Most charitable donors want to know that their money is going to the right place and that donations are actually being used for good. A group called Charity Intelligence Canada (Ci) says it can help people make informed decisions about which charities to donate to. This year, Ci endorses six B.C. charities in its annual “Top Picks” list, including the Victoria Hospice Society (VHS).
Of the approximately 86 000 charities in Canada, says Ci director of research Greg Thomson, Ci has looked at somewhere between 400 and 500, many of which are brought to the group’s attention through donor requests, by executive directors of different organizations or during research. Ci makes its charity reports available on its website at charityintelligence.ca.
“We are starting from a relatively small pool of charities. We know that there are many great charities doing a great job that we just haven’t looked at yet,” says Thomson.
Before Ci formed in 2006, third-party groups in Canada examining the activities of charitable organizations included the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and an online finance magazine called MoneySense. CRA ensures registered Canadian charities comply with the Income Tax Act, and MoneySense has rated the top 100 charities in Canada.
“The reason Charity Intelligence Canada got started is we couldn’t find the answers we were trying to find,” says Thomson.
When looking at charity finances, Ci examines spending, fundraising costs and salaries. Ci staff also look at how much cash and how many investments a charity has on its books relative to how much it spends each year, a ratio it calls “program cost coverage.” This ratio allows Ci to judge whether the charity is currently in need of funding.
“In a sense, that’s saying, if you donate a dollar today, is it going to be used in the next year, or is it going to sit in a bank or investment account?” says Thomson, adding that Ci has found charities that have five to six years’ worth of funding reserves sitting on their balance sheet.
“We believe if you make a donation today, that dollar [should] get out to folks in need within a year or two, hopefully. Ideally, within less than one year.”
For selecting its Top Picks, Ci also looks at transparency (as in whether or not charities make their audited financial statements publically available, which Thomson says the majority do), social results (which are data showing the charity’s impact) and the charity’s management team.
Says Thomson, “We’re not looking for specific metrics to measure them on. We look at . . . how does the charity itself know how it’s doing? What are they going to change? How do they know what to change?”
For the Top Picks, Ci contacted 255 charities, 95 of which submitted information to be evaluated. Forty-five charities were ultimately selected for the list.
The only Victoria charity that made the list is the VHS, which provides palliative care to more than 4 800 patients. Ci notes VHS’s great transparency, experienced and well-rounded management team and efficient data tracking as reasons it was picked. This is the third year that the VHS has been selected for the list.
The VHS’s finance and corporate affairs manager, Rod Braithwaite, says, “We’re very honoured to be picked. We do make noise about it. We put it on our website, tell our donor base, include it in our annual report and such. It seems any information we can give to the donor public, not just from us, but also third-party evaluators, verifies and validates the work that the hospice does.”
Other B.C. charities that made the list include Aunt Leah’s (a group for at-risk youth), Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH) Drop-In Centre Society, the Vancouver Native Health Society, the B.C. Cancer Foundation and the B.C. SPCA, all of which are located in Vancouver or its suburbs.
In addition to the Top Picks report, Ci has a searchable database of charity profiles summarizing transparency and financial information.
Thomson says Ci is funded mainly by individual donors, and the organization is mostly volunteer-run. Some donations also come from charitable foundations and corporations that Ci has conducted research for — work that Ci typically does for free.