Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Democratization of Social Impact Measurement: Why I Joined Algorhythm

I spent roughly thirty years helping to manage human service and health care organizations dedicated to serving those most in need. I then spent almost 7 years at Charity Navigator. As a result, I was lifted out of the trenches of direct service and exposed to the intoxicatingly “thin air” of thought leaders, consultants and academics who dwell at the 50,000 foot level of the nonprofit and social sector.  The ideas and principles of many of those individuals are brilliant and exciting. However, more often than not, their ideas are either 20 to 30 years ahead of where most of the sector is today or just simply wrong (nice in theory but not in practice). 

Nonetheless, there was one fundamental concept that some of them promoted that made complete sense to me - the need to have nonprofits pay attention to data and measure what they do to be certain they are meeting their mission. For thirty years in the trenches I collected plenty of data, but it was mostly just counting stuff and rarely indicative of meaningful change in the lives of people being served. Therefore, about six months into my job at Charity Navigator I announced to the world (on my blog site) that we were going to change the way we rated charities over time to focus on outcomes. 

Over the years that followed I became an increasingly outspoken advocate for managing and measuring what matters most to achieve nonprofit and social enterprises good works.  However, I also became increasingly aware of a fundamental problem, I called it the Occupy Charity problem. That is, that roughly 1% of nonprofits in the USA (registered here but serving every country in the world), take in about 86% of the $2 trillion dollars that comes into the sector each year. In fact, it is a global problem and their is a similar situation in most countries. 

I observed that the leaders of the 1% tend to dominate the conversations around all things having to do with the sector in general. Not surprisingly, the consultants and institutes that developed models of performance management and measurement have predominantly been geared to them as well. After all, that’s where the bulk of the money is! As a result, a typical response to my speeches about performance management and measurement by the leaders of small and mid-sized nonprofits around the country was, “How will we ever afford to do that stuff?”

That was a very good question. My answers were very limited and over time even less so, until 2013. That was the year I began talking to Peter York about his new company called Algorhythm. He described a low cost, scalable tool he was developing to help the other 99% take advantage of Big Data, machine learning and other cutting edge technologies. He also mentioned how the tool gave front line staff the ability to know even before a program begins the likelihood of success, as well as things they could do proactively to make the program more effective. He noted that, through aggregation of data from many small nonprofits, they could learn together and get even better at delivery of high quality services. Amazingly, it could all be accomplished at 10 to 20 times less than the traditional tools and systems.

So when I left Charity Navigator and was considering what to do next in my career, the offer to join Algorhythm was a no brainer! I had met with nonprofits and experts on measurement from  around the world. There was and is no one else I am aware of that has a tool like Algorhythm. I came to this realization two years ago, while still at Charity Navigator, and have been promoting them ever since with absolutely no financial “skin” in the game. Yes that has changed since I now work at Algorhythm and could arguably be biased. However, working here has only deepened my appreciation for the immense value these tools can bring to organizations that are willing to consider them. 

Below is a list of some of the outstanding things that the Algorythm - iLearning System can help a nonprofit or social enterprise to do:

  1. Identify all pathways to success for their beneficiaries.
  2. Provide on-demand insights to the frontline staff.
  3. Provide big-picture strategic insights to leadership.
  4. Empower and engage beneficiaries in the learning and improvement process.
  5. Connect everyone to an evolving learning network.
  6. Transform data for reporting into data for meaningful improvement.

Given all this, I believe that Algorhythm has “cracked the code” for the 99% of small and mid-sized charities that have been left out of the social impact revolution. The wait is over for a system that can provide meaningful information on what matters most to every nonprofit or social enterprise’s mission. No longer will these organizations have to face the increasing demands of funders or investors for outcome data without a viable affordable option to meet that need. No longer will front line staff be faced with yet another meaningless reporting requirement that adds no value to their work. No longer will beneficiaries of services be voiceless and disengaged from the program design and improvement process. 

