Frequently Asked Questions
What is CharityWatch?
The American Institute of Philanthropy (dba CharityWatch), is a nonprofit charity watchdog and rating organization founded in 1992 and based in Chicago, Illinois. We analyze charity audited financial statements, tax filings, state solicitation filings, privacy policies, and other information and rate charities on an "A+" to "F" rating scale. We also regularly partner with investigative journalists on the financial aspects of their reporting on charities and the nonprofit sector. CharityWatch's mission is to help donors make more informed giving decisions while avoiding charity frauds and scams.
Why do I need CharityWatch?
Because your charitable dollars are too precious to waste on organizations that do not spend your money wisely. CharityWatch is not afraid to take a strong stand about the practices of specific charities and provide information that some charities would rather not disclose. CharityWatch carefully reviews each charity’s financial records, cross-checking information from state and federal government filings. The financial picture we provide is often quite different from other sources of charity information that are less stringent, or simply repeat information reported by the charity in its tax form, rather than conducting a thorough and independent review. CharityWatch provides you with the important knowledge that will help you make funding decisions with greater confidence.
Won’t a charity provide me with all the information I need to make an informed giving decision?
A charity that wants your donation has little incentive to criticize itself. It may choose not to reveal true but unflattering information about itself. Also, the financial information that charities are willing to make easily available to donors is often unclear and incomplete. You need an independent watchdog that can objectively analyze a charity’s finances and management practices.
Why is CharityWatch’s information an indispensable tool for informed donors?
CharityWatch assigns letter grade ratings and provides other statistics on the financial performance of more than 600 major American charities. These are organized by category, including Animals, Environment, Cancer, Child Protection & Sponsorship, Civil Rights & Social Justice, Veterans & Military, and more. Rather than simply repeating information gleaned from tax filings or offered by the charities themselves, CharityWatch conducts in-depth analyses of audited financial statements, annual reports, IRS Form 990 tax filings and other data to give you a clear picture of how a charitable organization actually uses its funding. We provide information on the percentage of funds each charity spends on its charitable purpose, its cost to raise $100, whether it holds massive asset reserves, and an overall letter grade rating ranging from “A+” to “F.” Before you send a donation to a specific charity, you can now consider how well it spends your dollars on the programs you intend to support.
How can I support CharityWatch?
Contributions in any amount are appreciated and help fund our research into wrongdoing within the nonprofit sector, our analysis of charities' financial activities, and the free research and financial analysis we provide to investigative journalists.
Who funds CharityWatch?
CharityWatch is funded by people just like you—not charities, industry insiders, charity trade associations, advertisers, or special interests. CharityWatch depends on the support of individuals like you to continue our important work. CharityWatch is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law. Foundation Donors -- Individual Donors -- Corporate Donors
Does CharityWatch sell, rent, or exchange its donors’ names and contact information with other organizations or businesses?
No. CharityWatch has never sold, rented, or exchanged information about its donors and has no plans to do so.
How does CharityWatch decide which organizations to evaluate and rate?
At CharityWatch we focus on quality over quantity. The in-depth level of analysis we perform as part of our charity evaluations is time-intensive and does limit the number of groups we are able to review. Currently, CharityWatch rates over 600 charities. We generally focus on evaluating large charities that receive $1 million or more of public support annually, are of interest to donors nationally, and have been in existence for at least three years. As a charity watchdog organization, our charity selection process is donor-driven. We strive to cover many of the groups that members of the public are most interested in. As a charity watchdog organization we prioritize ratings of charities that spend a significant portion of their budgets on fundraising and other overhead, and those that conduct substantial amounts of direct mail and/or telemarketing fundraising since these are the charities donors most often ask about.
CharityWatch does not accept requests from charities that ask to be rated, nor do we charge charities to be listed in our publication or website, or for the right to publicize their ratings. CharityWatch does not report on churches, synagogues, mosques, political action committees (PACs), fraternal clubs, colleges, or local institutions such as hospitals and museums. CharityWatch does report on the separate human and social welfare organizations of religious groups, such as the Salvation Army, Red Cloud Indian School, and others.
The current list of organizations rated by CharityWatch can be found here.
Our Top-Rated charities list can be found here:
How often does CharityWatch update a charity’s rating and other information?
