Thursday, September 29, 2016

You Don't Have To See The Whole Staircase, Just Take The First Step.

A special message from Charities Review Council's Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch. 

When we started this conversation we said, 'big changes start with small steps.' Now, six months later, we're excited to share the many small steps our small but mighty team has taken in order to deliver on our commitment to you - our nonprofit partners, donors, and community members.

Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch
Thank you for your support of our initial change message. Full transparency isn't always easy, or comfortable, but your emails, phone calls, texts and social media call outs did not go unnoticed, and reaffirmed our decision to share openly.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." 

Today, I come to you with our exciting steps forward, progress towards year-end goals, and plans for the future!

Our core work remains the same, and continues to flourish!

In our last Council update, we mentioned that our core work would remain the same, and it has! At Charities Review Council, we're committed to working alongside both donors and nonprofits, strengthening the relationship between the two so that relationships that were once transactional, can transform into authentic and meaningful relationships that better serve our communities. We see glimpses of this every day; Donors reaching out to nonprofits to learn more before giving of their time, talent and/or treasure. Our Nonprofit Services Team has done an incredible job keeping us on track with our annual goals. Here are just a few of the highlights thus far!

The Highlights: 
  • We have exceeded our annual goal for engagement of NEW nonprofits in the Accountability Wizard® review process! We are now working towards a stretch goal for year-end. 
  • We are currently exceeding our year-to-date budget for Accountability Wizard® fees, and plan to finish the year in a strong financial position. 
  • Our renewal rate continues to stay strong at 94%. 
  • Our 3rd annual Nonprofit Calling Day was a huge success, engaging 42 nonprofits in our Accountability Wizard® review process! 

What's new at Charities Review Council? Great question! We are so excited to share with you our new projects, tools and plans for the future.

NEW PROJECT SUPPORT- Nonprofits Strengthening Project

We received new project support from Youthprise to work with nonprofits serving Somali youth. Our Nonprofits Strengthening Project for these organizations kicked off in July and will continue through October of this year. 

Participation in these projects includes: 
  • Access to our online, capacity building tool (aka the Accountability Wizard®),
  • Customized training and workshops delivered by local subject matter experts, and 
  • Nonprofit Strengthening Workshop
  • One-on-one support from Council staff members in the areas of governance, fundraising, financial activity and public communications. 
We're grateful to have Youthprise as strong supporters of this work. 

NEW TOOL & RESOURCES - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit

On average, only 14% of our nonprofit partners are able to meet the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accountability Standard® upon initial review, meaning that 86% need to take action before meeting this Standard. To better support our nonprofit partners in this area, the Council received support from Youthprise in 2014 to begin working on a tool that would support nonprofit organizations with not only meeting this Standard, but also implementing lasting changes in the area of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We've successfully completed phase one, which was to create the tool, and are now working on phase two, which is to bring the tool online for our nonprofit partners to use! The Carlson Family Foundation, Wells Fargo and the Medica Foundation have all signed on as supporters of this work. We plan to start beta testing this fall and expect to be online by spring of 2017!  


In our last Council update, we mentioned the possibility of a new office space for Charities Review Council. We continue to explore opportunities that are aligned with our current structure, give us room to grow, and allow us to deliver on our mission and programmatic goals. We'll keep you updated as the year continues.

FORUM 2017 (Previously known as the 'Annual Forum')

We are transitioning our once traditional 'annual' forum, to instead host a biennial event that honors and celebrates the work of the philanthropic sector. FORUM 2017 will mirror events you've attended with us in the past. 

Haven't attended a Charities Review Council event in the past? Sign up now to get an invite to the next one! 

Forum 2015
What can you expect from this new event? You can expect a dynamic speaker, or maybe even speakers (!), creative learning opportunities, purposeful networking, donor-nonprofit collaboration, and of course, lots of fun! We're thrilled to have Bush Foundation on board as our Presenting Sponsor, and look forward to sharing more event details soon! 

