How to Choose a Charity

There is a lengthy article in The New York Times today about choosing a charity, including an excellent description of what sets BBB Wise Giving Alliance ( apart from the other charity review and reporting options. Reporter John F. Wasik says BBB’s thorough approach “appears to be more rigorous” and is “a pragmatic way to view a charity’s operations.”

Here’s an except from the article, which is a great read for anyone thinking about donating to charity this holiday season, or any time.

“The BBB Wise Giving Alliance, affiliated with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, has free reviews of 1,300 national charities; local BBBs have evaluations on an additional 10,000. The group applies 20 ‘accountability’ standards — governance, oversight, effectiveness and the like — once every two years at no charge to the charities, but it does not explicitly rate them using a star or letter system.

“The alliance will specify if a charity does not meet BBB standards or ‘did not disclose the requested information.’ About 40 percent of the charities evaluated meet all 20 benchmarks; ones that do are designated a ‘BBB Accredited Charity.’

“Organizations accredited by the alliance can then pay a sliding-scale fee based on their size to obtain a license to use the BBB Charity Seal on websites and fund-raising material. About 60 percent of those qualifying elect to pay the fee for the seal.

“Like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, the alliance cautions against paying too much attention to the percentage spent on nonprogram expenses, also known as the ‘overhead ratio.’

“The alliance’s approach appears to be more rigorous than the other two services’, although its findings are not compiled into an overall rating. Organizations are deemed ‘accredited’ (met standards), ‘standards not met,’ ‘unable to verify,’ ‘did not disclose’ and ‘review in progress.’

“Still, the group’s focus on audited financial statements and accountability — it also publishes in-depth newsletter articles on the subject — is a pragmatic way to view a charity’s operations.”

For more information about BBB’s Charity Accountability Standards and national charities that meet all 20 standards, go to You can also link to reports from BBBs about regional charities.

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About Katherine Hutt

Katherine R. Hutt, Director of Communications and Media Relations with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, is an award-winning communicator who has been helping nonprofit organizations tell their stories for the past 25 years. She was a CBBB consultant on numerous projects for more than a decade before joining the staff in 2011.