Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

Thank you for being an informed giver throughout this past year and supporting the Charities Review Council’s mission to mobilize informed donors and accountable nonprofits for the greater good.

For your New Year’s resolution, you can become an even more informed giver! Join our Facebook page and recruit your friends. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletters and create a “My Smart Giver” page to invite more of your favorite charities to go through an Accountability Wizard review.

We hear from many smart givers by phone, letter, or email, and we are pleased to hear that you value the services we provide. Please continue to spread the word on our cause so we can continue to offer these resources. We also appreciate the generous financial support that helps us carry on this important work, and we encourage you to remember us in your year-end giving. You can donate online at

Thank you and Happy Holidays from the staff at the Charities Review Council.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Charities Meet Accountability Standards: Congratulations

Congratulations to the following charities that recently completed their Accountability Wizard reviews and have met the Council's Standards of Accountability.

United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties

Laura Baker School Association

Some charities see good news and bad in the economy

How will the economy affect charities and its ability to serve the needs of the community? Listen to the Minnesota Public Radio's interview with Rich Cowles, executive director of the Charities Review Council of Minnesota ... more

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to Choose Charities

Check out the video page of Star Tribune's Dollar Duo featuring on how to choose charities to donate to this year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good Neighbor Award

The Charities Review Council has been honored with WCCO 830AM's Good Neighbor Award. The Good Neighbor Award recognizes a respectful and trustworthy group or individual for its good deeds. The Charities Review Council will be recognized on air at 7:52 a.m., 12:40 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. on WCCO 830AM radio today.

Tune your radio to WCCO 830AM today!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Holiday Charitable Giving Guide

During these challenging economic times, it is more important than ever to give smart to charities. To give smart and make the most of your donations, check out the Charities Review Council's newly launched online Holiday Charitable Giving Guide with helpful tips and resources.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Charities Meet Accountability Standards: Congratulations

Congratulations to the following charities that recently completed their Accountability Wizard reviews and have met the Council's Standards of Accountability.

St. Croix Valley Community Foundation

St Paul Neighborhood Network

Cancer Legal Line (new organization)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Charities Meet Accountability Standards: Congratulations

Congratulations to the following charities that recently completed their Accountability Wizard reviews and have met the Council's Standards of Accountability.

American Diabetes Association

McLeod Emergency Food Shelf


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oprah's Suggestion To Declutter by Donating Stuff to Charity

Guest Blogger: Helen Ng, Marketing & Communications

One of Oprah’s recommendations in yesterday’s Clean Up Your Messy House Tour episode is to declutter your home by donating unwanted household stuff to charities. I think it is a great idea and wanted to share a valuable local resource with everyone.

Before packing your car with stuff to haul off to a charitable organization, donate smart by checking out the helpful online Donating Auto and Goods section of the Charities Review Council’s Web site at You can narrow searches by the type of item to donate, pick-up or drop-off availability and geographic location. This way, you can be sure of which charity accepts what items and not waste time and gas unnecessarily.

Please keep in mind that charities need goods, not trash therefore donate items that are in good and useable condition. Otherwise, charities will have to spend precious resources in trash removal of unusable donated items, money that would otherwise be spent on programs and services.

Happy decluttering!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Charities Meet Accountability Standards: Congratulations

Congratulations to the following charities that recently completed their Accountability Wizard reviews and have met the Council's Standards of Accountability.

Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry

Mankato Rehabilitation Center, Inc.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Call for Shelter in the Economic Storm

Check out the Star Tribune op-ed from Rich Cowles, executive director of the Charities Review Council, about charitable giving during the economic storm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Charities Meet Accountability Standards: Congratulations

Congratulations to the following charities that recently completed their Accountability Wizard reviews and have met the Council's Standards of Accountability.

Metropolitan Economic Development Association

Minnesota Adoption Resource Network

Friday, October 10, 2008

Should Charities Accept Off Loaded Petters Donations?

Guest Blogger: Helen Ng, Marketing & Communications

Politicians are scrambling to unload political contributions by Tom Petters, a Twin Cities businessman accused of high-level fraud, by donating the money to charities. Should charities accept the money?

The money has to go somewhere, and Petters will in no way benefit from a charity accepting it. On the other hand, could accepting this money bring a negative backlash in terms of the public’s perception of how charities are run?

Are there unwanted implications attached to accepting donations from a political campaign? Is this money tainted because of its origin, or is it OK to put it to good use, improving our communities?

This economic crisis has many nonprofits hunkering down for a tough road ahead. What would you want your favorite charity to do in this situation?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Confessions of a Temporary Non-Giver

Guest Blogger: Amy Sinykin, Special Projects & Operations

I’ve been feeling some stress and guilt lately. You see, I have had a “bill” or a pledge reminder from a charityilike to which I pledged earlier this year. In fact, I’m pretty sure the reminder I have is the third one. Clearly, I’ve been remiss in paying my pledge. And, it’s not because I don’t want to give to charityilike. But, due to some family circumstances, my family isn’t in a position to pay the gift in full as originally intended. I’ve been frozen into inaction because of guilt. Ack.

