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Impact & Results

We assess the direct impact of a charity’s program relative to the cost required to run it to help donors identify high-impact charities.

Donors want to make sure their hard-earned dollars are doing the most good when they support a charity. The Impact & Results beacon determines if a charity is making good use of resources to address the issues it aims to solve.

  • We use information that was either publicly available or charity-submitted to estimate the actual impact a charity’s program has on people's lives. 

  • We define impact as the change in mission-driven outcomes net of what would have happened in the absence of the program (the "counterfactual"), relative to the cost to achieve that change. 

  • We then compare the estimated impact of the nonprofit's program to a benchmark to determine if it is cost-effective — in other words, the benefits produced by the charity’s program outweighs its costs. A cost-effective program is making good use of resources to improve the lives of the people it serves.

Score Assessment Description
100 Highly cost-effective A charity receives a total of 100 out of 100 points if it is highly cost-effective by our estimates.
75 Cost-effective A charity receives a total of 75 out of 100 points (a passing score) if it is cost-effective by our estimates.
50 Not cost-effective A charity receives a total of 50 out of 100 points if it has published sufficient information for us to estimate the impact of a substantial portion of its programs, but we found it was not cost-effective. We determine cost-effectiveness by comparing our estimate of the nonprofit's impact to a benchmark for performance.

Charities can earn Impact & Results beacons by logging into the Charity Navigator Nonprofit Portal and providing the necessary data.

How We Assess Programmatic Impact

 

We create methodologies by program area, allowing the donor to compare the impact of charities conducting similar programs. 

 

While eligibility for Impact & Results scores is limited to charities running programs that we’ve developed a methodology for, we are working on expanding our methodologies to be inclusive of more types of charities. You’ll find a short description of the programs we currently evaluate here. You can read the full methodology in our guidebook.

We measure the success of a forestation program as its cost to offset a year of a typical American's personal carbon emissions. To calculate the impact of afforestation and reforestation programs, we divide the total program-related costs incurred by the attributable years of a typical American's personal carbon emissions offset. Our benchmark is the estimated social cost of carbon.

 

 

We measure the success of an animal shelter program as its cost to rescue an animal in need. To calculate the impact of an animal shelter program, we divide the total program-related costs by the number of stray animals rescued. Our benchmark is an estimation of the social cost of a stray animal. 

 

 

We measure the success of a cataract surgery program as its cost to successfully cure one person of blindness due to a cataract. To calculate the impact of a cataract surgery program, we divide the total program-related costs by the total number of people whom the charity cured of blindness. Using guidelines set by the World Health Organization, we set cost-effectiveness benchmarks based on the cost to avert one disability-adjusted life year (DALY) relative to the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of the country or countries in which the program operates. 

 

We measure the success of an emergency shelter program as its cost to provide a night of shelter to a person experiencing homelessness. To calculate the impact of an emergency shelter program, we divide the total program-related costs by the total nights of shelter provided. Our cost-effectiveness benchmarks are local Fair Market Rents from HUD’s dataset of small-area Fair Market Rents. 

We measure the success of a financial assistance for medical care program as the amount of financial assistance provided to a patient. To calculate the impact of a financial assistance program for medical care, we divide the total program-related costs by the total dollar value of financial assistance provided. We apply our standard benchmarks for programs that aim to boost the income of beneficiaries.


We measure the success of a financial counseling program as the cost of the increase in FICO score beneficiaries experience as a result of a charity’s program. To calculate the impact of financial counseling, we divide the total program-related costs by the total estimated income boost per 1-point increase in credit score. The benchmark for financial counseling nonprofits is the cost to operate the program.


We measure the success of a food distribution program as its cost to provide a meal to a person in need. To calculate the impact of a food distribution program, we divide the total program-related costs incurred by the total number of meals the program provided to people in need. The price of a meal varies around the country, so we apply different cost-effectiveness benchmarks to each charity based on the average price of a meal in the charity’s service area.

We measure the success of a goods provision program as its cost to distribute a bundle of goods to a beneficiary.  To calculate the impact of a good provision program, we divide the total program-related costs incurred by the total number of bundles distributed. For charities in goods provision, the benchmark is the cost for the charity to distribute a bundle divided by the value of that bundle.

We measure the success of a spay and neuter program as its cost to avert a stray birth. To calculate the impact of a spay and neuter program, we divide the total program-related costs by the stray births averted attributable to a charity’s program. Our benchmark is an estimation of the social cost of a stray animal.

We measures the success of a permanent supportive housing program as its cost to provide a formerly homeless household a year of stable housing after achieving permanent housing. To calculate the impact of a permanent supportive housing program, we divide the total program-related costs incurred by the person-years of housing attributable to a charity’s program. Our cost-effectiveness benchmarks are local Fair Market Rents from HUD’s dataset of small-area Fair Market Rents.

We measure the success of a postsecondary scholarship program as its cost to increase income for a student in need. To calculate the impact of a scholarship program, we divide aggregate attributable outcomes (additional income for all scholars) by aggregate costs incurred by all cost-bearing parties. To rate the cost-effectiveness of postsecondary scholarship programs, we apply our standard benchmarks for programs that aim to boost the income of beneficiaries.

We measure the success of a shared reading program as its cost to provide a year of shared reading to a child. To calculate the impact of a  shared reading program, we divide the total annual program-related costs incurred by the total child years of shared reading attributable to a charity’s program. Our cost-effectiveness benchmark is an estimate of the social cost of using a library, including transportation to and from.

 

We measure the success of a veterans disability benefits program as the dollar amount of disability benefits claimed by a veteran due to the charity’s assistance. To calculate the cost-effectiveness of a veterans disability benefits program, we divide aggregate attributable outcomes (sum of disability benefits claimed by all veterans served by the program) by the total program-related cost incurred. To rate the cost-effectiveness of veterans' disability benefits programs, we apply our standard benchmarks for programs that aim to boost beneficiaries' income.

We measures the success of a water purification program as its cost to provide a year of clean water to one person. To calculate the impact of a water purification program, we divide the total program-related costs incurred by all cost-bearing parties by the total person-years of clean water provided. Our cost-effectiveness benchmarks come from a  WHO study on the cost of providing clean water in three regions of the world.

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