Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe discusses why Charity Navigator really works [INTERVIEW]

charity navigator, direct relief

4-star charity CEO Thomas Tighe helps take the stress out of charity shopping

Charity Navigator takes the guesswork out of researching a charity and provides ratings and in-depth analysis of U.S.-based charities that included financial information as well as accountability.  With so many charities and so-called charities out there that sound similar, using Charity Navigator would be a valuable tool to help would-be donors determine if a charity is worthy of your hard-earned money.

Before making a donation to a cause, it is wise for donors to do a little research to determine the legitimacy of a charity.

Charity Navigator is easy to use.  In fact, all you have to do is type in the name of the charity in question and it will get you all of the information you need.  The site has other helpful information such as Top Ten Lists, Hot Topics and Tips for Donors.  This entire platform is geared towards keeping you informed as to whether or not a specific charity is worthy of your donation.

Charity Navigator

One very highly ranked charities on the site is Direct Relief.  According to their website,  “Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies.”

It has been operating since 1948 and it has a 100 percent rating and four stars for both accountability and transparency.

Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, offered three huge tips for determining red flags for a charity:

  • Urgency: You shouldn’t be made to feel rushed into donating – a reputable organization will understand if you need a few days to decide and do some research on the charity in question.
  • Vague Details: Don’t be afraid to ask exactly how your money will be used, how the charity ensures donation integrity, and what percentage of cash donations goes to people in need (vs going to payroll or fundraising). With the worst offending charities, only 2-3 percent of cash donations actually go to those in need.
  • Fine Print: Many organizations use fine print regarding their use of donated funds. Such language can be easily overlooked but is highly consequential.

Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, one of the Nation’s most respected and highest rated NGOs spoke with Michelle Tompkins for about his background with the Peace Corps, what makes Direct Relief special, the importance of Charity Navigator and researching charities before you donate, what questions people should ask themselves before donating and more.

Michelle Tompkins:  Where are you from?

Thomas Tighe:  Well, I'm in Santa Barbara, California. I was in Puerto Rico yesterday, but I grew up in the Bay Area out here in California.

Michelle Tompkins:  And where do you live now?

Thomas Tighe:  I’m in Santa Barbara. That's where Direct Relief is based.

Michelle Tompkins:  Can you please tell me about your educational and career background?

Thomas Tighe:  Yeah. I’m a byproduct of 10 years of Catholic school, a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, law school at the University of California, Hastings. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, a lawyer in the United States Senate and then I was Chief Operating Officer of the Peace Corps becoming CEO of Direct Relief.

Michelle Tompkins:  Woah. That's exciting.  Now, what is Direct Relief?

Thomas Tighe:  Direct Relief. It's a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that works in all 50 states and about 80 countries around the world trying to mobilize medications and vaccines and supplies that people need but can't afford. It's all provided free of charge and without any political or religious connotation. So it's a humanitarian aid organization focused on health.

Michelle Tompkins:  It seems to have a very high ranking. How did it get such a high ranking?

Thomas Tighe:  We're thankful for that.  I think the rankings go up and down but we're thankful they've been good, and I think of the rating organizations, they look at a few basic things: how much money an organization spends on fundraising compared to its core programmatic activities, kind of its general overheads and things like that, and traditionally, Direct Relief has done very well because we don't spend a lot on fundraising and the amount of money that we do receive, we put entirely in to the programmatic purpose. So that tends to be the type of thing that the rating organizations look favorably upon and it's a one-dimensional view but I think it's an important view, and increasingly people are skeptical or at least concerned and want to make sure their money's not wasted, and so it's nice for us to have those nice ratings.

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, when disaster strikes, most people want to help. What advice do you have for them?

Thomas Tighe:  It's such a wonderful sentiment that people, they want to help, but I do think it's worth people just reflecting and taking their time and thinking about how they want their money to be used. I mean, making a gift is such an important thing, but it's also important how it's ultimately used. I think if people have the time and inclination to help, it's worth spending some time looking at the different rating organizations and seeing what the groups themselves are doing, which ones that you've heard of and might want to think about contributing to.  Then there's some very specific things that we hear at Direct Relief a lot about, "How am I sure that my money is going to be spent on this particular thing that I'm concerned about?" and I think that should be clear on an organization's website, and if it's not, I think people can call and just reassure themselves, because you would hate to-- it's almost worse if people do something that they feel very good about and then, later on, they feel that they were tricked. I think it's worth spending a little time, if you can, to suss through that.

Michelle Tompkins:  And which questions should people be asking themselves to determine where to donate?

Thomas Tighe:  I think the most important one is what you care about. I think the act of giving is such a wonderful gesture, but it's something that should reflect what any individual cares about and there are so many compelling causes from animal protection or rescue to environmental concerns and issues around homelessness and housing and education and the arts. At Direct Relief, we focus on humanitarian health services, which we think is very important, but we know other people care about other things, and I think that's the first place to look, is what you care about. And then, once you know that, or have a sense, then spend some time and think of the organizations who do that sort of activity, "What will make me feel best? How will my money be used?" and I think it's kind of a simple two-step process but I think that's the way to go.

Michelle Tompkins:  What makes Direct Relief special?

Thomas Tighe:  Gosh, for me, having the privilege of working here, I think it's the two things. It's my colleagues that I work with who I know are deeply dedicated and love their job, and the cause, and assisting people around the world, and the second thing is, I think, the model. I think we're a support organization that really works with anybody to try to help those who are less fortunate. And after having been doing it for 70 years as an organization, I think that culture kind of comes through, and it allows us the privilege of moving around the world and meeting great people who are doing nothing but trying to help other folks have a better life.

Michelle Tompkins:  Where can people learn more information?

Thomas Tighe:  Our website is the best source and that website is

Michelle Tompkins:  And is there anything you'd like to add?

Thomas Tighe:  Well, just that we're thankful for the interview and also just for people's generosity. We know that there's a lot of competition for attention these days so it's always just a wonderful reminder, any gift of any amount that Direct Relief receives, and it's something that deserves a great thanks and appreciation and we certainly feel that every day.

Charity Navigator can be found here and you can get more information on Direct Relief here.

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