General information about a charity is updated on charitywatch.org as we become aware of a change. This includes changes to a charity's name, address, website, phone number, or names a charity uses to solicit potential donors. Rating, governance, and salary information for a charity is generally analyzed and updated by CharityWatch every other fiscal year. Charities whose letter grade ratings are prone to significant fluctuations, charities with a history of governance issues, and charities with high assets, are typically updated every fiscal year. Charity tax forms and audited financial statements are not available to the public or for CharityWatch to review immediately upon the end of a charity's fiscal year. There is a time lag between a charity's fiscal year-end and when its financial information becomes available to the public. For example, tax forms and audits containing one- to two-year-old financial information are typically the most current documents available. CharityWatch obtains these documents directly from charities and government sources on a continuous basis as they become available then performs an in-depth analysis. See the Our Process page for additional information.
What is the benefit of receiving CharityWatch's print publication, the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report?
The Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report provides more limited information than is available on charitywatch.org. CharityWatch is happy to provide a print copy of our publication, the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report, to current donors with limited or no Internet access, to libraries, or to donors who prefer reading a print publication. The Guide print publication is published twice per year and contains CharityWatch's most updated information as of the time of publication.
Charitywatch.org contains the above information in a searchable format, along with more extensive and up-to-date information on the charities we rate than can be offered in the Guide print publication since CharityWatch's website is updated on a continuous basis rather than twice per year, and is not limited by the space constraints of a print publication.
Why doesn't CharityWatch make all of its information available on the Internet for free?
We fund our in-depth research on charities with modest donations from the general public. We feel that this is a very small price to pay to receive objective and independent ratings that are untarnished by special interests. We are a nonprofit organization with over 95% of our revenue coming from small contributions from individual members of the public. We do not charge the charities we rate to be listed in our print publication or website, nor do we charge charities for the right to publicize their CharityWatch ratings. Relying on small contributions from the general public allows us to be fiercely independent, which is critical for any watchdog organization. We hope our information will help you with your charitable giving decisions and that you will help support our research. We are counting on you!
How do I login to CharityWatch’s website?
Type your username and password into the fields provided on the Login page to access your account. If you are a CharityWatch Member who has never logged in to our website, please visit our Claim code page for instructions on setting up your account. If you are not a CharityWatch Member, please become a member, and then follow the instructions in your donation receipt to login to your account.
How do I become a CharityWatch Member?
A membership contribution of $50 or more gives you one year of online access to all of our over 600 A+ to F charity ratings. This includes CharityWatch Reports detailing the results of our financial analyses of charities, such as letter grade ratings, program and fundraising ratios, governance & transparency benchmarks, analysts' notes, salary information, articles & alerts, and more. To become a Member, please visit our Membership page and then follow the instructions in your donation receipt to login to your account.
What additional information do I have access to once I log in?
Once logged in Members have unrestricted access to the ratings, governance benchmarks, salaries data, and analysts notes for all of the over 600 charities rated by CharityWatch. Members also have access to CharityWatch's chart of High Asset charities.
How do I know when my CharityWatch Membership expires?
Login to your account to check the status of your membership using your username and password to view your expiration date and renew your membership if it is nearing expiration. If you are a CharityWatch Member who has never logged in to our website, please visit our Claim code page for instructions on setting up your account. Once set up, you may log-in and view your Membership expiration date.
I forgot my username and/or password. What do I do?
Your username is the e-mail address you used when you set up your online account. If you know your username but forgot your password, you may reset your password yourself on the Login page.
If you forgot both your username and your password, please Contact CharityWatch for assistance.
How do I obtain a receipt or confirmation e-mail for my membership contribution?
If you donated online through charitywatch.org, you will automatically receive an email receipt for your donation which you may use for tax purposes. It will also contain instructions for creating your account if you are a new Member. The confirmation email may take several minutes to reach your inbox. If you do not receive it, please check your “bulk mail” or “spam mail” folder.
If you donated via paper check, CharityWatch will send you a hardcopy donation receipt via U.S. Postal mail. These receipts are processed and mailed twice per year, so please allow several months to receive your receipt. If you require a receipt sooner, please Contact us.
How do I obtain access to CharityWatch's full website for my library?
CharityWatch regrets that we are unable to provide online access to restricted areas of our site to libraries at this time. However, we make our print publication, the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report (Guide), available to our valued library Members. To obtain the Guide for your library, please become a Member by mailing a check payable to CharityWatch in the amount of $50 to:
PO Box 578460
Chicago, IL 60657
What does Membership to CharityWatch include if I do not have Internet access?
