Tool makes research on charities easier and giving safer
Tampa Bay Times' Chris Davis shares insights into Charity Checker.
By Catherine Payne, NAA content producer
Before you pull out your wallet for a cause, you can reach for a tool to avoid a scam.
Charity Checker, an online tool created by the Tampa Bay Times and Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), can help individuals and news organizations. The tool gathers ratings and reviews from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and GreatNonprofits. It also includes information about transparency from GuideStar and state regulatory actions.
"For reporters covering charities, it provides an easy way to get some fundamental information about them," says Chris Davis, deputy managing editor of investigations and data at the Tampa Bay Times.
The tool is a good starting point in researching charitable giving, which amounts to billions of dollars in the United States every year.
Total charitable giving in the U.S. in 2013 was an estimated $335.17 billion in contributions, according to Giving USA 2014: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2013. The report is a publication of Giving USA Foundation, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Of the total charitable giving, $240.60 billion, or 72 percent, came from individuals, the report states.
How the tool started
The Tampa Bay Times and CIR, which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, worked together on the tool after collaborating on the series "America's Worst Charities." After the series, more than 350 people asked if the team could investigate specific charities. The team brainstormed about a resource and built Charity Checker. There was a soft launch in December, but they started promoting it more publicly in January.
"We don't have a funding source for it, and it doesn't make us any money," Davis says.
How it works
The tool, built in responsive design, works on various devices. On the Charity Checker site, a widget is available for sharing.
When using the tool, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The site doesn't have ratings for all charities, especially smaller ones. It features ratings for more than 11,000 charities.
"We're reliant on third parties to generate ratings or data points," Davis says. "We're not able to vet that information." The watchdog groups look at various measures and rate charities in different ways, he adds.
"We don't update everything all at once," he says. "We update every day about a thousand or so of our charities. It takes between two and three weeks to update every single thing that we have."
Page views range from a couple hundred to a thousand every day. Most users are in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida; San Francisco and New York.
The response from readers has been "overwhelmingly positive," Davis says. People want even more details and ask if the resource can include other charities, he adds.
Not surprisingly, the reaction from charities has varied. "Some charities want to have their names in this database," Davis says. "A few folks were not happy that negative information about them, particularly state regulatory actions against them, is easily available."
Charity Checker's access to Charity Navigator ended on July 1 because the evaluator changed the way it does its application programming interface (API).
"There is not a good way to replace them because they have important information," Davis says. "Unless that changes, we won't have updated Charity Navigator information in the tool any longer.
"We are committed to keeping Charity Checker going through the end of the year," he adds, "then we'll see what happens. We would welcome any interest in partnering to keep it going."
If a newspaper is interested in Charity Checker, email Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
First Published: July 23, 2014