One of the most common questions I get from friends and acquaintances when I tell them I work at the Center for Effective Philanthropy is this one: “I was asked to make a donation to XYZ Charity. How do I know if they’re very good at what they do?” I point folks to Charity Navigator, now that they are expanding their ratings beyond just organizational financial measures, which I always thought was too reductionist. But they only review a small proportion of nonprofits. Guidestar can help, but for many organizations it is hard to make sense of what’s there unless you are a savvy reader of a Form 990 filing. We still need more efforts that provide helpful, easy to understand, and, ideally, comparative information about organizations’ goals, strategies, implementation, and performance measures.
So, of course, I jumped at the chance when I was asked to serve on the “Charting Impact” advisory group. Charting Impact, which was developed as a strategic alliance among Independent Sector, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and GuideStar, is a common (read: comparable) presentation of answers to five “deceptively simple questions” that allow staff, boards, stakeholders, donors, volunteers, and others to access a quick perspective from organizational leadership about their goals, strategies, successes, and challenges. The reports are fairly quick to complete but they can provoke very important conversations among leaders of a nonprofit about what the organization is trying to accomplish – and how.
Additionally, Charting Impact reports are really quick for a reader to review. But they span a wide range of quality. For example, some participants skipped or were unable to answer basic questions about their capabilities for achieving their goals. That, of course, is precisely the point – allowing you as a viewer to get a better understanding of the quality of a participating organization’s thought process and work.
CEP’s Charting Impact report is on the site, and I encourage you to read it.
CEP’s President, Phil Buchanan, and others have in this blog written repeatedly about the substantial challenge of assessing and communicating about effectiveness and impact in the nonprofit sector. It’s a continuous refrain here in the CEP offices as we strive to identify new ways to help funders do so. Charting Impact’s efforts are a serious step forward in providing organizations a way to clearly and succinctly articulate their goals, strategies, and indicators of progress toward their objectives for the benefit of any interested audience.
There is no doubt in my mind that transparency of the nature encouraged by Charting Impact could help the public understand the distinct importance of the work being done in the nonprofit sector and distinguish among the differing levels of rigor and thoughtfulness. The project is still newly launched: as of February 22nd there are 115 reports on the site. Of those, very few are grantmaking foundations. Credit should be given to those funders, like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Tustin Community Foundation, who have taken the time to post their Charting Impact profile. I hope you’ll consider adding one for your organization.
Kevin Bolduc is Vice President – Assessment Tools at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.