by Melissa L. Stevens, Director of Special Projects, FasterCures
Almost 200 participants from over 20 countries convened a couple of weeks ago in London to talk about individual efforts to evaluate nonprofits and a possible mechanism to unify these efforts under a professional association. New Philanthropy Capital, a London-based charity research organization, and Bertelsmann Foundation, one of the largest German Foundations, hosted this conference Valuing Impact: Building an Association of Nonprofit Analysts. Inspiring discussions were interspersed with challenging questions about the community’ preparedness for such an organization.
Matthew Bishop, Chief Business Writer/US Business Editor of The Economist spoke about creating an impact in his keynote address. He said that in this time of economic crisis it is important for "philanthrocapitalism" to emerge, and that a critical role of “virtuous intermediaries” is to rigorously analyze what does and does not work. He underscored that this evaluation work needs to be funded and be democratized for all philanthropists, not just the super-rich.
Other highlights from the meeting include learning about other evaluation frameworks and ways for improving FasterCures' Philanthropy Advisory Service metrics and hearing first-hand accounts of how best to build models and establish evaluation organizations.
Appropriately, participants checked their rose-colored glasses at the door. There was challenging commentary and acknowledgement of significant obstacles in building the field of nonprofit analysts. One of which being the lack of data produced by nonprofits. Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator, noted that in his pilot effort to measure outcomes (in addition to information gleaned from 990 financial data) he found that 85 percent of 4-Star charities could not produce the necessary data for an expanded evaluation. Scary. We also heard there are at least 150 different frameworks in existence, so already, there is significant divergence. Yikes. Finally, there were the weighty pauses after the rhetorical questions like “Who should pay for transparency?”, “Who is the audience – donors or organizations?”, and “Won’t this be done at the expense of programming costs?” Oh my.
But at the end of the day the delegates regrouped and voted on their interest in establishing an association and at least 75 percent indicated they would be. Perhaps it will be a soft launch with at least a bulletin board, listserv, and sector-specific working groups to think through common frameworks. I would be very pleased to join an effort that can quickly connect me to others who have pioneered evaluation frameworks, business models, and donor education efforts. PAS would greatly benefit from the collective thoughts of such a network of relative experts in the field. We look forward to seeing where the journey takes us from here and applaud New Philanthropy Capital and Bertelsmann Foundation for getting us out of the starting blocks.