How Do You Know Where Your Money is Going?

Do you ever wonder where your donations are really going? You want to be sure that the lion’s share of the money will go where it’s needed. Charities have different overhead costs, so it’s understandable you’d want to do a little digging before dipping into your pockets.

While your first thought is that you want to invest in a cause (and not line an executive’s pocket), note that overhead is not always the best measure of a charity’s performance. Overhead doesn’t necessarily tell us about an organization’s effectiveness or true impact. It’s smarter to use these indicators instead: transparency, leadership, and results.

Still, overhead can offer some insight in rooting out fraud and poor financial management. But one must consider other elements of the charity’s organizational performance to truly assess its character. It’s a good idea for organizations to invest some of their donations in areas that will help improve the functioning of their work: training, planning, evaluations, and more programs. Money is also needed for expenses that allow the charity to sustain itself.

According to Charity Navigator, charities are rated by their financial health and their accountability and transparency. Organizations that transcend these two elements of criteria are considered exceptional, reliable, and legitimate. In essence, this means the charity is the most responsible with its money.

These evaluations are based on the financial information each charity provides in its informational tax return, the IRS Form 990. The information is then analyzed in seven key areas that assess its financial efficiency and capacity, in relation to its cause. Charity Navigator also utilizes information available on the organization’s 990 and information collected from a review of the charity’s website. Seventeen different metrics are involved to assess its practices, governance, and ethics.

Below is a list of who made the cut. Let’s take a look:

North Carolina Community Foundation

San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity
United Way of Denton County

Hosanna/Faith Comes By Hearing
Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health

Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO)

Arthritis National Research Foundation
Community Volunteers in Medicine
Give Kids The World
Help Hope Live

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Equal Justice Initiative
Physicians for Reproductive Health

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast
Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Rainforest Trust
Southern Environmental Law Center
Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation
Wild Earth Allies, Inc.

Army Emergency Relief
Boca Helping Hands
Boys & Girls Clubs of Indian River County
Boys & Girls Clubs of Nassau County Foundation
Central Illinois Foodbank
Clark County Food Bank
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
Eastern Illinois Foodbank
Fisher House Foundation
Food Bank of Siouxland

Big Cat Rescue

Greenville Humane Society
Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind
Last Chance for Animals
Nevada Humane Society
PAWS Chicago
Puppies Behind Bars
Wildlife Conservation Network
Zoo Miami Foundation

Forever Young Foundation

Hour Children
Kostopulos Dream Foundation
Lifesong for Orphans
Memorial Assistance Ministries
Navy SEAL Foundation
New York Common Pantry
River Bend Foodbank
The Foodbank
Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, Inc.
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen
Upper Valley Haven
Weld Food Bank

Before you donate to any charity in general, keep these tips in mind:

  • Report abuses to the Better Business Bureau.
  • You are not obligated to donate with cash. Legitimate charities will always accept a check.
  • Never give out your Social Security number!
  • Check out the charity with national, state and local authorities. Established charities register with the Internal Revenue Service. You can search for specific non-profit organizations at

Remember that donating small sums of money may not seem like much, but when combined with other donations, it becomes substantial. You may not be rich, but when you give, your heart will make you feel otherwise.  As they say, “you have two hands: one to help yourself, the second to help others.”


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