Websites shine light on charities

But rating nonprofits for effectiveness is proving to be difficult

Published: Saturday, May 19 2012 8:00 a.m. MDT

"A lot of what the nonprofit world does is put smiles on people's faces," said Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, who is working with Charity Navigator to develop a tool to rate the effectiveness of charities. "It's hard to measure the value of a smile."

For this reason, Aviv argues charity watchdog organizations should steer clear of attempting to rate nonprofits on efficiency.

"It's almost impossible to understand how they would do that," she said.

She does maintain, though, nonprofits should be tracking their own progress and reporting back to the public — a practice, she said, not many embrace. It's also imperative, she said, that donors stop basing giving decisions by relying on their heartstrings, and start rewarding charities that get results.

"I would cajole, I would urge, I would press, I would do everything in my power to get folks to do it," she said. "As tax-exempt organizations, nonprofits have a public responsibility to fulfill their missions."

Charity Navigator hasn't given up on objectively rating nonprofits on results, but, for now, Berger is focusing on getting the information out in the open. Instead of rating organizations on their effectiveness, Charity Navigator plans rate them on their results reporting.

"We are the voice and the advocate for the public," he said. "The thing that matters most to donors is the effectiveness of charities, so that's the information we are going to go after."

Wallace, for one, appreciates it. While she wants to make smart giving decisions, she doesn't want to devote a lot of energy to it. She likes the way Charity Navigator boils down the facts.

"I don't have time to be fooling around," she said. "I keep things simple."

email: estuart@desnews.com

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