Then just yesterday, as I sorted through the mail, I was reminded by charityialsolike about our monthly contribution. Ironically, the full amount of our gifts for charityilike and charityialsolike are equal. The gift to charityialsolike is guilt-free and pretty painless in our current situation. I thought, “Duh? Why didn’t I think of that earlier?” Instead of inaction in paying my pledge, I can call and let them know it will be paid differently, on a monthly schedule.

Anyone else feeling silly for me?

Giving is important to me and my family. It’s something we want to teach our children; its something I really don’t want to give up doing. As we weather this time of financial uncertainty, I don’ t need the added discomfort of feeling guilty for not giving. (I can manage enough guilt during normal day-to-day operations.)

Whew…see that flying over there? That’s my guilt lifting off my shoulders… and it’s that general feeling of lightness that I enjoy when I am able to give.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's In A Name?

Guest Blogger: Amy Sinykin, Special Projects & Operations

I’ve been thinking a lot about names recently. Not actual detailed names but the process of naming something. Names are so important. The name of a child can impact his/her entire life. And, just last week, my neighbor and I were discussing how my new (but used) car didn’t fit my personality. It’s gray…like 80% of the other cars in our parking lot. I began to think that I needed to align my car with my personality by giving it a name. That’s some kind of power, the naming process.

Yet, in my ruminating about the naming process, I clearly remembered that names don’t always tell the entire story. My husband and I named our daughter Brooke. It’s a nice name, but our family knows that 99% of why we named her Brooke was because my husband loves to fish for trout, brook trout. Every time we see a brook trout, we are happily and warmly reminded of something we love. (Sometimes it’s, well, trout. And, sometimes it’s our spit-fire little 2 year-old.)

Just yesterday, I realized that this ability to describe who we are through a name can be even more powerful with charities. A very nice, well-intentioned woman called me because she wanted to give to an organization that supported individuals with breast cancer. She had received a call from an organization that sounded perfectly appropriate. But, she took a moment and decided to call the Council for more information. So, I looked up charities using the key word Breast Cancer. (In our research, we found more than 200 organizations with breast cancer as key words.) Can you tell the difference between these two organizations based on their name?



Upon further research, the caller and I realized that clearly, names don’t always tell the whole story. Let’s look at some of the fairly simple financial information from the Minnesota Attorney General’s database.


  • To offer emotional and spiritual support to those battling breast cancer, as well as their family members and friends.
  • 3 Year Average of Charity Expenses: 19.5% Programs, 80.5% Other = (13.9% management + 66.6% fundraising )
  • Total Revenue in 2006: $1,749,251


  • To save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer and by providing funding for free mammograms for needy women
  • 3 Year Average of Charity Expenses: 79.9% Programs, 20.1% Other = (13% management + 7.1% fundraising )
  • Total Revenue 2007: $6,204,686

There is always so much more to a name than just a name. (And, no name yet for my car. Suggestions welcome.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fundraising in the Workplace

Check out the recent Pioneer Press article “Charity or Shakedown” about fundraising in the workplace. Is on-the-job fundraising a blessing, an annoyance — or a subtle threat? What do you think? What have you encountered in your workplace?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Are we in a Public-Trust Recession too?

At our June 18 Annual Forum, national expert Paul Light of New York University got people's attention. He believes there's a looming crisis of confidence in nonprofits that the sector isn't taking seriously enough.

Donors give less than they would otherwise, he says, because they feel nonprofits don't spend money wisely. Given the economy's double whammy on charities -- increased need for services while funding is threatened -- this prevailing suspicion comes at the worst possible time.

Professor Light makes his case in a compelling way (complete with comic relief, mind you). But his picture is bleaker than mine, though I do applaud his message. Human nature what it is, we tend to not act until we're convinced things are near-hopeless. I also applaud his Rx for charities to increase trust: show donors that their contributions lead to measurable, positive, substantive change.

My view: there's no doubt that we live in a skeptical era, particularly when it comes to established institutions. After all, we're treated to a steady barrage of fraud and greed news stories. So if you ask people whether an organization wastes money, they're likely to say, "Sure." But at the Council, we have daily interaction with people who trust the charities they support - they just want reassurance that their contributions will be well used. And we also have daily interaction with charities that take their donors' trust seriously and work to be transparent in all their activities.

What's your view? Do you trust charities less than you used to? If so, does it cause you to give less? In either case, do you give less because of the economy? And what can charities do to encourage you to give more?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More on The Big Give

Guest Blogger: Amy Sinykin

A recent criticism by Joshua Horwitz, the executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, in Washington, articulates many of the comments made about the show throughout the philanthropy and nonprofit sectors. I don't agree with Mr. Horwitz criticism entirely. (I'm Minnesotan, of course, anger sometimes turns me off...). He very articulately captures several points about the Big Give that reflect many of our thoughts at the Council:

"Oprah's last words on the show Sunday night were to encourage the television audience to "give big," which is a worthy goal, but the television program failed to show average Americans how they can become effective and strategic philanthropists.

