Research & Reports

Do Donors Use Charity Watchdogs?

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A new national study of 1,000 American adults, including 455 charitable donors, explores the number of donors using charity watchdog organizations to help them evaluate nonprofits before making their giving decisions.

Charity Watchdogs – Ignore Them at Your Own Risk was conducted jointly by Grey Matter Research and Harmon Research. The study measured brand awareness and use for eight charitable watchdog organizations: Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), GiveWell, GuideStar, Great Nonprofits, Ministry Watch, and Wise Giving Alliance from the Better Business Bureau.

Some key findings:

  • About half of all American donors (48%) had never heard of any of the eight watchdog organizations
  • Only 15% felt very familiar with any of the eight brands
  • There were not extreme differences in brand awareness and familiarity among the eight tested brands
  • Twenty-one percent of all donors always or usually use charity watchdogs to help them evaluate nonprofits (a little over 23 million Americans); about one-third (nearly 36 million) use them at least sometimes
  • There were strong differences in awareness and use among different types of donors, with younger people and religious donors particularly likely to use charity watchdogs

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that how the findings are interpreted will depend on expectations. “Nonprofit leaders who tend to dismiss watchdog organizations need to re-evaluate their position, since 36 million donors using them is a pretty substantial number. At the same time, it’s true that two-thirds of donors really don’t use them, so leaders who believe watchdogs have a pervasive presence among donors also need to rethink that,” Sellers said.

However, Sellers also explained that many more donors may be using information from charity watchdogs without even realizing it. “We used a search engine on the names of a variety of nonprofits large and small, and in every single case links to charity watchdog ratings came up early in the search results – often on the first page, and often multiple different watchdog organizations,” Sellers noted. “So the number of donors who are finding charity watchdog information through search engines is likely even higher than the 36 million directly using them.”

The full report is available without charge by contacting Grey Matter Research ( or

About Grey Matter Research and Harmon Research:

Grey Matter Research is a consumer insights company with extensive experiencing serving the charitable sector, along with many for-profit clients. Harmon Research focuses on research execution (online surveys, web panels, CATI, and qualitative), allowing clients like Grey Matter Research to spend our time generating insights. Harmon Research executes over 500,000 surveys a year.

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