Celebrating 25+ years of helping you give wisely
America's most independent,
assertive charity watchdog

Resources for Donors & Journalists

CharityWatch’s A+ to F ratings are the result of thousands of hours of in-depth analysis of large U.S. charities of national scope or interest. Our quality over quantity approach to rating charities unfortunately means that we can’t rate every nonprofit. We hope these additional resources will aid you in your research of nonprofit organizations of interest to you.

National Charity Regulation

The Federal Trade Commission cracks down on charity scams and fraud. Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-382-4357. Also visit Operation: False Charity and Operation: Phony Philanthropy.

To report suspected charity fraud to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), submit IRS Form 13909

Only some donations to nonprofit organizations are tax-deductible, such as those directed to 501(c)3 public charities in good standing with the IRS. If your ability to take a tax deduction factors into your giving decisions, it is important to check a charity’s tax status prior to making your contribution. To see if donations to a particular charity are tax-deductible, use the Internal Revenue Service’s Exempt Organizations search tool.

State Charity Regulation

The majority of states have designated departments that regulate charities operating or soliciting donations within their borders. If you have been the victim of a charity scam, consider filing a complaint with your state's charity regulator. Some states have searchable online databases where you can find out if a charity is properly registered and the names of the people who govern it. Remember that registration does not imply an endorsement by the state.

Find Your State Charity Regulator

The National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCOnet) also provides information on charity regulation at the state level.

Charities soliciting within a state’s borders are typically required to file with charity regulators in that state even if they are legally incorporated in a different jurisdiction. A few states provide more comprehensive information such as copies of charity tax filings, audited financial statements, fundraising contracts, and more. Charities sometimes post incomplete tax filings, misleading pie charts, and other financial data on their websites that don’t provide a complete picture of how efficiently they are operating. State regulators are more likely to have a charity’s complete financial reports. 

California Attorney General
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Illinois Attorney General
Massachusetts Attorney General
North Carolina Secretary of State
New Mexico Attorney General
New York Attorney General 
Oklahoma Secretary of State

State Links for Exempt Organizations covering topics such as registration requirements for charities, taxation, information for employers, and more can be found here.

Other Resources

The Center for Public Integrity Find out from what sources your favorite charities are receiving their grants. Use this grant search tool to easily search for grants between nonprofits, including grants received by political "dark money" groups.

US Treasury List of Terrorist Organizations The United States Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control publishes a list of organizations that it deems involved in terrorism or narcotic trafficking.

Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) List of Hate Groups features an interactive map that can be used to identify active organizations SPLC classifies as hate groups in the United States.

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) promotes accountability and responsiveness in the philanthropic field. NCRP's staff monitors philanthropic practices and identifies potential areas for reform that can make a positive, progressive difference for the nonprofit community.

Search for Nonprofits That Have Reported a Diversion of Assets The Washington Post has assembled a public, searchable database of nonprofits that have disclosed a "significant diversion" of assets since 2008. More than 1,000 nonprofits have reported a significant diversion of assets from 2008-2012 according to The Post's analysis. A diversion is considered significant if it is more than $250,000 or 5% of the organization's annual gross receipts or total assets. These diversions of assets, which nonprofits have been required to report on their annual IRS Form 990 filing since 2008, include losses related to theft, fraud, embezzlement, and other unauthorized uses of funds.

InterAction is the largest alliance of U.S.-based international development and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations.

Center for Disaster Philanthropy focuses on medium to long-term recovery efforts with the goal of transforming disaster giving by providing timely and thoughtful strategies to increase donors' impact during domestic and global disasters and humanitarian crises.

