Welcome to the Charitable Measurement Initiative!

The Charitable Measurement Initiative is a collaboration of people and organizations that are deeply committed to the belief that social change organizations can mobilize significant new and better investment if they are able to implement a measurement reporting framework that credibly communicates their real impact to donors. The Initiative is directed by GiveIndia and calls on the resources of pilot program partners Keystone Accountability, Global Giving, and New Philanthropy Capital, as well as many other organizations committed to social welfare.

The process began when we decided to combine our previous experiences in humanitarian and charitable work with our current work as corporate lawyers. We sought to find a group in India that was looking to incorporate capital markets/securities concepts in reporting and analysis to create more valuable and transparent information.

Thankfully, we were put in touch with GiveIndia. Give discussed the idea of running a pilot program implementing the Keystone framework developed by Keystone Accountability to see if we could help organizations more clearly articulate the outcomes they wanted and better communicate their actual results to donors. This was exactly what we were hoping to do and gladly agreed to donate a year of time to making this work.

While we were in London, Give put us in touch with Keystone Accountability and New Philanthropy Capital. After many meetings throughout the spring and summer, we arrived at our joint creation – the Charitable Measurement Initiative – and a plan as to how we would seek to help NGOs in India become more transparent, responsive, and efficient, as well as help donors become more engaged and involved.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Need for Central Forums

Some of the groups we have met with have noted the desire to create central forums so that they can discuss what they are doing and learning with similar groups throughout India Some areas have this – certain types of education, child labor (essentially the hot topics). But many specialized groups could benefit from this. This would allow for not only a sharing of ideas, but also create ways to exchange people between organizations, foster community outreaches, and many other things. Importantly, it would also serve as a way to centralize facts and statistics, which vary greatly in almost every field in which the NGOS we have visited work. This would allow for better planning and donor confidence and just about everything else that goes with reliable information. Of course, the government should be doing a lot of this, but as with many third sector obligations, it doesn’t happen in India.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Step by Step Growth

We are working with an HNI who is contemplating a large donation to help an organization that works on rural education to expand nationally. I’d like to point out this group’s model because it is relatively simple but allows them to maximize their resources. They start by implementing proposed projects in schools and centers near them. That way they can be directly involved to the extent necessary, travel to the sites, and gain the school’s (teachers, students, and children) confidence. After monitoring the success of those programs for 3 to 5 years, they will scale them up to take them to other areas of the state. They partner up with various groups to teach them how to do these types of activities. They are now contemplating expanding certain programs nationally and this where the donor’s money and connections will help.

I like this model because it allows for careful reflection, study, and constant input at a manageable level for 3 to 5 years and then slowly grows. Each step allows for discussion with the relevant stakeholders, requires reevaluation of goals and aims and strategic planning.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Statistics Given by NGOs

As I am filling out some reports for various NGOs it becomes increasingly clear that NGOs – at least the ones we are working with and have met – do not have accurate records of the numbers of people they have helped or with whom they are working. The numbers they give will vary each time they are asked to provide the information and will vary significantly based on how the questions/requests are framed. This is problematic not only for putting reports together, but also raises questions about how responsive these NGOs are to their beneficiaries when they are not sure how many of them there are. Of course, I am slightly overstating the concern, but it is something NGOs need to track better so that they can make more accurate self-evaluations.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Difficulty with Mumbai

This entry adds little to NGO learning, but for future people coming to Mumbai the major things we would like to pass on are: (1) everything takes longer than you think and is slower than you planned for; (2) commuting is exhausting and will take half your day so live close to work; (3) you need to stay on people’s back to get responses. That being said, it is the easiest city in India to run this type of venture in because of the technological assistance, abundance of support, and dynamic and open NGOs.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Defining "NGO"

The term "NGO", or "non-government organization", is a misleading term -- it's meaning depends entirely on who you ask. The literal meaning (i.e., not part of a government) offers little guidance and may even suggest that NGOs are prohibited from working with government. But NGOs are often most effective when they coordinate their efforts with governments.

