Mission: Founded in 1984, Clean Ocean Action (COA) is a broad-based coalition of over 115 active boating, business, community, conservation, diving, environmental, fishing, r ... (More)

Clean Ocean Action is a 501(c)(3) organization, with an IRS ruling year of 1989, and donations are tax-deductible.

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Contact Information


  49 Avenel Blvd
Long Branch NJ 07740 


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Star Rating System by Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator evaluates a nonprofit organization’s financial health including measures of stability, efficiency and sustainability. We also track accountability and transparency policies to ensure the good governance and integrity of the organization.


This charity's score is 99.95, earning it a 4-Star rating. Donors can "Give with Confidence" to this charity. 

This score is calculated from two sub-scores:

This score represents Form 990 data from 2019, the latest year published by the IRS. 

View this organization’s historical ratings.

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Star Rated Report

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Program Expense

Program Expense Ratio


The Program Expense Ratio is determined by Program Expenses divided by Total Expense (average of most recent three 990s).

This measure reflects the percent of its total expenses a charity spends on the programs and services it exists to deliver. Dividing a charity's average program expenses by its average total functional expenses yields this percentage. We calculate the charity's average expenses over its three most recent fiscal years.

Source: IRS Form 990

Administrative Expenses


As reported by charities on their IRS Form 990, this measure reflects what percent of its total budget a charity spends on overhead, administrative staff and associated costs, and organizational meetings. Dividing a charity's average administrative expenses by its average total functional expenses yields this percentage. We calculate the charity's average expenses over its three most recent fiscal years.

Source: IRS Form 990

Fundraising Expenses


This measure reflects what a charity spends to raise money. Fundraising expenses can include campaign printing, publicity, mailing, and staffing and costs incurred in soliciting donations, memberships, and grants. Dividing a charity's average fundraising expenses by its average total functional expenses yields this percentage. We calculate the charity's average expenses over its three most recent fiscal years.

Source: IRS Form 990

Liabilities to Assets Ratio


The Liabilities to Assets Ratio is determined by Total Liabilities divided by Total Assets (most recent 990).

Part of our goal in rating the financial performance of charities is to help donors assess the financial capacity and sustainability of a charity. As do organizations in other sectors, charities must be mindful of their management of total liabilites in relation to their total assets. This ratio is an indicator of an organization’s solvency and or long term sustainability. Dividing a charity's total liabilities by its total assets yields this percentage.

Source: IRS Form 990

Fundraising Efficiency


The amount spent to raise $1 in charitable contributions. To calculate a charity's fundraising efficiency, we divide its average fundraising expenses by the average total contributions it receives. We calculate the charity's average expenses and average contributions over its three most recent fiscal years.

Source: IRS Form 990

Working Capital Ratio

2.39 years

Determines how long a charity could sustain its level of spending using its net available assets, or working capital, as reported on its most recently filed Form 990. We include in a charity's working capital unrestricted and temporarily restricted net assets, and exclude permanently restricted net assets. Dividing these net available assets in the most recent year by a charity's average total expenses, yields the working capital ratio. We calculate the charity's average total expenses over its three most recent fiscal years.

Source: IRS Form 990

Program Expense Growth


We compute the average annual growth of program expenses using the following formula: [(Yn/Y0)(1/n)]-1, where Y0 is a charity's program expenses in the first year of the interval analyzed, Yn is the charity's program expenses in the most recent year, and n is the interval of years passed between Y0 and Yn.

Source: IRS Form 990


Charity Navigator looks to confirm on the Form 990 that the organization has these governance practices in place.

Sources Include: IRS Form 990

Independent Voting Board Members  ... (More)
No Material Diversion of Assets ... (More)

A diversion of assets – any unauthorized conversion or use of the organization's assets other than for the organization's authorized purposes, including but not limited to embezzlement or theft – can seriously call into question a charity's financial integrity. We check the charity's last two Forms 990 to see if the charity has reported any diversion of assets. If the charity does report a diversion, then we check to see if it complied with the Form 990 instructions by describing what happened and its corrective action. This metric will be assigned to one of the following categories:

  • Full Credit: There has been no diversion of assets within the last two years.

