Where does your money really go when you donate to a cause? How do you know a charity is being honest and actually using your money to support their mission?
If you're smart, before donating, you do a little research on a site such as Charity Watch or Charity Navigator. These watchdogs evaluate charities by examining the financial documents of the nonprofits.
Charity Navigator, also a nonprofit itself, analyses the financial documents of tens of thousands of nonprofits and scores them on their Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency. The two scores then translate into a perfect 100-point overall score. Less than 1% of the thousands of charities rated by Charity Navigator have earned perfect scores.
According to Charity Navigator, accountability is willingness by a charity to explain its actions to its stakeholders and transparency is their willingness to publish critical data about the organization. Financial health examines a variety of factors, including fundraising efficiency and administrative expenses.
Here are 30 charities that have perfect scores in these areas.
Amazon Conservation Association
This nonprofit works to conserve the biological diversity of the Amazon by studying ecosystems and developing innovative conservation tools to protect land in the region while supporting the livelihoods of local communities. ACA also has birding lodges in the heart of the rainforest where visitors can learn more and view the wildlife first hand, such as this Andean cock-of-the-rock seen in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru.
Appalachian Voices brings people together to solve the environmental problems that impact the central and southern Appalachian mountains. Their mission is to empower people to defend the region's rich natural and cultural heritage by providing them with tools and strategies for successful grassroots campaigns. One of their projects is to end mountaintop removal coal mining, as seen here in central West Virginia.
Asha for Education
Asha for Education is a secular organization dedicated to socio-economic change in India by focusing on access to basic education. Asha has supported more than 400 different projects in more than 24 states in India, benefitting thousands of disadvantaged children and youths. Above, students in a school in Maharashtra, one of the states where Asha works.
Photo: CRS PHOTO / Shutterstock
Big Cat Rescue
Big Cat Rescue is an educational sanctuary devoted to rescuing and providing a permanent home for exotic (wild, not domestic) cats who have been abused, abandoned, bred to be pets, retired from performing acts, or saved from being slaughtered for fur coats. The sanctuary houses the most diverse population of exotic cats in the world. Above, a senior keeper feeds a tiger at Big Cat Rescue.
Photo: Joseph M. Arseneau / Shutterstock
Books For Africa
Books For Africa is the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping over 40 million books to 53 different countries since 1988. They collect, sort, ship, and distribute books to students of all ages in Africa. Above, students in Nagad, Djibouti read educational books delivered by U.S. Marines through Books for Africa program in St. Paul, Minn.
Photo: Jonathan P. Idle/US Navy
The Chattahoochee River flows from the mountains of north Georgia to the Florida border. This organization works to advocate and secure the protection and stewardship of the river, its tributaries and watershed in order to restore and preserve ecological health for the people, fish and wildlife that depend on the river system. Above, canoers and kayakers on the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta.
Photo: BluIz60 / Shutterstock
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
This non-profit is dedicated to advocating for homeless people, including families, students, youth, ex-offenders, and low-wage workers in Chicago. Regular outreach at 35 shelters and street programs reaches 7,500 youth and adults yearly.
Photo: Page Light Studios / Shutterstock
Community Volunteers in Medicine
Community Volunteers in Medicine provides free coordinated healthcare to low-income individuals and families who have no other place to turn for care in the Chester County (Pennsylvania) region.
Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation
The mission of this organization is to perpetuate the Medal of Honor's legacy through outreach and collaborative efforts. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services. Pictured are the medals awarded by each of the three branches of the U.S. military, the Army, left, Coast Guard/Navy/Marine Corps and Air Force.
Direct Relief is a humanitarian organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies, including natural disasters. Their assistance programs focus on emergency preparedness, disaster response, and the prevention and treatment of disease.
Environmental and Energy Study Institute
This non-partisan organization promotes environmentally sustainable societies by advancing innovative policy solutions for a path to cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy. They work to educate Congress and other stakeholders through briefings on Capitol Hill, as well as through fact sheets, policy papers, and newsletters on the latest science, technology, and policy developments.
The Equal Justice Initiative
The Equal Justice Initiative seeks to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S. and racial and economic injustice. Above, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Ala. is the nation's first comprehensive memorial dedicated to over 4,400 victims of racial terror lynchings.
