’Tis the season for giving, and if you’ve added your favorite charities to your gift list, you’re not alone. According to Network for Good’s 2014 Digital Giving Index, 31 percent of 2014’s annual giving occurred just in the month of December, with 12 percent of the year’s total giving taking place in the last three days of that month.
Sometimes we may want to give but just aren’t sure where to send our money. Good resources are Charity Navigator and CharityWatch—independent organizations that evaluate and rate thousands of charities to help people make good decisions about which ones to support. The ratings are based on several criteria, including charities’ financial health, efficiency, accountability, and transparency.
Here are 10 charities that are worthy of both your time and your dime:
Charity Navigator Rating: 99.94/100 (4/4 stars)
Direct Relief works in the United States and abroad to provide medical resources to people in poverty or who have been affected by an emergency or natural disaster, including victims of the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015 and Japan in 2011, Hurricane Katrina, and recent wildfires in California. The Direct Relief Aid Map on the organization’s website allows people to see exactly how and where aid dollars have been spent. This level of transparency, along with its efficiency, makes Direct Relief a top charity on both Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.
CharityWatch Grade: n/a
Charity Navigator Rating: 98.18/100 (4/4 stars)
Established in 1997, the Puppies Behind Bars program trains prison inmates to raise service dogs to assist wounded war veterans and bomb-sniffing dogs to work in law enforcement. Puppies are placed with inmates at 8 weeks of age and live with and are trained by them for roughly 24 months, resulting in a multitude of benefits for many recipients: inmates, dogs, veterans, law enforcement, and the community.
Charity Watch Grade: n/a
Charity Navigator Rating: 99.95/100 (4/4 stars)
Books for Africa’s mission is spelled out in its name: The organization collects, ships, and distributes donated books to children in Africa, and its goal is to end Africa’s book famine. It’s the largest shipper of donated textbooks and library books to the continent, and it has distributed more than 34 million books to 49 African countries since 1988. In addition to books, Books for Africa also sends computers and e-readers.
Charity Navigator Rating: 96.87/100 (4/4 stars)
In its 65 Fisher Houses nationwide, the Fisher House Foundation provides no-cost lodging for military and veterans’ families while the service member receives treatment at military or VA hospitals. In 2014, the organization served more than 25,000 families, and has served more than 250,000 military families since its inception 25 years ago. In addition, the foundation’s Hero Miles program, through donated frequent-flyer miles, brings family members to wounded service members’ hospital bedsides. It also manages a grant program that supports scholarships and other charities for the spouses and children of active-duty personnel and disabled or fallen veterans.
Charity Navigator Rating: 95.17/100 (4/4 stars)
NRDC’s issue areas are wide-reaching and varied, from curbing global warming and reviving the oceans to ending the African ivory trade and saving monarch butterflies. Touted as the nation’s “most effective environmental action group,” NRDC operates at both a grassroots level, with its millions of members and activists, and a professional one, with its nearly 500 lawyers, scientists, and other experts.
CharityWatch Grade: A-
Charity Navigator Rating: n/a
According to research on the Meals on Wheels website, more than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, and one-quarter of them will live beyond the age of 90. Designated a Top-Rated Charity by CharityWatch, Meals on Wheels America works to empower local MOW chapters to provide meals and companionship—thereby improving the health, security and quality of life—of homebound seniors. The organization currently serves nearly 2.5 million seniors every year in nearly every community in the country.
CharityWatch Grade: n/a
Charity Navigator Rating: 99.80/100 (4/4 stars)
Based in Nebraska, this nonprofit Christian volunteer network gathers and distributes donations of clothing, food, medical supplies, Christian literature and other aid to people living in poverty around the world. Ninety-seven percent of the charity’s expenses are spent on direct aid for the needy, with the remaining 3 percent going to support fundraising and administration. Last year, nearly 3.5 million meals, as well as blankets, clothing, medicine and hospital supplies, were shipped across the U.S. and to 63 other countries around the world.
Charity Navigator Rating: 95.89/100 (4/4 stars)
There is no shortage of breast cancer–related charities—and for good reason—and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is the highest-rated among them, earning top honors from both CharityWatch and Charity Navigator. BCRF is firmly focused on breast-cancer research and has raised more than a half-billion dollars since it was founded in 1993 by Evelyn Lauder, the daughter-in-law of cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder. In 2015–2016, BCRF will award $48.5 million in annual grants to more than 200 scientists researching prevention, genetics, treatment, metastasis and more.
Charity Navigator Rating: 91.02/100 (4/4 stars)
More than 500,000 people in the United States were homeless in 2015, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One-quarter of these were children. The National Alliance to End Homelessness works to combat the problem through education, advocacy, policy-making, and “on-the-ground” work and training in communities across the country. NAEH also works more specifically to help homeless veterans, victims of domestic violence, homeless youth and the rural homeless.
Charity Navigator Rating: 90.26/100 (4/4 stars)
Established in 1958, Scholarship America aims to make a college education a reality for all American students who want one. The organization’s goal is to help 750,000 students complete a college education—with manageable debt—by 2025. In 2014, $236 million in scholarships was awarded to 125,000 students, and it has given more than $3 billion to 2 million students through its various programs. Students can apply for scholarships and learn more about financial-aid resources, test preparation, community-service opportunities and more directly on SA’s website.