We're excited for what the future has in store for Charities Review Council. We're truly embarking on a journey and appreciate you coming along for the ride.

Consider investing in our future. Click here to help us mobilize informed donors and accountable nonprofits for the greater good, with a financial gift of any size today. 

In partnership, 

Kris Kewitsch & the Charities Review Council team

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Giving During Disasters

Charities Review Council offers the following tips on smart giving during disasters and how to exercise caution when responding to disaster-relief appeals.

President Obama and Vice President Biden visit memorial in Orlando
On June 12, 2016, gunman Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people, injuring 53 others, inside Pulse- a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Authorities are saying this is the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation's worst terror attack since 9/11.

Sadly, when disaster strikes, so do the scammers. 

Support the Orlando victims and their families, but also protect yourself, by using the smart giving tips below. 


When researching where to send a gift, consider the following:

1. Is the organization legitimate? 
If an organization is calling you, be wary. Established disaster-relief organizations are often too busy to implement a direct phone campaign during times of disaster.  Don’t be afraid to say “no” over the phone and then contact the organization directly yourself.

2. Texting-to-Give
Before picking up your phone to donate, here’s what you need to know.Text-to-give is a convenient and quick way to donate to a charity. Donors text a keyword to a short code and a pre-determined charge is added to your phone bill. A user can donate multiple times for each billing period. Note that since the donation is collected through the cell phone billing cycle it can take up to 90 days before the intended charity receives the donation.  Make sure you give to an organization that you trust.

3. Don’t be swayed by emotional or high-pressure solicitations with little or no substance.
Don’t make a donation to an unknown charity over the telephone or via an e-mail request, especially if it pressures you to give immediately, or refuses to send information unless you make a pledge. Verify organizations before you give by calling Charities Review Council's Nonprofit Services Team at 651-224-7030.

4. How do you protect yourself from fraud? 
Always pay by check or credit card, NEVER with cash. Cash can be lost or stolen.  Don’t provide your credit card number unless you know the charity and you initiate the contact.

5. Is the organization accountable to its donors? 
Don’t hesitate to ask for written information about programming and financial activity.  Research that information on the organization’s website, or call us at 651-224-7030.

6. Find out whether your contribution is tax-deductible. 
Ask the organization if it is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Gifts to 501(c)3  organizations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Obtain receipts if you plan to claim a tax deduction.


This information was originally published on Charities Review Council's website on July 21, 2015. However, the content and tips provided are still applicable now. Questions? Contact Charities Review Council's Nonprofit Services Team at 651-224-7030.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Big Changes Start With Small Steps

A special message from Charities Review Council's Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch. 

You've heard it said, change is the only constant and, like many of our nonprofit partners, we're an example of that.

A community thrives when its leaders fail forward, take risks, elevate solutions and share lessons broadly in the community. At Charities Review Council, we're leading by example, sharing organizational developments that will affect us both internally and externally, in hopes that it will cultivate trust, transparency and open dialogue about what it means to be a strong nonprofit.

True transparency means being willing to share openly. So here it goes...

Late last year, after the annual plan and budget had been finalized, Charities Review Council received word that expected funding would not materialize. Although we had planned to shift funding from operating support to fee for service, we hadn't planned for the possibility of no funding at all. This long-time support accounted for roughly 18% of our total budget. As a small nonprofit, (5 FTE, approx. $650,000 budget) news like this prompts many questions and tough decisions around programming, staffing structure, and more.

Big changes start with small steps. 

At Charities Review Council, we're pulling it all apart in order to put it back together in a way that makes sense. It hasn't been easy and there are still a few moving parts, but isn't that the beauty of change? Reimagining what has always been, in order to make room for what's to come? We like to think so, but for now, we'll focus on and share with you what we do know.

Our core work will remain the same; helping donors make smart giving decisions to strong nonprofits. 

