The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona made it to a new national list of 10 "top-notch" charities for its overall performance on finances, accountability and transparency.
The annual report by Charity Navigator, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that evaluates U.S. charities, looks "to see if charities are growing their revenue and spending on programs at about the same rate," said Sandra Miniutti, its chief financial officer.
"This year has been difficult because the economy is still struggling," said Bill Carnegie, CEO at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
He said the reason the food bank is able to struggle through tough times is because of its decision "to really focus on programs to make sure that every dollar is used effectively."
The Charity Navigator study said as much, reporting that 96.9 percent of the food bank's expenses were spent on programs over the last year.
The report, Metro Market Study 2013, didn't do an overall evaluation of Tucson charities. But it did look at Phoenix.
Charities in the Phoenix area ranked 23rd among the nation's 30 major metro areas for financial performance, accountability and transparency in 2013, the report said.
Despite relatively strong revenues - the 60 Phoenix charities studied had average revenues of $7 million as of May 1, compared with a national average of $4.7 million - the area ranked last for financial health, as local expenses far outstripped the national average.
The national average expense for the nonprofits it studied was $4.3 million, but Phoenix charities spent an average of $7.2 million from May 2012 to 2013.
The report put the Phoenix Symphony on its list of the 10 charities in deepest financial trouble in the nation, but symphony organizers said that ranking does not reflect a recent turnaround in their finances.
"The symphony is on track to break even, eliminating a nearly $3 million deficit in the past two years," said Phoenix Symphony CEO Jim Ward, who said the organization is actually going through "a significant turnaround" this year.
Charity Navigator's Miniutti said it was clearly the financial picture that held Phoenix charities back in the rankings.
Area nonprofit executives conceded that finances have been tough as the region struggled through the recession, but they believe things are looking up.
Carnegie said the economic downturn has increased competition between nonprofits as they fight for funding.