Charity Investigation

Learn how to research dog charities and find out where your gifts are going.


 money pug
There is a wealth of resources online to help you judge how well a charity does in adhering to recognized standards. Does the charity you support donate 80 cents or more of every dollar to the causes you value? Or do they have high expenses -- and possibly salaries -- and donate 40 cents or less of your money to benefit dogs?

One good place to start assessing a charity’s financial health is by looking them up on Charity Navigator which assesses financial information from tax returns and other measures to rate how effectively the charity uses contributions.

“Charity Navigator also provides a breakdown as to amounts used for fundraising, administrative expenses, and program expenses,” says Sandra Miniutti, organization vice president.

The rating, from one to four stars, gives you a good measure of how well the charity is doing. Included in the results are ratings for similar organizations, which may help you identify a different charity that has a similar mission and is more efficient and effective.

You can also do a search for charities based on keywords.

You can also get additional information by consulting other online sources:

*The American Institute of Philanthropy (registration fee required)

*The Better Business Bureau’s list of charities that have complied with their “Wise Giving Alliance” standards

Another way to assess a charity is to check the reviews of donors and volunteers with various organizations at Great Non Profits.

Online information may be less available for small charitable organizations. Charity Navigator, for example, only rates organizations that raise donations of more than $1 million per year.

How can a donor research a small charity?

Start with the IRS website and confirm the charity’s 501(c)(3) status, that it is eligible to receive tax-exempt donations. Next, explore the company’s financial health.

Charity Navigator provides a tool to access a small organization’s tax reports and information, indicating, for example, how much the charity spends on its stated mission.

“Generally the organization should spend at least 75 percent directly on their mission programs,” Miniutti says.  

Go to the charity’s website and read the fine print, and ask questions to the staff via phone or email: How do they monitor results? How consistent are their results? Have they shown growth?

A not-for-profit, whether big or small, should readily provide you with their tax forms and other requested information. “Their willingness to comply sheds light on their transparency and accountability,” Miniutti says.

To check for possible sensitive issues or controversy, search the charity’s recent media coverage on online news sources.

Before you contribute to any not-for-profit, consider volunteering if feasible. “Remember that your own feet on the ground may provide valuable insight into an organization’s priorities and policies,” Miniutti says.

The opportunities for exploring charity ratings online continue to grow. “We’ve long advocated that potential donors be three-dimensional in their approach, by looking into the company’s financial health, commitment to transparency, and results as well,” Miniutti says.

Although Charity Navigator has historically rated charities solely on their financial health, now they are incorporating accountability and transparency measures into their star ratings. Eventually they plan to factor results into the ratings as well.

After all, results matter. We donate to animal charities hoping our dollars will bring about positive, consistent results. Take the time to find the charity that best matches your priorities and spends most wisely, and you’ll be able to donate with confidence.



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Jo Ann   Lodgepole, NE

12/3/2011 5:03:00 PM

Very good information!

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