7 Charities Offering the Biggest Bang for the Buck

Whether your passion is animals, veterans or the environment, here's a list of charities where your money will do the most good.

7 Charities Offering the Biggest Bang for the Buck Photo (cc) by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Unless you’re Ebenezer Scrooge or George Costanza, chances are you’d be glad to learn that a charitable gift has been made in your name this holiday season. Money donated to charity is an admirable gift idea, and not just for your friend who has everything (seriously, who needs three iPhones and two iPads?).

Here is a list of seven of the best charities, ones that put your money to good use, unlike the incorrigible Costanza’s fabricated Human Fund.

But first, watch the video below for some tips from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson regarding how to make smart charitable donations.

1. Doctors Without Borders, USA

The name of this charity has become synonymous with worldwide benevolence, and for good reason. It works closely with the United Nations and the U.S. government, providing compassionate medical care in more than 60 countries around the world, many of which are affected by war, epidemics, lack of nutrition or natural disasters.

In any given year, Doctors Without Borders USA sends more than 200 medical professionals overseas to areas that would otherwise be lacking in adequate health care. These doctors and nurses also give specialized training to locals, who ultimately comprise 90 percent of Doctor’s Without Borders working staff.

When you give money to Doctors Without Borders, you know you’re giving to a good cause, and it’s going a long way. According to Charity Navigator, Doctors Without Borders spends 86.8 percent of its budget directly on programs and services, and its Executive Director Sophie Delaunay takes home a relatively humble $142,000 annually, a mere 0.06 percent of the charity’s expenses. She’s also a tremendous representative of the organization, recently providing a comprehensive update on West Africa’s Ebola crisis on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”

2. Homes for Our Troops

Every season of the year, not just the holiday season, is a good time to be thankful for our troops and give back to those who have given so much for their country. While most people have heard of the Wounded Warrior Project, there’s a lesser-known charity with an equally admirable mission: providing handicap-accessible homes to severely injured servicemen.

Homes for Our Troops will either build a home or outfit a current home with adaptations tailored to a disabled veteran’s specific needs. Just as impressive, Charity Navigator says that 92 cents of every dollar given to Homes for Our Troops goes directly into funding these projects, compared to just 58 cents of every dollar donated to the Wounded Warrior Project. The bulk of its expenses goes to further fundraising.

Simply put, Homes for Our Troops is a charity you can feel great about giving to. They’ve built 174 homes nationwide and are in construction on 54 more, all of them donated mortgage-free to service men and women in need.

3. PetSmart Charities

While my personal preference is giving to local animal rescues (find one nearest to you here), PetSmart has created one of the best large-scale animal charities, with both a national and international presence.

Its mission is to provide adoption resources for homeless pets, and it collaborates with countless local organizations to make it happen. Many local rescues hold adoption events within PetSmart stores. PetSmart Charities is also committed to putting your donation to good use: According to Charity Navigator, nearly 90 cents of every dollar goes directly to its programs. (Compare this to PETA’s also respectable but lower 84 cents).

Finally, if you’ve ever shopped at a PetSmart retail store, you’ve experienced the option to donate when you use a PIN pad at the register. If you’ve never donated before because you weren’t sure where the money went, rest easy: 100 percent of it goes to PetSmart Charities.

Now that you know what the charity is all about, you can feel confident that giving a few bucks at your checkout will go toward making a major difference in the lives of animals worldwide.

4. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is the mother of all cancer charities, with annual total revenue of about $1 billion, more than 84 percent of which is allocated directly to their programs and services. Compare this to St. Jude’s Research Hospital, which uses just 69.3 percent.

So why do more cents out of every Dana-Farber dollar go toward programs? It keeps its fundraising costs low, at 2 percent of its total budget. St. Jude’s, by comparison, spends more than 20 percent of its revenue on fundraising.

5. DonorsChoose.org

Chances are you know at least one teacher, which means you also know the struggles encountered daily within the public school system: outdated textbooks, insufficient supplies and overcrowded classrooms.

Fortunately, a charity such as DonorsChoose.org exists in order to combat the problems of the classroom, tackling fixable issues that put up barriers to learning. DonorsChoose.org allows charitable individuals or organizations to choose which project they’d like to fund, providing updates and interactions with the students and teachers who benefit from the selected contribution.

This innovative approach has allowed it to fund more than 400,000 classroom projects since its inception in 2000. DonorsChoose.org also makes the grade in efficiency: 94.4 percent of its budget goes directly to students and teachers in need.

6. World Resources Institute

The environment is a hot button issue these days. And there are a confounding number of local, regional, national and international organizations promoting awareness and seeking solutions for environmental issues.

It can be hard to find a really good one, but the World Resources Institute tops our list. Across 50 countries, the institute maintains research projects and implements actionable results in six key areas: climate, water, energy, food, forests and cities/transport.

A recent successful two-year project saw the implementation of greenhouse gas emission standards in 27 cities within Latin America and China, including some of the world’s worst polluters, like Beijing. The institute boasts some impressive internal numbers as well, with nearly 86 percent of its budget going straight to its international programs. Considering its sizable $50 million in annual revenue, it also has a modestly paid president, Andrew Steer, whose salary is $131,897, just 0.27 percent of the institute’s budget.

Compare this to Frederic D. Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who takes home $485,738 annually, 0.42 percent of his fund’s budget.

7. United Way Worldwide

No discussion of charity is complete without mentioning the United Way, one of the most well-known organizations in the world.

While it has had its share of issues in the past, including one national and two city CEOs dismissed or prosecuted for financial mismanagement between 1992 and 2004, the future of the United Way looks bright.

Since its inception in 1887, the organization has been committed to providing community-based resources in three major areas, education, income and health in the U.S. and abroad. In 2009, the two arms of the charity, United Way of America and United Way International, merged to form United Way Worldwide. According to Charity Navigator, it received nearly $100 million in 2012, more than 90 percent of which went toward funding its community-based programs.

When making a charitable gift this holiday season, you can feel jolly about that merry statistic. One that’s not so happy, however: CEO Brian A. Gallagher was paid $1.2 million in 2012, which was 1.29 percent of its revenue.

What’s your favorite charity? Let us know who and why in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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