Donors Need a Better Way to Rate Charities

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 ph…


‘Three Cups’ Controversy Underscores Need for Measurement

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 a…


The Dirty Truth About Disaster Fund Raising

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 di…


Why Donors Should Wait Before Giving to Japan

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…


A Donor’s Guide to Giving After a Disaster

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, jus…


Following Up on Failure

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 W…


What International-Aid Blogs Can Teach Fund Raisers

Last April, two lists of recommended blogs for nonprofit readers were published three days apart. One was The Chronicle of Philanthropys “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 diff…


Podcast: The Future of Haiti’s Aid Efforts

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 fa…


Low Overhead Doesn’t Equal High-Quality Philanthropy

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 Nonprofi…


Signaling Adherence to Standards Can Help Charities Earn Donors’ Trust

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…