The folks over at Charity Navigator are on an important quest --- to rate the effectiveness of charities. As they see it, rating a charity's results is kind of like finding the Holy Grail. That's way harder than it sounds. Developing a universal, unbiased, objective rating system that evaluates the results of thousands of charities without inflicting burdensome reporting requirements on the charities is the philanthropy world's Apollo Project. No one has been able to do so yet- not academics, not charity regulators and not the charities themselves.
While, Charity Navigator can't offer you a solution today, they have plans to do so in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, check out their 7 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating helpful at conducting your own assessment of a charity's programmatic impact.
This is a huge deal. Please observe 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. We need a hand from sites like Charity Navigator.
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.