I hope that funders, investors, experts, as well as leaders of nonprofits and social enterprises will begin to stand up and take notice of this one of a kind accomplishment. We have heard about the wonders that Big Data and machine learning are doing in the traditional for profit world. It’s now time to finally have our turn and create the most effective and high performing organizations imaginable. As a result, we will be able to help many more communities and people in need in measurable ways. The world can be a much better place as a consequence. Please join us. The future is now. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

My New Job

Ken Berger Joins Algorhythm
Former President & CEO of Charity Navigator to Further Focus Nonprofits and Funders on Managing and Measuring their Efficacy

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PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 17, 2015 - Algorhythm, a technology company dedicated to fostering greater social impact through data-driven decision making, announced today it has appointed Ken Berger as its new managing director effective August 17th. Mr. Berger joins Algorhythm from Charity Navigator, where he was the president and CEO for the past seven years.
Algorhythm helps nonprofits manage and measure their performance. Berger will play a crucial role in expanding these efforts by increasing the company’s reach to new groups of nonprofits, social businesses, funders and investors.

"Ken and I have worked together for years, in collaborative working groups as well as presenting before nonprofits and funders,” said Algorhythm’s Founder and CEO, Peter York.   “We have always shared the same vision and values for where the sector needs to go. This is an exciting opportunity for us to work together toward the common goal of helping nonprofits become better at what they do, using tailored and affordable measurement and analytic tools. Algorhythm’s tools have unique and powerful capabilities that help nonprofits make clear, concise, evidence-based decisions. The tools also assist those that support them (foundations and individual donors) to increase their impact."
At Charity Navigator - the largest charity rating agency in the world – Berger led the organizations’ effort to move its rating system away from a primary emphasis on overhead, toward measuring how charities report on the results of their work, especially outcomes. He also spoke frequently before the media and within the philanthropic sector on matters of concern to the sector.

“While I was at Charity Navigator, many nonprofit leaders would ask me, ‘How can we possibly build the kind of performance management systems that are required to do a better job and satisfy our funders?’ When I learned about the work of Algorhythm, I came to the conclusion that they were the only ones that had truly ‘cracked the code’ and filled that need for nonprofits of all sizes. They accomplished this by developing powerful and affordable tools to help nonprofits manage and measure what matters most to meet their mission. Joining forces with them is the logical next step for me, as we continue our work to transform the nonprofit sector.”

Berger also intends to continue writing and speaking about issues that are of concern to nonprofits and funders (individual, foundation, corporate and government) alike. He also expects to keep up with his blog, Ken’s Commentary, and carry on with speaking frequently before the philanthropic community about what he calls “The Battle for the Soul of the Social Sector”.

Before his work at Charity Navigator, Mr. Berger spent nearly 30 years in various leadership positions of human service and health care nonprofit organizations dedicated to serving the underserved.

Mr. Berger holds a Master’s Degree in Developmental/Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and a Master in Business Administration from Rutgers University.

About Algorhythm (https://algorhythm.io/)
Algorhythm was founded in 2013 with a mission to provide data-driven decision making for social impact. Algorhythm offers its Impact Learning (iLearning) Systems to provide forward-looking analytics that can help nonprofits learn and adapt over time to improve overall performance as well as increase their measurable outcomes. Algorhythm can be contacted by email at info@algorhythm.io or by phone at 267-225-8066.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What has Charity Navigator learned so far about how NGOs report on their results?

While I was working at Charity Navigator, I had wanted to write about what we had learned so far in our move to assess how NGOs report on their results (especially outcomes), but never had the time to do so. Now that I am an independent consultant in the start-up phase, there is (what I hope is) a slight lull before the tidal wave of work sweeps me back up again. To that end, I write this short blog post at the request of my friend and colleague David Bonbright. David’s pioneering work on Constituent Voice plays an important role in the new dimension to Charity Navigator’s rating system (results reporting). In fact, he wrote the first concept note draft with all of its elements and I then added my two cents to his million dollar insights (although he did not charge that much!).  

So below are a series of questions David has asked me to answer to give a sense of what Charity Navigator’s experience has been: 

  • How are NGOs responding to the results reporting dimension? 
The responses vary along a spectrum of discomfort and concern at one end, to encouragement and full support at the other end. Many are not even on the “spectrum” at all in that they fit a profile similar to what CN went through in 2011 when CN 2.0 was implemented (adding a governance dimension to the rating system that is called “Accountability & Transparency” on the CN web site). Essentially, most are completely unresponsive and show no reaction at all to this new results reporting dimension of the rating system. Why? To begin with, the information that CN is gathering on results reporting will not be rated for quite some time to come. In fact, CN informed me recently that they no longer are projecting what the implementation date will be for rating this information. Therefore, there is no sense of immediate urgency to have a closer look. Related to this reaction is the fact that the vast majority of NGOs (perhaps 90% of the 2,000 or so surveyed so far) do not respond to CN’s survey requests for information on their results reporting practices. Therefore, CN must rely on what is publically available on the NGOs website, which is often quite paltry when it comes to meaningful results reporting. 

