Since my husband has worked as a consultant for nonprofit ministries for years, I decided to ask him for his opinion.
First, I wanted to know if it is a bad thing for operating expenses to be a high percentage of the amount raised. Surprisingly, he didn't think so. He said that it really depended on how much was raised. If an organization has low operating expenses of $100,000 and raises $500,000, it has a 5 to 1 ratio and has $400,000 to spend. If a second organization has higher operating expenses of $500,000 and raises $1,500,000, it has a 3 to 1 ratio but has a million dollars to spend. Even though the overhead for the second organization is much higher, it can spend more on serving the needs of others.
Secondly, I asked about the fairness of paying a CEO a high salary. He said that a good CEO is worth the money. (Basically, you get what you pay for.)
He mentioned three sources of accurate information on nonprofits: http://www.guidestar.org/, http://www.charitynavigator.org/, and http://www.ecfa.org/
However, the above organizations can not measure everything. When deciding whether to give to an organization, one also has to look at the goals and how well they are being met. This is not easy to measure because it depends on getting evaluations from the people the group is helping. So it is good to find out how well the organization performs when meeting the needs of others.
In conclusion, carefully examine the organization but don't just look at the percentage of money spent on overhead as compared to actual ministry. Decide whether the goals of the group match your desires and then do your best to find out how well the nonprofit meets those goals.