If anybody has earned the right to experiment with philanthropy, it is Oprah Winfrey. She has given tens of millions of her own money away and another $51-million through her Angel Network foundation. She has clearly inspired others to give as well.

So while her show sometimes gave me heartburn, I admire her for starting a serious discussion about the meaning and effectiveness of philanthropy among average Americans."

To read the full article.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Can Reality Television and Philanthropy Play Nice?

Guest Blogger: Amy Sinykin

I don’t feel the need to join the debate about whether or not reality TV is the downfall of our society. Because, admittedly, I like TV and have been known to happily zone out to an episode of Survivor or the Amazing Race. (Okay, okay, I may have watched an episode of the Bachelor once or twice...) So, you’d think when Oprah’s new show, The Big Give premiered I would’ve found some time to check it out. Clearly, its an interesting intersection of a personal hobby (Can TV watching be considered a hobby?) and my professional experience in the volunteerism and philanthropy sectors. Yet, something about it didn’t push it to the top of my television watching priorities. I was ambivalent.

Philanthropy itself is an art and a science… Could a television show appropriately convey effective philanthropy or volunteerism? Maybe. I attempted to find out, sat down at my desk and downloaded the most recent episode of The Big Give on my computer. (It’s really work, I told myself.) And, after 42:36 minutes, I’m still ambivalent. And it didn’t really feel like work.

In reality TV, The Big Give isn’t anything special. The show, and clearly its editors, put a microscope on a group of people being challenged to accomplish a task within a certain time frame. That description could speak to the bulk of all reality television programs. As I continued to watch and heard complaint after stress-induced complaint from the show participants, I realized that I had stopped thinking about the outcome of this “give”. Wasn’t that the most important part?

Yet, despite The Big Give’s common and bland format, the truth is, if a show about philanthropy and giving back can encourage others to give back who may not ever have given back, then more power to it. I’m just not sure it really does that. Only time will tell. But in terms of reality television, at least I’m not watching a group of over-indulged B-list celebrities figuring out how to baby sit a group of 3-year olds for an hour. Will I watch it again? Maybe, if I need to zone out sometime. But tonight, I think I’ll just take my 2-year-old outside for a little while. We need to start practicing now to pick up litter for the park clean-up.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rx for Public Trust: A Parrot in Every Charity

It gets under my skin to hear the leader of a nonprofit say its finances are private. That was the response of some of the six religious nonprofits that have stonewalled the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that has been working under both Republican and Democratic leadership to weed out and prevent charity abuse.

One of my favorite quotes is from humorist Will Rogers, who advised people to “live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” That’s good advice for charities too. In fact, Will could go one further by advising them to “make your parrot available to everyone.”

Why? For starters, most charities depend on contributions by people who don’t directly benefit from their programs. That calls for a huge amount of trust that the charities people give to are doing something noble, positive and helpful with their donations. By letting their “parrots” go public, charities are demonstrating that they have nothing to hide, and in fact have a lot to show for people’s contributions.

Public trust takes a hit every time we hear of nonprofits operating in secrecy. One has to wonder what their parrots have to say.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Don’t let the fine print get your goat

A bright and educated friend told me he bought a goat online. Or rather he directed Heifer International to buy a goat for an impoverished family. I told him that was a generous act. “But of course,” I said, “you didn’t actually buy a goat.”

It took some convincing to get him to read the fine print on the Heifer Website, which says that the organization pools gifts in order to make the most economical gifts to entire communities.

This is the norm for charities offering donors the ability to purchase items on others’ behalf or sponsor a child. Is this misleading? In the case of Heifer, there’s loads of info on their Website explaining how they work. And the fine print alludes to the fact that it would be expensive to tie individual donations to specific purchases. Illustrating how a goat can help a family become self-reliant and the typical costs of doing so helps donors understand how their donation can help. The goat is a mere symbol.

I don’t think my friend was disappointed to learn that he hadn’t directly purchased a goat for a family. But it leaves me with one small quibble: why not make the “fine print” just plain “print?”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Things to do in January

Start a physical fitness program … Review and adjust savings and investments … Develop a giving budget …

What? A giving budget? Isn’t giving an impulsive thing one does out of generosity?

Smart givers plan their giving in order to maximize the effectiveness of their generosity. No one (not even Bill Gates) has sufficient resources to support every cause. By aligning your giving with the issues that resonate with your values and by targeting effective charitable organizations, you can focus your giving to make the most difference. It will also help you monitor how well you’re following your plan.

To learn how to develop a giving plan, click here.

Once you’ve identified the charities you want to support, it’s an easy task to determine the amount of gifts to each that will fit your charitable giving budget. And, like anything else in life, plans sometimes need to be adjusted as the year progresses. But in just a few easy steps, you’ve set up a structure for your giving that will make it effective and satisfying. And, of course, throughout this process the Charities Review Council staff is available to help you by e-mail or phone.