Nonprofits Group Suggests Direction for Charity Navigator’s Future

With Charity Navigator's leadership situation in flux, the California Association of Nonprofits is using the transition as an opportunity to encourage changes in the watchdog's approach to tracking charity operations.

The nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator is undergoing big changes, and one association has a vision of what they should be. Fortunately for the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits), Charity Navigator appears open to some rethinking after the departure of its CEO, Ken Berger.

Berger, who left the organization abruptly last month, said his lack of technical expertise was the reason.

“Charity Navigator has been going through a planning process and doing a lot of thinking about where we’re headed next,” Berger told the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “As part of that, the organization is increasingly seeing itself as a technology company.”

But in an open letter submitted to the charity-rating platform last week, CalNonprofits suggested that technological prowess was only part of the equation.

“We urge you to find a new CEO with experience not only with technology, but with the wide range of nonprofit work and an appreciation for nonprofits as central vehicles through which people take care of one another, develop and protect shared values, and serve as the ‘marketplace of ideas,'” CalNonprofits CEO Jan Masaoka wrote. She added that she’d also like to see nonprofit professionals placed on Charity Navigator’s board.

Beyond the CEO suggestion, Masaoka laid out a series of changes her organization hopes to see Charity Navigator make in the way it evaluates nonprofits. In particular, CalNonprofits is urging it to report on longer-term, less quantifiable outcomes that nonprofits achieve, such meeting legislative goals.

“For example, a nonprofit working to strengthen laws for food safety may not get legislation passed for years, and prevention organizations are hard-pressed to demonstrate, for example, how many kidnappings they prevented last month,” Masaoka wrote.

The group also wants Charity Navigator to add to financial metrics volunteer time, which is not tracked on the Internal Revenue Service Form 990.

Masaoka urged Charity Navigator to give notice to nonprofits that generate less than $1 million in annual revenue, which it currently doesn’t rate. “We suggest that you find ways to remind readers that such nonprofits—more than 90 percent of nonprofits—are also legitimate and appropriate partners for donors and volunteers,” she wrote.

In a written response, Charity Navigator Board Chair John Dugan pledged [PDF] to take CalNonprofits’ concerns into account, including its input on the watchdog’s next CEO.

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but true, that the person we engage should: be a proven leader of a successful organization; have a history of nonprofit passion and experience; and have a high level of familiarity with the technology that is critical to reaching our ambitious goals,” Dugan wrote.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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