The Best Charities in Every State That Do the Most with Your Donations


Like the 77% of small businesses that give to charities every year,1 you hope your donations make a lasting impact. You can trust one of these best charities to put your money where it counts.

best charities to donate to map

Donating time, money, and other contributions to charities is a time-honored way for small businesses to help their communities—and earn a bit of tax relief. But if you’re looking to improve your community, how do you know which organizations you can trust to use your donations effectively?

Plenty of charities take in loads of donations and run sizable programs, but many use large portions of the funds to cover marketing, salaries, and other administrative costs. And unfortunately, some charities exist as not much more than smoke-and-mirror schemes.

But don’t get frustrated and walk away from charitable giving. Many organizations keep their program expenses low and their service levels high, meaning your dollars go further toward the causes you want to support. We set out to find those highly efficient charities.

The factors we considered for our ratings

Using data collected by Charity Navigator on organizations in every state, we compared financial information, transparency policies, and public reviews. We looked at financial, accountability, and transparency scores and administrative-to-program cost ratios. We then assigned our top ratings to the best charities that do the most with their donations across the nation.

Here’s what we uncovered:

  • The types of causes championed by the most effective charities vary widely, but we did find many animals rights, food bank, social service, and environmental protection organizations.
  • Our highest-rated charities had an average fundraising efficiency—the amount spent to raise $1—of only $0.07. The lowest-rated associations averaged four times that amount, at $0.29.
  • The top organizations averaged a rate of 86.43% for contributions that go directly back into the programs. The lowest averaged 60.18%, or 30% less.
  • The least efficient charities—those that spend large portions on fundraising and administrative costs—were also the least transparent and often had warning notices from watch groups like Charity Navigator.

Four particular charities stood out among the rest, each receiving a perfect financial transparency score of 100. If you want your donations to make the most significant difference, these organizations lead by example.

Business.org’s top-rated charities

1. San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity

  • Location: Azusa, CA
  • Cause type: Housing and neighborhood development
  • Program expense: 91.4%

With a mission that “brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope,” San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity has been helping people reshape their lives since 1990. Businesses can give time and money to directly impact the lives of Southern California residents, many of whom experience challenges stemming from the recent recession and ongoing affordable housing crisis.

With only 6.8% of its budget going to administrative costs, you can be sure that San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity will use your donations effectively.

2. Weld Food Bank

  • Location: Greeley, CO
  • Cause type: Food banks, food pantries, and food distribution
  • Program expense: 98.1%

Weld Food Bank is “turning the tables on hunger” by helping to feed the 20% of Weld County, CO, residents who go hungry without adequate access to food.2 From kids’ backpack and school food pantry programs to senior feeding programs and emergency food boxes, the Weld Food Bank exemplifies leadership in the fight against hunger.

The organization uses more than 98% of its donations to fund its programs, making it a genuinely effective and transparent way to give back.

weld food bank with business.org

3. Food Bank of Siouxland

  • Location: Sioux City, IA
  • Cause type: Food banks, food pantries, and food distribution
  • Program expense: 98.6%

The Food Bank of Siouxland, which serves hungry populations throughout Iowa and Nebraska, has the best program expense ratio of any charity we uncovered during our research.

An outstanding 98.6% of donations cover the costs of its programs, including various educational programs and a mobile pantry for families and kids. Your business can donate funds and produce or even host a food drive of your own to help people avoid going hungry.

4. Spread the Word Nevada

  • Location: Henderson, NV
  • Cause type: Early childhood programs and services
  • Program expense: 86.2%

Reading is a fundamental part of effective education and can greatly improve children’s lives. Spread the Word Nevada is dedicated to increasing literacy in its communities with programs that get kids reading books and that reinforce the role of literacy with parents.

With 505,000 students served in its 17 years,3 the organization provides volunteer opportunities like live readings, book drives, and book and money donations.