Because of this ambiguity, The Charitable Measurement Initiative has developed it's own definition of NGO, which is carefully tailored to our work, but we believe it can be applied on a broader scale:

NGO means any organization, entirely or largely independent of government, formed to provide services or to advocate a public policy, with primarily humanitarian or cooperative rather than commercial objectives, and does not include organizations whose resources support political parties or religious groups."

Organizations that advocate a particular religious view should not be considered "NGOs". To illustrate this point, consider an organization operating a free school for disadvantaged children in a predominantly Hindu region. If that school actively promotes the Christian faith (or other faith) to its students, it should not be considered an NGO. To maintain their humanitarian component, NGOs must listen to their beneficiaries. If there were no "strings attached" to the education in the above example, the young students (the beneficiaries) would not ask to be converted.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Corruption and Computers

We came across a person who was trying to donate money to an organization to buy computers. When he offered to buy the computers because he could get a better rate, the NGO declined the donation. It turns out that two years later the NGO was under investigation for siphoning funds.

We are trying to find a way of working questions like in-kind donations and NGOs openness to them in our diligence trips to unearth such type of behavior.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Project Specific Reports

Three of the NGOs we are working have mentioned to us that they are contemplating leaving the Credibility Alliance over issues with giving project specific reports. Their major complaint is that the reports, especially to the Credibility Alliance or Give, require a lot of time and are virtually useless. They are forced to account for how every cent of a donation is used, but it is difficult to track because funds are often combined in a project, which makes saying exactly what each cent was used for difficult. As a result, NGOs are often forced to make reports that stretch the truth.

Friday, December 21, 2007

NGO-Donor Tension

We have heard from several of our groups that they dislike the project oriented demands that donors are putting on them. Donors will sponsor a given project or sub-project and then demand a certain type of report on effectiveness, use of money, and future plans. And it seems that almost each donor (or at least the HNI, corporate, or granting agency donors) requires a different report. Not only does this make completing any individual report difficult and tax the NGOs resources, but it seems to create resentment in the NGO. This in turn effects the relationship with the donor and strains continuing support.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A little self-referencial but....

Here is a link to Alliance magazine, which we want to encourage people to read. The article by David Bonbright is especially worth your time (and not just because David calls attention to the blog).




Tuesday, December 18, 2007

NGO Comments

Here are three comments we have heard from some of the NGOs:

1) What if our theory of change is too broad and when donors see it they start questioning us as to why we are not tackling more issues, especially when we don’t have the resources to tackle all these issues?

2) Sometimes you lead the discussion too much and need to let groups share their ideas.

3) There are people who would like to communicate but cannot because of language barriers or confidence in using English.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Recommendations from NGOs

Here are two suggestions we received from two of the NGOs we are working with:

In the maps, identify the percentage of the NGOs work that is devoted to the necessary outcomes.

The map needs to by more dynamic to capture all the activities that the NGO is doing or there is a fear that the donor will not understand the environment in which the NGO is acting and why it makes certain strategic decisions.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Methodology Does Not Work with Mid-Level Staff and Large Groups

We have tried several permutations of the presentation now, and most recently tried to meet with a large group (approximately 10 people), most of whom were middle-level coordinators. What we found is that it was extremely difficult to move beyond even the vision statement because people disagreed so much. This disagreement often lead to arguments about relatively innocuous word choices and ultimately a muddled theory of change. The presentation seems to work best with a smaller group of key/core coordinators and advisors. We should leave it to them to share ideas with a larger group and then collect that information and give it to us. But when we meet with the group, it is best to have smaller numbers (about 2-5).

Of course some of the problems we are seeing come from groups that have no idea what they want to achieve or have over extended themselves. The framework really does expose these flaws and, if the group takes the exercises seriously, seems to refocus their efforts.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mapping Vision Sometimes Requires Current Activities

The vision statements in the maps of the theory of change are supposed to be focused entirely on what future world you would like to create. It is not supposed to have aspects of what you are “doing now.” This, however, seems a little tortured for groups that do focus on creating change by delivering a service. Not only that, it seems like it could hurt them by encouraging them to grow in areas where they probably should not.

