September 8 2011|08.00 AM UTC

Samantha Eckles

The Most Efficient Charities in America

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With so many charities, it can be hard to choose which ones to donate to. To help you, we researched American charitable organizations that have the best reputations for making the most of the donations they receive. However, keep in mind that administrative expenses don’t necessarily indicate that a charity is improperly managing its finances as many great non-profits have costs that range from 10-25% of their budget.

Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

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Founded in 1981, this group, centered in Washington D.C., works to empower communities and schools through leadership training and development projects. They are currently active in 39 states, providing existing local organizations with networking support, policy evaluation and technical assistance. Their programs include a nationwide youth Violence-Free Zone initiative and financial literacy workshops for low and middle-income adults. With an ultra-low 0.2% of their annual budget going towards administrative expenses, this organization has mastered the art of soliciting in-kind donations and brokering corporate partnerships to keep overhead costs at bay.

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This innovative online charity matches requests from American public school teaches with donors who want to buy supplies for schools. Established in 2000 by Charles Best, a teacher in the Bronx, this organization set out to address the public frustration over declining budgets in the public school system. Here, donors select from hundreds of requests for financial support throughout the country by choosing the exact item they’d like to send to their school of choice. Want to support a music program in Mount Veron, WA? You can buy a ukulele online, and the kids in Ms. V’s classroom will send you a personal thank-you note.

We love the low 3.4% of the annual budget going to administration and the fact that the donor controls where their money goes, regardless of the amount given. There is no minimum donation required and donors can see how their money is used. This organization is endorsed by Oprah, Stephen Colbert and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which leaves us wondering, exactly how many ukuleles could Oprah buy if she wanted to?

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Using corporate donations and volunteers, this non-profit organization targets declining literacy rates by making sure American kids have access to books at an early age. They have brokered deals with publishers and book distributors to magnify their buying power, and they pass these savings on by providing both free and low-priced books to needy families and organizations.

This ultra-efficient organization devotes over 97% of revenue to direct program costs like book purchases, leaving less than 3% for administration and overhead costs. This enviable efficiency is the result of many partnerships with companies like Target and General Mills, as well as other charities such as Feeding America.

For more charity options, Charity Navigator maintains a number of lists on everything from the top ten celebrity-related charities to the top charities that are running in the red. This site rates organizations on a number of factors, including in-depth examinations of tax records and overall operations.

Another resource is the American Institute of Philanthropy, which rates organizations with a letter grade ranging from A+ to F. This membership-based site allows visitors to search for charities based on specific causes and interests. Accessing the letter grade is free, but to receive the detailed “Charity Rating Guide,” published three times per year, a $40 annual membership is required.

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