What you NEED to know before donating to tornado victims

Posted at 8:15 PM, May 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-21 20:15:31-04

When it comes to providing help for Oklahoma tornado victims and their families, the Tri State area is home to two of the largest entities.  The Greater New York Chapter of the American Red Cross is the busiest of all Red Cross regions in the country, responding to 3,000 emergencies per year, and Charity Navigator is the largest independent reviewer of charities in the world.

Its rating of the Red Cross and all other non-profits providing help in Oklahoma is revealing about where donors may want to invest their dollars to ensure that the money is used the way donors intend, and that as much of each dollar as possible goes toward helping people, rather than paying charities’ overhead costs.

“We rate charities from zero to four stars, based on two factors,” said Charity Navigator Chief Executive Officer Ken Berger.  “One, is financials.  Does a lot of the money go to the programs?” he asked, in describing the first of two key charity rating criteria.

“The second,” Berger said, “is what we call accountability and transparency.  Do they have a strong board that runs the organization, and do they also have good ethical practices?”

How well some 5,000 U.S. charities meet those criteria results in each non-profit’s rating.  Of the hundreds of charities working in Oklahoma, Charity Navigator has rated 20 highly, with three stars or more.

The American Red Cross is at the top of the alphabetical list of highest-rated non-profits.

The CEO of the New York Red Cross provided insight into why his organization tops the list for responders in Oklahoma.  “We have thirty emergency response vehicles,” Josh Lockwood told PIX11 News, “and five shelters open in Oklahoma.”

As the biggest emergency response non-profit, the Red Cross is able to provide the most help.  However, Charity Navigator rates it at three stars out of four.  That’s despite the Red Cross having a perfect score for accountability and transparency — 70 points out of a possible 70.  But because its finances score just a hair below 60 on the 70 scale, it falls just short of four stars.

“I didn’t realize we’d lost our four-star rating,” New York Red Cross CEO Josh Lockwood said.  “We’ll go that extra mile,” he said, to raise their score, but added that the charity spends 92 cents on the dollar providing help to people in need, made possible, mostly, by its large force of volunteers.  90 percent of Red Cross workers give their time for free.

Charity Navigator confirms that the Red Cross only uses about eight cents of every donated dollar to pay salaries and other overhead costs.  “As I tell my daughter,” said Charity Navigator’s Ken Berger, “a B [grade] is not failing.”  The Red Cross’s grade on Charity Navigator is decidedly more like a B-plus.

Missing from the list of Oklahoma tornado charities is the Salvation Army, even though it has mobilized hundreds of people to work in Oklahoma to provide relief.  The reason the charity is not on Charity Navigator’s list has nothing to do with star ratings.  Instead, Berger said, “If an organization is formed as a house of worship, and the

Salvation Army is, they are not required to provide any financial information to the IRS.  We’ve asked them for years to provide it, and they refuse.”

Berger said that other church run charities have provided their financial information, and have been rated very well.  He said that he suspected that the Salvation Army was not releasing its financial information out of concern that it would be rated poorly.

PIX11 contacted the Salvation Army’s national headquarters, but the charity has yet to respond.

The nonprofits working in Oklahoma City that had a four star rating with Charity Navigator were:

City Rescue Mission, Oklahoma City

Convoy of Hope

Direct Relief

Global Giving

Heart to Heart International

Matthew 25: Ministries

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Samaritan’s Purse

Save the Children

United Way of Central Oklahoma