  • Partial Credit: There has been a diversion of assets within the last two years and the charity has used Schedule O on the Form 990 to explain: the nature of the diversion, the amount of money or property involved and the corrective action taken to address the matter. In this situation, we deduct 7 points from the charity's Accountability and Transparency score.
  • No Credit: There has been a diversion of assets within the last two years and the charity's explanation on Schedule O is either non-existent or not sufficient. In this case, we deduct 15 points from the charity's Accountability and Transparency score.
Audited Financials Prepared by Independent Accountant ... (More)

Audited financial statements provide important information about financial accountability and accuracy. They should be prepared by an independent accountant with oversight from an audit committee. (It is not necessary that the audit committee be a separate committee. Often at smaller charities, it falls within the responsibilities of the finance committee or the executive committee.) The committee provides an important oversight layer between the management of the organization, which is responsible for the financial information reported, and the independent accountant, who reviews the financials and issues an opinion based on its findings. We check the charity's Form 990 reporting to see if it meets this criteria.

  • Full Credit: The charity's audited financials were prepared by an independent accountant with an audit oversight committee.

  • Partial Credit: The charity's audited financials were prepared by an independent accountant, but it did not have an audit oversight committee. In this case, we deduct 7 points from the charity's Accountability and Transparency score.
  • No Credit: The charity did not have its audited financials prepared by an independent accountant. In this case, we deduct 15 points from the charity's Accountability and Transparency score.
Does Not Provide Loan(s) to or Receive Loan(s) From Related Parties ... (More)
Documents Board Meeting Minutes ... (More)
Distributes 990 to Board Before Filing ... (More)
Compensates Board ... (More)


Charity Navigator looks to confirm on the Form 990, or for some metrics on the charity's website, that the organization has these policies in place.

Sources Include: IRS Form 990 and organization's website

Conflict of Interest  ... (More)
Whistleblower ... (More)
Records Retention and Destruction ... (More)
CEO Compensation Process ... (More)
Donor Privacy ... (More)

Donors can be reluctant to contribute to a charity when their name, address, or other basic information may become part of donor lists that are exchanged or sold, resulting in an influx of charitable solicitations from other organizations. Our analysts check the charity's website to see if the organization has a donor privacy policy in place and what it does and does not cover. Privacy policies are assigned to one of the following categories:

  • Yes: This charity has a written donor privacy policy published on its website, which states unambiguously that (1) it will not share or sell a donor's personal information with anyone else, nor send donor mailings on behalf of other organizations or (2) it will only share or sell personal information once the donor has given the charity specific permission to do so.

  • Opt-out: The charity has a written privacy policy published on its website which enables donors to tell the charity to remove their names and contact information from lists the charity shares or sells. How a donor can have themselves removed from a list differs from one charity to the next, but any and all opt-out policies require donors to take specific action to protect their privacy.
  • No: This charity either does not have a written donor privacy policy in place to protect their contributors' personal information, or the existing policy does not meet our criteria.

The privacy policy must be specific to donor information. A general website policy which references "visitor" or "user" personal information will not suffice. A policy that refers to donor information collected on the website is also not sufficient as the policy must be comprehensive and applicable to both online and offline donors. The existence of a privacy policy of any type does not prohibit the charity itself from contacting the donor for informational, educational, or solicitation purposes.



Charity Navigator looks to confirm on the Form 990, or for some metrics on the charity's website, that the organization makes this information easily accessible.

Sources Include: IRS Form 990 and organization's website

CEO Salary Listed on 990 ... (More)
Board of Directors Listed on Website ... (More)
Key Staff Listed on Website ... (More)
Audited Financial Statements on Website ... (More)
Form 990 Available on Website ... (More)

Additional Information


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Total Revenue and Expenses

Total Revenue and Expenses

This chart displays the trend of revenue and expenses over the past several years for this organization, as reported on their IRS Form 990.

