04/19/2011 12:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2011

Graduate students help help you find good charities

Okay, I'm now talking to a lot of professionals in the nonprofit world. I'm hearing that most nonprofits are fine, but there still a whole bunch who are good at telling you a good story, cash your checks, make some noise, and get nothing real done. In some cases, they make things worse, by attacking the efforts which actually get stuff done.

Charity Navigator is tackling this problem head on, in the first phases of efforts that measure what's the deal with a charity.

At Charity Navigator you can find ratings of 5,500 of the largest charities in America that depend on support from the public. Even though there are roughly 1 million charities in existence, the ones rated by Charity Navigator account for roughly 50% of the donations. If the service could expand too cover 20,000 charities, then it would capture 85% of the donations thereby helping more donors make smart giving choices and ultimately increasing the amount of funding that flows to higher performing charities.

To meet that goal, Charity Navigator has partnered with Keystone Accountability to mobilize graduate students from several Universities. The pilot project, which utilizes the students to rate charities and test out new methodologies, is in its second semester. Besides the grade that the students receive for their efforts, this endeavor helps educate a future generation of donors and philanthropic leaders. Ultimately, Charity Navigator plans to ask volunteers of all types to rate charities too!

Soon, the Charity Navigator people plan to transition to a 3-dimensional rating system that gets to the bottom line- the charity's impact, how effective it is. Over time, their analysis will eventually illuminate which charities are actually getting stuff done that benefits communities and people's lives.