I am working on a school that seeks to give children from slums an excellent education and then through family and community outreach programs, help transform the slum communities. The school is essential to that. They start with the school and work from there. So, if one was to phrase their vision like, “Group X seeks to provide exceptional education to impoverished, abandoned, and orphaned children so that they can break the cycle of poverty for themselves, their families, and communities,” it would seem as though they may someday move beyond using the school to do so. The school is not just a strategy or how they will make this happen, it is essential to their identity. In such cases, I think the vision needs to have some element of what the group is “doing now”.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vision Statements Are Too Broad

One issue we’ve noticed a couple times is that some NGOs are drafting visions that are too broad. As a result, they list many outcomes that they are not actively pursuing and that they can’t pursue because they don’t have the resources.

This could be dangerous for several reasons. First, NGOs could try to spread themselves thin and move into areas they don’t have the capacity, resources, or abilities to tackle. Second, donors looking at such a map might question why the NGO is not tackling these other issues.

For that reason it is crucial that we have a narrower vision of success and rope in groups by focusing them on what is practical. We are still not perfect on this step but are getting better. We also need to help the groups see that they are not responsible for tackling every necessary outcome on their own, and that they can partner with others or work with others that are focused on those issues.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Interesting Article


We draw particular attention to the comments of the UN's human development report editor, who mentioned the failure in India, a notably high growth country, "to deliver on human progress because of inequality." The key to achieving the development goals, he said, "is to concentrate on helping the very poor."

Bangalore is a good example of this problem. CMI has worked with many Bangalore-based NGOs, each of which complain that economic growth has actually hurt the city's poor. Many are unable to access any of the growing opportunities, but they are burdened with an ever increasing cost of living.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You Have to Visit the NGOs

This is a very obvious statement, I know, but we have heard of donor advisor groups coming to India and not actually visiting the NGO where they are actually doing their work. In our experience, seeing what the NGO does and interacting with their beneficiaries and staff has been invaluable in understanding exactly what the NGO does. Many NGOs have difficulty communicating their dynamism, and it takes a visit to see it and often the indirect benefits of their efforts. Others are very good at misleading people as to what they are doing or in other cases have been dishonest about what is being funded (e.g., saying two schools exist when in reality the two are just meters apart and cater to different age groups). I can’t imagine how these groups are doing their research or how they could possible understand the complexities of issues in India that require seeing and being there (like many of the rural development topics).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Government Will Not Sponsor Awareness

Just as with donors are reluctant to fund administrative costs, we are hearing complaints about government’s not supporting awareness campaigns. They seem to place the entire cost on the NGO that has taken up the advocacy role. Given that the government has many more resources and is often supportive of these measures, one would hope that it would help a little more with the funding. Because it is not, groups either have to stop or curtail their efforts or else be put in a position where they have to explain to donors why resources for awareness are necessary. Because it is hard to see the immediate results of these activities, donors tend to be reluctant to contribute to awareness. The problem is that without awareness and advocacy, meaningful development is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

For those interested in the need for increasing advocacy and awareness practices, I would recommend the Children’s Rights & You (“CRY”) website. CRY is also an organization that I can’t say enough good things about, so are worth a look.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Feedback from Keystone

Here is some excellent feedback from one of our partners at Keystone:

"Starting with your first workshop observations.

The donor hook… Yes, we made that same mistake when we first started Keystone: thinking that you could tinker with one part of the ‘system’ and that would be enough. Actaully, this vindicates Keystone’s assertion that you can seldom bring about lasting change unless you can influence other actors in the system. If you only address one part you can be undermined by other parts unless you work to align the system. In our case the current system of grantmaking (mainly donor practice and demands) actively discourages this kind of long term planning and reporting with constituents for impact. So getting NGOs to do it on their own is too difficult. That’s why we have brought both funders and NGOs together in this project – who both want to find ways of planning, learning and reporting differently and are prepared to make the investments (cash for one and time for the other) to do it properly.

