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Making your year end charitable donations?  Before you write that check, stop.  How well do you know that organization?  Is their CEO funding a lavish lifestyle at donors’ expense?  How much actually goes to the cause, and how much goes to “overhead”?  Here are the top four charity watchdog organizations to help you answer those questions and more.

Charity Navigator


Charity Navigator boasts the largest database of charities nationwide, and evaluates 501c(3) charities that file a 990 form.  This means that they don’t evaluate religious organizations, like Salvation Army, who are exempt from filing this form.  Charity Navigator evaluates charities on two criteria: (1) financial health and (2) accountability and transparency.  Users can register for free to evaluate a portfolio of up to five different charities, or check out Charity Navigator’s Top Ten Lists

BBB Wise Giving Alliance


Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance “reports on nationally soliciting charities that the public has most often asked about as well as charities that request to be evaluated.” Give.org evaluates charities on twenty different metrics covering oversight, effectiveness, financial responsibility, and fundraising standards.  Its easy to use interface lets donors simply search for the charity in which they are interested, and if the charity is accredited you can read the full report about the charity.  No registration is required.



GiveWell focuses on giving donors an in depth analysis of charities that “stand out” by their criteria.  This enables them to recommend the best giving opportunities.  Their criteria focuses on finding charities serving the global poor (i.e., not the US), evidence backed interventions with a proven track record of success, and that are thoroughly vetted and transparent.  They focus on charities working in the following three categories: malaria prevention, treating children for parasites, and direct cash transfers.

Charity Watch


Founded 20 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) Charity Watch carefully analyzes charities, recognizing that a “cookie cutter” approach falls short of providing an accurate rating.  They help donors gain a clear understanding of how their cash is being spent.  Because of their fierce independence, you’ll need to spend $50 to join as a member before searching for ratings on different charities.  However, they do have a list of top rated charities, and a list of the top earning directors of charitable organizations available for free. 

I hope this is helpful to you as you make your year-end donations.  Is there any rating agency I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net