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The giving city: Houston charities ranked second in the nation by watchdog

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028, Houston Ballet Ball, February 2013, crowd, venue
Houston Ballet Ball patrons invested wisely in this four-star non-profit as determined by Charity Navigator. Photo by Morris Malakoff
340, Children's Museum of Houston, vintage pedal car exhibit, November 2012
The Children's Museum of Houston is one of a number of local non-profits receiving a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. Photo by Cameron Michael Rhoads
Houston Dress for Success new building May 2013 exterior night
At home in its new building, Dress for Success receives a four-star ranking from Charity Navigator. Photo by © Joe Aker/Aker Imaging
Small Steps Wine Classic Houston May 2013 John Weinzierl and Kelli Weinzierl, Nicole Zarr and David Zarr
Congrats to Small Steps gala chairs John and Kelli Weinzerl, from left, and Nicole and David Zarr for that charity's four-star rating. Photo by © Wilson Parish
Houston Zoo Gorillas of the African Forest Phase 2 announcement May 2013
The Houston Zoo is among the local non-profits earning four stars from Charity Navigator. Photo by Tyler Rudick
028, Houston Ballet Ball, February 2013, crowd, venue
340, Children's Museum of Houston, vintage pedal car exhibit, November 2012
Houston Dress for Success new building May 2013 exterior night
Small Steps Wine Classic Houston May 2013 John Weinzierl and Kelli Weinzierl, Nicole Zarr and David Zarr
Houston Zoo Gorillas of the African Forest Phase 2 announcement May 2013

For the third consecutive year, Charity Navigator ranks Houston non-profits among the very top in the nation as far as accountability, transparency and financial strength. While earning first place in 2012 and second in 2011, Houston dropped back to second position (still a commendable ranking) in the 2013 evaluation of charities in 30 top metro areas.

As America's largest and most-utilized evaluator of non-profit accountability, Charity Navigator studied the city's 76 largest charities, which earned an overall combined score of 58.16 to San Diego's 59.32, which placed that city at the head of the class. The national overall score was 55.42.

 "Our non-profit community is the backbone of this city." 

Program expenses for Houston charities were higher than the national average (84.2 percent in the Houston area compared to 81.9 percent nationally), while fundraising expenses were considerably less (6.6 percent in the Houston area compared to 7.2 percent nationally) and administrative expenses also came in at less than the national average (8.1 percent in the Houston area compared to 9.2 percent nationally). 

With these kinds of numbers in hand, Houston area philanthropists and fundraisers can enjoy a certain confidence level in responsible charitable giving in Houston. And the city is known for its generous philanthropy.

The high ranking is good news to individuals such as David Jones of the national fundraising consultants firm Dini Partners. With more than three decades in the fundraising arena, Jones says that Houston's philanthropy represents a "100-year-long tradition" of generous giving and careful stewardship.

"Not only have we always been a generous city, but we also have outstanding non-profits," Jones tells CultureMap. "From the medical center to the cultural arena and human services like Star of Hope . . .

"The key ingredient is volunteer leadership. Who services the non-profits and who is serving on the boards really make a difference."

Jones referenced recent rankings by Forbes and the Business Insider, which help to hypothesize Houston's continued growth and progress of not only charitable giving but also its rising population and job creation.  

"Our non-profit community is the backbone of this city," Jones says. "It attracts many people . . . . and it's the fastest growing city partly because of these great institutions. They are the fabric of our city. "

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