Monday, August 2, 2010

Gentle Giants and Emotional Intelligence in Charity Land

One of the benefits of working in the nonprofit sector is you get to meet some of the most caring and decent human beings. There are some truly selfless individuals dedicated to the mission of helping others in the leadership of a number of the agencies we work with. We have gotten quite a few of them to join our effort to build CN 2.0 both on our Advisory Panel and as collaborators in developing the effectiveness and results component to our rating system. They are the "gentle giants" in the nonprofit sector. They are humble about their abilities and insights and actually genuinely LISTEN (!) to other points of view. They are team players who value multiple perspectives and strive for continuous improvement that does not require their ego to be at center stage. They are a joy to work with and give me hope that we can do some great things together because they are truly client centered (hey, those are our core values!). They are also some of the smartest people out there who are thinking about how to increase meaningful and sustainable change in communities and people's lives.

At the same time, there are many others who are near genius in their mental abilities and very challenged when it comes to emotional intelligence. Before going any further, I can assure you that my family, friends and colleagues would quickly add, "You are not exactly an emotional rocket scientist, Ken". Sadly true as that may be, I believe they would also acknowledge that I can at least tell when someone is in the normal range of emotional intelligence. The disconnect between the two kinds of intelligence (cognitive and emotional) has become all the more striking to me over the past two years that I have been at Charity Navigator.

The problems have been chronicled on this blog in such entries as Tales of the Dark Side and continue to be very much in play. In other words, when it comes to shark infested waters, the nonprofit sector can go toe-toe with for profits and government alike, with ease. Why? Because self centeredness, egotism, the desire for power and control, are the stuff we all struggle with. Also, there is a natural discomfort with change, especially when it entails considering ideas that may unseat or contradict long held assumptions that someone has pegged their career on. Unfortunately, it seems that often those who rise to the top have quite a belly full of that sort of thing. We are running into plenty of these so-called thought leaders who are actually intellectual bullies. If you do not agree with their ideas, you are considered at best misguided and more often simply too stupid to appreciate their brilliance. Furthermore, they appear to have absolutely no awareness of this fundamental dynamic in their interactions with others. When confronted on it, they deny it with great intellectual rationalizations, proving once again what a boob you are for suggesting such a thing.

In a time when collaboration is desperately needed to increase our ability to efficiently use resources, these people genuflect to the idea of collaboration, but in actual practice do not play well with others. Collaboration only is an option for them if they are considered de facto in charge and having final say on all issues.

So, this is the kind of stuff that takes up a lot of our time as we focus on getting to CN 2.0. As we review all the brilliant analytical models and proposed rating systems of our colleagues, something unstated but critically important is always on my mind, "Is this person a gentle giant?" I willingly admit my limitations in knowing for certain one way or the other if the person is or isn't. Often there are shades of gray and it is not a simple yes or no. However, answering that question to whatever degree possible, often supersedes all the rest in getting to the goal of a meaningful and sustainable change in our rating system!


Mazarine said...

Thanks for writing about how difficult it is to actually measure what charities are doing.

Perhaps some ways to measure charities would be:

1. How much can we measure what they are actually accomplishing? # of mouths fed, # of people housed, # of wildlife saved, etc.

2. How much do they collaborate with other nonprofits and what does that really mean?

3. Do they retain most staff for over 3 years, are people at this nonprofit paid over $15 an hour, while the CEO makes no more than 10x that, and do they have a nonprofit union which gives cost of living wage increases? Do they throw out the "at will" employment model?

This final one, in my opinion, is the best way to see if charities are being efficient and good to their workers.



Ken Berger said...


The final step in our three step process to get to CN 2.0 deals with measures of effectiveness and results. We will begin the process in the winter of 2010 and hope to have a first prototype by July 2011. We are consideing as many options as possible on that road. Thanks for your suggestions for going down it!