For those who do respond at the discomfort and concern end of the spectrum, I believe it is predominantly a matter of ignorance about the details. Many NGO leaders who hold this view assume that CN is going to sit in judgement of the results of one charity against another and pick some list of outcome indicators that must be utilized. If that were so, this would indeed be a reason to be concerned about what CN is doing. However that is not the case! Whenever I would attend an NGO conference and explain what CN’s results reporting metrics actually encompass and how much it empowers the NGO to report in their own way, the vast majority move toward the supportive end of the spectrum. However, there are always some who hold fast to the view that ratings of any kind are too simplistic too truly capture their work, even (especially?) ratings from those they serve, which of course is the essence of the Constituent Voice part of the results reporting criteria.  Although I profoundly disagree with such a viewpoint (when you look at how CN is approaching this), that is a blog entry for another day. 

For those who respond at the positive end of the spectrum, the feedback has been a real boost to CNs sense of purpose and drive to get this new dimension in place as soon as possible. The quote that I think sums up this perspective was provided by Paul Brest (former head of the Hewlett Foundation) who, after reading the details of CN’s results reporting dimension, commented as follows: “This is the most important work going on in the nonprofit sector.” 
  • How are NGOs changing their practices as a result of CNs evolving rating system? 
All CN has at this point is anecdotal data. A subset of the 10% or so of NGOs that respond to the CN survey and individuals who walk up to me after my NGO presentations are indicating they are working hard to implement the best performance management and measurement systems they can to get better at reporting their results and meeting their mission. 

  • How has the whole outcome and “high performance” movement been touching NGOs. 
When I attend NGO conferences or read surveys on the subject (such as the recent one put out by the Center for Effective Philanthropy), all indications are that the vast majority of NGOs are making efforts in this area. However, there are also strong indications that the depths of most of those efforts are limited. Anecdotal and survey results indicate that the number of NGOs that are truly reporting on meaningful results (i.e. outcomes) versus outputs, is overall quite small.Maybe the reason for this is that while more and more funders are demanding outcome reporting, it is equally clear that most funders are not willing to pay the added cost associated with such management and reporting systems. Therefore, I worry that we have claims of outcome reporting covering what are no more than repackaged output reporting to satisfy funders so that the resource starved NGO can at least continue to survive. 
  • Specifically with respect to Constituent Voice, how do you see things like the emergence of the Fund for Shared Insight and Feedback Labs or the ongoing calls to improve accountability to beneficiaries in humanitarian response?  
I believe that Constituent Voice done correctly is one of the only nearly universally applicable (to all types of NGOs) tools to measure outcomes. In addition, it is probably the most affordable to small and mid-sized NGOs. One of my take-aways from 30 years of providing direct service in small and mid-sized NGOs and then spending 7 years at CN listening to thought leaders and NGO leaders, is that many of the proposed efforts to increase outcomes are not realistically available to these smaller NGOs. CV is, however, what I believe will be the key for them to get meaningful information to report on and manage to.By giving voice to those they service through CV, organizations also directly support their missions.As to Fund for Shared Insight, my reaction is “hurray for more funding for these critical tools!”As to Feedback Labs, “hurray for accessible, easy and affordable tools for NGOs to utilize!”Finally, my thoughts on improving accountability to beneficiaries in humanitarian response and everywhere else is, “hurray for those who are leading these efforts for the greater good!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ski outings, luxury cruises and dating service membership (etc.) while fighting cancer?

Four alleged cancer fighting charities are investigated by the FTC with 50 states backing the legal actions that followed. It has been called a "historic and unprecedented" response by government to charity scams. But is it really? See my views on the subject in this 4 minute video.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Final Charity Navigator Interview

About three weeks before my departure from Charity Navigator (CN), I was interviewed by mOppenheimTV for their INSIGHT show. In the interview (18 minutes in length), I discuss the past, present and planned future of Charity Navigator and its challenges. I also provide a brief review of my career and how it influenced my work at CN.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Clinton Foundation Questions Its Watchlist Designation on Charity Navigator

I was recently interviewed by a reporter for NY Magazine regarding the CN Watchlist entry for the Clinton Foundation. You can find that article - here.

In follow-up, I was interviewed on the Willis Report and you can watch that interview here.