By promoting nonprofit accountability and transparency with our capacity building tool, the Accountability Wizard®, and using our Accountability Standards® as a framework for building trusting, productive donor-nonprofit relationships, we'll continue to foster a culture of philanthropy that leads to stronger communities.

With support from our amazing board and staff, we’ve re-worked our annual plan, making tough decisions around programmatic activities like, Grow the Good, Open Source Brainstorm Labs, and more. This includes changes to our Annual Forum. We will not be hosting a traditional annual forum experience in 2016. Instead, we’ll be planning for an event in early 2017. Stay tuned for more details!

We’ve also made changes to our staffing model, including moving two previously full-time staff members to project based consulting work. Along with that, we are currently looking to relocate the Council offices, and are in the midst of taking tours in the neighborhood for a space that fits our programmatic needs and budget.

Despite these changes, we’re still committed to maintaining and growing the value of our Meets Standards® Seal.

Last year, we saw a 20% increase in the number of new nonprofits engaged in the Accountability Wizard® review process and we exceeded our renewal goal with 92% of our nonprofit partners renewing their accounts in 2015. Although temporarily lean, we’re still accomplishing great work. We look forward to engaging new nonprofits and growing our list of reviewed organizations in 2016.

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” 

As an organization, we continue to take steps forward in our strategy of supporting authentic and engaged relationships between smart donors and strong, accountable nonprofits.

We thank you for taking the journey with us.

In partnership,

Kris Kewitsch & the Charities Review Council team

Monday, February 22, 2016

Your Best Annual Report Yet!

Ready to create an annual report, but not sure where to start? Start here! 

Transparency and regular communication about a nonprofit's mission and accomplishments builds trust, increases visibility and provides the opportunity for an organization to engage with their community. An annual report is just one of many opportunities for a nonprofit to share their organizational story. Sharing an annual report every year with key stakeholders, donors, family and friends, helps supporters connect with your mission and make informed giving decisions, leading to responsible philanthropy.

At Charities Review Council, we review hundreds of annual reports a year. Some are great, highlighting personal stories, clearly articulating accomplishments and effectively utilizing visual content to make it engaging for the reader. While other annual reports, well, that's why we decided to write this post. With three easy steps, we're sharing what we've learned and providing additional support as you take on creating your next annual report. Follow the steps outlined below and you'll also ensure that your organization aligns with our Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard. It's a win-win! So without further ado, here are our three steps for achieving your best annual report yet! 

Step One: Determine 2 - 4 accomplishments to highlight.

Your annual report should not be a running list of everything you did in the previous year. Instead, focus in on a few accomplishments that truly convey your organizational story in a meaningful way. Ensure that you are including information for each of your major programs (major programs listed in the IRS Form 990, Part III). Donors want to know how their gift made a difference. So consider sharing things that might 'wow' your constituents, whether that was a new program, unexpected results, or a new location opening. Share the excitement with those who matter most, your supporters!

Step Two: Make it EASY! 
Easy to read, easy to understand and easy to access.

It's simple, annual reports fall flat when they are too long or overly complicated. When writing your annual report, keep the end goal in mind, which is (or should be) to engage your key stakeholders, donors, volunteers, family and friends in the work of your organization. In order to do that, keep these three things in mind:

Donors & nonprofits gather at Annual Forum 2015
  • Avoid using jargon. When you use jargon, or complicated language that not everyone will know and understand, you limit your audience from understanding the full breadth of your work. Make your work accessible and easy to read. Avoid jargon.
  • Use Images. You know and we know pictures have the ability to bring stories to life! By using pictures in your annual report you're not only adding excitement to your report, but you're also adding color, which is reported to increase readership by 80%! Don't forget about photo captions. If people read nothing but the captions in your annual report, they should still get a sense of the work that was accomplished last year. Photos and image captions connect your reader with the work being done, and that my friends is what the annual report is all about.
  • Create white space. Annual reports that are all text from top to bottom, left to right, are hard to read and quite frankly, boring. Strategic use of white space creates a more effective design and un-cluttered feel. White space can also be used to draw the reader's eye to a key statistic, mission statement, or accomplishment. Use white space to help point out the most important pieces of your annual report. 

