Having said that, is there a Charity Navigator for the UK / Europe?
I do not give a single red penny to even a local food bank unless I am fairly familiar with the inner workings and general overhead of the organization.
I am sorry but gone are those days one could blindly write a check to any random outfit - Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam - however reputable and however straight-laced.
The kind of waste, misuse and sheer incompetence that goes on in some charity houses borders on the rotten.
A five star rating or equivalent can be earned by extensive contracting out rather than developing internal talent, and accounting choices like using operating leases rather than ever purchasing equipment.
An extreme focus on general and administrative expenses can mean that what counts as direct expenditures on recipients is poorly targeted, gets wasted, or even ends up in the wrong hands. For example there are many stories of how food aid ends up in warlords hands, then used as a tool of influence.
When valuing a regular company you look at the expenses and the revenues, but out of necessity these ratings only focus on expenses because it is to difficult to quantify the qualitative public good being performed. However, the justification for the donation is the public good (the revenue of a nonprofit), and the expenses out of that context is as meaningless, or even misleading, as it is to look at a for profit company's expenses without the context of their revenues.
Even in the case of a nonprofit that is passing through 100% of its funds to people, that means that 100% of the expenses are payouts to recipients. It is worth recognizing that the pass through is an expense, while the revenue equivalent is the actual improvement of the public good achieved by those funds.
Are the nonprofit rating agencies better than nothing? I'm not sure they are. I've had experiences, and heard similar experiences from others, where nonprofits with questionable operating management practices and poor focus on the mission were able to achieve perfect ratings. I think the ratings are a useful veil for questionable operators that choose to focus on their ratings. Furthermore, achieving the ratings can become an important goal in itself, and undermine the mission by discouraging some otherwise productive choices.
Presumably, for a donor the most important factors are how much they care about the mission, how effective the nonprofit's approach is in serving that mission, and how much of it is done per dollar they contribute to the organization. While it is impossible to put such considerations into a star ratings system, it is much more important to you as a donor interested in achieving good than anything the ratings can tell you.
Anyway, there aren't any easy ways to choose, but I think it is worth looking at the annual reports, considering whether the mission statement is clear and focused, that the mission is one you care about, that their approach makes sense, and that they are transparent, and report their dollar expenditures in enough detail that you can clearly understand how they function.
I think it would be a mistake to bias charitable donations towards acute problems as opposed to chronic ones.
But on the other hand, increases in the total amount of charitable giving are a net plus, so I'm not complaining about this story, I just think it's good to think of the bigger picture too.
Initial disaster relief by necessity has to address short-term needs. Food, shelter, medicine, sanitation. Once basic needs are met, some organizations declare victory and leave. Others - typically those based in the community in the first place - continue to work on long-term recovery efforts, ranging from education, microloans, economic development, job training, etc. It really depends on the organization and the needs of the community.
Never donate to the Red Cross, pick a Real Charity
The Red Cross is very good about covering their tracks... but they do very little to actually help people. Any money you donate today will never make it to people in need. Most of the "help" the red cross is/will be credited for is provided by the US Government via federal programs (FEMA, Local Aid, etc), military aid, Or Local VOLUNTEERS not from the Donations of Citizens.
Most of the money will be used to pay for more marketing for the Red Cross, and to pay their Executives High Dollar Salaries.
Here is a 20/20 Story
However, to be honest the Red Cross is VERY good about keeping their name out of papers. Paying just enough to people to make most complaints seem like "conspiracy theories"
If you want to waste your money, go head.. But Giving to the Red Cross will help people about as much you burning it in your fire place
And do not get me started on the Massive Scam that is their Blood Selling business, where you are legally prohibited from "selling" your blood so they take it for free, then flip it for a massive profit by selling it to the hospitals for those in "need", or in reality for cosmetic and elective non-emergency surgery which is where most of the blood supply is used.
I don't doubt that an international association like the Red Cross has administrative overhead. It is reassuring thought that overall reports  seem to be positive.
If that argument is not enough, I'd argue further: we cannot know for sure how (or if) our contribution will make it to those that need it, but I'd rather donate now and research later than postpone the donation "just until I find the ideal charity" and then forget about it. The Red Cross has been around for around a hundred years, though, so I'd say that's good enough when it comes to trusting a random association to coordinate at a global scale.
Disclaimer: I donated to the Red Cross
I'm only familiar with the analysis given on "giving what we can" but I also think it's dangerous for everyone to rely on this one analysis. I guess there is room for "meta charity" where people donate their time and expertise to figuring out which charities are the most efficient.
Disclosure: I work for http://www.globalgiving.org which helps grassroots non-profits from around the world that lack name brand recognition fundraise for their projects. Kiva is to microloans as GlobalGiving is to donations.
The report itself says "We feel that this intervention faces an unusually low burden of proof, though donors' intuitive reactions to it may vary widely."
EDIT: actually the full report deals with the relative effectiveness of cash transfers in some detail.
That being said, effectiveness of dollars spent is just one measure of a non-profit. It's similar to asking what's the best food. Each person has their own preference, much like each community/country has their own needs. There's no silver bullet to solving the world's problems. It's going to take a wide range of non-profits to address a wide range of problems. When determining your giving, a diversified approach will likely give you the biggest long term impact.
He sets aside some amount of his income (say 10%) for giving. Some percentage of that (5%) is allocated to organizations that will receive money each month/quarter/year. The remaining 5% is donated as needs arise (disaster relief, meeting someone who needs financial help, etc). At the end of the year, if any of that 5% remains, it is given away to one of the other organizations he supports.
