NEW YORK (MainStreet) If the holiday season is inspiring you to give back, you might be looking around for a worthy cause to support. Sadly, many well-known charities squander a high percentage of donation dollars on administrative costs and fundraising instead of directly helping those in need. To find out which major charities are the most deserving of your gifts, we consulted leading charity watchdog website Charity Navigator, which rates nearly 7,000 of the largest charities in America based on financial health, accountability and transparency. About a quarter of all the charities that Charity Navigator tracks have earned perfect four-star ratings, and you can check an organization's marks just by searching for it on CharityNavigator.org.
Which charities are the most honorable of all? Among the charities with a four-star rating, we've narrowed the list down to the top 10 with the highest Charity Navigator score (out of 70). Read on for the full list, plus some information on each charity's mission.
#10: Women's Learning Partnership
Overall score (out of 70): 69.43
Total contributions: $2,239,837
If you're looking to help improve women's progress worldwide, you might want to consider donating to the Women's Learning Partnership (WLP), which earned a Charity Navigator score of 69.43 out of 70. WLP works with 20 partner organizations in the Global South to empower women to transform their families, communities and societies. The organization's primary objectives include increasing the number of women taking on leadership and decision-making roles at family, community and national levels, and improving the effectiveness of feminist movements in Muslim-majority societies and throughout the world.
#9: East Meets West
Overall score (out of 70): 69.47
Total contributions: $8,639,311
The ninth most highly rated charity on our list, East Meets West (EMW) strives to transform the health, education and communities of disadvantaged people in Asia. EMW's core programs focus on providing a good education, clean water, crucial medical care and social infrastructure to impoverished children and families. Some of the organization's key programs include Operation Healthy Heart, which provides financial assistance for poor families when a child needs treatment for a congenital heart defect; SPELL, a scholarship program to prevent poor children from dropping out of school; and the Clean Water & Sanitation program, in which EMW provides a sustainable water supply to rural communities through the construction of school and village water systems.
#8: Vitamin Angels
Overall score (out of 70): 69.58
Total contributions: $17,278,255
Did you know that 45% of all childhood deaths are attributable to malnutrition? That's where Vitamin Angels comes in. The organization helps reduce child mortality worldwide by providing infants and children under 5 with essential nutrients that help fight infectious diseases. For instance, one the organization's main objectives is to provide children with vitamin A, which can help improve immune function and fight measles, diarrhea and respiratory infections. Vitamin Angels also helps other at-risk populations such as pregnant women and new mothers.
#7: Orphan Grain Train
Overall score (out of 70): 69.80
Total contributions: $23,175,190
Ready to hop aboard the Orphan Grain Train. This Christian volunteer network provides donations of clothing, medical supplies, food, Christian literature and other aid to needy people in America and around the world. To give you an idea of the organization's huge impact, we can tell you that since its founding in 1992, the Orphan Grain Train has delivered more than 63 million pounds of humanitarian aid to needy people in more than 60 countries on five continents.
#6: Medical Teams International
Overall score (out of 70): 69.83
Total contributions: $148,711,210
This Christian global health organization based in Portland, Oregon, seeks to help people affected by disaster, conflict and poverty in 70 countries. Medical Teams International specifically delivers medical and dental care, humanitarian aid and holistic development programs to people in need regardless of religion, nationality, sex or race. The organization's international initiatives include fighting malnutrition in Sudan and providing emergency medical care training in Cambodia. Here in the U.S., the organization maintains the largest mobile dental care fleet in the country, providing dental care to people who can't otherwise afford it.
#5: Direct Relief Overall score (out of 70): 69.90
Total contributions: $299,222,205
When Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in early November, catastrophic destruction followed, resulting in the death of thousands of people and the displacement of millions. Countless people are still in need of urgent medical care due to the destruction of hospitals and medical facilities, the increased risk of waterborne diseases from flooding, and the fact that valuable stocks of medicine were damaged in the storm. One of the major players in the recovery efforts is Direct Relief, which provides medical assistance to people around the world who have been affected by poverty, natural disasters and civil unrest.
Founded in 1948, Direct Relief accepts both material and financial contributions from individuals, pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers. It then works with healthcare professionals and organizations on the ground, equipping them with the essential medical supplies and equipment that they need to help people recover from a disaster.
#4: Project C.U.R.E.
Overall score (out of 70): 69.92
Total contributions: $66,360,391
It all started back in 1987 when Dr. James Jackson, an international economic consultant, embarked on a trip to Brazil. During his visit, Dr. Jackson visited a small clinic near Rio de Janeiro and discovered that patients were often turned away due to the lack of basic medical supplies and functioning equipment. Moved by the experience, Jackson promised the clinic doctor that he would help provide relief to the people. When he returned home to the U.S., Jackson began collecting medical supplies in his garage in Colorado, and the rest is history. Today Project C.U.R.E. has grown into the largest provider of donated medical supplies and equipment to developing countries around the world.
Operating large distribution centers in Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona, Project C.U.R.E. collects excess supplies and specialized equipment from hundreds of U.S. hospitals and medical manufacturers and donates them to hospitals, rural clinics and community health centers in need all over the world.
#3: Books For Africa
Overall score (out of 70): 69.94
Total contributions: $30,539,250
In addition to hunger, Africa is fighting another kind of famine: the lack of reading material for children. In fact, most African children who attend school have never owned a book of their own, and in many classrooms 10 to 20 students share one textbook. Books For Africa http://www.booksforafrica.org/ strives to fight this shortage of literature by collecting, sorting, shipping and distributing books to African children. The organization is the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping more than 28 million books to 49 different countries since its founding 1988. If you're interested in donating, the organization accepts both book and cash gifts.
#1 (Tie): Matthew 25: Ministries
Overall score (out of 70): 69.95
Total contributions: $144,794,135
Committed to helping what it calls "the poorest of the poor," Matthew 25: Ministries provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief to people in need throughout the U.S. and world regardless of race, religion or political persuasion. The organization works by rescuing and reusing products from major corporations and manufacturers, including nutritional supplements, educational materials and micro-enterprise supplies.
It's little surprise that Matthew 25: Ministries tied for first-place on our list of the best charities of 2013. More than 99% of its cash and in-kind donations go toward programs, and in 2012 the organization delivered $45 worth of humanitarian aid for every $1 that was donated.
#1 (Tie): Globus Relief
Overall score (out of 70): 69.95
Total contributions: $104,823,599
With a Charity Navigator score of 69.95 out of 70, Globus Relief tied for first place on our list of the 10 best charities in America. Calling itself a "medical resource humanitarian organization," Globus Relief helps distribute crucial medical equipment and supplies to those in need in the U.S. and throughout the world. The organization credits its spirit of cooperation to its success. Globus Relief's valuable corporate and business partnerships have allowed it to redirect humanitarian resources to charity partners so that they can provide healthcare services more effectively. By partnering with more than 500 charities and servicing more than 12,000 projects, the organization has impacted more than 100 countries worldwide.
--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet