Use These Top 3 Charity Watchdog Sites Before Donating Money

charity watchdog

Whether it’s a charity that’s new to you or one you’ve been giving to for years, smart charitable giving means looking closely into where your money is really going.

Relying on the charity’s own website, fundraising letters, and other promotional materials isn’t enough — you need an impartial third-party. These three charity watchdogs are the best in the biz, so use them to do some research before your charitable giving.

Charity Navigator

Of the three charity watchdog sites on this list, Charity Navigator is the biggest and most well-known. Established in 2001, Charity Navigator has 650,000 registered users and more than 8,000 charity ratings.

The basics

  • Charities rated: 8,359
  • Search options: By name, employer identification number (EIN), keyword, hot topics, top-rated charities, or 11 other categories
  • Rating system: 1 through 4 stars

What you’ll see in a charity report

  • Score from 0 to 100, as well as the star rating
  • Breakdown of financial, accountability, and performance metrics
  • Income statement
  • Financial charts
  • Employee salaries
  • The charity’s mission
  • Charities performing similar types of work (including their Charity Navigator scores)

Charity Navigator is one of the most comprehensive charity watchdog sites out there, not only in its individual reports on non-profits but also in its top 10 lists, tips for donors, and explanations of its rating methodology.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance

The BBB — or Better Business Bureau — helps consumers make informed decisions about where to spend their money. Their work is not limited to for-profit companies, and extends to non-profits through the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

The basics

  • National charities rated: Around 1,300
  • Regional charities rated: More than 10,000 by local BBBs in the United States and Canada
  • Search options: By name, keyword, location, and 20 other categories
  • Rating system: Standards met or not met

What you’ll see in a charity report

  • Checklist of 20 standards used to evaluate the charity
  • List of standards not met
  • Explanation of why a charity does not meet a certain standard
  • The charity’s mission
  • Breakdown of financial and governance metrics

The checklist format of the reports makes the BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s breakdown the simplest way to get a feel for an organization at a glance. They also make it easy for you to find local BBBs for regional charity reports.


Though they don’t rate nearly as many non-profits as the other two watchdogs on this list, CharityWatch says they are “the most stringent in the sector.”

As stated on the CharityWatch website:
“Other charity raters simply repeat or repackage at face value whatever a charity reports without adequate analysis of its finances or how it is operating. The CharityWatch rating system is unique in that we carefully analyze a charity’s finances and make adjustments to better reflect the goals of most donors who want their cash donations to be used efficiently.”

The basics

  • Charities rated: 622
  • Search options: By name, keyword, hot topics, top-rated charities, and 38 other categories
  • Rating system: A through F

What you’ll see in a charity report

  • A to F rating
  • The charity’s mission
  • Breakdown of financial, governance, and transparency metrics
  • Financial charts
  • Employee salaries
  • Charities in the same category

Unfortunately, there is one big drawback to CharityWatch. Though you can see the reports of its top-rated charities for free, you’ll have to pay a $50 annual membership fee to see the rest.

CharityWatch is a non-profit that could benefit from your contribution, but that may not be how you want to spend your charitable budget.

Use all three charity watchdog sites

If you were to only use one of these three charity watchdogs, you could end up with a better (or worse) impression of an organization than if you used all three.

For example, let’s say you’re interested in supporting the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

If you were only to look at Charity Navigator, the NRDC looks like a shoe-in. The first thing you see is four stars and, scrolling down the page, the only red flag is an issue with the donor privacy policy.

While that is an important issue, the red X in that box is dwarfed by more than a dozen other blue checkmarks on the page.

By comparison, if you were to only look at the same charity on BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the first thing you see is a red flag — or in this case, yellow. A big yellow X at the top of the page lets you know immediately that the NRDC doesn’t meet two of the watchdog’s standards.

Sure, those are only two unmet standards out of 20, but visually, it immediately makes the NRDC look less appealing.

Meanwhile, CharityWatch has the NRDC’s A- rating front-and-center with no obvious red flags.

The bottom line is that when you give to a charity, you want the broadest and deepest understanding of the way that organization works. Otherwise, how can you be sure the money you’re so conscientiously budgeting for charitable giving is going to an equally conscientious organization?

Instead of using just one charity ratings watchdog service, give yourself the most well-rounded picture of a non-profit by looking at all three.

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