The 20 Best Charities in America: 2010

Anyone who chooses to use their hard-earned money to help others – whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg or your wealthy aunt – wants their donations to be used wisely. This is especially true around the holidays, since philanthropy is about helping less fortunate people meet their basic needs more than buying the newest iMacs for a charity’s home office.

With that in mind, here we look at the charities with the lowest admin costs, using data taken from CharityNavigator, a comprehensive charity rating website that evaluates philanthropy groups based on the tax records that they provide detailing yearly expenses.

Keep in mind that low admin costs do not always mean a good charity, as a group that doesn’t invest enough in administering its programs may be very inefficient at distributing donations to the people who need them most. Because of this we have only included groups that have received CharityNavigator’s perfect rating of four stars, an overall efficiency assessment the site bases on multiple metrics.

For concerned donors who want to know which charities might be best to avoid, check out MainStreet’s look at the charities with the highest admin costs and the 15 highest-paid charity CEOs. Here, we look at the opposite: The best charities in the country.

20. K.I.D.S.

Administrative Expenses: 0.3%

Managing an annual budget of around $62 million, K.I.D.S. – Kids in Distressed Situations – manages to administer its programs with almost no overhead. The group acts as a middleman between businesses and children or families in need. The global charity develops partnerships with producers of children’s products (clothes, books, toys, etc.) and distributes them to its network of local partners and youth in disaster areas. It takes donations of either cash or new products for children and young people, 85% of which are given out in the U.S.

19. Blessings International

Administrative Expenses: 0.3%

Continued efforts to minimize fundraising and administrative expenses prompted Blessings International to earn its first four-star rating from CharityNavigator.org this year. This is all the more impressive considering that it happened in a year when the humanitarian organization saw its revenue grow by 43.2%. The Oklahoma-based group provides medicine to humanitarian missions around the world, sending medical kits and pharmaceuticals to Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar and Nigeria, among many others.

18. Global Links

Administrative Expenses: 0.3%

Global Links is one of those charities whose model values efficiency over all else. By taking unused or surplus medical equipment from hospitals and clinics around the U.S., the group is able to distribute life-saving gear to clinics and institutions in developing countries. This “waste not, want not” philosophy proves that you don’t need a huge investment of cash or supplies to do good. In its own words, “People in other countries are literally dying for what we throw away.” Managing a budget in the tens of thousands, the charity pays off on both ends by keeping potentially dangerous waste out of American landfills, and giving previously inaccessible technology to people in places where health care resources are scarce. No wonder CharityNavigator.org gave it high marks.

17. New America Foundation

Administrative Expenses: 0.3%

Think tanks are not always known for their thrift or transparency, but the New America Foundation is not like the rest. Based in Washington, D.C., the group focuses on “bringing promising new voices and ideas into our nation’s discourse.” Impressively, it has been able to do just that with more than three straight years of four-star evaluations from CharityNavigator for efficiently managing its more than $13 million in revenue. The group’s recent efforts have focused on fiscal responsibility and education in the U.S., as well as diplomatic strategy in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

16. Project C.U.R.E.

Administrative Expenses: 0.3%

Another medical relief organization, Project C.U.R.E. – short for Commission on Urgent Relief & Equipment – manages a budget of over $41 million with only 0.3% of that going to administrative expenses. In operation since 1987, the group has not always been so efficient, but its efforts to minimize overhead generated a four-star rating last year from CharityNavigator. Project C.U.R.E. operates collection centers across the U.S. where it receives donations of medical supplies and equipment to distribute to countries in need. Using a thousands of volunteers to sort, evaluate, and deliver the gear, Project C.U.R.E. keeps its costs low. The group is currently asking for OB/GYN equipment, operating room supplies, and diagnostic equipment for its projects.

15. AmeriCares

Administrative Expenses: 0.3%

Founded in 1982, AmeriCares takes cash and in-kind donations of medical and emergency relief supplies to distribute to its network of local health care providers around the world. The group claims that for every $100 donated, it is able to deliver more than $3,500 worth of humanitarian supplies to victims of disasters everywhere. With a budget of more than $1 billion, the approximately $3 million AmeriCares spends on its administrative overhead gives it a secure place among the most efficient charities in the U.S.

14. Giving Children Hope

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

Taking us one step up in thrifty administrative expenses, Giving Children Hope has no CEO, and aims to have local community leaders manage much of its donations of used and new medical supplies to local clinics and other health care institutions. A Christian organization with projects around the world, the group is currently raising money and supplies to address the cholera outbreak in Haiti. It still needs more than $4,000 to meet its goal, and donors will be happy to know of the charity’s consecutive four-star ratings.

13. The Florida School Choice Fund

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

The Florida School Choice Fund may not resonate much outside the Sunshine State, but the efficient pursuit of its goals earns it a place on this list. Launched in 2000, the group supports educational policy that provides options for low-income families, such as where to send children to school. By promoting vouchers and tax credits that provide families with such freedom, the group aims to help Florida children in need get all the educational opportunities that wealthy families have.

12. Gleaning for the World

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

With projects connecting donor businesses and missionary organizations abroad, Gleaning for the World aims to provide health supplies to communities in need in the developing world. Taking donations of medicine and medical supplies, as well as food, clothing, and furniture, the 12-year-old group has consistently received four-star ratings from CharityNavigator for administering its admittedly small $3.8 million budget with little overhead.