It may be last on this list, but it's certainly not least. Use our annual report checklist to determine what is required information* and what is considered 'best practice' before getting started. You can print the checklist, or share the link with a co-worker to get your team on the same page before diving in. Discuss which, if any, of the best practices items that you will include in your annual report, remembering that too many things can potentially detract from the message you are trying to share. Focus in on the items that convey your organizational story, are relevant to the previous year, and include those in the report.

You are now ready to embark on your annual report journey! For more information, inspiration and practical applications, check out our website at

*Required to meet Charities Review Council's Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard, not necessarily required by law. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

So, You Want to Donate Your Couch, Carpet, or Clothing?

At Charities Review Council, we answer several phone calls from well-meaning individuals hoping to donate items (clothing, furniture, housewares, etc.) to nonprofits who need them. We love that these callers want to donate items to worthy causes rather than simply throwing them away. However, there is no single clearinghouse of nonprofits accepting donated goods. No such database exists because nonprofits’ needs and abilities to accept items aren't the same from day-to-day.

Why do some nonprofits accept donated goods, and what do they do with them?

Salvation Army sorting through donated goods
Many nonprofits sell donated goods to the public to raise money for their programs. For example, Goodwill/Easter Seals and the Salvation Army both run thrift stores. The profits from those stores support their efforts to deliver on their mission.

Other nonprofits sell donated items to organizations such as for-profit thrift stores. For example, the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota and the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota both sell goods to a private (for-profit) company called Savers that operates several thrift stores throughout the country under names such as Savers, Unique Thrift, and Valu Thrift. In these cases, the amount of money the nonprofits receive is based on a pre-determined amount, independent of the sales within any of Savers’ stores. In most cases, Savers will pay the nonprofit a small amount for any goods they receive. Savers may pay as little as 40¢ per pound of clothing. Nevertheless, these nonprofits rely on the income they receive from donated goods to support their work.

Why can it be difficult to donate goods?

First, many nonprofits have limits on what they are able to accept. This might be based on the contract they have with the organization they sell the items to, or it might be based on what will or won’t sell in their own store. For example, few people are going to want to buy a used toilet, a used mattress, or even a used sleeper sofa from a thrift store. Depending on the item, it may also be an issue of personal safety or liability. Second, as of November of 2014, some of the large Minnesota nonprofits that accepted donated goods for many years, no longer do.

Why have some large Minnesota nonprofits stopped accepting donated goods?

In November of 2014, the Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson released a compliance report saying she believed Savers was mishandling donated goods, and in May of 2015, she filed a lawsuit against Savers when they didn’t change their behavior. Savers has consistently said they never broke the law, but they came to an agreement with the attorney general in June of 2015 and agreed to adjust their practices. Savers is now being investigated in other states, too.

After the compliance report was released, several nonprofits ended their contracts with Savers. True Friends, Courage Kenny Foundation, and Lupus Foundation of Minnesota decided to discontinue accepting donated goods altogether.

Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota signed a compliance agreement with the attorney general and will continue working with Savers, ensuring all donated items are handled appropriately. Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and Vietnam Veterans of America also continue to solicit goods in Minnesota at this time.

Why do some nonprofits charge for pick-up service?

Some nonprofits will pick up your items for donation. A few offer this service for free, but many charge a fee. This fee can catch potential donors off-guard. Why do these nonprofits charge a fee to pick up goods being donated to them?

Salvation Army truck picking up donated goods
It costs money for a nonprofit to pick up items. They need to pay for the trucks, the mileage, and the time for the workers, along with any normal costs of sorting and processing the donations. Depending on what is being donated, the donation might not even cover the costs of picking it up. Therefore, many nonprofits charge a fee to cover the costs of pick-up to make sure the donations are actually benefiting their programs as intended.

