Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) is a helpful place to evaluate the relative efficiency of organizations. They have various lists of highly efficient and inefficient organizations. For example, with HomeAid Orange County, only 30 cents on the dollar actually makes it to the cause and 70 cents goes to fundraising and administrative expenses. I wouldn't donate to them.
Forbes also provides information about America's Biggest Charities. Their list shows that some of the most inefficient at fundraising are Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (58%), Girl Scouts of the USA (62%), American Diabetes Association (70%), and Operation Smile (72%). A good alternative to Operation Smile is the International Children's Surgical Foundation, where the principal draws only a modest living allowance.
Here are some examples to consider from Charity Navigator:
The American Red Cross
- 92.1% of your donations go to the cause. Of their annual revenue (6/2010) of $3.5 billion, $3.2 billion goes toward their programs and $280 million is eaten up in administrative expenses.
- Salary of their President and CEO - almost $1 million, plus personal, medical and pension expenses.
- Only 75.9% of your donations go to the cause. Of their annual revenue (6/2009) of nearly $15 million, a little over $11 million goes toward their programs and $4 million is eaten up in administrative expenses.
- Salary of their President and CEO - over $200,000 base salary, along with numerous benefits.
- 100% of every dollar goes to the cause!
- No salary is paid to administrators or volunteers. All administrative and overhead costs are paid by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
You may also find the following article useful: "How To Handle Charities Donation Callers"