Who’s Watching Who-The Conundrum of Nonprofit Analysis

By Kevin Beerstecher

Does hedge fund experience really qualify analysts to judge domestic violence prevention organizations?

During a lecture delivered by Princeton’s Peter Singer at New York University this spring on the importance of increased giving, something interesting happened.  One of panelists put forth the idea that many nonprofits are poorly run and have no demonstrable results, and thus do not merit donations.

But how did the panelist reach that conclusion?  What statistics were analyzed? Unfortunately, much of the available analysis currently focuses on the finances of the nonprofits only, not on the quality, specifics, or difficulty of the work.

The nonprofit community deserves the effective evaluation that is crucial to helping donors make their decisions.  But this information should be gathered by individuals or organizations with awareness of the communities being served and the services being provided.

Increasing childhood literacy may have a different cost structure than bottling Pepsi, and the analysts doing this work should be experienced in the fields they are evaluating.  A mistrust of the nonprofit community, the process of giving, and faith that this work is effective is spreading as a counter current.

Imagine the impact of scandal involving an analytic firm with a checkered background.  Without checks and balances into the backgrounds of the nonprofit analyst, this distrust can only grow.  And without evaluation standards focusing on specific communities and their needs, analysis will only be flawed and misleading.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS:

Meaningful Outcome Measurement (Dec. 1)

Surveys for Nonprofits: From Questionnaire Design to Data Analysis (Dec. 17)

2 Comments

  • Posted August 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the information! Our nonprofit is new to the evaluation process. I wish there was more out there on where to find external evaluators. Curious to know if there are major differences between evaluators for youth-serving organizations versus homeless services, for example.

  • Posted August 18, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Finding the right evaluator can be difficult. Some suggestions for finding an evaluator include asking colleague or similar organizations who they have used for evaluation, asking funders for recommendations, approaching universities (especially those departments that relate specifically to your field – e.g., an education department for a college prep program; or the social work department for homeless services), or contacting an organization similar to us (the Support Center) to see if they conduct evaluations or can recommend someone who can.

    Yes, I think an evaluator must have a context for helping conduct an evaluation and a background of involvement with the field is needed. I would add that a good evaluator should understand that some level of involvement by staff, board, and the community/clients is needed to create a meaningful evaluation process.

    There are also different types and models of evaluation – – formative/summative; participatory; – pre-test/post-test; comparison groups (etc., etc., etc.) — so familiarizing yourself on options by doing web research and attending workshops can be helpful.

    Don Crocker
    Executive Director/CEO
    The Support Center

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