11. GOAL USA

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

Another small organization, GOAL USA takes over where most charities leave off by focusing on the long-term needs of communities in distress. While the focus since the group’s founding in 1977 has always been on basic needs like food, water and health care, its long-term projects involve reconstruction and development of local infrastructure to move impact beyond the short-term. With low administrative overhead, GOAL USA is one of the most efficient nonprofits out there.

10. Operation Blessing International

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

Based in Virginia, Operation Blessing International is a faith-based relief organization with projects in the U.S., and all over the world. With four-star ratings for the last three years and a budget of more than $400 million, the group focuses on disaster relief and community development everywhere. Its video-heavy website promotes the efforts of its volunteers, who lead many of OBI’s programs.

9. International Children’s Fund

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

Singularly focused on needy children in Africa, the International Children’s Fund uses a network of local missionaries and partners to personally ensure that its donations of food, clothing and medicine get to where they are needed most. Just in time for the holidays, this Christian group is currently pursuing an initiative for donors to fill a shoebox with gifts that will be sent directly to an orphanage in Liberia.

8. Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

Administrative Expenses: 0.2%

Some people forget that the same sustainable methods that work in international development projects work in the United States just as well. This is the position of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a group based in Washington D.C. that was created in 1981, provides training to community leaders in 39 U.S. states to empower local schools and neighborhoods to spearhead their own efforts. With its administration expenses down to their lowest levels ever, the Center for Neighborhood Enterprises received a four-star rating from CharityNavigator.

7. Help the Children

Administrative Expenses: 0.1%

Moving into the realm of next-to-nothing administrative costs, Help the Children spends only 0.1% of its total functional expenses on furthering its Christian relief efforts. As the name implies, the group seeks to provide basic needs and combat hunger for children in the U.S. and abroad who have fallen victim to environmental disasters or the global financial crisis. Using partnerships with popular businesses like Chick-Fil-A and Chuck E. Cheese’s, the group hopes to give the younger generation the tools to succeed.

6. The Foodbank of Southern California

Administrative Expenses: 0.1%

A regional group that operates in only half of a state, the Foodbank of Southern California secures donations of food for soup kitchens and distribution centers in the disadvantaged parts of Watts, South Central Los Angeles, Compton, and North Long Beach. The group has secured two consecutive four-star ratings, and its 0.1% administrative costs ensure that the approximately $50,000 budget is used efficiently.

5. The Aims Project

Administrative Expenses: 0.1%

With its U.S. operation based in California, the AIMS Project supports the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kerala, India, channeling donations of equipment and expertise to the hospital in India so that it may work towards continued innovations in local medical care. Managing a budget of around $5 million, the AIMS Project is able to make every penny count, earning it its first four-star rating from CharityNavigator in 2009.

4. CIS Development Foundation

Administrative Expenses: 0.1%

For those who don’t know, the CIS, or Commonwealth of Independent States, is the name given to the collection of former Soviet republics that gained independence after the breakup of the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s. The CIS Development Foundation, an American group based in New Jersey, promotes economic development in places like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Estonia, and several others under a philosophy that it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish to eat for a day. The group’s slogan emphasizes that its purpose is “not to feed, but to help in the production of food; not to clothe, but to help in the production of clothing.” It does so, with very little administrative overhead, by providing humanitarian aid and technical training to partners in Eastern Europe.

3. MAP International

Administrative Expenses: 0.1%

MAP International, short for “Medical Assistance Programs”, has a long history of four-star ratings from CharityNavigator for its consistently efficient administration of its programs. The Christian group has been around for over 55 years, providing medicine and community health solutions to communities in need of disaster relief as well as longer-term assistance. With a budget around $400,000,000, the group’s low administrative costs are a point of pride for many of its donors, who will be proud to see MAP International at number three on the list.

2. Matthew 25: Ministries

Administrative Expenses: 0.1%

While not the only group to embrace the “one man’s trash” principle of collecting used items in the U.S. to be distributed to needy communities abroad, Matthew 25: Ministries is arguably the best at it. The 20-year-old group has received consistent praise for efficiently managing its annual budget of around $80,000, which it does by relying on volunteers and partners in business to keep costs down. The group “rescues” and reuses products it receives from hospitals, manufacturers, individuals and major corporations to help people around the world meet their basic needs, from Cincinnati to the Caribbean.

1. Brother’s Brother Foundation

Administrative Expenses: 0.0%

The Brother’s Brother Foundation is the only group on our last that recorded 0.0% administrative expenses, but it is not the only one on CharityNavigator to do so. It is, however, the only group with 0% administrative overhead to receive a four-star rating from the group, a testament to the difficulty of providing quality service with such a low administrative cost. The group spends about $500,000 a year on administrating its programs, which is nothing considering the group’s budget is over $1 billion. One of the oldest groups on our list, Brother’s Brother was founded in 1958 and its long history has enabled it to efficiently distribute donated medical, agricultural, educational and humanitarian supplies to people in over 140 countries.

Looking for more insider tips on how to get the most bang for your donated bucks? Check out MainStreet's charity hot topic for the full skinny.

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