Salary of Key Persons

Presented here are this organizations key compensated staff members as identified by our analysts. This compensation data includes salary, cash bonuses and expense accounts and is displayed exactly how it is reported to the IRS. The amounts do not include nontaxable benefits, deferred compensation, or other amounts not reported on Form W-2. In some cases, these amounts may include compensation from related organizations. Read the IRS policies for compensation reporting

Cindy Zipf, Executive Director

$66,471 (8.99% of Total Expenses)

Current CEO and Board Chair can be found in the Leadership & Adaptability report below.

Source: IRS Form 990 (page 7), filing year 2019

Business Master File Data

Below are some key data points from the Exempt Organization IRS Business Master File (BMF) for this organization. Learn more about the BMF on the IRS website


Ecology or conservation (BMF activity code: 529)

Foundation Status:

Organization which receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or the general public   170(b)(1)(A)(vi) (BMF foundation code: 15)


Independent - the organization is an independent organization or an independent auxiliary (i.e., not affiliated with a National, Regional, or Geographic grouping of organizations). (BMF affiliation code: 3)

Data Sources: IRS Forms 990

The Form 990 is a document that nonprofit organizations file with the IRS annually. We leverage finance and accountability data from it to form Encompass ratings. Click here to view this organization's Forms 990 on the IRS website (if any are available).

Pandemic Response

Due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, we give charities such as this one the opportunity to share the story of COVID's impact on them. Charities may submit their own pandemic responses through their nonprofit portal.

Clean Ocean Action reported being impacted by COVID-19 in the following ways:
  • Program Delivery

  • Fundraising Capacity

  • Revenue

How COVID-19 impacted the organization's operations financially:

Donations in 2020 to education and pollution abatement programs declined by 14% as compared with those same donation categories in 2019. However, Clean Ocean Action applied and received the PPP loan and thus were able to employ a full staff.

How COVID-19 impacted the organization's delivery of programs:

Due to COVID and related regulations, Clean Ocean Action cancelled all Winter/Spring 2020 in-person meeting, programs, workshops, and education programs, as well as all major programs and events, including citizen science water quality monitoring, Beach Sweeps, and Student Summits. By late Spring of 2020, COA had shifted and re-invented primary education programs to virtual formats allowing modified education forums, workshops, advocacy strategy planning, and similar activities to thrive even under the circumstances. These included the Student Summits and the launch of the Student Environmental Advocates & Leaders (SEAL). By the Fall of 2020, some outdoor events were held, albeit with participation limits to comply with CDC’s recommendations/restrictions for COVID.

How this organization adapted to changing conditions caused by COVID-19:

The pandemic required COA to reimagine and reconfigure programs for success. Within one week of the statewide shutdown, COA’s internal operations were back online, thanks to remarkable support from a volunteer IT magician. With COA then consisting of 10 home offices, collaboration and coordination was virtual and technology was centric. COA’s mighty crew rolled with these challenges; the “go with the flow” mantra became a lifeline and source of inspiration to evolve. Hence, COA embraced online tools (TEAMs, ZOOM, Prezi, Google Suite) which have become vital to programing. Nearly every program now has a new, vibrant and innovative virtual component, including Beach Sweeps Captain meetings, Rally for the Two Rivers monthly seminars, Student Summits, and the SEAL program.

Innovations the organization intends to continue permanently after the pandemic:

To keep it positive, we call them “rainbows and silver linings.” There may not be a crystal ball to see into the future, but COA believes the virtual “genie is out of the bottle” and welcomes the opportunity to benefit from these more inclusive methods. While it is clear that the pandemic and its devastation will cast a long shadow for years to come, it compelled COA to realign, reimagine and retool approaches to maintain and sustain its mission. The result is a programmatic evolution for COA. By embracing and integrating new and innovative lessons learned, COA has become more empowered to provide improved services to those who depend upon a clean ocean. There are new tools in the virtual realm – including the Zoom-room and TEAMS advocacy. Uniting vast numbers of people over immense areas is easier than ever, and the virtual realm reduces burning fossil fuels for traveling.

