Exposing Religious Non-Profits: Which Ones are Worthy?

When allocating one’s philanthropic dollars, it may seem impossible to differentiate the worthy ones from the more dubious non-profits. This is especially true in the religious non-profit world where organizations purport to be faith-driven and operate in God’s image, but in actuality, may not use funds efficiently, or worse, are used for executives’ own personal gain.

It’s important to look for organizations that are transparent as to where their money goes. As the blog NpEngage writes, “The interplay between faith and finances has always been fraught with questions. The best way to deal with this situation is to introduce (and constantly reinforce) the concept of faithful stewardship to your supporters. Being a faithful steward means to put each of these gifts towards their rightful purposes.”

So how to know which ones are legitimate?

A good first step is checking out Give.org, an apolitical evaluator of charities around the world. Their site gives an easy-to-read overall picture as to how a charity is faring in terms of legitimacy.

A cursory look at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews’ (IFCJ or The Fellowship) score on the site indicates a high score across several sectors. Give.org exposes critical information about how the charity is run and gives The Fellowship three out of four stars, with an overall rating of 81.45. It also provides a breakdown as to how the nonprofit spends its money. IFCJ, for example, spends the overwhelming majority of its budget on its programs (73.6%), with the rest going to administrative and fundraising expenses. This is a responsible balance for a non-profit.

Compare that figure, for example, with the Religious Freedom Coalition, which promotes religious freedom and family-based legislation in the United States. That nonprofit earned an abysmal rating of 55.08; it spends over half of its $1.3 million revenue on fundraising alone.

Understanding the need to help the public peek behind the non-profit curtain and determine which ones offer the most bang for your buck, Forbes compiled a list of the most efficient charities. “A low financial efficiency rating is no guarantee that a charity isn’t performing an important job. But all other things being equal, don’t you want as much of your contributions as possible to go straight to the task at hand rather than, say, junk mail solicitations?” it asks rhetorically.

Matthew 25: Ministries, which draws “inspiration from a Biblical passage about need,” made the list. The charity donates goods to the poor, the ill and the imprisoned around the world. “Like all gift-in-kind charities, it benefits from tax breaks to corporations managing their inventories,” Forbes reported about the charity. Unsurprisingly, it also an accredited charity on Give.org.

Of course, not everything is black and white. CBS reports that, “the cost of salaries for staff members must be allocated between ‘programs,’ ‘administration,’ and ‘marketing,’ based on how they spend their time. That, too, is a subjective process, where those with the most aggressive stance about what falls into the ‘programs’ basket look the best.”

“Charities that don’t play these games end up looking bad by comparison, complains Ken Martinet, president of Catholic Big Brothers in Los Angeles. Martinet said his group has an overhead and advertising ratio of roughly 20%, which would make his small charity appear an over-spender in some donor’s eyes. The charity suffers because volunteers do much of its work, which means it raises less and spends less money than some of the others. Were to account for the time of its volunteers (even at a discounted hourly rate), the charity’s expense ratio would be enviously low,” the article adds.

That said, some good religious charities to look into, according to CNBC, are:

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which stepped up to the plate and provided emotional and spiritual care to communities after 9/11; the Catholic Medical Mission Board, which provides healthcare to the world’s poor; and Samaritan’s Purse, which helps the world’s poor, sick and hungry.

Wondering what non-profits to donate to as a business? Check out this list: https://patch.com/florida/miami/what-nonprofits-should-your-business-donate 

Unfortunately, some preliminary sleuthing online is only the first step in determining which charities are worthy. The best bet, the CBS article suggests, is for the donor to do his or her own legwork and put their faith in a small amount of charities.

“A better response may be to limit the number of charities that you give to and investigate those charities thoroughly. Go to their offices. Ask for their financial statements. (If they don’t provide them willingly, consider it a red flag.) Understand what they’re doing; who they’re helping; and how they help. Volunteer. See what they do first-hand,” it says.

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