Then on to your other big point – that we should try to make the system more linear. I’m not sure. But I agree we need to break it up into more easily digested parts that can be addressed one at a time and woven into each other down the line. I’ve been thinking deeply about this and have decided that there are really only 3 clear steps in the complete method:

1. Creating an outcome-based framework for planning and learning for impact (The theory of change: imagining success, mapping the ecosystem and mapping the pathways to and indicators of success)

2. Learning with stakeholders / constituents (Getting stakeholder synergy around the theory of change and then the practical stuff on gathering and documenting feedback and evidence of success, and analysing and responding to it)

3. Public reports and validation (What a public report that focuses on learning and progress towards impact should look like, and the various means of validating it)

This also addresses your question in your second workshop observations about whether the eco-mapping disrupts the train of thought moving from the epitaph activity grappling with the ‘kernel’ of what success looks like (I’m struggling with what to call this) and the mapping of pathways (preconditions) to the outcome.

You’re right – I think we need to deal with one part at a time and ensure that we don’t cause confusion by cluttering up their understanding with too many bits of new stuff. But we need to cover all the bases within each part.

What I mean here is that we should concentrate first on Part 1. developing the theory of change and learning framework. But to do this we need to break old thinking habits in two main ways:

They need to think about their work in terms of the OUTCOMES they want to achieve. The epitaph activity is a shock tactic to get them to do this – just to express as clearly as they can the changed and sustainable ‘future’ for their primary constituents / beneficiaries.

They need to understand that they can achieve this future best by not only working directly themselves, but also by understanding and influencing the other system actors who can influence this outcome. The new “winners” in social investment will be ‘learners and sharers’ - organisations who work directly AND indirectly by influencing the ecosystems around shared outcomes.

So I think they need to be together. Perhaps we need to integrate them better in the next activity which is to create a more detailed picture of what success would look like from a system perspective. The imagined future in which beneficiaries are acting within a different ecosystem that supports and promotes their well-being.

Then we pause so that they clearly integrate the vision. All in the future that we are striving for.
And only then move on to mapping the pathways – the preconditions for success. I guess, when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground in a workshop we attempt to cover too much – which is what causes the confusion. These are simple when you get it – but the process of breaking down old habits and patterns takes time.

Part 2: Only when we are happy that the organisations are happy with Part 1 and have a reasonably comprehensive ToC and learning framework in place. should we go into any detail with Part 2. (tho they need an overview of the whole in the introduction).

It is only now that we should begin relating what organisations actually do to the theory. Your point 6 addresses a key issue: the difference between your theory and your strategy. This has also caused confusion and should be addressed slowly and carefully.

The point here is that a single organisation might not be able to address ALL the preconditions and pathways it has identified as essential to success. This is OK. As long as it sees what it does as part of a bigger process of change that involves others contributing in other ways. As long as between them, the different actors in the ecosystem are addressing all the essential preconditions and are acting more in alignment, the likelihood of sustainable solutions is much better than if they all only did fragments in an uncoordinated way.

Many organisations will feel that they can only contribute part of the complete solution. This is how social change works in most contexts – the point is to become conscious of the system and our role in it – as well as how we can influence it to work better. E.g. improving performance of rural kids at school might involve different organisations addressing curriculum, learning materials, remedial English and maths, better school governance and management etc. all essential to success, but best done by different actors in alignment – because unless all are addressed, the individual projects risk failure.

In this sense, the framework also works well for relief organisations who might want to get communities through an acute crisis but then also help set in place the elements of longer term rehabilitation and development. Their outcomes might be shorter term, but are still outcomes or steps to longer term outcomes of secure, sustainable and productive communities in the long run.

Finally, If we make it a separate practical part, that we introduce separately and implement over time, we can hopefully avoid the confusion between stakeholder mapping and ecosystem mapping – even though the eco-actors are also part of the stakeholder map.