Historical Ratings

Date PublishedForm 990 FYEOverall ScoreOverall Rating
Rating Version: 2.1
12/23/20202019 99.95
9/3/20192018 99.87
2/1/20192017 92.82
2/1/20182016 92.60
4/1/20172015 92.15
7/1/20162014 92.90
6/1/20162014 91.35

This organization received multiple star ratings within this fiscal year, due to an update to its Accountability and Transparency data and/or the receipt of an amended Form 990.

Rating Version: 2.0
11/1/20152014 83.85
6/1/20152013 86.38
2/1/20142012 88.06
12/1/20132012 87.07
12/20/20122011 87.50
12/1/20112010 95.96
9/20/20112009 86.50
Rating Version: 1.0
2/1/20112009 96.99
12/15/20092008 95.22
7/1/20092007 87.18
12/15/20072006 96.60
2/1/20072005 98.88

...   Impact & Results

This score estimates the actual impact a nonprofit has on the lives of those it serves, and determines whether it is making good use of donor resources to achieve that impact.

Impact & Results Score

Not Currently Scored

Clean Ocean Action cannot currently be evaluated by our Encompass Rating Impact & Results methodology because either (A) it is eligible, but we have not yet received data; (B) we have not yet developed an algorithm to estimate its programmatic impact; (C) its programs are not direct services; or (D) it is not heavily reliant on contributions from individual donors.

Note: The absence of a score does not indicate a positive or negative assessment, it only indicates that we have not yet evaluated the organization.

Learn more about Impact & Results.

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Additional Information


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Largest Programs

Largest Programs

Clean Ocean Action reported its largest program on its FY 2019 Form 990 as:


Spent in most recent FY


Percent of program expenses

Education and Outreach

...   Leadership & Adaptability

This score provides an assessment of the organization's leadership capacity, strategic thinking and planning, and ability to innovate or respond to changes in constituent demand/need or other relevant social and economic conditions to achieve the organization's mission.

Leadership & Adaptability Score


out of 100

The score earned by Clean Ocean Action is a passing score. This score has no effect on the organization's Star Rating.

Encompass Rating V4 provides an evaluation of the organization's Leadership & Adaptability through the nonprofit organization submitting a survey response directly to Charity Navigator.

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Leadership & Adaptability Report


of 100 points


The nonprofit organization presents evidence of strategic thinking through articulating the organization’s mission

Our mission is in our name -- Clean up the Ocean with Action! With an ocean conscience, COA identifies threats to the marine environment, researches responsible solutions, and rallies strategic campaigns using science, education, and advocacy. As a result, informed, powerful and motivated broad-based coalitions (citizens, groups, and businesses) are united to protect marine life from harm. Primary focus area is the New York Bight from Montauk, NY, to Cape May, NJ. For over 35 years, COA’s relentless, successful efforts empower people and convince our elected officials to protect our marine resources for today and for future generations.

Source: Nonprofit submitted responses


The nonprofit organization presents evidence of strategic thinking through articulating the organization’s vision.

Mission accomplished for Clean Ocean Action is a sustainable clean, healthy, vibrant ocean as a result of instilling true-blue ocean protection mindfulness within all people. In other words, the ultimate measure of success would be that the work of Clean Ocean Action is complete -- the ocean is healthy and vibrant, people live and work sustainably with the ocean, and laws exist to protect the sea from future harm such that COA is no longer needed and can close its doors.

Source: Nonprofit submitted responses

Strategic Goals

The nonprofit organization presents evidence of strategic thinking and goal setting through sharing their most important strategic goals.

Goal One: Enhance or create transformative research, education and advocacy programs to instill citizens with “the will and the way” to stop sources of pollution and harm to the ocean, and combat climate change

Goal Type: This goal reflects our commitment to further our advocacy work for our organization and or cause area.

Goal Two: Engage groups, businesses and citizens to establish ocean protection/climate change issues as a public policy priority objective at the local, state, federal level, using tradition and digital forums.

Goal Type: This goal reflects our commitment to further our advocacy work for our organization and or cause area.

