Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How are we doing?

A few days ago I mentioned Charity Navigator, it's a non-profit devoted entirely to tracking and reporting on non-profits. Its primary intended audience is donors but the information they put together, at impressive scale and depth, is of great interest to anyone working in the field.

An important caveat: of course they haven't solved, any more than most of us have, the problem of measuring the results of our efforts towards our missions. If a non-profit's mission is for youth to become deeply engaged in the natural world, how do we truly measure how much or well that is happening? We know that anecdotes aren't evidence and that measuring such change is harder than counting widgets sold, and that's about all we can yet agree on. In our weaker moments we fall back on witless cliches about "lies, damn lies and statistics" or how "you can make numbers say anything"; hopefully that's just honest frustration getting the better of us. It's the top issue for our sector and tends to dominate discussion at every conference I attend these days.

Wow that was quite a lot of throat-clearing wasn't it...it's a touchy subject. Anyway what Charity Navigator can do is provide some consistent measures of the caliber of our efforts, and that is certainly worthwhile regardless of the above. They seem pretty balanced in terms of putting the spotlight on both the good and bad, such as with their "Top Ten" lists. For instance I'm glad to have worked for #7 on this one; very glad never to have contributed to the follies at any of these. (And anybody on staff at one of these needs to be very concerned!)

The "Hot Topics" section is quite nice, where they highlight charities related to a currently-newsworthy subject; so for example for October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, they provide a one-stop list of all groups working on that. There's lots of good info on each non-profit and it appears to be kept quite up-to-date. It's probably worth searching for the place you work for, and I hope it turns out to be operating as well as you thought!

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