Want to Know Who to Give to This Holiday season?

Check out Charity Navigator’s top picks.

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Photo: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

’Tis the season for giving and for many that means donating to a favorite charity or charities.

But did you know that in most cases, not 100 percent of your dollar goes to the charities’ programs? A percentage of your donation pays for fundraising and administrative costs, and it varies from charity to charity.

Every organization has some overhead, so it’s normal. Still, when more of your dollar is used to support the running of the organization as opposed to the programs they claim to support, you might want to put your hard-earned money elsewhere.

Charity Navigator breaks down the distribution of donations with an overall score and rating. The higher the percentage, the more your dollar goes to the program.

In addition, a charity can receive up to four stars.

Here’s a breakdown of some popular charities.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization that provides urgent disaster relief, disaster preparedness education, support to military families, and families recovering from a home fire in the United States.

They keep their administrative expenses at 5 percent of total overhead and spend 91 percent on actual programs and receive four stars.

Doctors Without Borders

This charity is an international humanitarian organization that provides catastrophic medical care in 60 countries. They go into combat areas and areas where there is malnutrition, disease, or epidemics resulting from conflict. They also provide care in areas hit by natural disasters.

About 89 percent of the total revenue supports its programs and has a rating of four stars.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

No one has ever been turned away for their inability to pay for care. They also pay for travel to the hospital, housing, and food. They spend about 27 percent on fundraising. The hospital keeps its overhead to less than 33.3 percent.

Considering all they do, this is admirable. It receives four stars.

Save the Children

Save the Children’s mission is to invest in children every day, everywhere. They spend 87.3 percent of their revenue on their projects and services. Their top programs are health, education and protection, and emergency assistance.

Rating: three stars

Oxfam America

Oxfam is a global organization working to end poverty and social injustice by getting to its root cause. It supports campaigning in addition to its programs. The total amount of your dollar that goes to programs is 77.2 percent.

Three stars.

Wounded Warriors Family Support

This is a four-star charity. It grows its services to veterans by 50 percent a year. The spend Seventy-one percent of total expenses on the programs and services it delivers.

The overhead sounds like a lot, but veterans and their families swear by them.

Ocean Conservancy

As its name states, this charity advocates for the conservation of our oceans, its ecosystems, and all the life in them. It fights organizations whose practices threaten them and seek to maintain and in some cases, restore a healthy balance.

The Ocean Conservancy spends 75.4 percent of its total expenses on programs and services and receives an overall rating of four stars.

All-Star Charities

And here are some charities that donate the Full Monty, 100 percent of donations to their programs.

Rainforest Trust

Works in the tropics to save endangered species and indigenous communities. Programs include land purchase, rapid response programs, and conservation and land management.

Big Cat Rescue

Their mission is to protect big cats: those in the wild, those in captivity, and those facing extinction. It provides a sanctuary to rescued wild, exotic cats who have been exploited and abused.

Their programs include animal care, education and advocacy, and preventing extinction.


Its mission is to end the wildlife trade and demand for wildlife products in our lifetimes. They also provide energy conservation and global public awareness outreach.

Woods Humane Society

Woods Humane Society services, shelters, and protects homeless companion, i.e., domestic animals. They also provide free spaying and neutering services to local non-profit rescue groups in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Equal Justice Initiative

Committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States. It challenges racial and social injustice and seeks to provide social justice to the most vulnerable.

Gary Sinise Foundation

This is a human service organization that provides outreach and support to first responders, active duty veterans, and their families. Its goal is to show appreciation through entertainment, family support, and various acts of gratitude.

Water Mission

Water Mission is a Christian engineering non-profit. They design, build and maintain water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for people in developing countries and disaster areas.

Ronald McDonald Charities

There are 52 global chapters of this international charitable organization. They all support programs that benefit the health and welfare of children, including education.

This is only a partial list and Charity Navigator offers tips on donating, an alphabetical list of their four-star charities and even an EIN (employer identification number) from the IRS for tax-deductible donations.

It’s great to give to the causes that make this world a better place for all us.

Enjoy the holidays and give from your heart.

Written by

Marilyn is a writer, yogi, and spiritual medium. Her favorite people are animals, especially ones that meow. She loves the ocean and hates one-use plastic.

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