The Gift of Giving, Keeps on Giving
The Gift of Giving, Keeps on Giving

Year-end giving is a must for anyone with a philanthropic bone in their bodies, but with donations this year expected to be flat compared with last year’s, it is even more important for donors to ensure that the limited pool of money goes to the right organization. Among the thousands of national charities that leading charity rating website Charity Navigator tracks, there are 238 that have received perfect four-star ratings. Here we take a look at the 10 best by their Charity Navigator score (out of 70), filtering out organizations that operate only locally and those that work mainly to collect and distribute funds to other charitable organizations.We’ve already looked at the darker side of the charity world, pointing out the charities with the highest administrative costs and the 15 highest-paid charity CEOs so that you know which to avoid. Now, here are the ones that you can give to with confidence that your donations will be used efficiently. Photo Credit: Getty Images

10. <a target=Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund">

Charity Navigator Score: 67.96 Featured previously as one of the best charities that get no help from the government, the success of the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund is a testimony to Americans’ commitment to support our injured soldiers as they readjust to life in the states. Donations go to injured Marines (or soldiers from other branches of the military who were injured while supporting the Marines) hurt in post-9/11 conflicts. With an annual budget of more than $12 million, the organization supports soldiers during their hospitalization and rehabilitation and provides them with specialized equipment and state-of-the-art prosthetics. One beneficiary of the Fund notes in a review on Charity Navigator that the group came to him and supported his rehabilitation from paralysis to the point where he is now an elite athlete in Paralympic sports targeting the 2014 games. Not too shabby. Photo Credit: IMSFF/TheStreet Illustration

9. <a target=Spondylitis Association of America">

Charity Navigator Score: 68.19 The Spondylitis Association of America, which targets its efforts at a certain form of arthritis that affects the spine and pelvis, is one of the smallest organizations on the list. With revenue of just more than $1.2 million last year (none of which came from the government), the California-based organization might not be able to dispense funds to all sufferers, but the informational materials it provides in addition to the direct assistance to patients multiply its reach significantly for a disease that is rarely fatal but can have important consequences for mobility and quality of life for those affected by it. Photo Credit: SAA/TheStreet Illustration

8. <a target=The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy">

Charity Navigator Score: 68.43 For five years in a row, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP) has received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator despite its wildly fluctuating revenue during that time – evidence of a well-run organization that’s good at managing its books. Based in Washington, D.C., the group uses a two-pronged approach to help reduce teen and unwanted pregnancies in the U.S. On one hand, it uses education and outreach to address behaviors that contribute to the problem. On the other hand, it mobilizes lobbyists and interest groups to ensure that public funds and policies are directed toward the effort as well. With a strong belief in using data and statistics to mold its responses, the group has been able to generate more than $12 million for each of the past two years. Photo Credit: NCPTUP/TheStreet Illustration

7. <a target=Environmental Law and Policy Center ">

Charity Navigator Score: 68.52 With a self-defined mission of “Protecting the Midwest’s Environment and Natural Heritage,” the Environmental Law and Policy Center is not just a conservation organization (though it does support plenty of conservation projects). Beyond that, though, the group takes more of a market-based approach to sustainable living, promoting clean energy projects like wind farms and solar installations as solutions for job creation and economic development in addition to environmental protection. The group’s revenue has grown more or less steadily during the past 10 years, and it now manages more than $6 million of contributions. Photo Credit: ELPC/TheStreet Illustration

6. <a target=Teach for America">

Charity Navigator Score: 68.73 Often known to people as the “domestic Peace Corps,” Teach for America is the largest charity on our list with revenue of almost $270 million in 2009, the last year for which data is available. Since its establishment 20 years ago, Teach for America has received a significant amount of revenue from the federal government (currently roughly 10% of the group’s revenue), though that model has been put in jeopardy by congressional wrangling over the national budget and the role of “earmarks.” For the time being, even without earmarks the group will be able to apply for the same number of grants from the Department of Education, and a number of groups have come to the organization’s defense. Teach for America’s mission is simple: recruit recent college graduates to teach for two years in American schools in generally low-resource areas like rural towns and inner cities. Most recently (in the 2010-2011 school year), the group supported 8,200 volunteers across the United States. Photo Credit: TFA/TheStreet Illustration