Your other points are very valid: the need for comprehensive financial reporting and not just individual “project reports” as most donors ask for (they often just want to see the financial accounts for the bits that they funded and not the whole programme.). And lastly, it is the validation bit that we hope will help persuade donors that they can take the risk – and trust organisations and their reporting enough to make grants more flexible and longer term commitments. But we will need to test this in practice."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sometimes Credibility Alliance/GiveIndia Norms Are Too Broad

While I agree with the vast majority of Credibility Alliance/GiveIndia norms, there are a few that seem to be overbroad in the Indian context. The two that I think are most problematic are the requirements that there be no political party representatives on the board and there be no religious component to the NGOs work. I understand why they are necessary and why given the need for assurance that NGOs aren’t misusing funds the bright-line rules are necessary, but given that they can easily be subverted (e.g., making the political representative an advisor instead of a board member), I think there needs to be a materiality clause. Just with religion, it is almost impossible to avoid some religious activity in India and often it would be more bizarre to actively avoid religious activities. A materiality clause for these norms would, at the very least, be more intellectually honest.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

NGOs Viewed As Government Extensions

NGOs in India often seem to sprout up to plug holes in government services. This is in part because of the large need and also in part because of the fact that there really isn’t an extensive social welfare network – especially in rural areas.

One of the things we’ve noticed with certain areas in which the government is not doing anything is that they tend to let the NGO be a social laboratory. For example, Samveda, a group in Davnagere, Karnataka, is the only organization in India that is systematically working to help those children with learning disabilities. (It also has expanded to cover a gap in assistance with for those with other disabilities). The government has no formal or informal program to assist these children, nor are the schools in India equipped or trained to identify or support those with learning disabilities. Unlike the West, there really is a complete lack of understanding about this topic, and as a result many highly intelligent students are mislabeled as troublemakers or unmotivated students. For almost 10 years, Samveda had little assistance from the government. Samveda had to set up a school for these children, had to seek and fund research into these areas, and even went around schools to help them build their and their teachers capacities to address learning disabilities. Essentially, they had to take up he government’s role. Samveda’s efforts, along with its advocacy, has finally gotten the government to notice and put some minimal effort toward this issue. But what is clear is that the government is happy to allow Samveda to continue its work with the expectation that it will slowly incorporate Samveda’s findings and work when slowly over time – though when and exactly how are left ambiguous.

A second thing we have noticed with government with respect to its attitude towards NGOs is that they see the NGO as their support staff. This is especially true in rural areas. One great example seems to be lake de-silting efforts. Lakes and water sources need to be de-silted after the monsoon, but this requires the government having the resources to go to villages and do so. Because they cannot, they often ask NGOs to do so. Although the NGOs they ask are usually recommended by someone or known by someone to be a well-run organization, the government doesn’t seem to discriminate by what work the NGO does. So, let’s say a group runs a series of schools or helps them organize women’s community groups…they still would be asked if they would like to de-silt a lake. Some NGOs say no, while others will just hire some people to do it and take the money or will find a way to justify the work within the scope of their efforts. It tends to be a decent measure of how much focus an NGO has, but given funding problems in rural areas it has hard to fault the groups that do take on these projects.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mapping the Theory of Change Isn't Easy

We have started to work through some of the maps the groups are creating have noticed that unless we walk the group through a couple stages, they rarely are able to come up with a complete map. What seems to be necessary is a bank or sample of maps so that they can model theirs after those sample.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Donors and Admin Costs

One of the most common complaints we have heard from NGOs is that donors will not fund administrative costs. This is obviously a crucial component of success but it is difficult to convince donors to fund the organization’s salaries or rent instead of funding a certain number of children. We will have to make efforts at explaining the entire developmental process and hope that donors get why funding such expenses are necessary.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Loan Sharks in the Villages

