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.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Second Workshop Observations

The second workshop differed from the first in that there were two NGOs instead of three and one representative came from each NGO instead of several. It started as an informal conversation. The NGOs explained what they do and what they would like to do. They then discussed the problems that they had with donors and engaging with them. It was a lot more open than the previous session, possibly because the representatives each were the only ones from their organization and therefore didn’t have to worry about being accountable to someone else they worked with or feel inhibited. It is a different dynamic but both seem worthwhile. This format yield more honest discussion. The other more intense debate about the organization and with more people it is more likely that the group of representatives will be able to explain the framework to the entire NGO.

Specific Observations

1. Jargon. As we saw on the first day, the NGOs frequently will use jargon to communicate their thoughts and have to be instructed to clarify what they actually mean.

2. Defining Success. The NGOs seem to really enjoy the epitaph exercise and see the benefit in being forced to define themselves in terms of achievement as opposed to what they do. The one stumbling block is that they seem inevitably to phrase their initial view of success at least in part as what they do. We try to force them out of it and develop a statement without stating what they do. But it seems that if one is going to write an epitaph that it would include what one does. And this seems to frustrate the NGOs a bit. It means we either change the exercise from writing an epitaph or we just let them write it and then edit it out ourselves. Maybe we could put their epitaph on a board and physically remove all references to things they do and change verbs from the past tense to the present. This might even be more dramatic.

3. Do we need eco-mapping to be its own step? Currently, we start with a statement of success (Step 1), then determine outcomes necessary for success (the vision of success), then map out the ecosystem, and finally come back to determine the prerequisite conditions. It seems that by placing the ecosystem exercise where it is we break up the NGOs thinking on its theory of change. While it is important to map out the ecosystem, we seem to be doing it when we are developing the vision of success (Step 2). We ask the NGOs to state what the conditions, attitudes, behavior, and relationships would look like in a world where they had achieved success and make them phrase these in terms of outcomes. This step requires them to consider all the actors that they would have to interact with (positively and negatively). We could make this clearer by saying that they should first list all the people/relationships that are crucial to them achieving success and then list all the conditions, attitudes, and behavior changes that will have to exist for them to have success. That way we can move from them developing outcome statements to listing the prerequisites for those conditions. I think that would allow them to see how they have developed a theory of change and then how each prerequisite (Step 3) logically leads to an outcome and that those outcomes lead to success. It might also help see each prerequisite as something to measure, to be measured against, and to validate. It also would be a good breaking point, so that when we come back together we could discuss how to measure, report, and validate success (and failure) in terms of that map of the theory of change. (Step 4 (Reporting) and Step 5 (Validation).)

A possible new sequence could look like this:

4. Do we need to be more flexible with prerequisites? We are finding that when the NGOs define the prerequisite conditions they also mix in strategy. On one hand it is good to make them distinguish between the two. But seeing as there will be a lot of overlap, it may make sense to list all of them and then narrow them down into things that are not redundant and then from there see if some collapse into each other.

5. We need to be more clearly explain reporting. Right now we give them a few suggestions and say it is really up to them. This seems to confuse them and they lose a bit of the trust in us that we had secured up that point. What we can do is move from preconditions/strategy section to working with them to develop a way to report all of these preconditions. By that point we would have explained that the preconditions also function as performance indicators. We could then show them how some of those could be measured quantitatively (e.g. teachers hired, students enrolled) and others need to be measured qualitatively (e.g. children’s increased feeling of security or increased participation). It would also help to show why beneficiary and other constituent voice is necessary to measure qualitative things. After all this, I believe that we would more easily be able explain how we could incorporate all this information into a report to donors that provides both traditional necessary information (organization’s profile, financials, governance) as well as information on how the NGO is helping to make sustainable change.

6. This framework may be too rigid to work for all groups. We already acknowledge that this framework does not really help relief type organizations – like natural disaster relief. We are aimed at sustainable development and process change. But some groups fall in between. For example, if you are working on learning disabilities you may do a few things to change overall society – like lobbying, trying to support curriculum change – but you may be just as happy to partner with another group and leave that part of the solution to them and instead focus on educating children. These groups are no less involved in the process of change; they just don’t have the resources or whatever to take a more global approach. I think we can still help them, but we need to tailor some of the scope of the framework to allow for more input-output thinking for them.

Other Observations

1. Multiple Accounts. It is really clear that when we examine the NGOs financials we have to do more than ask for required filings or see that expenses add up. Because of statutory requirements (for example the need to separately account for foreign funds) and donor conditions (their grants be tracked in separate accounts with separate ledgers), NGOs often have multiple accounts. It is not uncommon to have 5 or 10 different accounts. While this makes tracking easier in some sense, it makes abuse also possible. Funds can be transferred from one project to another. Expenses can be debited to multiple accounts. Salaries can be paid multiple times. The point is that misdeeds or untruths can easily be hidden if one does not do more than see that the numbers add up.

2. Donors need to understand that they are funding a process not a project. I think that if we get donors that understand the problems NGOs face in terms of budgeting or if we get donors who want to fund a process, some of the NGO practices that see them playing a shell game with funds could go away. That is not to say that NGOs are lying about money. With the NGOs we’ve seen the opposite is true. They are all very transparent with their accounting. I refer more to what we’ve heard anecdotally or what seems to be a donor fear. If funds are going to a process and less to a project, then maybe the NGO will feel comfortable telling the donor that it needs to reroute the funds. Then the two can have an honest discussion.

3. At least we aren’t . . . . One of the NGOs told us that they were working with some outside help from a group of US business students who were studying in India. After completing their in depth study of the NGO – which focused on children with learning disabilities – the group suggested to the NGO’s board that the organization should refocus its efforts toward helping HIV+ children. Ugh. At least we are better than that.