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LAST UPDATED: November 24th, 2019

After World War II, the United Nations created the United National International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, as a way to assist children suffering from the after-effects of the war. Since that time, UNICEF has grown to become one of the world’s most recognized children’s charities. UNICEF maintains solid management of funds and a high percentage of donations go towards program delivery in over 120 countries. 

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The Good

  • Total income
  • Administrative expenses
  • Fundraising expenses
  • Program percentage
  • Donor communication
  • Awards

Total Income

UNICEF's revenues have been fairly steady over the last several years. The organization's annual incomes for the past four years are as follows:
  • 2015: $511,033,423
  • 2014: $600,831,971
  • 2013: $588,099,639
  • 2012: $498,746,777

Administrative Expenses

Over the last two years, UNICEF has spent 2 to 3 percent of its incoming funds on administrative costs. The president and CEO of UNICEF, Caryl Stern, received a salary of $516,565 in 2015, which is equivalent to 0.09 percent of the organization's total annual revenue.

Fundraising Expenses

For the past two years, UNICEF has allocated 7 percent of its annual income to fundraising activities. The cost for fundraising is equivalent to 6 cents spent on fundraising for every dollar received by fundraising channels.

Program Percentage

According to Charity Navigator, UNICEF put 90.3 percent of its revenue towards program delivery for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2015. The Wise Giving Alliance reported a program delivery of 90 percent for 2014.

Donor Communication

UNICEF operates several robust channels from which anyone may receive updates. These include social media, email newsletters, postal mailers, and regular blog entries which highlight recent news and events. Some donors have complained about the frequency of messages from UNICEF, stating that the organization should reduce its communications.


UNICEF has been the recipient of the following awards: 2006: Prince of Asturias Award The Spanish government awarded UNICEF the Prince of Asturias award in 2006, which recognizes individuals, groups, or organizations for outstanding contributions towards peace and combating the struggles which are caused by social injustice, poverty, ignorance, or disease. Other notable winners of the award in 2006 include National Geographic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 1965: Nobel Peace Prize After its foundation less than two decades earlier, UNICEF was recognized for its work in creating "brotherhood among the nations" and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The commonly used phrase "compassion knows no national boundaries" was initially coined by UNICEF at this time.

The Bad

  • Accessible financial information
  • Negative press

Accessible Financial Information

UNICEF is not incredibly financially transparent and publishes only one year of its annual reports on its website at a time. Additionally, the organization does not publish its IRS Form 990s online.

Negative Press

Throughout its history, UNICEF has been a target of much criticism. A significant portion of recent negative press coverage occurred during a ten-year span from 1995 to 2005 when Carol Bellamy was serving as UNICEF's fourth director. A few controversies that the organization has been involved in include: Focus on Education for Women and Girls With the belief that educated mothers are more likely to promote education for their children and be able to better care for them, Ms. Bellamy focused heavily on improving conditions in third-world countries for women and children. However, many felt and still feel that this particular focus left many children under the age of five at continued risk, and child mortality in developing countries remained alarmingly high for those most touched by poverty, disease, famine, or war. During Ms. Bellamy's tenure as director of UNICEF, her critics accused her of spending too much time on issues which did not positively impact those children in the worst circumstances. Sexual Health, Birth Spacing, and Abortions As part of UNICEF's efforts to create better conditions for women and girls, a robust sexual health initiative was implemented in which UNICEF advocated birth control, spacing pregnancies at least two years apart, and access to safe abortions. Although the organization itself did not offer or fund abortions, it did advocate for safe and legal abortions, which brought UNICEF under scrutiny and caused many pro-life groups, particularly Catholics, to withdraw support for the organization. Baby Formula Controversies Infant formula manufacturers and UNICEF have both accused the other of dangerous practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, formula manufacturers gave samples of formula to women, along with images of chubby and healthy-looking infants. Mothers wanted their babies to be well fed and began to supplement, eventually becoming dependent on formula, all the while as their own milk was decreasing. When mothers could no longer breastfeed and were left with dwindling supplies of formula, which was too expensive for them to afford regularly, they watered the formula down and many babies died of malnutrition. WHO and UNICEF Vaccines WHO and UNICEF have been accused of participating in governmental plots to force sterilization of citizens through vaccines. HCG, which sterilizes women, was found in polio vaccines given to Nigerian youth in 2004. In 2015, HCG was found in tetanus vaccines being given in Kenya. Blocking International Adoptions UNICEF's policy states that children are much better off living in their own country with extended families than being in an orphanage. Additionally, the organization has been accused of manipulating policies to slow or stop international adoptions for those children who are in orphanages. LGBT Policies Some are concerned about UNICEF's 2016 policy statement about LGBT parents and their children, which states that family ties should be protected, no matter the sexual orientation of parents or children. While this policy should not necessarily dissuade people from donating to UNICEF, critics do state that this policy oversteps the organization's bounds.

The Bottom Line

UNICEF has had a fairly steady income over the past several years and has a high program delivery percentage. The organization's administrative and fundraising costs are low. However, UNICEF is not very transparent with its financial information online and the organization has been involved in several controversies.
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Kathryn Robinson Riverton, UT

UNICEF is doing amazing things for children all over the world. I love that they work with local governments to ensure the rights of every child. I actually did an internship with UNICEF and really came to appreciate their philosophy and mission.

4 years ago


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Jon Robinson Riverton, UT

UNICEF does an amazing job providing relief and support to millions of children around the world. I have bought their Christmas cards and love knowing the money is going to support a good cause.

4 years ago