The holiday season inspires many of us to help others. We shovel driveways, bake cookies, and give to charity. But despite our best efforts, our good deeds might not go as far as we thought.
Unfortunately, not all charities are created equal. Some charities leave a lot to be desired and don’t do as much good in the community as they claim. Some may even pocket your money for themselves, instead of passing it on to the cause they claim to support. To help your festive funds go further, we’ve collected some of the best and worst charities to donate to this holiday season.
How To Tell If A Charity Is Good Or Bad
In a perfect world, charities would donate funds to the programs they claim to serve. However, a perfect world this is not. Luckily, there are several ways to grade a charity’s reliability.
One such resource is CharityWatch, a nonprofit charity watchdog service. CharityWatch grades efficiency, accountability, and governance. The more reliable the charity, the better the grade. Another reliable resource is Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide donors with all the necessary information when deciding where to donate.
“Charities that are A-rated generally spend at least 75 percent or more on their programs,” Stephanie Kalivas told Consumer Reports. “So, more of your money goes to the causes you want to support.”
Where else would that money go? That depends. Some charities funnel money back into administrative and fundraising costs. Others are straight-up scams.
Now we know where to find the facts. So, let’s see what they say.
Worst: Aid For Starving Children
At the risk of sounding like the biggest Scrooge of all time, let’s start with the Aid for Starving Children. Saving starving children around Christmas? There’s no nobler cause, right?
Er, wrong—this CA-based organization received a D rating by CharityWatch. The AFSC meets neither governance nor transparency benchmarks. Not to mention, only 44% of the funds it raises go toward starving children.
And since the AFSC doesn’t provide financial records, there’s also no way of knowing how much of that extra 56% is going toward the top execs.
Best: Boys & Girls Club of America
Rather than filling the bellies of wealthy CEOs, opt for an organization like the Boys & Girls Club of America. The Boys & Girls Club is a top-rated organization on CharityWatch.
82% of the funds raised by the club go directly toward serving youth of all backgrounds. And that’s with massive operational overhead. There are currently over 4,300 clubs nationwide that serve nearly four million children.
Worst: Noah’s Lost Ark
Few things tug on the heartstrings quite like animals in need. (I’m looking at you, ASPCA commercials.) So, when the opportunity arises to help our four-legged friends, many of us are eager to do so.
Organizations like Noah’s Lost Ark rely on that fact. Yet, only 51.3% of funds raised go toward the animals, according to Charity Navigator. The other 43.8% goes toward future fundraising. But to give credit where it’s due, only 4.9% is spent on administrative costs.
Best: American Humane
If you’re a sucker for the Sarah McLachlan commercials, then you’ll be pleased to know the ASPCA received a 3-star rating from Charity Navigator. But if you want your dollar to go a bit further, try American Humane instead.
American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization. Founded in 1877, it has a long history of improving the lives of domestic, exotic, and farm animals worldwide.
American Humane received a 90.9 out of 100 rating (four stars) from Charity Navigator. Of the $21 million raised last year, 83.3% of that went directly toward the animals.
Worst: Disabled Veterans National Foundation
On the heels of Veterans Day, many of us feel extra inclined to serve those who have served their country. And while many reliable organizations do just that, the Disabled Veterans National Foundation is not one of them.
The DVNF received a whopping F rating from Charity Watch and a zero-star rating from Charity Navigator. Considering only 4% of funds raised go toward veterans, this is certainly unsurprising. Meanwhile, its CEO is sitting pretty on a six-figure salary. Thank you, next.
Best: Gary Sinise Foundation
One of the best military-focused charities was started by a man who never actually served himself, though you might recognize him as Forrest Gump’s Lieutenant Dan.
Gary Sinise started the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011. It has since earned a 98.23/100, four-star rating from Charity Navigator. 89% of funds raised go toward honoring veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.
Worst: Salvation Army
Last up on our “worst” list is none other than the Salvation Army. Its trademark red kettles and bell ringers are practically synonymous with the Christmas season. But to one community, in particular, the Salvation Army’s mission is anything but charitable.
The SA is a religious organization, exempting it from tax data and, in turn, watchdog ratings. However, it doesn’t take a CPA to find the SA’s long history of LGBTQ discrimination disturbing.
Trans activist and writer Zinnia Jones wrote a HuffPost piece in 2013 that stated, “Supporting the [SA] this season means assisting an aggressively anti-gay church in furthering its goals of discrimination.”
Suddenly, those scarlet buckets outside of Walmart seem a lot less festive.
Best: Housing Works Inc.
Like the Salvation Army, Housing Works serves the community with a chain of thrift stores, among other endeavors. The NYC-based nonprofit focuses on fighting AIDS and homelessness.
Unlike the Salvation Army, Housing Works is a non-religious entity and boasts an impressive 100/100 Charity Navigator score. 89.7% of funds raised go toward finding stable housing, health care, job training, legal aid, and more to queer and trans people in need.