The top 10 charities changing the world in 2015

Susan Caminiti, special to CNBC.com

Offering a helping hand

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They're big and global, with budgets exceeding $100 million and net assets of at least $65 million. Yet these 10 charities manage to do exceptional work throughout the country and overseas, all while maintaining stellar financial management and transparency.

Still, before giving to any charity — large or small — it's important to understand how much of your money actually goes to the cause being supported and how much is earmarked for administrative expenses. "For these larger charities, you want to see at least 75 percent of their budget going to programs and services," said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, a service that provides information about a charity's functions, finances and management. It, along with BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Watch, are free to use, although others charge both the site user and the charity to be rated.

It's also important to note how a charity's revenue is trending over time. If there are consecutive years of decreases, that could be a red flag.

The following are some of the highest-rated charities, according to Charity Navigator. Their scores — ranked on a scale of 1 to 100 — are based on financial health, accountability and the transparency of reporting.

By Susan Caminiti, special to CNBC.com
Posted 1 December 2015

10. Natural Resources Defense Council

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

The focus of the Natural Resources Defense Council is singular: Earth. The organization works to restore the integrity of the elements that sustain life — air, land and water — and to defend endangered natural places.

This environmental protection group works with businesses, elected officials and community groups on issues such as global warming, reviving the oceans, clean water and sustainable communities. Founded in 1970, the council has more than 2 million members and online activists.

Score: 95.17

9. United States Fund for UNICEF

Source: UNICEF

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work around the world through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Forty years ago UNICEF figured out that promoting simple, low-cost interventions like hand-washing and breastfeeding could save millions of lives, and its mission has helped children in more than 190 countries and territories.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF raises funds for UNICEF's work on child survival, development, protection and emergencies.

Score: 95.26

8. Compassion International

Source: Compassion International

Holistic child development starting with prenatal care through young adulthood is the mission of Compassion International. The organization partners with more than 6,500 Christian churches in 26 countries to offer sponsorship, physical and spiritual development and leadership training for millions of children in poverty around the world.

The sponsors involved with Compassion International provide monthly gifts, letter writing and prayer, and in return children receive ongoing Christian training, educational opportunities and key health and life skills.

Score: 95.33

7. Institute of International Education

Source: Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education is among the world's largest and most experienced international education and training organizations. The organization was started in 1919 with the mission of promoting closer educational relations between the people of the United States and those of other countries.

It works to strengthen and link institutions of higher learning around the world and strives to build leadership skills so that individuals and organizations are able to address both local and global challenges.

Score: 96.04

6. Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan Purse

Since 1970, Samaritan's Purse has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine, with the purpose of sharing God's love through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Through its ministry, Operation Christmas Child, the organization delivers more than 8 million shoe box gifts to poor children in more than 100 countries each year.

Its World Medical Mission sends doctors, equipment and supplies to underprivileged countries. Community development and vocational programs in impoverished villages and neighborhoods around the world help people break the cycle of poverty and give them hope for a better tomorrow.

Score: 96.17

5. The Rotary Foundation

Source: Rotary Foundation

This not-for-profit organization works to advance world understanding, goodwill and peace. Using Rotary Foundation grants, Rotary's 34,000 clubs across the globe develop and carry out sustainable humanitarian projects and provide scholarships and professional training opportunities.

One of its biggest initiatives aims at eradicating polio through its PolioPlus program, launched in 1985. Since then, Rotary and its partners, including the World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have immunized more than 2.5 billion children, reducing the incidence of polio by 99 percent and eradicating it from all but three countries.

Score: 96.31

4. United Nations Foundation

Source: United Nations Foundation

The United Nations Foundation was created in 1998 with a $1 billion gift from entrepreneur Ted Turner to support United Nations causes and activities. The organization acts as an advocate for the UN, and a platform for connecting people, ideas and resources to help the United Nations solve global problems.

Through its sister organization — the Better World Campaign — the UN Foundation works to support a fully funded United Nations so that it can continue to be an effective voice for international cooperation on behalf of peace, development, human rights and the environment.

Score: 96.98

3. Catholic Medical Mission Board

Source: Catholic Medical Mission Board

Providing health care for the world's poor is the mission of Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), a leading faith-based NGO. It accomplishes this by building healthy, sustainable communities through local engagement and partnerships and by focusing on the leading causes of mortality for mothers and children in targeted communities throughout Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In addition, CMMB's volunteer program provides medical and business know-how for community development and engages with the pharmaceutical industry to help meet the needs of the poor around the world.

Score: 97.87

2. MAP International

Source: MAP

MAP International is a global Christian health organization that partners with people living in conditions of poverty. Its mission is to save lives and develop healthier families and communities. Founded in 1954, it provides medicine, helps to prevent disease by improving water supplies, and promotes health to create hope and lasting change in more than 115 countries.

MAP also works with local leaders to help educate and train communities to deal with health threats such as HIV/AIDS and partners with more than 300 organizations, agencies and medical missions around the world.

Score: 99.92

1. Direct Relief

Source: Direct Relief

Founded in 1948, Direct Relief is California's largest international humanitarian nonprofit organization. The organization provides medical assistance to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty and disaster, both in the U.S and throughout the world.

Since 2000, Direct Relief has responded to a wide range of urgent and ongoing health emergencies by providing over $3.4 billion in essential material resources, such as medicine, supplies and equipment, including more than $500 million in assistance to the United States.

Score: 99.94