Warning to Donors – Charity Tax Filings / IRS Form 990 Can Be Misleading

Nonprofits file tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) annually. While charity tax filings contain a wealth of information about a charity’s financial resources, leadership, governance, executive salaries, policies, and spending, donors who don’t have expertise in nonprofit financial reporting should be cautious about reading too much into these documents. For example, a charity’s reported program spending may contain millions of dollars paid to for-profit professional fundraisers for joint educational & fundraising efforts like direct mail and telemarketing calls. In other cases, a charity may include millions of dollars worth of in-kind (non-cash) goods in its reported expenses, making it difficult for donors to understand how efficiently their cash contributions to a charity will be used. A charity’s IRS Form 990 contains the financial activities of a single legal entity that may represent only a small piece of its financial activities. Whereas, a nonprofit’s consolidated audit provides a more complete picture of its operations because it includes the financial activities of multiple legal entities and eliminates interorganizational transactions. Charity tax filings frequently contain self-reported information intentionally designed to frame the charity’s financial activities in the best possible light. Audited financial statements are more reliable sources of charity information since they are produced by third-party Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and are required to disclose information such as fraud, problems with internal controls over a charity’s assets, related party transactions between the charity and the people running it, and other critical information that charities may exclude from self-reported documents like the IRS Form 990. With this in mind, interested donors can access many online searchable databases to view the tax forms of nonprofit organizations:

Candid.
GuideStar, by Candid.
ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer

Open990

Religious Organizations

Charities claiming a religious aspect to their missions are often not legally required to publicly disclose information that many other charities must report to the IRS each year. Donors wanting to know how such a charity spends its contributions, compensates its employees, or even who sits on the board of directors may be at a loss if the charity is not willing to open its books to outside scrutiny. CharityWatch is able to provide ratings for religious organizations (such as the territories of the Salvation Army) only when they willingly provide us with audits and other financial information upon our request. CharityWatch assigns “?” ratings to many religious organizations of interest to donors that declined or disregarded our repeated requests for information. When CharityWatch is unable to provide a rating for a religious organization, donors may be able to find information about these groups from the following resources:

MinistryWatch is the online database of Wall Watchers, a watchdog organization that provides reports on Christian, faith-based organizations.

Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) is an accreditation agency of Christian evangelical organizations that comply with standards for financial accountability, fundraising, and governance.

Statistical Data, Giving Trends, & More

CharityWatch’s area of focus is on performing in-depth analyses of the financial reporting of specific charities. We don’t conduct independent statistical research about giving trends. The following organizations do conduct and publish such information:

National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) at the Urban Institute is designed as a portal for nonprofit practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to download and explore data. Work on the site is organized into projects, within which users can find NCCS information, including summary tables for public charities and private foundations by state, type, age, and size, as well as lists of the largest organizations by subsector.

Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy identifies emerging trends and provides insights into philanthropy with in-house, science-based research. 

Giving USA publishes an annual report (for a fee) on giving trends and charity statistics. 

Other Charity Raters

Not all charity raters are the same. Some fund their evaluations by charging the charities they rate annual fees as a condition of publicizing their ratings—an inherent conflict of interest. Others offer only “robo-ratings” using charity tax form data that is republished without an analysis of its completeness or accuracy. This data is published alongside ratios and pie charts generated by a computer algorithm rather than by a qualified analyst with expertise in financial accounting and reporting. Such data can do more harm than good by giving donors a false sense of security that a charity has been vetted for financial efficiency in a meaningful way, when in reality, some charities are simply very good at manipulating their financial reporting in flattering ways that cannot be caught by a simplistic, automated formula (see Warning to Donors, above).

Meaningful financial and impact evaluations of nonprofit organizations are time-intensive, complicated, multifactorial, and expensive to produce. If a charity rater with a relatively small staff is offering ratings on thousands of charities, it doesn’t take a math genius to understand how little time, if any, is being spent on meaningful analysis of charity financial and other reporting.

Read the CharityWatch Difference and Our Process to understand how CharityWatch’s ratings differ from robo-ratings and other automated sources of charity information. Donors may consider reviewing the data produced by the following organizations that also perform meaningful evaluations of charities:

Animal Charity Evaluators conducts research and evaluations to produce impact reports and a recommended list of animal charities it believes are having the maximum impact on preventing or reducing animal suffering.

GiveWell is dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing its analysis data to help donors decide where to give. GiveWell excels at the time-intensive and complex task of quantifying the impact of additional donations (e.g., lives saved or improved). Donors can consider using GiveWell’s data in conjunction with CharityWatch’s A+ to F ratings of charity financial efficiency, governance, and other metrics.