Ten Lists, 4 Star Charities, CN Watchlist, and Donor Advisories. You can also browse rated charities by category. If you are willing to create a free account, you will have the ability to compare charities.
Charity Navigator is a 501(c)(3), but it is not eligible to be rated since it has not yet filed 7 full years of Form 990s. It relies on donations from users of the site for its operating expenses and is now officially classified as a public charity. You can read more here.
I hope this tool helps you navigate your way through the last of your year-end giving. Remember that as long as your credit card is charged in 2014, you can claim the contribution for this year.
Give wisely and well.