It would be nice if all nonprofit organizations were completely trustworthy and aboveboard. But just as securities fraud litigation firms pursue dozens or hundreds of rule-breaking corporations every year, so too do nonprofit watchdogs monitor and call out unscrupulous NGOs and charities. Charities can and do violate the public trust, and it — perhaps unreasonably — falls on individual and institutional donors to sort the good guys from the bad apples.
Fortunately, there are plenty of reputable nonprofits to go around. These five innovative charities earn high marks for their honesty and integrity. Just as importantly, they’re reinventing the concept of charity work — and investing in a better future.
Charity:water is basically a clearinghouse that funds water-related initiatives in far-flung corners of the world. The organization stays lean by contracting most work out to third-party outfits with deep roots in the communities they serve, using its internal employees mainly for fundraising and oversight. To keep its partners honest, Charity:water rigorously vets and supervises the organizations it works with, providing detailed, periodic status reports to individual donors and major funders alike. The goal: “To track the direct impact of every dollar donated,” according to Charity:water. And speaking of donations, Charity:water pioneered the innovative Birthday Project, which encourages regular people to donate to charity instead of buying birthday gifts for friends and family.
2. 92Y (92nd Street YMCA)
The 92nd Street Y serves an increasingly affluent precinct of Manhattan, but that doesn’t mean it can’t give back to the broader NYC community. 92Y, as it’s known, is arguably the United States’ most successful neighborhood community center. It’s certainly the best-read: 92Y is a well-worn book tour stop for the world’s leading literary lights. It’s also one of NYC’s most intimate and engaging performance spaces, which is saying something in the home of the Broadway musical. 92Y reaches millions of followers, including many non-New Yorkers, via an aggressive social media presence. And its annual donor reports set the industry standard for detail and transparency.
3. Acumen Fund
Acumen is like a venture capital fund for social entrepreneurs and charities. It solicits tax-deductible donations from individuals and institutions, then plows the funds into loans or equity stakes in promising social startups seeking to solve poverty-related issues. Like any well-run company, the firm reinvests any returns generated by these loans and stakes into new startups, broadening its reach and — ideally — solving more problems.
4. Global Poverty Project
The Global Poverty Project is best-known for its innovative Live Below the Line campaign, which challenges participants to live below the poverty line for five days. Not the U.S. poverty line, mind you, but the global “severe poverty” line, which hovers around $1.50 per day. Participants, who don’t have to donate anything to the Global Poverty Project, are permitted to spend just $1.50 on food, drink and other necessities for an entire workweek. If that doesn’t change your perspective, what will?
Kiva pioneered the concept of microlending: making very small loans to entrepreneurs and small-business owners in the developing world. These loans really are tiny, often amounting to just $25 or $50 per person. But that can mean all the difference for someone who runs a small business, such as a food cart or market stall, in a desperately poor area. Kiva does a good job of profiling loan recipients, many of whom are women, in an effort to show donors that their money is being put to good use.