5. <a target=Special Operations Warrior Foundation">

Charity Navigator Score: 69.12 Featured previously as one of the best charities that receive no help from the government, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation uses donations to support members of the elite special forces units of all branches of the military – that includes Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Army Rangers, Air Force rotary and fixed-wing squadrons and several others. The group’s annual revenue (more than $13 million last year) goes to two very specific areas: providing educational scholarships to the children of special forces soldiers who die in the line of duty and helping families of severely wounded soldiers join their loved ones in the hospital. Photo Credit: SOWF/TheStreet Illustration

4. <a target=Homes for Our Troops">

Charity Navigator Score: 69.21 Another organization that comes to the aid of soldiers and military families, Homes for Our Troops collects donations and secures volunteer labor to build houses for disabled veterans, or to adapt an existing house to become handicap-accessible. Managing revenue of more than $11 million in 2010, the group addresses the struggles of injured soldiers after they have left the hospital and begun to live with their injuries, an area of recovery and rehabilitation that the Veterans Administration addresses through individual “Specially Adapted Housing Grants” of up to approximately $63,000, but that does not always cover the entire cost of construction. Homes for Our Troops comes in when those grants run out, and the group says it has completed projects in 30 states. Photo Credit: HFOT/TheStreet Illustration

3. <a target=The Navy SEAL Foundation">

Charity Navigator Score: 69.34 Another military-focused charity, the Navy SEAL Foundation targets an even narrower group than the larger Special Operations Warrior Fund (our #5 highest-rated charity), and does so with revenue of just less than $6 million, less than half of SOWF’s receipts. And in many (but not all) ways, the groups’ missions overlap. According to the NSF, “Our programs center around three pillars: health and welfare, including tragedy assistance and family events; education and motivation, including scholarships and tuition assistance; and history and heritage, including the funding of monuments and memorials.” Photo Credit: NSF/TheStreet Illustration

2. <a target=Patient Advocate Foundation">

Charity Navigator Score: 69.40 Congress may have passed the Patient Protection and Affordable CARE Act at the beginning of 2010, but such a complex issue of ensuring universal health care is bound to leave some holes. To fill those holes, the Virginia-based Patient Advocate Foundation manages more than $35 million in donations to provide comprehensive support to anyone struggling with health problems. The group helps the uninsured, disabled patients who need specific support in the workplace and patients whose medical-related expenses have become unmanageable. And by all accounts, it’s doing a great job – after a steep drop in donations from 2007-2008 (there was a recession on at the time, remember), the organization’s fundraising in 2010 marked a 50% increase compared to pre-recession levels. Photo Credit: PAF/TheStreet Illustration

1. <a target=Give Kids the World">

Charity Navigator Score: 69.42 Featured previously as one of the best charities that receive no help from the government, Give Kids The World uses its revenue (more than $28 million in 2009, the last year for which filings are available) to bring terminally ill children to Florida’s famous theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios. The organization even built its own theme park in the area, Give Kids The World Village, to provide its own fantasy vacations for sick children and their families. With 93.2% of donations going to program expenses instead of administrative or fundraising costs, the organization also is notable for the conservative salary of its president, which at just shy of $190,000 represents only 0.53% of the organization’s expenses. Photo Credit: GKTW/TheStreet Illustration

MainStreet’s Complete Charity Guide
MainStreet’s Complete Charity Guide

Charitable giving is an act of generosity that many Americans strive for every year, but sometimes we are held back by a worry over how our donated dollars are used. Check out MainStreet’s spotlight on some high-rated charities to consider with 10 Great Charities That Need Holiday Help, The Best Charities That Don’t Take Taxpayer Cash, and the 20 Best Charities in America. For a look at the groups that aren’t as good at managing your donations, take a look at MainStreet’s rundown of the Charities With the Highest Admin Costs and the 15 Highest-Paid Charity CEOs! Photo Credit: MainStreet

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Greg Emerson is a writer/editor for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @emersongreg. And if you haven't already, now is a great time to follow MainStreet on Twitter. You'll get all of our most important stories, right as they publish. Follow us @mainstr! Photo Credit: clevercupcakes