Charity Navigator Hires Fundraising Expert

Just six months ago, Shannon McCracken shared the stage with Charity Navigator CEO Michael Thatcher for a question-and-answer session during the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s annual Washington, D.C., conference. Starting Sept. 6, she’ll be the charity ratings organization’s new chief development officer.

McCracken confirmed that she resigned as chair of the DMA Nonprofit Federation Advisory Council, and her last day as vice president, donor development, at Special Olympics International (SOI), will be Aug. 26. She has held a variety of positions within direct mail and direct response since joining SOI in 1999.

Thatcher, a former Microsoft executive, succeeded Ken Berger as CEO of Glen Rock, N.J.-based Charity Navigator just a year ago. The CDO position had been vacant at least since Thatcher joined and said he had been “very selective” in finding the person he wanted. He wasn’t specifically looking for someone from a large organization but McCracken has been working within a national headquarters and working across the country with a very national focus. “That was something that was important,” he said.

McCracken said she wasn’t looking to leave SOI but Charity Navigator came calling. There are places where Charity Navigator and the nonprofit space can align and she said she could bring a unique perspective to the conversation. “Charity Navigator has a role to play in evaluating charities,” she said, adding that the two have certain shared goals, such as a balanced media discussion of overhead and exposing fraudulent charities.

The entire staff at Charity Navigator is as big as SOI’s development division, she said. Some staff members have been at the organization since it was established in 2000 — and “that’s incredibly valuable.” Other staff members are from small organizations. McCracken, who will continue to telecommute and not relocate to New Jersey, said she’ll have the opportunity to learn new things that she wouldn’t be exposed to at a large organization.

Thatcher first met McCracken at the DMA event in February. “One of the interesting things about that interaction was the interconnection with outreach to the community,” he said. That interaction with the mailing community has brought clarification on some issues, such as joint cost allocation and privacy policies. “I don’t think we’re going to change our position on privacy policy but will look to make it clearer,” he said, which is one of the things DMA membership has gained from their interaction. For example, more than half of the organizations rated by Charity Navigator have privacy policies that are ambiguous. “Part of that is not knowing that to make it clear. That level of communication, I’m hoping, will improve how charities will make information available,” Thatcher said.

Since joining Charity Navigator, Thatcher said he’s had discussions with DMA members about policies, including joint cost allocation. “Why not open a dialogue rather than stay at odds, disagree without dialogue. It’s about common points of intersection where we can meet,” he said.

“We’ve made some steps to bridge some gaps but we’ve also accepted that we’ll be at odds over certain areas,” Thatcher said, such as joint cost allocation and privacy policies. “But we’re gaining clarity around those issues, which is why each side looking at things in a certain way is actually beneficial,” he said.

Charity Navigator has made changes to its advisory system and the timing around posting advisories, as a result of feedback from DMA. “I’m happy to have someone with such deep sector experience joining us,” Thatcher said.

Part of McCracken’s role will be “helping us build resources to make results reporting a reality for Charity Navigator,” Thatcher said. The organization has grown in recent years, adding a data scientist this year and additional analysts have joined the organization.

McCracken will have a team of two people working for her. The nonprofit also plans to hire a chief operating officer, which would be the first for the organization. Thatcher said that search is expected to ramp up once a current strategic planning exercise is completed.

“I’m intrigued by that opportunity and the vision within Charity Navigator and I’m excited to be part of that. Ultimately my responsibility is about development and building that funding stream,” McCracken said.

Charity Navigator has expanded in recent years, now with 23 employees, part of an effort to become more technology-focused and revamp its charity ratings system. “Charity Navigator 3.0” aims to include impact and results in its evaluations of nonprofits. The organization currently rates about 8,000 nonprofits, with a goal to reach 20,000.

Charity Navigator reported total revenue of $1.8 million in the fiscal year ending 2014, the most recent Form 990 available. That year, Berger earned base compensation of $160,644 as CEO.