Goal Three: Nurture and cultivate youth with STEAM, leadership, and civic empowerment tools to ensure a robust future generation of ocean defenders.

Goal Type: This goal reflects our commitment to further our advocacy work for our organization and or cause area.

Source: Nonprofit submitted responses

Leadership Development

The nonprofit provides evidence of investment in leadership development

Describe an investment in leadership

To enhance COA’s organizational capacity and employee self-improvement, staff are encouraged to participate in leadership opportunities. Professional development is included in Job Descriptions, regularly discussed at staff meetings, and shared often. Thus, staff have enhanced skills and knowledge which speak to “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Examples include Staff Scientist and Watershed Protection Coordinator trained with ARC/GIS to enhance research and outreach programs, Policy Attorney attended legal trainings, and management staff participates in HR trainings. COA is a member of the Center for Nonprofits which provides access to timely workshops to enhance internal operations. These are most helpful, particularly last year for COVID-related issues. Staff cultivate relationships within professional organizations, including environmental commissions, chambers of commerce or other networking opportunities to expand the horizons of employees and help with networking COA’s mission.

Source: Nonprofit submitted responses

Mobilizing for Mission

The nonprofit provides evidence of leadership through focusing externally and mobilizing resources for the mission.

This organization mobilizes for mission in the following ways:
  • Strategic Partnerships

  • Networks of Collective Impact Efforts

  • Thought Leadership

  • Raising Awareness

  • Community Building

  • Policy Advocacy

What are this organization’s external mobilizaton efforts?

At the core of Clean Ocean Action is coalition building. It is at the heart of every program and campaign. As such, COA works with hundreds of organizations and continuously conducts outreach programs to unite groups, citizens, and businesses to achieve the goal of protecting the marine environment. To support the networking, COA also participates on numerous federal, state, and local “stakeholder processes” which provide invaluable access to agency staff to garner insights about regulatory or other actions allowing early input and/or intervention for COA’s ocean protection policy initiatives. Also, COA participates in many NGO networks and programs to share knowledge and challenges which help strengthen partnerships and overall environmental progress. Moreover, COA has a robust social media presence of 50,009!

Source: Nonprofit submitted responses

Story of Adaptability

The nonprofit has an opportunity to tell the story of how the organization adapted to tremendous external changes in the last year.

Adaptation model: boldly “go with the flow to make waves of change.” As news of the pandemic swept the world, COA’s mighty crew embraced our watery true-blue mantra, go with the flow. Like a river, if one path is blocked, another is found, the twists and turns creating new pathways for progress. As such, “go with the flow” became a lifeline and inspiration source to evolve and find a way forward despite challenges. Thus, many lessons were learned. As the pandemic raged, thousands of citizens sought the beauty and serenity of the ocean for solace and inspiration. Since social distancing requirements limited in-person activities, COA shifted to digital media and connected with surfers, fishermen, and photographers to share images that allowed COA’s website and social media platforms to be a gateway to the sea. Images of migrating whales, videos of ocean waves, and storytellers and artists sharing their passion for the sea provided a refreshing and welcome ocean connection. COA also learned important benefits and opportunities with online experiences. Chief among these is increased participation, thanks to the ease of participating from home or mobile devices, and unlimited online capacity in the Zoom Room. Importantly, it also helps eliminate social, economic, and pandemic-related barriers that often prevent in-person participation due to travel restrictions or transportation costs (i.e., buses). Environmentally, less travel to these meetings in cars and buses has reduced fossil fuel emissions. COA believes the virtual genie is out of the bottle, and with hope, enthusiasm, and anticipation is adopting the new inclusive, and innovative learning options, while also making the best of both worlds. Concurrently, COA is enhancing sustainable outdoor/real-world programing. Combining both real and virtual programing provides an extraordinary opportunity to expand access to COA’s research, education, and citizen action programing that is convenient to anyone at any time.

Source: Nonprofit submitted responses

Additional Information


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Organization Leadership

Organization Leadership

Cindy Zipf

Executive Director

Tom Fagan


...   Culture & Community

This score provides an assessment of the organization's culture and connectedness to the community it serves. Learn more about how and why we rate Culture & Community.

