Thank you for your interest in Riverkeeper. We understand that many of you consult Charity Navigator and other rating agencies to help you decide which charitable organization and cause to support. We are, of course, disappointed that Charity Navigator has dropped Riverkeeper’s rating to one star during the time of the financial downturn, but proud to remind you that in 2008, before the start of the economic crisis, Riverkeeper received a four-star rating from the agency.
We believe that Charity Navigator’s rating, in so much as it does not provide narrative context, doesn’t tell the complete story of adjustments that we made in response to the financial difficulties during the fiscal year on which the rating is based. We respect that Charity Navigator focuses on financial data reported in organizational tax returns. But in critical times, adjustments take time and financial data is not enough to gauge effectiveness of the organization, the efforts that an organization has implemented to restore prior budgetary levels, the building of membership and community support, and, most importantly, the programmatic successes. We are pleased to hear that Charity Navigator has heard similar concerns from numerous non-profit organizations as well as potential donors and is taking steps to address them. Please read the New York Times’ article:
To Help Donors Choose, Web Site Alters How It Sizes Up Charities).
In an effort to be transparent and accountable to our existing and potential supporters, we would like to take this opportunity to share an explanation of the one-star rating:
As many if not most charities, Riverkeeper ended the fiscal year July 1, 2008 – June 30, 2009 (the year on which the Charity Navigator figures are based), with a deficit. The audited financials (pbf) from that year show that the deficit was unusual in our history and the direct result of the economic crisis that began during the first quarter of that fiscal year. In Riverkeeper’s audited financials for the fiscal year 08-09, we provided an explanatory note on page 11, in which we address how we responded early to the crisis by cutting costs through passage of an amended fiscal year budget by vote of our board of directors, and by responsibly avoiding the temptation to access our line of credit and borrow against the future in order to bolster short-term cash flow.
In addition, that year, we made a series of wise and necessary decisions, which will benefit Riverkeeper in the long run, but which influenced the Charity Navigator evaluation:
1) Like many, if not all, not-for-profit organizations during this economic/fundraising crisis, Riverkeeper had to devote a greater proportion of our President’s time than usual to fundraising. The President is the highest paid staff member and his commitment to fundraising increased Riverkeeper’s fundraising cost.
2) During that fiscal year, Riverkeeper implemented fundraising efficiencies the full impact of which would not be accounted for until the next fiscal year’s audit. Primarily, we brought our direct mail fundraising program in-house almost to generate cost savings, efficiencies and more personalized communications with our members and donors. As that change took place well into the fiscal year in question, the full cost savings of it were not achieved and demonstrated within that year.
We are proud that while fiscal year 2008-09 was a time of financial adjustments and intensive fundraising, Riverkeeper managed a programmatic output that rivaled years in which fundraising was comparatively easy.
Some programmatic successes include:
1) Legal settlement of $19 million with ExxonMobil on the massive underground oil spill that has contaminated Newtown Creek, an East River tributary that separates Brooklyn and Queens, and deprived its communities of a healthy local waterway. Read More
2) Successfully fending off every effort by the owner and operator of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to convince the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to dismiss our challenges to the re-licensing of the power plant.
3) Influencing the federal government to designate the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek as Superfund sites, meaning that these highly contaminated New York City waterways will finally receive the attention and cleanup they – and the communities that border them – need so desperately.
4) Don’t Frack with New York City’s drinking Water: Riverkeeper launch an emergency campaign in 2008 to oppose a type of industrial gas drilling called “hydrofracking” in sensitive ecological areas in New York State, including in the upstate watersheds that supply New York City’s drinking water.