Business.org’s picks for the best charities to donate to by state

LocationOrganizationCause typeProgram expenseFinancial transparency scoreBusiness.org final score
AlabamaBig Oak RanchYouth development, shelter, and crisis services75.7%94.798.2
AlaskaTrustees for AlaskaEnvironmental protection and conservation83.9%92.792.7
ArizonaYavapai Big Brothers Big SistersYouth development, shelter, and crisis services82.0%97.697.9
ArkansasHumane Society of Pulaski CountyAnimal rights, welfare, and services88.1%92.997.6
CaliforniaSan Gabriel Valley Habitat for HumanityHousing and neighborhood development91.4%100.0100.0
ColoradoWeld Food BankFood banks, food pantries, and food distribution98.1%100.0100.0
ConnecticutOur Companions Animal RescueAnimal rights, welfare, and services83.2%99.698.7
DCRonald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DCPatient and family support77.4%94.998.2
DelawareRonald McDonald House of DelawarePatient and family support76.8%91.696.5
FloridaConservation Foundation of the Gulf CoastEnvironmental protection and conservation85.6%100.099.2
GeorgiaFernbank Museum of Natural HistoryMuseums81.6%98.695.5
HawaiiMake-A-Wish Foundation of HawaiiPatient and family support85.4%90.995.0
Idaho Mountain HumaneAnimal rights, welfare, and services79.1%97.098.3
IllinoisChicago Coalition for the HomelessHomeless services85.8%100.099.6
IndianaHabitat for Humanity of Greater IndianapolisHousing and neighborhood development86.0%98.299.4
IowaFood Bank of SiouxlandFood banks, food pantries, and food distribution98.6%100.0100.0
KansasKansas Food BankFood banks, food pantries, and food distribution97.6%100.096.8
KentuckyThe Cabbage Patch Settlement HouseSocial services76.6%95.798.6
LouisianaLouisiana SPCAAnimal rights, welfare, and services88.8%96.391.7
MainePine Tree SocietySocial services84.8%98.296.1
MarylandOperation Second ChanceSocial services86.7%95.198.6
MassachusettsCradles to CrayonsChildren's and family services88.1%96.598.5
MichiganEcology CenterEnvironmental protection and conservation89.0%98.299.6
MinnesotaMinnesota Adult & Teen ChallengeTreatment and prevention services83.3%97.299.1
MississippiMississippi Children's MuseumMuseums83.1%97.297.1
MissouriUSO of MissouriSocial services82.9%96.898.6
MontanaGreater Yellowstone CoalitionEnvironmental protection and conservation84.9%98.293.2
NebraskaMake-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska
Patient and family support
84.4%94.697.5
NevadaSpread the Word NevadaEarly childhood programs and services86.2%100.0100.0
New HampshireMake-A-Wish Foundation of New HampshirePatient and family support87.8%94.398.1
New JerseyCommunity Foundation of New JerseyCommunity foundations95.3%98.298.7
New MexicoAnimal Humane New MexicoAnimal rights, welfare, and services81.1%94.595.7
New YorkNYC Outward Bound SchoolsYouth education programs and services84.9%96.898.9
North CarolinaDurham Rescue MissionHomeless services86.8%100.097.3
North DakotaNo charity met standards for inclusionN/AN/AN/AN/A
OhioLeague for Animal WelfareAnimal rights, welfare, and services85.3%99.599.1
OklahomaLittle Light HouseSpecial education81.7%99.399.3
OregonSnowCap Community CharitiesSocial services89.4%96.596.8
PennsylvaniaChildren's Scholarship Fund PhiladelphiaScholarship and financial support93.9%100.099.6
Rhode IslandINSIGHTSocial services80.9%90.396.8
South CarolinaGreenville Humane SocietyAnimal rights, welfare, and services91.8%100.086.7
South DakotaNative American Heritage AssociationSocial services96.9%92.990.6
TennesseeThe Elephant Sanctuary in TennesseeWildlife conservation83.9%98.996.3
TexasMobile Loaves & FishesSocial services84.6%98.191.2
UtahRonald McDonald House Charities of the Intermountain AreaPatient and family support74.6%94.497.5
VermontVermont Public RadioPublic broadcasting and media68.7%92.394.8
VirginiaSouthern Environmental Law CenterEnvironmental protection and conservation87.4%100.088.0
WashingtonPasado's Safe HavenAnimal rights, welfare, and services81.8%98.894.6
West VirginiaBig Green Scholarship FoundationScholarship and financial support89.9%82.992.3
WisconsinRonald McDonald House Charities of Eastern WisconsinPatient and family support80.9%99.298.4
WyomingGrand Teton Music FestivalPerforming arts91.7%89.595.2

Notes on our methodology

We relied on regional rather than national metrics and excluded foundations and nonprofits categorized as “grantmakers,” meaning they raise money to redistribute to other charities. Our focus was on nonprofits doing the on-the-ground work themselves. We also excluded some particularly politically motivated groups and organizations that, according to Charity Navigator, accept federal grants.

Conclusion

At Business.org, our mission is to help decision makers find the right tools and services to grow your business, and we believe that building a business should include giving back to our communities too. We hope you consider one of these highly productive and influential charities to spend a bit of your time and money.

Sources

  1. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Most Small Companies Make Charitable Donations, Survey Finds
  2. Weld Food Bank, “Facts and Figures 2017
  3. Spread the Word Nevada, “How You Can Help