Some of our valued Members do not have reliable access to the Internet. We make our print publication, the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report (Guide), available to our valued Members who lack reliable Internet access or who prefer to read a print publication.
To receive the Guide print publication, please become a Member by mailing a check payable to CharityWatch in the amount of $50 to:
PO Box 578460
Chicago, IL 60657
How do I apply to have my charity rated by CharityWatch?
CharityWatch is a watchdog organization, not a listing service or promotional site for charities. Charities cannot apply to be rated by CharityWatch.
How does CharityWatch decide which charities to rate?
The in-depth level of analysis required for our charity evaluations is time-intensive and does limit the number of groups we are able to review. We add between 15 to 20 charities per year to our list of rated charities. Currently, CharityWatch rates over 600 charities.
We generally focus on evaluating large charities that receive $1 million or more of public support annually, are of interest to donors nationally, and have been in existence for at least three years. As a charity watchdog organization, our charity selection process is donor-driven. We strive to cover many of the groups that CharityWatch members are most interested in. CharityWatch does not accept requests from charities that ask to be rated, nor do we charge charities to be listed in our publication or website, or for the right to publicize their ratings.
CharityWatch does not report on churches, synagogues, mosques, political action committees (PACs), fraternal clubs, colleges, or local institutions such as hospitals and museums. CharityWatch does report on the separate human and social welfare organizations of religious groups. The current list of organizations rated by CharityWatch can be found here.
How often does CharityWatch update a charity’s rating and other information?
General information about a charity is updated on charitywatch.org as we become aware of a change. This includes changes to a charity's name, address, website, phone number, or names a charity uses to solicit potential donors. Rating, governance, and salary information for a charity is generally analyzed and updated by CharityWatch every other fiscal year. Charity tax forms and audited financial statements are not available to the public or for CharityWatch to review immediately upon the end of a charity's fiscal year. CharityWatch obtains these documents directly from charities and government sources on a continuous basis as they become available. An analyst then performs a preliminary assessment to determine if a charity's rating will change significantly based on its newer financial reporting, then prioritizes it for update. Charities whose letter grade ratings are prone to significant fluctuations, charities with a history of governance issues, and charities with high assets, are typically updated every fiscal year, rather than every other fiscal year.
How do I request an update of my organization's rating?
CharityWatch (CW) typically updates a charity's rating every other fiscal year. We make exceptions and update ratings more frequently when we are aware that an update will result in a significant grade change. Updates of ratings that will not change significantly are typically de-prioritized and deferred to the following fiscal year.
Please review Our Process for information about factors that impact CW's ratings. If you are a Controller, CFO, or other charity official who believes CharityWatch's rating of your organization will change significantly based on our evaluation of more current financial information, please contact us to request an update. Due to the expertise and extensive time required to thoroughly respond, CW will only respond to detailed inquiries submitted by an official within the accounting or finance department with expertise in the financial reporting of your organization.
Requests should be e-mailed to [email protected] with “Rating Update Request” in the subject line to help us direct your inquiry to the appropriate staff member. Requests should include a brief explanation as to where improvements in spending efficiency have been made relative to the fiscal year currently rated by Charitywatch. Visit Financial Documents in the Ratings & Metrics section for your charity to view the documents CW uses to rate your organization, and send a complete copy of all of these documents with your rating update request.
When we receive your written request, one of our analysts will perform a preliminary assessment to determine whether or not your organization's grade will actually change significantly. If yes, most often we will then complete a full analysis and prioritize your organization's rating accordingly. Due to the time-intensive nature related to processing rating update requests, please allow several weeks for a response.
How do I view my organization's rating information online on CharityWatch's website?
If your charity is Top-Rated by CharityWatch, its rating information is typically viewable on our website without logging-in. If your charity is not Top-Rated, you typically must be logged in to view your charity's rating information. We do not charge a charity for information about its rating. If you would like information about only your organization's current letter grade rating, please use our Contact page to email your request and we will respond via email. If you instead would like access to your organization's rating information online, along with all of the charity ratings and other information on CharityWatch's site, you may become a Member. Charities receive the same Membership as any other donor who becomes a Member of CharityWatch.
How do I understand how CharityWatch calculated my organization's letter grade rating? Why are CharityWatch's calculations different from those of my organization?
