Thursday, February 4, 2010

Helping in Haiti, Informed Giving, and Maximizing the Impact of Donations

The recent tragedy in Haiti--and the outpouring of well-deserved sympathy and generosity it stimulated--has also highlighted a crucial trend in the non-profit world: the role of information in improving productivity, efficiency, and results.

This is good, as better information about how donations are used should help inspire MORE people to give what they can, confident that they know their hard-earned dollars will be deployed efficiently. But the tools need to be used to get these benefits...

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, private-sector donations to relief efforts in Haiti were more than $600 Million in the first 3 weeks since the looks like private giving could end up exceeding a billion dollars. And while this is a large and historic surge of giving, Haiti's challenges far exceed the resources available to fully address them.

When results matter--as they surely do at a time like this in Haiti--the tools we use to maximize the positive impact of our resources becomes incredibly important. Efficiency matters. My hope is that whenever possible, donors to charities not only give resources (e.g. dollars), but give them in ways that maximize the results achieved from these resources.

To give as efficiently as possible, we need good information on our options, and the implications of HOW we give. The good news is that today's donors have access to excellent information if they choose to use it....information that can multiply the impact of donor dollars by channeling resources to the most efficient charitable organizations. Several key resources here include:
  1. Charity Navigator: the "guide to intelligent giving," this organization rates charities on their organizational efficiency and capacity, using a standard methodology. The CEO of the Charity Navigator, Ken Berger, spoke about the importance of "informed giving" on "The Takeaway" radio show.
  2. Impact Your World: The Charity Navigator and CNN have partnered to create this site which features"vetted" organizations with known capabilities for a given natural disaster or humanitarian need
  3. The American Institute of Philanthropy is considered especially aggressive in filtering out organizations that may attempt to "game" the ratings systems of other oversight organizations. It has been called the "pit bull of watchdogs" by the New York Times, and "more forensically minded" by Forbes. Their website is at
  4. GuideStar is also well known for their informed giving toolkit, including their 9-Step Guide to Giving Wisely
  5. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has done a lot of research--and offers valuable information for donors--about the factors affecting "return on donations" across a wide range of situations. Their recent conference (in Oct. '09) pointed out that while "disaster giving" is essential and necessary, preparation for disasters BEFORE they occur often yields an even higher benefit per dollar invested.
At Fitzgerald Analytics, we have made a lasting commitment to serving the social sector as well as the private sector with our skills and our passions. We made this commitment because we genuinely believe that good decisions are even more important in the public and social sectors than they are in the private sector. With better decisions--enabled by information--our vision is to maximize the positive results achieved from existing resources, which are always finite.

Using the resources listed above, my team and I at Fitzgerald Analytics chose to make a contribution this month to Partners in Health. We were attracted to their clear business model, their efficiency, and their impressive rating @ Charity Navigator.

Final notes and next steps:

The topic is far more complex than any single blog post: it is important to acknowledge the inherent complexity and challenge of measuring the effectiveness of charitable programs. The social sector is incredibly diverse, and so are the drivers of results, the types of results being pursued, and the tools for measuring outcomes. We look forward to exploring a variety of more detailed topics in future posts, and also to learning more from our allies in the non-profit sector regarding the challenges they face, the nuances they encounter, and the emerging non-profit models they see getting the most traction towards the results donors so generously seek to enable.

Please share your insights: Please do get in touch so that we can "thought-partner" and collaborate further on this essential but complex topic.

- Jaime Fitzgerald