I decided to make a donation to a charity for personal reasons and have been considering being a volunteer. When I talked to coworkers about this, one of them brought up the "grade" of the charity on Charity Navigator. I immediately went and looked at the grade. Not one to just take stuff on the internet at face value, I started looking into everything.
The site shows the star rating at the top of the page with "overall" as if that is the overall grade for the performance of the charity but when I check into what they are grading, it is only the information on forms the charity has made public. It has nothing to do with what the charity does or accomplishes. There could be a charity lumping tons of money into whatever it is they say they do with no history of doing anything but they get four stars while a charity that has a long history of doing good gets two stars. Or a four star charity may report differently than a two star charity meaning the two star charity may actually be more honest. There is absolutely no way for their formula measure this and there is nowhere on my charity's "grade page" that states the imperfections in the grading system. If they have it hidden somewhere else on the site, it is not good enough because they know most people are going straight to the charity they are looking up thinking they are going to get a clear picture of the charity.
The charity I donated to only has two stars but I know of many great accomplishments it has made. There is nothing about that on the Charity Navigator page. When the average person goes to the page they are going to see the two stars as if that is the definitive, overall grade of the charity when it is not. That is VERY deceiving. I would rather give to a charity that works and is less than perfect under this sites formula than a charity that lumps my money into nothing.
I find it strange that they talk about transparency but they aren't transparent on each charities page to tell people the rating is not based on everything and the grading system isn't perfect. That should be right at the top of each page to let people know they aren't being completely informed. If they are not going to put that at the top of each page, they should take down the word overall. I hope more people realize this because, like my coworker, they may pass up chances of donating to very worthy causes based on the misleading information on this site.
Dear Angelcares, Thank you for your interest in informed giving and for taking the time to review our organization. I’m sorry that you felt we were being anything but 100% transparent about how we rate charities and what is/isn’t part of our system. We’ve gone to great lengths to be very clear on the charity’s ratings pages exactly what we measure and how we do it. And, the methodology section of our site, http://www.charitynavigator.org/methodology, includes even more details on our system. Included there, is a whole page devoted to what our ratings mean, http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=43, and how donors should utilize our service. But given your feedback, we will look into making this information even more readily available to the users of our site. Please know that we’ve never said that our ratings are the final say on a charity’s worthiness of support. But we do believe that financially strong, accountable and transparent charities are better positioned to execute effective programs and services. As far as why don’t we rate each charity’s impact? I’m sure you can understand that developing a universal, unbiased, objective rating system that evaluates the quality of a charity’s programs, that is scalable in a way that would enable us to apply it to the thousands of charities we rate and that wouldn’t inflict burdensome reporting requirements on the charities, is challenging to say the least. That said, knowing what a charity has accomplished is a critical step; after all, the charity's ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the world is the key reason for their existence and for a donor’s support. As such, it is our goal to expand our rating system to include an assessment of each charity’s Results Reporting - the way charities come to know, use and share their results with stakeholders including donors. We are in the R&D phase of our Results Reporting methodology and expect this phase to continue for another year or so. If you have any additional thoughts, suggestions or concerns, then I hope you will not hesitate to contact us directly (www.charitynavigator.org) . Best wishes in all your charitable endeavors!
Review from Guidestar
Charity Navigator is good for what I use it for ... namely a quick reference to get a general idea about an organization . Mission statement, pie chart showing how your donations are distributed (ie 89% programs, 6% administrative, etc), and the CEO salary. CN is where I begin, but if I am going to donate, I go over their financials with a fine tooth comb using other resources such as Guidestar.org. On section 7 of the form 990, you can see all significant salaries paid to employees. I disagree with CN star rating system. To me, if CEO's and board members are making enough to buy one Ferrari per year, then it does not meet MY requirements . You need to find out what's important to you, and research, research, research.
Thank you for your commitment to informed giving and for your interest in Charity Navigator.\nI just wanted to point out two things:\n*You don't have to go to Guidestar to access the Form 990. We have them on our site for all of the 8,000+ charities we rate and the rest of the 1.4 million nonprofits. If it is a charity that we rate, just click on the "IRS" tab. And if it is a group we haven't rated, then you'll find the 990s at the bottom of the org's page on our site.\n*You are correct that we don't 'rate' a CEO's compensation. But we do disclose it on the charity's rating page. We also show if there are other staffers making interesting salaries (such as family or someone making more than the CEO) and if the CEO is getting additional compensation from affiliated organizations. \nAgain, we commend you for your commitment to responsible philanthropy and wish you all the best in your charitable endeavors.