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Some charities are keeping their finances top secret

Have you ever given money to Teach for America? The $295 million nonprofit brings educators to low-income neighborhoods across the country. What about the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation? One of the largest conservation groups in the United States raised $127 million in 2014?

These are among 10 major charities refusing to show where your money goes, and that’s a problem for the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. In a new list from the charity watchdog, BBB calls them the largest “Transparency Dodgers” who didn’t disclose enough operational information, including fundraising performance.

That doesn’t mean these are bad charities, but it does make it harder to judge how effective they are.

“Transparency is the mark of a well-run charity,” says H. Art Taylor, CEO and President of BBB WGA. “Failure to disclose important operations information demonstrates a complete disregard to the importance of trust.”

“The majority of charities agree to an evaluation, and it’s concerning when charities refuse.” Taylor says. “Failure to disclose information isn’t just about snubbing the BBB WGA reporting process — these charities are snubbing the people and donors who are asking BBB WGA to verify the charity’s trustworthiness.”

Who’s the least transparent?

Cancer treatment and researchers are the top offenders, according to the list. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute takes the top spot. In 2014, the charity brought in $403 million. But it didn’t disclose any of the requested information from BBB WGA to determine a charity’s dependability.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute treats adults and children with cancer and raises money for cancer research. The institute does have financial statements publicly available online — like any properly registered charity — but didn’t provide any further information to the BBB WGA when questioned.

“We know that publicly-available financial information is simply not enough for BBB WGA to evaluate a charity’s trustworthiness,” Taylor says. “Which is why we evaluate charities on 20 unique standards that also examine a charity’s governance, results reporting and fund-raising practices, among other issues.”

In second place is Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, bringing in $353 million in the 2014 fiscal year but refusing to share how donor money is being spent. Teach For America is third, with a $295 million haul.

How to know where your money goes

Are you less likely to donate to a charity if you aren’t sure where the money goes? Turns out most have groups in mind already, but you may not know how those organizations spend your money.

Nonprofits are required to document their finances in a report that looks into program expenses, fundraising and salaries, among other breakdowns. You can easily find a charity report on to see if your favorite nonprofit is accredited by the BBB or not. There’s also Charity Navigator, where you can browse by categories or charities with perfect scores from the group. Charity Navigator has an in-depth rating system and looks at a number of factors, similar to the BBB. It also publishes the public financial statements from charities.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn


Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Budgeting & Saving, Family

charities, financial literacy, infographic, scams

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