How does this affect Charities Review Council?

With three large nonprofits cutting their ties to Savers, many donors hoping to support local nonprofits with their goods have been referred to us. Unfortunately, the Council has only a limited and outdated list of nonprofits accepting donated goods, so we aren’t able to help as much as we’d like. Below is the information we have about nonprofits accepting donated goods.

If you work at a nonprofit that is currently accepting donated goods, add a comment below so donors can contact you directly. 

Options for Donors

If you plan to donate to a thrift store, make sure to check how much of the donation will actually go to charity. The thrift store should readily make that information available to you.

Below are some options for donating directly to a nonprofit. Contact the nonprofits directly to find out exactly what items they will accept, and feel free to ask how they use the donation and how much your donation will benefit their programs.


Goodwill/Easter Seals

  • Offers free pick-up within a 25-mile radius of the two distribution centers in Saint Paul and Brooklyn Park. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts apparel, some electronics, books, games and toys, furniture, vehicles, some medical and assistive living equipment. View a full list and donate.

Arc Greater Twin Cities (Arc’s Value Village)

  • Accepts vehicles, clothing, household appliances, games and sports equipment, bicycles, and many other household items. View a full list and donate.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity ReStore

  • Offers free pick-up within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts air conditioners, appliances, building materials, bathroom items, cabinets, carpet, ceiling fans, counter tops, doors, electrical parts, flooring, furniture, hardware, home interior and exterior, landscaping, lighting, paint, plumbing, tools, and windows. View a full list and donate.

Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County ReStore

Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota

  • Offers free pick-up within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts clothing, shoes, bedding and bath items, curtains, home d├ęcor, kitchen items, toys and sports equipment, small wooden furniture, books, videos, CDs and DVDs, lawn/garden items, tools, and hardware. View a full list and donate.

Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota

  • Offers free pick-up within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts small appliances, bedding, books, clothing, curtains, some electronics, small furniture, some household items, kitchenware, sporting goods, and tools. View a full list and donate.

Salvation Army, Northern Division

  • Accepts clothing, some household items, some electronics, some furniture, and some appliances. Call 1-800-728-7825 to verify if an item can be accepted. Donate.

Basic Needs of South Washington County (Stone Soup Thrift Shop)

  • Offers free pick-up of furniture in South Washington County, Cottage Grove, Grey Cloud Island, Newport, Saint Paul Park, Woodbury, and South Maplewood. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts small appliances, blankets, furniture, books, CDs, clothing, working laptops, some electronics, jewelry, kitchenware, decorations, lighting, soft-side suitcases, tools, and toys. View a full list and donate.

Community Thread

  • Offers free pick-up for furniture in the area around Arlington Heights, MN. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts cars, clothes, shoes, furniture, housewares, jewelry and accessories, linens, kitchenware, counter top appliances, audio and video components, CDs and DVDs, musical instruments (except organs and pianos), books, bicycles, toys, sporting equipment, lighting, and tools. View a full list and donate.

Buy it Forward

  • A nonprofit allowing you to sell items and donate the proceeds directly to a nonprofit of your choice. Learn more.

Twin Cities Free Market

  • If you can’t find a nonprofit that will accept your items, you can also list them here. While the goods won’t be benefiting charity, they will at least be going to someone who can use it. Learn more.

Special thanks to The Salvation Army Northern Division for providing the photos for this blog post!

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Not Goodbye, Just See You Later.

In true millennial entrepreneurial fashion, and based very much on the passion and vision she brought to Charities Review Council, our Director of Engagement & Donor Services, Kate Downing Khaled, transitioned to a new, self-directed consulting role starting in January. While we're sad to see her go, this is a great opportunity both for her and also for Charities Review Council.

