As many individuals ponder their end-of-year giving, they are inundated with numerous cash-strapped charities making special requests. With the Salvation Army, Focus on the Family, various denominations and religious universities reporting budget deficits, there are plenty of places to give, but not all could be wise investments.


One organization devoted to helping individuals give responsibly and efficiently is Charity Navigator, which claims to be “the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities.” Currently, the site offers analysis on “5,000 of America’s best-known charities”—including several Baptist ones—and was used by more than four million individuals last year.


Charity Navigator’s “rating system examines two broad areas of a charity’s financial health—how responsibly it functions day to day as well as how well positioned it is to sustain its programs over time.” It also offers information about how well charities protect donor information. Charity Navigator, a non-profit organization, has been praised by BusinessWeek, Kiplinger’s Financial Magazine, Forbes, Time, and Reader’s Digest.


Several Baptist organizations have been evaluated by Charity Navigator. Among those receiving four out of four stars are Baylor University, the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in South Carolina and the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home. Among those receiving three stars are the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina and Mercer University, and among those receiving two stars are Mississippi College, the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children and the South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union.


Charity Navigator provides “top ten” lists that rank some of the best and worst charities in various categories. Current lists include: the “10 Highly-Rated Charities with Low Paid CEOs” that shows charities using a smaller portion of contributions for employee benefits; the “10 Charities Drowning in Administrative Costs” that shows charities using most of their contributions for expenses; and the “10 Inefficient Fundraisers” that shows charities spending a lot of money just trying to raise money.


In addition to providing assessments of organizations, Charity Navigator also offers tips for donors on topics ranging from how to donate a car to how to protect against online scams.

One list, reproduced verbatim here, explains six questions to consider before donating:


  1. Can your charity clearly communicate who they are and what they do?
  2. Can your charity define their short-term and long-term goals?
  3. Can your charity tell you the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal?
  4. Do your charity’s programs make sense to you?
  5. Can you trust your charity?
  6. Are you willing to make a long-term commitment to your organization?

Another list offers tips for giving during a time of crisis. Suggestions include: “Give To An Established Charity,” “Designate Your Gift,” “Avoid Telemarketers,” “Research And Follow Up” and “Give Online.”


Other online resources exist to help individuals decide which charities to support, such as Guidestar and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. Although these sites do not rank or assess charities, they do provide important financial documents so that potential donors can make more intelligent giving decisions.

A recent survey by Charity Navigator found that religious charities were the most confident of any sector that they would achieve their 2008 fundraising goals despite the economic downturn. One factor that might help explain that optimism is that religious organizations generally raise a smaller portion of their budget at the end of the year than do other types of charities.

During the past week, three Southern Baptist organizations have reported financial problems. The Women’s Missionary Union announced it was cutting its budget, implementing a hiring freeze, and cutting back on retirement contributions and salary bonuses.

Additionally, both Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have startedcutting their budgets to deal with deficits.


Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to

Share This