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Best Run Charities, Meet Them In St. Louie

By Patrick Sullivan - June 4, 2014

St. Louis has more than the Cardinals and the Gateway Arch. It also has the best-run nonprofits in America, according to a new study from nonprofit sector watchdog Charity Navigator. Nonprofits in The Gateway to the West have fewer expenses, more revenue growth, more transparency, more assets, and their CEOs are paid better than the national average.

The Glen Rock, N.J.-based Charity Navigator’s Metro Market 2014 study examined the 30 largest nonprofit markets in the U.S. It ranked them by 21 metrics such as program expenses, working capital ratio, Form 990s and financial statements online, total assets and excess or deficit, as well as three aggregate scores: overall, financial and accountability and transparency.

The 30 markets account for just more than half (51 percent) of the 7,000-plus charities ranked by the organization. About 3,500 organizations were included in the study, according to a Charity Navigator spokesperson. New York City had the most charities in the study at 697, while Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Orlando all had the lowest at 41 each.

St. Louis came out on top this year with an overall score of 58.79 of 70 possible points (national median is 56.12), despite not having cracked the top five last year. In fact, only Houston, number two both last year and this year, appeared in the top five in both 2013 and 2014. Rounding out the top five this year are Cleveland, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh. The lowest rated market this year is Phoenix, followed by Atlanta, Colorado Springs, Portland, Ore., and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Pittsburgh had the top financial score at 57.93, compared to the national average of 55.06. Houston, Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis all had financial scores of over 57.00 as well. Baltimore was the lowest-scoring city financially, with 51.42, followed by Orlando, Phoenix, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.

Though Portland scored low overall and financially, its nonprofits were the most accountable and transparent, with an accountability and transparency score of 66. Houston followed with a score of 64.50, and 15 cities (as well as the national average) tied for third place with a score of 63.00. Nonprofits in Orlando and Nashville, which both had scores of 59.00, were the least transparent.

Indianapolis charities had the largest surplus by far, with a median of $356,511. Dallas followed, with $183,252, nearly three times the national average of $62,091. Detroit charities were in the red for an average of $62,979, followed by Miami at $33,066. Nonprofits in Cincinnati and Denver, on average, had deficits as well.

The best place to be a CEO is New York City, where the top job earns an average of $186,775, followed closely by Washington, D.C., at $181,715. CEOs in Miami, Boston, Milwaukee, Chicago, Houston and Pittsburgh earned a median of at least $150,000, better than the national average of $128,799. Orlando CEOs were paid the least, at an average of $106,306. Nashville CEOs and those in Tampa/St. Petersburg earned an average of less than $110,000.

Miami nonprofits were the most efficient by a fairly large margin, spending only $0.055 per dollar raised (pdr). Orlando came in at number two, at $0.070 pdr. Detroit was number three, at $0.075 pdr, with Houston, Cleveland, Colorado Springs and Cincinnati tied for fourth at $0.080. In all, a dozen cities beat the national average of $0.100, and 10 tied it. Denver and Phoenix have the least efficient nonprofits, with an average of $0.120 for both.

“America is home to the largest nonprofit sector in the history of the world and its overall strength continues to amaze us,” said Charity Navigator President and CEO Ken Berger. “But as this study shows, different cities across America present unique challenges and opportunities to the charities that call it home.”

To view the full results, go to the study’s interactive web page at


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