How Alaska non-profits spend your donations from 'Giving Tuesday'

Published: Nov. 27, 2017 at 4:54 PM AKST
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Black Friday is for the box stores, Small Business Saturday for the mom and pops. But charities have to keep the lights on too. That’s where Giving Tuesday comes in.

As the Christmas season kicks into gear, tomorrow is the day set aside for charitable donations. And while the Better Business Bureau and Department of Law are urging Alaskans to avoid scams, there is little information available to Alaskans who want to know more about how legitimate local non-profits actually spend their donations.

The BBB has set up

that details charities’ financial health. But it’s voluntary, and many prominent Alaska non profits do not participate. Even the

provides little to no information on some prominent Alaska non-profits.

(When we searched a random sample of Pick. Click. Give. recipients, half had no financial information available on the BBB and Law Department websites.)

So how do you know how much charities are spending on programs versus executive salaries and other expenses? That’s where the IRS comes in.

Non-profits are required to file a form called a 990 that details its spending and expenses, including executive salaries.

You can search for recent 990s by using free online watchdog services such as


. Both services require registration but there is no fee for research.

To learn more about a given non-profit:

1. Sign up for the service using your email address.

2. Look for an immediate email asking you to verify your registration.

3. Go the Guidestar or Charity Navigator home page and enter the name of the charity in the search bar.

4. Click “show forms 990” (Guidestar) or “click to view” (Charity Navigator) to see the charity’s most recent tax filings.

5. Go to page 10 of the 990 form and look at Row 25, “Total Functional Expenses.” This row shows you how the non-profit is spending its money. You can divide column B (program expenses) by column A (total expenses) and multiply by 100 to see the percentage that the charity is spending directly on services and programs.

It's not a fast or efficient process, but it provides a level of detail on local non-profits that is not readily available through the Pick Click Give or state consumer protection division web sites.

Laurie Kari, executive director of Family Promise Mat-Su, urged Alaskans to keep in mind that many non-profits benefit from a large amount of volunteer work that is not reflected in the calculation above and that a raw comparison of overhead versus program spending does not tell the full tale of a charity's efficiency or value.