Charity’s Existential Dilemma
Being as effective as possible in our animal advocacy requires that we ask the right questions and measure the most meaningful indicators of our performance. Social scientists, like those of us at Faunalytics, focus on the intricacies of measuring the actions and outcomes of animal advocates. However, measurement is by no means limited to social science and it must also be considered by nonprofit organizations and their funders. A recent blog post by a “leading authority” on measurement asks some tough questions in an effort to encourage nonprofits to ask the right questions.
The blog post is entitled “Charity’s Existential Dilemma: Are We Really Making a Difference?” The author, Jason Saul, summarily dismisses some of the efforts of nonprofits and philanthropists who endeavor to create standards of measurement and manage their data in an attempt to develop a deeper understanding of their work. While I generally disagree that these efforts are “audacious” or even wasteful, as Saul suggests, I think he makes several important points. The first is that nonprofits tend to think more like scientists or lawyers than practitioners, which leads them to asking the wrong questions about their performance. Saul writes:
|By asking the wrong questions about nonprofit effectiveness, we continue to focus on the wrong data. Most people interested in measurement aren’t really trying to prove a theory or control for risk; what they really want to determine is value. Which organizations will deliver the best results for outcomes that we care about? If we want to prevent breast cancer, is our $25,000 better off with Susan G. Komen, Y-Me or Race for the Cure? Accountability and evaluation data won’t answer that question. Most often, the real measurement inquiry is not about effectiveness (what works) or accountability (what doesn’t), but about performance (what works best).
The entire post is worth reading, but Saul’s advice is summarized in the following sets of points for both nonprofit organizations and their funders:
|Here are some practical steps that both nonprofits and funders can take to shift from social science to social capital market.
In many ways, the animal protection movement is still in its infancy with respect to measuring its impact. Some large organizations do this well, while others act as though evaluation is a contagious virus to be avoided at all costs. On one hand, this is discouraging because we do not yet have a handle on what works and what doesn’t. On the other hand, without the long-term measurement inertia that some other social movements have, animal advocates have an opportunity to refine our approach from the outset. We can learn much from how these other movements have approached measuring impact and potentially avoid some of the pitfalls of asking the wrong questions or focusing on less meaningful metrics.