So, this sort of planned/unplanned giving allows you to distribute your funds across organizations (those that provide acute care and those attempting to solve chronic problems.
I watched the local news over dinner today and here is the latest:
People sleeping near the tarmac, waiting to get out of Leyte as soon as possible.
Ports in Cebu are filled with people going to Leyte, some travels are cancelled due to bad weather.
Businessmen complaining about the looting and wants to leave the province, demanding security from the government "for a long time". They also said that these looters are organized and are taking advantage of the current state of the province.
A lady telling the story of his children eating spoiled food. I can't quite translate the whole story from the local language but this one really touched me.
A child pleading for help, saying "wala nang pagasa" (Hope is gone).
The Department of Help urged the local government to postpone the burial of the dead.
Some of the baranggays (local communities) are still isolated.
Is anyone helping people locate loved ones?
Is anyone giving people a way to report where help is most needed?
Is anyone giving bystanders like us direction on how we should help?
If funds are needed, is anyone taking charge in rallying the support needed for private donations?
Google PersonFinder (http://google.org/personfinder/2013-yolanda/query?role=seek)
alternate source for Google PersonFinder (http://google.org/personfinder/global/home.html)
Red Cross request for help restoring contact (http://familylinks.icrc.org/en/pages/home.aspx)
If you would like to donate, here are some organizations that could use your help:
Red Cross Philippines (http://www.redcross.org.ph/donate) via Paypal
Ayala Foundation's 'Laging Handa Fund' (Always Ready), overseas donors can use this online portal(http://feedthehungryphil.org/ayala-foundation-inc/) for donations
GlobalGiving.com(http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/philippines-disaster-re...). Credit and debit card donations accepted.
Save the Children (http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.885610...). Save the Children has a team on the ground in Tacloban working to respond to this emergency.
I'm not familiar with Rappler and have never seen this emotion voting before.
Edit: For 5%, this story makes them happy?! This story makes me want to help. Looks like people are adding details on how to do so. Ignore this trivial comment and see those. Thanks.
Edit 2: Here's a related thread on Reddit for details on what's happening and how to donate:
Emergency appeal in response to Typhoon Haiyan (self.doctorswithoutborders)
GlobalGiving.org's Super Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund is raising funds to support immediate relief and long term recovery efforts. Donations made to the relief fund will be used to support local organizations that are well positioned to make a direct impact in their communities but lack the name brand recognition to fundraise internationally.
After the 2011 Japan Tsunami, GlobalGiving raised over $8.9M for the Japan relief fund and used it to support a variety of local non-profits in the Japan doing incredible work.
Disclosure: I'm the Chief Product Officer at GlobalGiving and am happy to answer any questions. Your donation will be used responsibility to ensure that it helps those in need in the Philippines.
Pre-emptive Answer: Yes, GlobalGiving has overhead. Every charity does. We offer you the option to explicitly cover this overhead when you donate so that 100% of your donation will go to relief efforts. None of the other charities can make this promise.
If you’re looking or have information on a missing person, Google Person Finder has launched a Typhoon Yolanda page. A Google Crisis Map is also available for evacuation and relief information.
The mGive Foundation is collecting donations from U.S. wireless subscribers, who can text AID to 80108 to give a $10 donation to the organization’s Philippines Typhoon Diaster Relief Fund. Charges will appear on the user’s wireless bill or will be deducted from a prepaid balance. Text STOP to 80108 to stop or HELP for assistance. Full terms are available here.
UNICEF is supporting relief efforts by helping displaced families find access to shelter, clean water, food and vaccines and airlifting $1.3 million of additional supplies from its Copenhagen warehouse. You can donate online, call 1-800-367-5437 or text RELIEF to 864233.
The Philippine Red Cross is providing a tracking service for family members looking for missing people. The organization is accepting donations on its website (100 PHP = $2.30) and is looking for volunteers to help assemble relief packages at its headquarters in Manila.
The American Red Cross has also activated a family-tracking service for those looking for a missing family member in the Philippines. Donors can send a check to their local chapter, indicating “Philippines Typhoons and Floods” in the memo line.
The World Food Programme is mobilizing 40 metric tons of high-energy biscuits and additional relief supplies, but it is also accepting donations online or by calling 1-202-747-0722 or +39-06-65131 from outside the U.S.
CARE is accepting donations on its website and has deployed workers to the Philippines to assist with emergency relief. You can donate by phone at 1-800-521-2273 or +1-404-681-2252 for international calls.
Oxfam has emergency responders on the ground to assist with relief support. The organization is asking for contributions to its Typhoon Haiyan Relief and Recovery Fund online.
International Medical Corps is also on the ground to help assess damage and is accepting donations on its emergency-response page for Haiyan relief.
ChildFund International is distributing clean water, food, blankets and other emergency aid items. Staff members are also setting up child-centered spaces in evacuation centers to offer counseling and relief for children and their families. Donate online.
Doctors Without Borders has had 15 members of an emergency team in Cebu since Saturday. The organization is sending more staff to assist with medical and psychological treatment as well as items such as medical kits, vaccines and hygiene kits over the next few days. An additional cargo with an inflatable hospital and medical material is being prepared to leave later this week. Donate online.
The International Rescue Committee has also dispatched a team of aid workers to assist in assessing the damage and providing access to clean water and hygiene and sanitation needs. The organization is asking for donations online.