ABOUT THIS TOOL

Charity Checker looks at ratings and other data from five sources and aggregates the results in one place. We don’t endorse charities or rate them ourselves. Instead, we compile what others say as a starting place in your research for a cause.

Don’t be alarmed if you can’t find the charity you’re looking for, or if a charity has not been rated by every group. The raters simply can’t get to all of the more than 1.6 million nonprofits in America. Smaller charities, in particular, often get overlooked by ratings groups.

In addition, it is not unusual for charities to get different grades from different watchdog and review groups. Each group has its own unique method of handling reviews or rating a charity. Some focus more on accountability, some on overhead costs and still others on people’s personal experiences with a charity. You’ll have to decide what matters most to you.

These watchdog ratings and reviews are just one way to measure the value of a nonprofit. We encourage you to dig deeper before you make a decision. Explore the details available on the charity watchdog sites and additional sources.

Charity Checker compiles ratings and reviews from three groups: Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and GreatNonprofits. We also collect data provided by GuideStar and from state charity regulators across the nation. We then plot the available watchdog ratings on a color spectrum.

WHERE THEY STAND

Charity Checker provides unfiltered data from five sources and makes it easy for users to click through for more details from each of them. It’s the only tool of its kind that pulls together consumer information on charities in one place. We then graphically report where a charity stands for each source based on the data they provide.

Ratings, reviews and other data are based on periodic reports from multiple sources. Because each source organizes information differently, it is possible that Charity Checker will miss ratings or reviews for some charities.

We want to make Charity Checker as helpful as possible. To do that, we need and welcome feedback. If you have comments or suggestions, please send us a note at charitychecker@tampabay.com.

We are also aware that ratings by some organizations can change as more people write reviews or as agencies update their information. Check the sources directly for the most up-to-date data.

We update most of our data every two weeks. Information from GuideStar is updated quarterly and state regulatory actions are updated annually.

Charity Checker reports a “Donor advisory” if a charity has been flagged with one, usually based on a negative news story, or if the charity is on the Times/CIR list of America’s 50 worst. That list identifies charities nationwide that have spent the most money on professional solicitation companies over the past decade.

How we use data from each source

Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance

This group uses 20 standards to measure everything from financial performance to governance and accountability. It also examines fundraising materials to determine if a charity is truthfully describing itself to potential donors. Wise Giving Alliance puts charities into three main categories, those that meet all of its standards (high score), those that meet some but not all (medium score) and those that decline to disclose information (low score). Wise Giving Alliance rates charities that ask to be rated and also some charities that potential donors request. Although complying with Wise Giving Alliance is voluntary, the service gives a low mark to charities that do not participate.

Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator looks at charities with at least $1 million in annual revenue. The group uses a four-star system to rate charities based on financial performance and accountability measures, including the independence of directors and availability of audits. Its donor advisories are mostly issued in response to negative news reports. We consider 1 star or less a low score, 2 stars a medium score and 3 to 4 stars a high score.

GreatNonprofits

This group has a five-star rating system based exclusively on written reviews, which can be submitted by the charity's clients, donors, volunteers and others. Reviewers issue a 1- to 5-star rating and then describe their experience with the charity. GreatNonprofits reports the average star rating from its reviewers. We round that average to the nearest star. Although reviewers can be anonymous, GreatNonprofits requires reviewers to provide an email address for verification purposes. Charity Checker considers one star a low score, two to three stars a medium score and four or five stars a high score. GreatNonprofits gives a star rating even if just a few people have written reviews, something you may want to consider. The number of reviews written can be seen by clicking through to GreatNonprofit.org. If you have questions about GreatNonprofits’ ratings and reviews, please contact GreatNonprofits support at support@greatnonprofits.org.

Transparency

Charity Checker uses data reported by GuideStar to determine whether a charity has publicly disclosed basic information about its activities. GuideStar does not rate charities, but issues check marks for up to seven transparency standards, including whether a charity has registered with the IRS, filed annual tax forms and reported annual revenues. GuideStar also asks charities to voluntarily submit additional information, including a statement of impact and a mission description. Organizations that choose not to share the information may not meet all standards. If a charity meets less than two standards, we consider that a low score. Two or three standards met, medium. Four or more earns a high score.

State regulatory actions

Charity Checker examines a nationwide database of state regulatory actions that was compiled by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting. Although the data does not capture every action against all charities, it is the most comprehensive available. Violations range from serious infractions to minor paperwork errors.

The vast majority of charities have never been cited for violating state laws. Charity Checker reports a low score for charities that have had three or more state actions against them in the past three years. Charities with one or two actions in the past three years get a medium score. Because our data is incomplete, we can’t be sure that a charity has not been disciplined, so we do not report a score for charities that have no reported actions.