Today I enjoyed a two-hour-long interview with Pat Dugan '57, founder and chairman of the charity rating service Charity Navigator, and Ken Berger, the organization's CEO.

In a nondescript office building in Glen Rock, New Jersey, young people are working in every nook and cranny and around the conference room table to process information about the 6,000 charities reviewed and rated by Charity Navigator, a free online service that helps donors make informed choices about where to direct their charitable gifts. The office staff has risen to the grand number of 12! Why? They are rolling out a new component to their ratings system, and they are creating informational pages (not ratings) for all of the other nonprofit organizations based in the U.S. — all 1.8 million of them.

Today (or perhaps tomorrow), said Berger, they hope to launch “CN 3.0.” From its launch in 2002 until last year, Charity Navigator only looked at nonprofit organizations' finances, from reports submitted to the IRS each year. Last year, in Charity Navigator version 2.0, they added more factors related to organizations' transparency and accountability to their ratings mix.

CN 3.0 will be even more complicated and will take some years to be fully implemented, as it will report on the organizations' results — in other words, the outcomes achieved by their charitable work. Interestingly, most charities do not track their results. But with Charity Navigator pushing and prodding at them, they are starting to do so. [Update: Charity Navigator has introduced results reporting.]

Dugan said that he started working toward what became Charity Navigator in 1998, when the company he owned went public. With a sudden influx of wealth on his hands, he was looking for worthy charitable causes — or, in the parlance of Charity Navigator, he was looking to become a responsible social investor, a giver concerned that his money will produce real social good.

Last year, 6 million people visited Charity Navigator, but that's not enough for Pat Dugan. “When I bump into somebody who is educated, well-informed, and all that good stuff, and they've never heard of Charity Navigator, it's like a dagger in my heart,” he said, holding his fist to his chest and laughing heartily. “That's one of the big things we're trying to achieve, is just to get more awareness of Charity Navigator.”

Next time you're considering making a charitable gift, check out what Charity Navigator has to say about a specific organization or search for highly rated charities in a sector that interests you. It doesn't cover every charity (although their next goal is to increase the number rated to 10,000), but it can help you make an informed decision if you are concerned about how effectively your gift will be used.

Stay tuned for more information about Charity Navigator, the “charitable marketplace,” and Pat Dugan in the next issue of Wagner Magazine.

— Laura Barlament, Editor, Wagner Magazine,

January 23, 2013

Photo: Pat Dugan '57 receives the Wagner College Distinguished Graduate Award in 2007 from President Richard Guarasci and Trustee Aletta Kipp Diamond '65.