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Charity Navigator is an independent, non-profit organization that evaluates American charities. Its stated goal is "to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America's largest charities."



Charity Navigator was launched on April 15, 2002, with the mission of helping "donors make informed giving decisions and enabling well-run charities to demonstrate their commitment to proper stewardship" of donor dollars.[1] Initially, Charity Navigator provided financial ratings for 1,100 charities. Charity Navigator currently evaluates more than 5,200 charities in the United States in addition to hundreds of organizations with international operations.

The site also features opinion pieces by Charity Navigator experts, donation tips, and top-10 and bottom-10 lists that rank efficient and inefficient organizations in a number of categories. Annually, Charity Navigator conducts a national study to determine and analyze any statistical differences that may exist in the financial practices of charities located in different metropolitan markets across America.

The service is free, and the site is navigable by charity name, location or type of activity. Charity Navigator is a 501(c)(3) organization that accepts no advertising or donations from the organizations it evaluates.

In 2006 Time magazine named it in one of the 50 top websites of the year.[2]

Evaluation methodology

Using publicly available tax returns (IRS Form 990) filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the Charity Navigator rating system bases its evaluations in two broad areas — organizational efficiency and organizational capacity. Based on how the charity rates in each of the two areas, it is assigned an overall rating, ranging from zero to four stars. To help donors avoid becoming victims of mailing-list appeals, each assessment of a charity's finances is accompanied by a review of its commitment to keeping donors' personal information confidential.

This methodology was criticized in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review for taking into account only a single year's IRS Form 990.[3] This can lead to significant fluctuation in the ranking of a charity from year to year.[3] Also, the focus on the IRS Form 990 has itself been criticized, as the accuracy and reliability of IRS Form 990 data is questionable.[4] Form 990 categorizes a charity's expenditures into three broad categories that are open to accounting manipulation. The nonprofit sector does not have the strict financial regulation and transparency required from public corporations (under the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, among others), creating limitations on how accurately a charity's efficiency can be graded based on a tax return. Particularly relevant to Charity Navigator's methodology is that 59% of the 58,000 charities receiving public donations in 1999 failed to report any fundraising expenditures, illustrating a potential problem with relying on Form 990 figures alone when analyzing an organization.[4] However, Charity Navigator no longer includes charities that claim to have no fundraising expenditures What Kind of Charities Do We Evaluate?[3]. Furthermore, it only rates the 20% of charity organizations that have over $500,000 annual revenue, and argues these charities have better expertise for reporting to the IRS, and therefore their reporting tends to be more accurate.

As of December 2007, Charity Navigator would recommend donors support concerns that meet six criteria:[5]

  1. Able to communicate who they are and what they do
  2. Defined short-term and long-term goals
  3. Able to state the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal
  4. Programs make sense to the donor
  5. Trustworthy
  6. Programs that the donor feels she can make a long-term commitment to

In December of 2008, the President and CEO, Ken Berger, announced on his blog[4] that the organization intends to expand its rating system to include measures of the outcomes of the work of charities it evaluates. This was described in further detail in a podcast for The Chronicle of Philanthropy in September of 2009. The article explained that plans for a revised rating system will also include measures of accountability (including transparency, governance and management practices) as well as outcomes (the results of the work of the charity)[5].

See also


  1. ^ Overholt, Alison. Charitable Deductions: Charity Navigator dares to hold the nation's nonprofits accountable for their fund-raising, August 2003.
  2. ^ TIME Magazine. 50 Coolest Websites for 2006, August 2006
  3. ^ a b Lowell, Trelstad and Meehan: "The Ratings Game: Evaluating the three groups that rate the charities", Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2005:41. Available at [1].
  4. ^ a b Lowell, Trelstad and Meehan: "The Ratings Game: Evaluating the three groups that rate the charities", Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2005:42. Available at [2].
  5. ^ "6 Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating". Charity Navigator. Retrieved 2007-12-06.  

External links



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