Target 11 checks charities -- What you should know before you donate

by: Robin Taylor Updated:


PITTSBURGH - Donating to your favorite charity during the holidays is a wonderful thing, but not all organizations use your money wisely. Target 11 has identified several websites that can help you make good choices.

One of the best tools I've found is Charity Navigator.  The nonprofit organization uses in-depth criteria to determine how and where charities spend the money and how much their CEOs get paid.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is a top-rated charity by Charity Navigator, getting 4 out of 4 stars.

"Ninety-five cents on every dollar goes toward food, the distribution of food and our programs," said Lisa Scales, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Scales says for every dollar donated, the food bank can purchase $5 worth of food and services.

"So money is well spent when people are making financial donations," said Scales.

The Better Business Bureau also has a guide, called Wise Giving that examines where the money donated to charities goes.

The BBB considers things such as bloated executive salaries or exorbitant fees to telemarketers for fundraising before giving an organization a passing grade.

"At least 65 percent of what a charitable organization receives in donations should be spent on their mission," said Warren King, the president of the Western Pennsylvania Better Business Bureau.

King says donors need to be careful because charities can often have similar names, but their performance can be vastly different.

"There are many different charitable organizations that deal with cancer; some of them are not as ethical as others," said King.

For example, the Cancer Survivor's Fund gets zero stars from Charity Navigator, for not using money effectively, while the Cancer Fund of America gets 3 out of 4 stars.

Another thing to consider is whether to give to a national charity or a local one. The Humane Society of the United States is highly rated, but giving to the national organization isn't necessarily going to help dogs and cats in shelters in Pittsburgh.

"A lot of people don't realize that when they donate to national organizations, a very small percentage ever finds its way to animals in local communities," said Gretchen Fieser, the director of public relations for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

Charity Navigator warns that you need to be careful when it comes to unsolicited emails or phone calls, because con artists may take advantage of your goodwill. Instead, stick with organizations you know and trust, and check a charity's ranking first.

GuideStar is another nonprofit organization that examines charities. It doesn't rate them, but it does provide critical information that may help you make a decision.