(MONEY Magazine) – This is the time of year most Americans think seriously about contributing to one or more charitable organizations. The holidays are a reminder that others could use a hand. December is also the last opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation for 1994. But the public is growing stingy and skeptical about giving. Last year the average household gave $880 to charity, down from $899 two years earlier-an 8% decrease after inflation-according to a new survey by Independent Sector, a coalition of more than 800 nonprofits. Giving in 1994 may slow even further, the group predicts. One reason: the uncertain economic recovery. "People want to be supportive," says Virginia Hodgkinson, Independent Sector's research director, "but they're afraid to give too much because they're insecure about the future."

Recent headlines also make some people worry that their dollars may not be spent wisely by charities. In September the ousted president of United Way of America, William Aramony, and two former aides were charged with stealing more than $l million from the organization for personal use; Aramony maintains he is innocent. Earlier in the year, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation got a rash of bad publicity when it was discovered that none of the nearly $10 million the group raised in a direct-mail campaign went to buy toys. Reason: The campaign was so costly that all the donations went to pay its bills. Indeed, the Independent Sector's poll found that just 72% of respondents thought charities spend their income wisely, down from 80% who thought so in 1990.

In this, the sixth annual Money ranking of the nation's 100 largest charities, we want to help you decide how best to spend your charity dollars. Our rankings, based on data provided by the monthly trade publication The NonProfit Times ($8.95 for its NPT 100 issue; 190 Tamarack Circle, Skillman, N.J. 08558), show you which charities have spent the highest percentage of their income on programs over the past three years. In addition, the tables note whether each charity now meets the stiff standards of the two leading national charity watchdog groups: the National Charities Information Bureau (19 Union Square West, Dept. 399, New York, N.Y. 10003) and the Council of Better Business Bureau's Philanthropic Advisory Service (4200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22203).

This year we also include in our tables comments that tell you something you may not have known about each charity. In addition, you'll learn about two lesser-known groups that were highly regarded by their peers in a survey of charity executives conducted this summer by Money and the National Charities Information Bureau (see the box on page 163).

Keep in mind that a charity's financial structure often affects how much of its income goes to good works. A group that relies mostly on public donations generally must spend more on fund raising than one that gets large government grants. How charities keep their books matters too. In the hottest issue in the nonprofit world this year, many charities have been busy defending their practice of reporting a portion of what they spend on direct mail, telethons and fund-raising campaigns as education, and hence program spending. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, a trade group, hopes to issue new guidelines on charity accounting practices next year. Now, on to the charity winners of 1994:


THE TOP U.S. CHARITIES IN SIX CATEGORIES Rank/category/charity Program spending as a % of income 1 SOCIAL SERVICES: United Jewish Appeal 94.7 2 RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT: International Rescue Committee 92.3 3 EDUCATION AND CULTURE: National Academy of Sciences 91.9 4 CONSERVATION: National Wildlife Federation 86.2 5 HEALTH: National Mental Health Association 85.1 6 RELIGION: The Navigators 84.3

Notes: Percentages are three-year averages. In-kind charities are excluded here because they get most of their income in noncash contributions. Also excluded from this ranking is the top charity for community giving, because the category is so small.

SIDEBAR: GIVING With scant fanfare, low-key IRC brings relief to refugees

In 1933 Albert Einstein and a group of academics founded the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to help intellectuals fleeing Nazi Germany resettle in the U.S. and Europe. Today, the New York-based IRC ranks as our most efficient relief and development charity by quietly specializing in quick responses to refugee emergencies. It has its hands full: Civil wars in Bosnia, Rwanda and the former Soviet Union have helped push the world's refugee population to 23 million, up from roughly 17 million in 1990. As a result, in the past four years the IRC staff has more than doubled, to 461. Since last December the IRC has been one of the leading groups in Central Africa, helping 750,000 refugees from Rwanda and Burundi fight disease by building latrines and vaccinating them against measles, diphtheria and typhoid. The charity also aims to foster refugee self-reliance. In the former Yugoslavia, it has been keeping fields cultivated so war victims can grow their own food.

Thanks partly to grants from government sources, the IRC has been able to keep fund-raising expenses to less than 2% of income. The group tends to do its job with little publicity too. It spends almost nothing on advertising and cuts costs in other ways, such as asking the same people who build toilets to take photos for its direct-mail campaigns. Now that's efficiency.


Rank/charity /telephone number Okay with the top two watchdogs (HH); one (H); none (-); Income in millions; Program spending as a % of income Comments