One of the biggest challenges in helping rural populations to generate steady income is getting rid of predatory lending. People often have to borrow at extreme rates (10% compounded monthly) because they don’t have other options. In addition to the high rates, these lenders also require other conditions, like making a lendee’s wife work as a maid at the lender’s home, agreeing to give a share of the profits from the sale of crops to the lender (in addition to the interest), and requiring people to cultivate the lender’s crops first. While it is paramount to stop these lending practices, the community needs to deal with the lender so when a group is first tackling these issues, it needs to find a away to engage the predatory lender and slowly remove his power. When groups try to immediately create “banks” or other options for the village, the predatory lender often retaliates against the others in the community.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Self-help with Men vs. Women

Some of the self-help groups we met (they do the same thing as “income generation” programs) target women instead of men. Not only does this help to change certain societal behaviors, but it also seems to be more effective in helping the family and children. Women tend to save money that they have and spend extra on the family and children, where men tend to spend the extra income they generate. Of course, this is a generalization, but it is something worth noting when examining rural NGOs.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Income Generations

Several of the projects we have seen that have been labeled “income generation” are aimed at helping people run small goods stands, sell homemade foods, or bags, etc. It helps people make enough money to survive, but it seems that it barely does so. It also does not seem to allow for the children to necessarily avail themselves of educational opportunities or be guaranteed that they won’t have to work. I’m not sure what the alternative is in areas where there aren’t other opportunities, but I’m also not sure this type of intervention leads to meaningful development.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Villages and Rural Development

We visited an NGO in rural Mysore that focuses on womens’ empowerment. Depending on the source, anywhere between 66 to 77 percent of the population is rural. Given that, it is essential that development efforts focus on that area. Many efforts work on public works projects – running water, toilets, etc. – but few seem to focus on education and general employment issues.

The group we visited – which really seems to be two groups that now work together (Bharath Charitable Cancer Hospital Institute and International Human Development and Uplifitment Academy) – does several things, one of which is empowering women by giving them loans (microfinance loans) to run small businesses or farming ventures. They also help the women in a village form group forums to meet and discuss issues. Though these activities women learn to come together and socialize (which they weren’t doing), gain confidence, learn to manage finance, and gain status in the family because they become the primary wage earners. Corollary benefits of these activities are: the kids tend to attend school much more frequently, abuse problems are reduced, men tend to abuse alcohol less in these villages, and general health increases. This is primarily because women in villages tend to save a greater percentage of their income, spend more on children, and increase spending on health/hygiene for the family.

All of this is important because it seems that in order to improve rural children’s lives, NGOs need to empower their mothers. Proof of this comes from the fact that the IHDUA school in rural Mysore is not only one of the leading rural schools in the area, but is one of the best schools in the state.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Press Coverage of Indian Charity

I’ve seen a great deal of the foreign coverage focus on the negative aspects of giving here: a resentful middle class, HNIs not donating enough, growing dissatisfaction, and distrust of NGOs. While I have not seen many NGOs that aren’t operating honestly and doing a good job, that may be because we have limited ourselves by doing research, seeking advice as to best practices, and working with GiveIndia listed organizations. It is the Give oversight that most explains why we have yet to see bad ones.

But for all the coverage of the lack of domestic charity, what is missed is how innovate and deep some of the NGOs efforts are. In child labor, for example, India has some of the most innovative and progressive laws anywhere. The NGOs were instrumental in pushing for changes and advocating new legislation. The have done a lot to curb popular opinion against child labor – which is very difficult in this country. All of this is lost. And little of the innovativeness is shared with foreign outlets. It is a shame that what we see on a daily basis is not shared more widely.

Here, in India, you will see people who could be making – with no exaggeration – 10 to 12 times the salary, working 18 hour days to make sure that they consider every possibility to solve these enormous problems. And after seeing many examples through out North and Eastern Africa, the US, and the UK, I can confidently say that the best experiments in civil society solutions are in India. So, while there are problems with the “giving” culture at large here, there are many, many things that are fantastic. I just hope some of the media coverage brings that to light and shares that with everyone, instead of parading out the same article on the ridiculousness of Mumbai’s industrial elite (which, for the record, are not all Ambani’s – there are some unbelievably committed people too.)