News & CommentaryArchive
Jan 25, 2010
A Downside of Donor Education?
This is a guest post from Jeff Raderstrong, who blogs at Change Charity. Jeff’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Philanthropy Action.—eds.
Mario Morino’s recent column at Venture Philanthropy Partners’ blog underscores the concerns I have about focusing too much on donors in the effort to improve philanthropy. In an earlier post I argued that donors pushing for better measurement and accountability might not be as effective as non-profit employees pushing for those same reforms internally, but Morino takes it one step further and says external pressure might actually be detrimental.
Morino says that when dealing with measurement at non-profits, one should always ask “to what end?“ are those measures are being taken. A focus on measurements is only beneficial if it helps the non-profit fulfill its mission. If non-profits become disconnected from the purpose of measurements, major problems can occur. “[I]f the metrics are overly simplistic and unmoored from mission, then organizations will go racing in the wrong direction. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, they’ll get lost, but they’ll be making good time.“ If a non-profit is told its funding will be based on external measurement indicators, the organization could spend more time worrying about showing results, rather than producing them. (See “teaching to the test,” No Child Left Behind Act, which Morino discusses.)
Therefore, Morino argues, measurements and changes based on those measurements should be directed internally. “If we were to take that nonprofit-centric—rather than funder-centric—approach, we would all have a much higher likelihood of achieving what we’re really setting out to accomplish. Nonprofit leaders would not be navigating with intuition alone. They would gain powerful tools to determine where they’re headed, chart a logical course, and course-correct when they’re off.“
I think Morino’s underlying assumption, which he never explicitly states, is that a lack of measurement does not necessarily mean a lack of results. There are a lot of non-profits out there that don’t have the capacity for social-outcome measurement and they shouldn’t be punished for that. If donors want non-profits to do measurement right, they will need to provide a lot of “encouragement and support” to allow non-profits to find the best ways to measure, along with appropriate adaptations to those measures.
Morino says this process will come over a long period of time and represent a dramatic shift in our thinking:“We’ve approached this challenge as if it’s about numbers when it’s really about changing cultures. Changing culture requires large and persistent investments of time, talent, and money.“