International adoptions have dropped 60% since 2004. UN policies, government regulations and high costs are to blame. Millions of orphans suffer through life without a healthy family context. All these facts that Both Ends Burning, STUCK, and now Foster Friess are sharing are true. But you won't find my name on the STUCK petition at change.org or my footprints in DC during the May 17 "step forward for orphans march." I've learned too much to believe international adoption is a scalable solution for a world full of orphans.
Do you still enjoy your giving? In a world of professional philanthropy conferences, philanthropy journals and "giving gone wrong" headlines, giving can become one more skill to master or task to manage. My daily research into the performance and impact of grantees has the real potential to strip away the joy of generosity. It can become all head and no heart. Site visits can feel like audits. Grant impact reports can relieve the worry of wasting gifts rather than excite you about the difference the gift has made.
To be honest, you may wonder if it really matters.
Impact measurement has been dubbed the Holy Grail of all social enterprise. If non-profit and for-profit social enterprises could capture the lasting difference made from all the meetings, projects, programs, fundraisers, volunteers, budgets and staff, we would have arrived. We would know if all the donations, charity walks, social media campaigns, grant proposals and collaborative partnerships are worth it. Not surprisingly, no one has found a short cut to universal impact measurement. There is no simple formula that determines whether a charity is ‘high impact,’ I believe there are a few specific steps to take when assessing any non-profit’s impact.
What if the once-a-year "reveals" of a charity's impact had the hype of the iPhone 5? What if millions of people spent time guessing about program upgrades and the higher performance that the most dynamic charity in the world had developed in the past year? What if people were making viral videos and sketching out projections for a charity's outcomes and functions before real pictures and numbers were revealed? I could only wish that charities Excellence in Giving clients support stirred such anticipation to see their latest performance. I would love to receive a mysterious invite (like Apple is about to send to tech media writers) to attend a dramatic presentation of new charitable program designs and their increased productivity. Maybe one day the presentation of a charity's annual report would warrant that hype.
High performing nonprofits develop careful strategies for creating consistent revenue to sustain operations. Donors do not want to support an organization one year and see its programs collapse the next year from insufficient funding. Great organizations with bold visions and effective programs understand that sustainable revenue streams are mission-critical.
Finding out if organizations you support will sustain themselves is step 3 in our 6-step process for evaluating nonprofit performance.
Is my giving really making a difference? That is a question that haunts every giver. Every day individuals and foundations make decisions about where to give. Over a million active U.S. charities provide endless opportunities to support big visions and passionate leaders. The difficult task for those of us screening opportunities is how to know who is really making a difference.
The task should be easy. Charities should be measuring their performance and reporting the results. All of us who issue grants at foundations should have no more difficult a task than reading grant impact reports from previous gifts. But it’s not that simple. The quality and clarity of grant reporting is all over the map. So what do you do to raise the bar for grantee reports? Go to the rest of my post on the new Association of Small Foundations blog to find out and discuss.
Do you want to know if charities you support operate efficiently and effectively in pursuit of their mission? You can. The best online charity evaluation platform just got better. The 2-page nonprofit Analytical Overviews from Intelligent Philanthropy have added 30 entry fields for a total of 150 up-to-date data points on organizational health and performance. Check out a sample 2012 edition Analytical Overview. There is no more comprehensive and concise overview of a charity's leadership, financial management, strategy and impact available on the internet anywhere.
New nonprofit information in the 2012 edition Analytical Overviews include...
High performing nonprofits must understand how to manage their money. Charities cannot promise great things to supporters and run out of resources along the way. A delicate balance of maintaining healthy reserves, minimizing debt, and sticking to a budget is required. Donors don’t want a bait-and-switch where increased donations go to debt service or get stockpiled in the bank without any increased impact. And no one can tolerate financial mismanagement where an organization lives in the red with unrealistic budgets or doesn’t put the majority of its funds into mission-related activities.
Just days before Intelligent Philanthropy turns 1 year old, we have finally been recognized as one of 8 major online charity evaluation and accountability organizations. RELEVANT Magazine published an article "Where Do Your Donations Go?" and listed Intelligent Philanthropy alongside Guidestar and GiveWell. Admittedly, the author chose to highlight and interview Charity Navigator and ECFA leaders. But the citation in a 3rd party publication is a step in the right direction for what we believe is the best all-around charity evaluation platform available.
Where do you start when evaluating the health of a nonprofit organization? Incessant headlines about dishonest educational programs, irresponsible board governance, misleading cancer charities, and corrupt first responder foundations remind us a little assessment can go a long way. But most of us don't have time for detailed due diligence. So where do we begin a cursory evaluation of nonprofit infrastructure and impact?