Kate Khaled
"Part of my work at Charities Review Council has been to create and execute engagement and program strategy that aligns with our core mission of mobilizing donors and nonprofits for the greater good. I feel great about what I've accomplished and I'm excited to bring those skill to bear in the larger community."

Kate's consulting work will focus on partnering with social sector organizations to build equity and community engagement into their strategic initiatives. Some of her offerings will include facilitating collaborative user-centered design projects and helping philanthropies remove process barriers to engaging new-to-them communities.

This lines right up with the work she did with Charities Review Council. Kate helped the Council build equity and community engagement into our major programs. From our standards review process to reinventing our annual forum convening work, Kate has brought new voices and vision to our nearly 70 year old mission.

"We've done beautiful work together, and anyone who knows me understands that I'll always be personally invested in Charities Review Council's mission and future. But now it's time for me to live the same advice I give to donors and nonprofits  - that advice is to take risks, do things a little bit differently and be entrepreneurial."

For those of you who don't know Kate - she's a bridge builder, so she won't be a stranger. We'll look forward to blurring the lines and being 'radical' in how we collaborate together with her in the future. For now, you can get in touch with her on LinkedIn or visit her website at

The great work Kate made happen at the Council continues. Please connect with Kris Kewitsch if you're interested in knowing more about or supporting these efforts.

Meet Caitlin Osborn: Our New Nonprofit Services Intern!

Charities Review Council is excited to welcome Caitlin Osborn as our new Nonprofit Services Intern! Caitlin is currently in her last semester of the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs where she concentrates in Public and Nonprofit Leadership and Management. At the Humphrey School, Caitlin serves as the MPP Degree Representative on the Public Affairs Student Association, where she facilitates conversations and actions around the evolution of issues concerning students in the MPP degree program. Caitlin hails from Roca, Nebraska, where she grew up loving the Huskers (Go Big Red!) and learning to drive on gravel roads. 

To better get to know our new Council team member, we sat down with Caitlin to ask her the tough questions: If you could be any superhero who would you be and why? And, perhaps more seriously, what's your favorite Accountability Standard®? See what Caitlin had to say here:

1. What is your favorite Accountability Standard®?

My favorite Accountability Standard® is Impact on the Community. It is important for donors to see that their gifts have made a tangible difference in someone’s life or the chosen issue area. I also think it’s really important for donors to see the nonprofit’s goals. This shows donors that the nonprofit is committed to progress. 

2. How have you seen nonprofits have an effect on community?

In nonprofits that I’ve worked with and also through studying the sector in general, I’ve seen nonprofits have great effects on communities. They engage communities in conversations about important issues and provide opportunities for betterment. I think nonprofits are becoming more and more innovative, pushing people to think critically about barriers and solutions. Nonprofits also promote collaborative solutions by engaging different people, who may have different perspectives, to work together toward a common cause. 

3. When you're not strengthening the capacity of nonprofit organizations by interning at Charities Review Council, what do you like to do for fun?

When I’m not at the Council, I love to take walks, read historical fiction, sing in the shower, take selfies with my cat, and do anything involving friends and food. 

4. If you could be a superhero, who would you be? And, why?

I would be a superhero dedicated to fighting the injustices against women that are still so common in the world today.

6. If you could listen to one CD for the rest of your life, what CD would it be?

Maroon 5, Songs about Jane. Takes me back to the angsty middle school days. 

5. What are you most excited about as you begin your journey with Charities Review Council?

I am most excited about learning new skills, such as social media, that will help me move forward on whatever path I choose following graduation. I am also excited to work with the amazing staff here at the Council, who have already shown so much interest in me and great passion for the work they do.

Caitlin will be supporting Charities Review Council's Nonprofit Services Team with completing nonprofit reviews, curating donor and nonprofit communications, and assisting with outreach efforts. Join us in welcoming Caitlin to the Council by reaching out to her via email or LinkedIn!