This was originally posted as Transforming Charities into Being More Mission Driven with the Help of Technology on TechSoup.
US charities of almost every size (although especially the 50% of them whose budgets are $50,000 or less) complain of tremendous resource scarcity as they try to help solve some of our world’s most pressing problems. The movement to encourage charities to become more outcome focused (and thereby mission driven) has been seriously hampered by these resource constraints. More specifically, how can you build a performance management system in your organization to measure outcome indicators and focus staffs' efforts on your mission, if there is no funding to do so? More and more funders are asking for this kind of information, but most of them still provide nothing (money or expertise) to make it possible to manage and measure performance. The typical response of most charities is to try and repackage existing data to meet the rising requirements. In other words, we continue to promulgate a “garbage in, garbage out” system and meaningful reporting on results remains a distant goal.
There are some hopeful signs to help charities overcome this dilemma and become early adopters of building internal systems to become truly high performing nonprofits that provide the greatest social value (i.e. meaningful change in communities and people’s lives). One effort to help can be found in a letter that I signed, along with my colleagues at Guidestar and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. It is called the overhead myth letter and can be found here. This letter can be used with foundation and individual funders to say, we need more overhead to build the infrastructure to measure our outcomes. Then we can provide you with the most meaningful measure of our performance rather than just secondary data on financial inputs.
Another great effort can be found in the work of a web site called PerformWell. The agencies working on this site are attempting to assist charities in identifying good outcome indicators based upon evidence based models that have been proven to work in specific cause areas. You can check them out here. In addition, I believe a relatively low cost tool that is nearly universal in applicability for measuring outcomes is via surveys of beneficiaries (sometimes called constituent voice). Keystone Accountability is working to create a web site of tools to help charities implement meaningful surveys. They offer a free tool you can check out (here) as a starting point. Furthermore, one of the funders of PerformWell is a group called Social Solutions. They provide software and consulting assistance to help you implement an outcome focused performance management tool.
We at Charity Navigator are hoping to develop a resource directory of the aforementioned and other tools for charities to help them get on the road to better results. To learn about how we have begun to evaluate charities' results reporting, read our one page summary (here) and have a look at the 600+ charities we have already evaluated on these new results reporting metrics (here).
Finally, we believe that all of these resources reflect the power that technology is playing in helping charities to become more performance driven and results focused by driving down costs and increasing the ability to compile and manage data much more quickly and easily. We urge you to take the perspective of doing “whatever it takes” to find the tools, expertise and funding to get on the road to measuring and managing your programs in the most meaningful way possible so that you can help more people and communities. I assume that all of you who are reading this share the mission as members and/or supporters of the nonprofit sector. I commend all of you for the good works you do each day in meeting that mission. I hope that you can find new ways to use technology more than ever to make your outcomes even more profound!