Photo: DiAnna Paulk / Shutterstock
Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation
This nonprofit raises funds to serve Alzheimer's patients and their families by seeking to understand the causes of, discover a cure for, and improve the lives of people with Alzheimer's disease. They primarily fund the work of Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Greengard and his team to find a cure for Alzheimer's.
Food Bank of Siouxland
This food bank serves people in 11 counties known as Siouxland, a region that encompasses the entire Big Sioux River drainage basin in parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. They work with a variety of nonprofit agencies.
Global Greengrants Fund
Global Greengrants supports grassroots projects and policy for social environmental justice around the world. The fund aims to serve the poorest countries of the world, where people most suffer the consequences of shifts in rainfall, rising seas, and increased climate variability. For example, they recently funded a project that taught women in Uganda to construct biosand filters that remove 99% of bacteria from water.
Photo: Adam Jan Figel / Shutterstock
Habitat for Humanity Affiliates:
- Habitat for Humanity of Collier County (Florida)
- Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio (Texas)
- Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County (Calif.)
- San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity (Calif.)
These locally-run affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International have perfect scores on Charity Navigator. Collier County's affiliate is one of the oldest in the nation, and has provided homes for more than 1,800 families.
Hope for Haiti's Children
This is a faith-based organization founded in 1995 that seeks to "demonstrate Christian compassion to poverty-bound Haitian children and their families," and to provide opportunities for these children to become leaders in their homes, churches, and communities.
Photo: Michelle D. Milliman / Shutterstock
Kids Alive International
Kids Alive International is a Christian faith mission dedicated to rescuing orphans and vulnerable children. They work in several countries, including Romania, above.
Photo: Melinda Nagy / Shutterstock
Kostopulos Dream Foundation
This human services charity works to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities through recreation, education, and growth experiences. They offer summer camps with team building activities that help build leadership skills.
Lifesong for Orphans
Lifesong for Orphans offers financial adoption assistance, foster care support, church and ministry partnerships, as well as international orphan care by serving advocates who help carry out this work.
Photo: joyfull / Shutterstock
My Stuff Bags Foundation
This foundation's mission is to provide advocacy on behalf of abused, abandoned and neglected children. More than 300,000 children across the U.S. are rescued each year from dangerous home environments. The children often arrive in foster or crisis care without any of their own belongings. The foundation's ultimate goal is to provide a My Stuff Bag with supplies, clothes, toys, blankets and other items to each child.
National Pediatric Cancer Foundation
This charity raises money to fund pediatric cancer research. The focus is to fund research which will lead to the elimination of pediatric cancer worldwide.
Navy SEAL Foundation
This foundation provides educational and motivational support, promotes health and welfare programs for the Naval Special Warfare Community, and perpetuates the history and heritage of the U.S. Naval Commandos. Programs focus on health and welfare, education and motivation, and history and heritage. Above, Navy Seals in cold-weather training in Kodiak, Alaska.
Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon/U.S. Navy
Nevada Humane Society
Nevada Humane Society's mission is to find homes and provide care for homeless pets, bringing people and animals together to make Washoe County and Carson City no-kill communities.
PAWS Chicago is the city's largest no-kill humane organization, focused on implementing solutions to end the killing of homeless pets.
Sankara Eye Foundation
The Sankara Eye Foundation seeks to eradicate curable blindness in India, increasing the number of eye care hospitals and free eye surgeries. Above, an eye specialist checks a woman's eyes at a free public eye testing camp in Kolkata, India.
Rudra Narayan Mitra / Shutterstock
Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center works to protect the environment through law and policy in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. SELC's attorneys work for clean air and water, to protect the region's forests, coasts, wetlands, and other native landscapes and to promote livable communities in the region. Above, the view from Devil's Courthouse, near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
Sponsors for Educational Opportunity
Sponsors for Educational Opportunity provides educational and career programs to young people from underserved and underrepresented communities to maximize their opportunities for college and career success.
WildAid's mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade by working to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products, and to promote energy conservation via global public awareness campaigns. WildAid also seeks to create model field conservation programs and to strengthen marine protected areas around the world. Above, police and customs officers destroy confiscated ivory in Guangzhou, China in 2014.
Photo: plavevski / Shutterstock
Wildlife Conservation Network
Wildlife Conservation Network works to protect endangered species and preserve their natural habitats. They support innovative strategies for people and wildlife to co-exist, and partner with conservationists around the world to provide them with the capital and tools they need to develop solutions for human-wildlife coexistence. Above, endangered African penguins near Cape Town, South Africa.