Four Stars for Friends of Acadia

DianaBy Diana McDowell, Friends of Acadia Director of Finance & Administration

Last week, we at Friends of Acadia received some wonderful news: we received a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, the leading independent evaluator of nonprofits in the U.S., for the fifth year in a row. This is their highest possible rating and puts FOA among the top 7% of charities that Charity Navigator evaluates.

Other than the pretty little logo on the home page of our web site, what does this ranking mean for Friends of Acadia? And more importantly, what does it mean for you as a member, volunteer, or supporter of FOA?

In making their rankings, Charity Navigator (CN) looks at a range of indicators of the health and effectiveness of an organization—focusing especially on 1) financial capacity and efficiency, and 2) the accountability and transparency of operations. For example, they look at the percentages of expenses FOA spends on programs (80%), on administration (11%), and on fundraising (9%) as shown on our most recent IRS 990 form. They look at fundraising efficiency and the ratio of liabilities to assets. And CN looks at our governance and ethics practices, and how easy we make it for donors for find critical information about us—such as the results of our program spending.

FOA has been working to comply with all good governance requirements through the efforts of the Governance & Nominating Committee, including having a conflict of interest policy in place and making financial documents available to the public on our website and upon request. An Investment & Finance Committee oversees the organization’s finances and an Audit Committee contracts for an independent audit each year and oversees the findings. FOA has received a clean opinion the last 6 years running and had only one audit adjustment in that time. Our policies are regularly updated to follow the nonprofit world’s best practices, and we have good board oversight.

FOA publishes results of our work every year in our Annual Report (available to all FOA members and the public in printed form or online). FOA granted more than $2 million in 2015 and expects to grant a similar amount in 2016. We have granted more than $25 million to the park and communities since 1986. We currently hold 15 endowments for such programs as carriage road maintenance, trails maintenance, youth programs, protection of Acadia’s natural resources and other important park-centric programs. FOA contributes to a variety of community outreach events like Take Pride in Acadia Day, National Trails Day, and Earth Day Roadside Clean-up. We support a major stewardship volunteer program in ANP and on our community village connector trails. FOA holds endowments as an attempt to provide a predictable stream of funding to the program supported by its endowments, while seeking to maintain the purchasing power of the endowment assets.

This year, FOA’s financial score is 98.6 and our accountability & transparency score is 96, for an overall score of 97. Within our category of “Botanical Gardens, Parks, and Nature Centers,” that ranking places us second out of 116 organizations. This bears emphasizing: only the Houston (TX) Parks Board with a score of 97.17 ranked higher. Among national park partner organizations, Grand Teton National Park Foundation was the next highest with a score of 92.29.

Of course, we at Friends of Acadia would be doing our best possible work whether or not an organization like Charity Navigator were looking our way. What makes the 4-star rating so important to FOA is that donors and prospective donors use CN’s rankings to guide their gift-making decisions. Understandably, a donor wants to be sure that their gift will be spent to further the mission they believe in—not squandered on badly managed programs or unnecessary expenses. FOA’s 4-star rating provides that assurance.

And what makes the 4-star rating important for our members and volunteers is that it adds an extra level of confidence to your support. If you’re attending Take Pride in Acadia Day, reading the Journal and Annual Report, volunteering on the trails or here in the FOA office, even following us on social media, we imagine you can already tell that FOA has a positive impact on Acadia through everything we do. Your personal experience with Friends of Acadia is more important than all of CN’s numbers and calculations—but we hope that you’ll celebrate those numbers with us, nonetheless!


You can see our Charity Navigator ranking in detail at