NY BBB Charity Accountability Program
Q. Why did the Metro New York BBB Foundation decide to develop a seal program?
A. The goal of the Metro New York BBB Foundation seal program is to offer a highly visible accountability tool that will help inform donors, assist charities in establishing their commitment to ethical practices, and encourage greater confidence in giving. Many, if not most, Americans have trouble finding the information they need to evaluate charities and make decisions about giving. A detailed donor expectations survey of 2,003 Americans commissioned by the Wise Giving Alliance in the spring of 2001 found that 70% of adult Americans said it was difficult to tell whether a charity soliciting their contribution is legitimate. Public attention on charity accountability has grown in recent years, particularly in the wake of September 11th and a series of high profile charity scandals. In turn, charities themselves are seeking credible means to ensure donors that they operate ethically and in accordance with donor intentions. Moreover, there have been numerous requests from charities over the years to be able to advise donors that they meet BBB standards.
Q. Why are there two versions of the seal?
A. Each Better Business Bureau has the opportunity to offer the same seal to their local charities. The set of standards under which each Better Business Bureau conducts a review are the same, as is the seal. The primary difference is a geographical indicator noted by the website address near the bottom of the seal.
In our case, the local seal for the Metro New York BBB Foundation is available to local New York charities that solicit funds from the public.
Seals with the give.org website indicate that those charities have been reviewed by the Wise Giving Alliance (WGA), the national charity review program of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. After the launch of the national seal program, it became available to the national network of local Better Business Bureaus. Seals with the newyork.bbb.org website indicate that those charities have been reviewed by the Metro New York BBB Foundation.
Q. Until now charities couldn't tell donors that?
A. That’s correct. Because of a long-standing policy precluding use of the BBB name by outside organizations, New York charities that met the BBB charity standards were not permitted to state this fact in their materials or to use the Better Business Bureau name. The Metro New York BBB Foundation experimented with a Charity Identification Program for several years. The results of that program helped to create the seal program. The seal is offered as a voluntary option for those New York organizations that the Metro New York BBB Foundation has determined meet the BBB charity standards.
Q. How does the seal assist donors?
A. The seal provides a clear, concise and accessible means for potential donors to find out if a New York charity meets the comprehensive standards established by the Metro New York BBB Foundation. Charities that qualify for the seal may display it in printed solicitation materials, in advertisements, on their websites, and in other approved venues. Furthermore, the seal helps to extend public awareness of the Metro New York BBB Foundation's work in charity accountability.
Q. How does the seal assist charities?
A. The seal provides charities with a widely recognized (surveys have shown that 98% of the public is familiar with the Better Business Bureau name) and meaningful mechanism by which to demonstrate their commitment to accountability and ethical practices. Display of the seal instantly conveys to the donor the charity's adherence to strong and comprehensive standards.
Q. How is the seal program funded?
A. Qualified New York charities that participate in the seal program pay an annual fee. The fee schedule is a sliding scale based on the total amount of the charity's contribution revenues in the past year. The fee amount ranges from $50 for a charity with $100,000 or less in contributions revenue to a maximum of $5,000 for a charity that receives contributions totaling $60 million or more.
Q. Which charities are eligible to display the seal?
A. Publicly-soliciting New York charities that are at least three years old and meet all of the applicable Standards for Charity Accountability are eligible to apply for the seal. Currently, the Metro New York BBB Foundation reports on New York area charities that request to be reviewed or have been the subject of recent public inquiries. However, if a New York charity has not yet been evaluated and is interested in applying for the seal program, the Metro New York BBB Foundation will complete the requisite evaluation against its standards.
Q. How does the BBB seal differ from other efforts?
A. The Metro New York BBB Foundation looks beyond the surface and the numbers, whereas many charity watchdogs simply report on charities' finances. The Metro New York BBB Foundation evaluates each charity's governance, fundraising practices, solicitations, and informational materials, as well as how it spends its money. Therefore, compliance with this seal sends a much more complete confirmation of the charity's accountability.
Q. How are charities permitted to use the seal?
A. Permissible uses of the seal include the charity's direct mail appeals, annual report, posters, newspaper and magazine advertisements, billboards, websites, and television public service announcements. The website seal features a "click to check" function that provides a direct hyperlink to the Metro New York BBB Foundation report on the organization.
Q. Does the Metro New York BBB Foundation report on non-seal holder charities?
A. Yes, the Metro New York BBB Foundation produces reports on those New York charities that are the subject of recent inquiries regardless of whether the subject charity intends to apply for the seal. Reports on both those New York charities that meet and those organizations that do not meet the standards are freely accessible on this website. A significant percentage of the Metro New York BBB Foundation charity reports show the organization does not meet one or more of the standards.
Q. How does the Metro New York BBB Foundation monitor its Seal Holders?
A. As with all charity reviews completed by the Metro New York BBB Foundation, participating New York charities are required to submit a variety of support documents and related information for the Metro New York BBB Foundation to complete an evaluation in relation to its standards including: audited financial statements, IRS Form 990, bylaws, articles of incorporation, direct mail appeals, brochures, budgets, board rosters, and tax exempt status determination letters.
Charity evaluations are effective for 2 years. However, they can be amended at any time, based on new information or a change in charity practice. The Metro New York BBB Foundation staff routinely monitors seal holder organizations for adherence to seal program requirements. In addition, the Metro New York BBB Foundation conducts Internet monitoring for unauthorized online use of the seal. Further, the Metro New York BBB Foundation will promptly investigate and act on any donor and charity complaints related to seal usage.
If a New York charity participating in the seal program is found to no longer meet the standards, the charity is required to remove the seal from its website and to cease distribution of any printed materials that display the seal. The Metro New York BBB Foundation alerts the public to any seal abuses through prominent website notices, press releases and other information channels.