We have been testing out what information charities are currently compiling in the area of outcome measurement. We also intend to use the information to help us in developing our system. If there are some universally agreed upon outcome measures in a particular category of charities, it could help inform us on good standards. We assumed that most charities have SOME system of evaluating their outcomes. However, you know what they say when you assume. Suffice to say, you can end up with a bad ending! So far, less than 10% of the charities we have polled have provided us with information in this area.
I recently met with a colleague who funds organizations who can provide him with evidence of a good system of measuring their outcomes. He is getting similar results. The scary reality, he suspects, is that most charities (the overwhelming majority) have not even taken their first step down the outcome road. A couple of other experts I have bounced this around with have corroborated our findings.
I know from my many years of running charities that day-to-day survival mode is often the overriding focus and concern. In the current economic climate that reality has only intensified for most charities. So the lack of focus on outcome measurement is not likely to change any time soon, unless there are outside forces that demand it and resources that facilitate the process. We continue to assume that the larger agencies may be compiling this information, but may be reluctant to make it public. Even if this is true, only 4% of all charities have annual revenues in excess of $10 million. So our suspicion remains that the vast majority of charities are doing slim to nil in the area of outcome measurement.
I think that the experts, foundations and charity advocacy groups are going to need to educate government policy makers and the general public about the significant importance of publicly available, outcome measurement information before this situation will change. All grants, whether from government, foundations or corporations, should include a percentage to fund outcome measurement.
Why is this so important? As I noted last week (When Can Donors Trust a Charity?), I believe that an outcome driven culture is vitally important for a charity to be at its best and to be trusted. With all of the scandals and lack of confidence in charities, objective data will become more and more important for the public's perception of a charity's ongoing legitimacy. In such a climate, it's scary news that most charities probably are not measuring and documenting their outcomes.
Nonetheless, we are going to continue down this road and implement an outcome measurement system once we are confident it contains the right elements. We will also be a voice for the importance of outcome measurement to whoever will listen! However, I now anticipate that whenever we begin to evaluate charities on outcomes (probably no time soon), most will not do well, if for no other reason than that they are not documenting what they are doing. I hope I am wrong and will not let assumptions get in the way of the outcomes!
P.S. My colleague Vincent Bogucki here at Charity Navigator observed the following about all of this:
"Socrates made the statement at his trial, 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. Socrates freely chose death over life without measuring outcomes. Charities may have that choice forced upon them."