NEW YORK (MainStreet) – In the continuing aftermath of the Great Recession, spending at all levels of government and society has dried up. Charities have been some of the hardest hit, posting huge drops in donations in recent years, and the tightening of budgets at all levels of government spending has only made the problem worse.
But there is one group of organizations that doesn’t have to worry at all about proposals to slash public budgets and threats of government shutdown: charities that take no taxpayer money from Uncle Sam.
Using ratings from the monitoring website CharityNavigator.org, MainStreet looks at the 10 best charities that take no government money and instead rely entirely on fundraising efforts in the private sector and from the people at large to do their valuable work.
There are 520 groups of the thousands that CharityNavigator tracks that take no government money and carry 4-star ratings. Here we take the 10 best, filtering out organizations that operate only locally and those that operate mainly to collect and distribute funds to other charitable organizations.
We’ve looked at the darker side of the charity world, highlighting the charities with the highest administrative costs and the 15 highest-paid charity CEOs. So as you consider your charitable giving this year, here are some that are worth a second look.
10. Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation
CharityNavigator Score: 67.69
The Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation, which raises funds for cancer research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been leveraging donations to support innovative research projects since 1945. Four years of rising revenue have proven the organization’s ability to attract funds in hard times, with a budget of more than $12 million in 2009.
With only 1.4% of that budget going toward fundraising, the accomplishment is put in even sharper focus: 93.8% of donations end up going to the programs that the group supports.
9. The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International
CharityNavigator Score: 67.75
The Rotary Club is probably the best-known charity that has ever existed, no doubt a significant factor in its ability to raise funds without tapping the government.
Recognized by the cog-shaped signs placed in communities large and small all over the world, Rotary clubs support an enormous variety of local fundraising efforts and volunteer projects throughout the globe, which the foundation helps collect donations for.
While the organization spends 7% of its budget raising cash, its incredible yearly budget of more than $275 million is one of the highest there is, so the efforts have consistently yielded fruit.
CharityNavigator Score: 67.86
When DonorsChoose opened its doors in 2000, its new approach to donor relations proved to be a huge hit. The organization focuses on the educational sector, and describes its vision of “a nation where students in every community have the resources they need to learn.”
To achieve that goal, the organization collects funding requests from teachers around the country for specific classroom projects, and lets donors choose (hence the name) which individual projects they want their money to go to.
Managing an annual budget of more than $24 million, DonorsChoose says it has funded more than 90,000 projects, which has surely been proven invaluable in classrooms that do have to worry about public budgets and dwindling resources.
CharityNavigator Score: 67.96
In the seventh spot is the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, one of three military-focused groups on the list, a testimony to Americans’ belief in supporting our injured soldiers as they readjust to life in the states. As the name suggests, funds are used specifically for injured Marines (or soldiers from other branches of the military who were injured while supporting Marines) who were hurt in post-9/11 conflict.
With an annual budget of more than $12 million, the organization steps in where government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs leaves off, supporting soldiers during hospitalization and rehabilitation and providing specialized equipment and state-of-the-art prosthetics to beneficiaries.
CharityNavigator Score: 68.53
Based in New York, WaterAid America turns its attention to the poorest communities in Asia and Africa to help ensure that everyone has access to clean water and sanitation services. In addressing one of the fundamental building blocks of getting out of poverty, the organization recognizes the importance of working with local partners to complete successful projects based on circumstances on the ground.
That amount of legwork and on-the-ground presence required surely contribute to the organization’s higher fundraising and administrative expenses (11.2% and 9.5% of the budget, respectively) when compared with others on this list, numbers also skewed by the group’s relatively small budget of just less than $5 million in 2009.
CharityNavigator Score: 68.88
At number five on the list is the National Women’s Law Center, an organization that targets a different kind of disadvantaged community than just the poor or disabled. By providing opportunities in education, employment, health and other areas, the NWLC aims to help all women improve their lives, though it pays special attention to women living in poverty.
Taking guidance from the simple mission to help women who have been the victims of discrimination, the group aims to pass new laws that support women’s issues, to litigate notable cases at the highest levels of the judicial system, and to educate the public about on how to make laws and public policies work for women and their families.
To do this the group manages an annual budget of around $9 million. While the group receives high ratings for its finances and overall accountability and transparency, it’s worth noting that the group’s two co-presidents, Nancy Duff Campbell and Marcia Greenberger, both take in more than $300,000 in annual compensation, higher than any other group on this list (though substantially lower than the salaries of the 15 highest-paid charity CEOs in America).
CharityNavigator Score: 69.12
Another charity for wounded veterans, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation funnels donations to support members of the special forces units of all branches of the military – including Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Army Rangers and several others.
The group’s annual revenue of more than $13 million is collected entirely from private groups, further proof of the American people’s commitment to helping returning soldiers.
Donations go to two main areas: providing educational scholarships to the children of soldiers in the special forces and providing support for the medical costs and rehabilitation efforts for injured soldiers.
CharityNavigator Score: 69.20
Taking the bronze medal on our list is Keep a Child Alive, a group that raises more than $4 million a year with none coming from the government. It’s not surprising that the group has been able to find support for its cause, which is to provide HIV/AIDS-related services to children and their families in Africa and India.
The group operates orphanages and health clinics in affected communities, and directly provides anti-retroviral drugs to more than 250,000 people, the group says.
CharityNavigator Score: 69.42
Second from the top is Give Kids The World, a charitable organization that uses its revenue of more than $28 million to provide terminally ill children with a bit of joy at Florida’s theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios.
The organization itself even built its own theme park, Give Kids The World Village, to provide its own fantasy vacations for ailing children and their families.
With 93.2% of donations going toward paying for program expenses instead of administrative costs or more fundraising, the organization has strong financials that give it the second-highest rating of all those that rely exclusively on private donations.
CharityNavigator Score: 69.65
At the top of the list is the Fisher House Foundation, an organization with revenue of almost $40 million in 2009. This charity spent only 1.3% of its budget on fundraising and 3.5% on administrative expenses, leaving an impressive 95.1% to go straight to program expenses.
Those expenses go toward “providing a ‘home away from home’ for military families to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury,” according to its website. And the organization does that quite literally, providing free accommodations for families of injured soldiers at 40 different Fisher House locations, which the group builds on the grounds of military and VA medical centers.
Beyond its core operations, the Fisher House Foundation also administers scholarships for military children as well as several awards, and it does so with an efficiency that makes it number one on the list.