May 13, 2011, 5:28 pm
The Three Cups of Tea scandal has highlighted many of the problems that face the nonprofit world. More than 160 posts and articles have been written about the scandal.
Even so, one topic has received far too little attention: the wildly different scores that the Central Asia Institute, the nonprofit founded by the book’s author, Greg Mortenson, received from charity rating sites. Those big swings suggest that the rating systems we have in place today are much too weak to protect donors.
The philanthropy consultant Lucy Bernholz did take on the issue in a recent post in which she links to the American Institute of Philanthropy’s page criticizing the institute for its questionable response to requests for audited financial reports. The institute’s founder, Daniel Borochoff, also appeared on the “60 Minutes” segment that touched off the controversy.
The post also linked to…
May 2, 2011, 10:55 am
It seems fitting that the Three Cups of Tea scandal coincides with the release of the book More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty, by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel.
The Central Asia Institute, the nonprofit started by Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, has been criticized for the apparent lack of any evaluation of the work it did and the schools it constructed.
It is unclear how many schools the group built, how many of these buildings are actually used as schools, and whether the schools performed any better than existing schools.
In a “60 Minutes” exposé on the charity, which aired in April, reporters asked whether the organization had conducted any independent assessments of the effectiveness of its schools in Afghanistan. The Central Asia Institute’s governing board replied in a written statement, which “60 Minutes”…
March 29, 2011, 10:27 pm
Each high-profile disaster of the past few years—including the Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, and now the Japan catastrophe—have made it clear that the way charities raise money in response to disasters does not work.
Inevitably, after each disaster a reporter will ask me if enough money or perhaps too much money has been donated. My answer is always the same—some organizations will have too much money and other organizations will have too little money. Often it’s not the amount but the distribution that’s the problem.
Here’s how it works: Charitable donations are the greatest in the first few weeks after a disaster, while it’s still making news headlines.
Nonprofits know this, and many of them immediately issue appeals and create advertisements for their disaster response. But this is all done before anybody knows the extent of the disaster, the capacity of the…
March 17, 2011, 10:09 am
It’s natural to want to give immediately to Japan’s recovery efforts. With all the destruction wrought by a major earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant failing, it would seem the Japanese could use all the help they can get. So my suggestion is going to seem counter-intuitive, but I agree with GiveWell’s recommendation:
“At this point we strongly recommend holding off on giving to this relief/recovery effort.”
And Brigid Slipka’s decision:
“So here’s what I’m doing: I’m taking that impetus to give and pulling out $100. Then I’m putting it aside for a month or so. After a bit more information is out there, I’ll figure out where and how to give.”
The reason I suggest donors wait is because Japan has thus far only allowed/requested very limited international assistance.
“The Government of Japan has received offers for assistance from 91 countries, and has…
March 11, 2011, 6:43 pm
In the wake of today’s deadly earthquake in Japan and tsunami in the Pacific, many people are considering making donations to help those who were affected by the disaster.
The following is a series of do’s and don’ts to help you make the best donation decisions after a disaster.
Do determine if the country is accepting international assistance
With all the photos and videos of destruction on the evening news, it may seem impossible that governments would not want outside assistance. However, just because there has been a disaster does not mean that the local government and local aid organizations are not capable of reaching and helping those in need. Before sending your donation find out what, if any, assistance the government is allowing. Check to see if the aid organization you’re considering donating to is offering that same type of assistance.
Do look at a variety of…
March 7, 2011, 11:32 pm
I’m glad to see the increasing focus on failure in the nonprofit world. More people have submitted their stories about failures to the Web site Admitting Failure–although it’s still, unfortunately, limited to just a few organizations.
Following my recent post, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sent me a copy of its anthology, “To Improve Health and Health Care.” The first four chapters are devoted to failure and learning from our mistakes. The foundation also publishes this information on its Web site so that everyone has access to what it has learned.
I’ve enjoyed the candor in the foundation’s self-evaluation.
The authors even admit that they haven’t yet perfected the process: “The foundation is striving to develop a culture whereby the staff and board learn from the results of its programs, both positive and negative, though foundation staff members candidly…
February 24, 2011, 11:13 am
Last April, two lists of recommended blogs for nonprofit readers were published three days apart. One was The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s “A Word Cloud of Popular Charity Blogs” based on an online survey of fund-raising experts at U.S. charities. The other was Owen Barder’s list of “Development Blogs You Should Read.” I was startled and concerned when I discover that the two lists didn’t have a single blog in common.
I know that aid workers and nonprofit fund raisers have different jobs and different professional needs. And I know that only a small fraction of nonprofits work internationally. But shouldn’t there be at least a little overlap between the fund raisers and the field staff? In theory we all have the same end goal in mind, so a greater mutual understanding might help reduce some of the problems that regularly occur.
Richenda Ghebrial-Ibrahim, who works with social…
January 31, 2011, 11:12 am
This is the third in a series of audio interviews I’ve recorded with help from Utah Public Radio with experts who are examining the recovery and reconstruction efforts in Haiti one year after the devastating earthquake.
Today’s podcast features an interview with Nigel Fisher, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Haiti. Mr. Fisher discussed efforts by government and nonprofits to coordinate their relief efforts following the earthquake and the challenges relief agencies will face in Haiti in the future.
The podcast also includes a discussion via Skype with Karl Jean-Louis, the executive director of Haiti Aid Watchdog, who discussed the challenges of holding aid organizations accountable.
January 27, 2011, 9:49 am
A series of posts about the misconceptions created by charity Web sites continues today.
Misconception No. 4: Low administrative costs are a good indicator of the quality of the organization
According to Money for Good, the amount spent on administration costs is the number one item that donors look for when deciding whether or not to give. The problems caused by the incessant need to keep overhead at a minimum are well laid out in the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.”
This misconception is probably the hardest one to break for two reasons. First, many charity rating systems use overhead costs as one of the primary factors in determining nonprofit scores.
I hope with the pending release of Charity Navigator 2.0, which uses indicators of effectiveness and results, more rating systems will decrease their emphasis on…
January 24, 2011, 10:17 am
A series of posts about the misconceptions created by charity Web sites continues today.
Misconception No. 3: Nonprofits don’t have any operating standards to follow
In recent years, a lot of good tools and guidelines have been developed to help nonprofits improve their practices and their professionalism. Here are just a few of them:
- The Sphere Project. Launched in 1997 by a group of humanitarian nonprofit organizations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the Sphere Project is a set of standards to guide nonprofits as they respond to disasters.
- Good Enough Guide. A product of the Emergency Capacity Building Project, the Good Enough Guide contains guidelines on how to be accountable to local people and measure program impact in emergency situations. It includes tools to help charities assess the needs in those instances.
- People in Aid Code of…