Culture & Community Score


out of 100

Clean Ocean Action has earned a passing score. This score has no effect on the organization's Star Rating. The organization provided data about how it listens to constituents (Constituent Feedback) (see report below).

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Culture & Community Report


of 100 points

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Constituent Feedback

Constituent Feedback

Full Credit

This organization reported that it is collecting feedback.

Here's how this organization is listening and learning from the people it serves:

Who are the people you serve with your mission? Describe briefly.

Clean Ocean Action (COA) serves all who depend on a clean and healthy ocean which ultimately includes all life on earth - from the diverse and extraordinary life within the ocean and those who enjoy its rich bounty and joyful waters to those who depend upon it for food or livelihood with its billions of dollars in economic value. Thus, COA serves many -- swimmers, boaters, divers, surfers, fishermen and women, and those whose souls are enriched by the sea, as well as commercial fishing, boating industries and tourism. Many also depend on the sea to supplement their diet by fishing, clamming, or crabbing. Finally, the ocean generates between 50-70% of Earth’s oxygen so more than every other breath we take is a gift from the sea.

How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Focus groups or interviews (by phone or in person), Paper surveys, Suggestion box/email, Other means

How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve

With whom does your organization share the feedback you got from the people you serve?

The people we serve, Our staff, Our board, Our funders, Our community partners

How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship with them or shifted power - over decisions, resources, rules or in other ways - to them?

It is a COA core value to work as a coalition. As such, creating feedback loops is essential. For example, COA recently surveyed a watershed with 12 predominantly low-income communities about a massive, proposed fossil fuel project off their shore. Most were unaware of the project, the risks, dangers or pollution issues. COA then engaged in a process to determine their needs and as a result supplied information, resolutions, and other resources and tools to empower communities to take action. Thus, citizens in all 12 towns became leaders by engaging with their elected officials to pass resolutions which helped lead to the defeat of the project. Requesting feedback is key for COA to determine community needs and how to best engage citizens for improving water quality and quality of life.

What challenges does your organization face in collecting feedback from the people you serve?

It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, The people we serve tell us they find data collection burdensome, It is difficult to find the ongoing funding to support feedback collection, Staff find it hard to prioritize feedback collection and review due to lack of time

Briefly describe a recent change that your organization made in response to feedback from the people you serve.

COA's Student Summits offer opportunities for thousands of middle school students to understand how the sea is connected to both their health and future. They provide enlightening seaside symposiums in Monmouth, Ocean, and Cape May Counties in NJ and Staten Island, NY. Educating the next generation to restore a healthy environment with STEAM-based programing is essential. Last Fall, COA's Teacher and Student Feedback Forms included information indicating that videos were too long, the pre-program questionnaire was too involved and questions asked of the students were beyond their scope. As a result, this year's Student Summits shifted to shorter and more informative videos, a straight forward pre-program questionnaire and content that was more specifically age-appropriate.


Charity Navigator believes nonprofit organizations that engage in inclusive practices, such as collecting feedback from the people and communities they serve, may be more effective. We've partnered with Candid to survey organizations about their feedback practices. Nonprofit organizations can fill out the How We Listen section of their Candid profile to receive a rating.

Learn more about the methodology.

Analysis and Research

Like the overall Encompass Rating System, the Culture & Community Beacon is designed to evolve as metrics are developed and ready for integration. Our partnership with Feedback Labs and Candid, and other partners including Fund for Shared Insight, GlobalGiving, and Keystone Accountability, enables us to launch the first version of this beacon with Constituent Feedback information collected on Candid's site.

Feedback practices have been shown to support better Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion outcomes, an essential area of assessment that we intend to further expand and develop in the future. Feedback Labs has documented several studies which indicate that beyond achieving organizational goals, nonprofits that are attentive and responsive to concerns and ideas raised by beneficiaries establish stronger relationships with the people they serve, promote greater equity, and empower constituents in ways that can help to ensure better long-term outcomes. You can find resources to help nonprofits improve their feedback practices here.

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