CharityWatch's ratings are based on a thorough analysis of a charity's tax forms, audited financial statements, and annual reports. Certain adjustments may be made to reported figures in the process of CharityWatch's in-depth evaluation of an organization's financial activities. For more information, please refer to the Our Process section of our website.
If after reading CharityWatch's rating criteria your organization has more detailed questions as to how your group's current rating was calculated, you may forward a written inquiry from a manager within your organization's accounting or finance department that details your specific questions to [email protected], or via U.S. Mail to:
PO Box 578460
Chicago, IL 60657
Due to the expertise and extensive time required to thoroughly respond, CW will only respond to detailed inquiries submitted by an official within the accounting or finance department with expertise in the financial reporting of your organization. This requirement also prevents multiple inquiries from different individuals within the same charity. We regret that we cannot respond to inquiries from all individuals/departments.
My charity publishes more than one set of audited financial statements. How do I know which audit must be posted on my charity's website to meet CharityWatch's Audit Accessibility benchmark?
CharityWatch analyzes a charity’s audited financial statements during our evaluations. By requiring charities to post a complete copy of their audited financial statements on their public websites as a condition of meeting our transparency benchmarks, CharityWatch hopes to encourage more charities to make their audits publicly available. To view the documents CharityWatch analyzes to compute your charity’s rating, navigate to Financial Documents in your charity’s Ratings & Metrics section on charitywatch.org. A charity that posts on its website the audit document listed in this section will meet CharityWatch’s Audit Accessibility benchmark. If your charity is not currently Top-Rated, you may need to be logged into the site to view complete information. See the FAQ “How do I view my organization’s rating information online?” for more information.
Many of the nonprofits rated by CharityWatch are single-entity organizations that publish one audit and one tax form. However, other organizations are more complex and publish combined or consolidated audited financial statements that may include a national office, local affiliates, and/or several related organizations. Whenever practicable, CharityWatch obtains consolidated/combined audited financial statements that include all of a charity's entities. Such an audit eliminates related party transactions among related groups, and allows us to determine how efficiently an organization is operating on the whole. CharityWatch issues separate ratings for 501(c)4 organizations, even when such groups are included in a charity's consolidated/combined audit, due to the different tax treatment of these groups. See our sections on Treatment of Related Organizations and the Governance & Transparency sections of the Our Process page for more information.
If after reviewing this information your organization still has questions about meeting the Audit Accessibility benchmark, please contact us at [email protected].
Top-Rated Status: Indicates whether or not a charity is Top-Rated by CharityWatch. See the Top-Rated page for a list of highly efficient charities and for an overview the benchmarks a charity must meet to receive Top-Rated status. Specific criteria include:
a. A charity must earn a grade of B+ or higher, as calculated by CharityWatch, for the financial year rated. See the section on How Grades are Calculated for more specific information.
c. A charity must meet CharityWatch’s Transparency benchmarks. A charity must post a complete copy of its most current, independent audited financial statements on its public website. It must also provide complete copies of its IRS tax form(s) 990 to CharityWatch upon request, and may be required to answer questions related to its financial reporting and/or provide additional documentation if such information is necessary for CharityWatch to complete a meaningful evaluation. See the Transparency Benchmark section of the Our Process page for more specific information.
d. A charity must meet CharityWatch’s Governance benchmarks. CharityWatch reviews a charity's tax form to see if it reports having certain policies in place, a sufficiently large and independent governing body, and other basic governance information that serve as standard benchmarks for large charities of national scope or interest. To be eligible for Top-Rated status, charities must pass all nine benchmarks, and, in addition, CharityWatch must not be aware of any serious governance issues at the charity that would cause it to fail our overall standards for good governance. See the Governance Benchmarks section of the Our Process page for more specific information.
My charity is Top-Rated by CharityWatch. How do I obtain a copy of the Top-Rated Seal to use in my charity's promotional materials and website? Does CharityWatch charge charities to use its Seal?
If you already have a username and password to login to the Top-Rated Seal page, please Login to access image files and instructions for using the Seal.
To update the contact information of the person your organization has designated to receive CharityWatch Top-Rated Seal information, send an e-mail to [email protected] For a faster response, please type "CharityWatch Seal—Contact Information Update" in the subject line so we may direct your e-mail to the appropriate staff member. Be sure to include the new contact person's first and last name, job title, direct phone number, and e-mail address in your message, along with the name of your organization.