Especially given the earthquake in Asia has brought disaster relief to the forefront again (as if it had had much time to settle into the background), the charity of the day is Operation USA. This is a new charity to me, but some friends have highly recommended it. It was formed 25 years ago by people (including Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards) who were frustrated with the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of many large international aid organizations. According to their website, they handle disaster response by starting with a needs assessment, so they can send what is actually needed where it is needed. The organization has a network of relationships with local organizations around the world, and knows who they can work with to get things done effectively at a local level. They work from private donations entirely, and purposely avoid government grants, to avoid the political entanglements that go along with those. And they have independent evaluators determine the effectiveness of their operations. Among the organization's key assets are its warehouse facitilities in Los Angeles and San Francisco, enabling it to rapidly and efficiently move supplies internationally.
Operation USA seems very open with their information, with their annual report, financial reports, and IRS filings all available on their website. And it seems they have every reason to be open, as they are very efficient. With a whopping 97.3% of their budget going to direct programs, and only 2.1% in administration, 0.5% in fundraising, and a fundraising cost ratio of one penny on the dollar, they earn a four star rating from Charity Navigator. Their website also provides quite specific details on the past and current programs. I am quite impressed with what I've seen so far, and encourage you to take a look as well.