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, November 2, 2007

Audits in India

We have met with a couple of NGOs that have already gone through their own audits before meeting with us. As would be expected some are more useful than others. Most audits are hybrids, but roughly, there seem to be three general types of audits in India.

The first – and most common -- type of audit is a “Financial Audit”. It aims to see that resources are properly accounted for and are used accurately. If the NGO has a limited number of accounts, these generally tend to be good. But if the NGO has multiple accounts and multiple ledgers – as many tend to have – the audits are too superficial to be meaningful. There needs to be a more thorough effort in many of these audits to compare expenditures and revenues across the accounts to ensure that there are not abuses (such as debiting one expense several times or paying salaries multiple times).

The second type is an “Organizational Review” – it tends to summarize what the NGO does and then tries to categories that information into categories so that the NGO can best see how to proceed, use resources, and what activities to more actively pursue. The primary use of this model is that it helps give context to a complicated organization’s operations. It does little, however, to help the NGO reflect on why it is doing something or how it fits into its overall objectives.

The third type is the “Strategic Review.” This audit tries to capture a mission statement and then look at what the group does and project a three or five year plan. While some effort is made at trying to identify the overall outcome the NGO wishes to achieve, it is not usually captured in terms of what is generally achievable. It is often too lofty. As a result, the three and five year plans sound great but are more often over ambitious proclamations than real strategies. They also tend to focus on scaling up without true thought on whether this it is in the organization’s best interest (or if it is, then if scaling up is done in an appropriate time frame or scope) and on increasing fundraising. In fact, almost every one of these “Strategic Reviews” has a sizeable section on increased fundraising.

What I think is the benefit of our process is that it offers very little in terms of advice on what changes need to be made or how to make necessary changes. Instead, it works as an organizational tool by helping NGOs see exactly what they want to achieve and what they will have to do to reach that (practically achievable) result.

This is supplemented by the reporting template Alex and I are developing. The report forces NGOs to identify their main activities, how successful these activities are and the evidence for these results, their overall strategy are following. This helps the NGO see what activities might not fit into their overall goals and where to focus resources. Further, by making sure that the NGOs clarify the overall environment and context in which they are operating, they are forced to make sure there activities are practical. Additionally, we require NGOs to explain and examine their finances more clearly. This works in combination with the organizational reporting sections to make NGOs consider whether they are using resources adequately. Once the report is completed, the NGO not only has a roadmap of how to achieve results it wishes to achieve, but also can see whether its current activities are helping it to reach those results. While we function as a sounding board, we leave the ultimate decision on how to make necessary changes in practices or strategy to the NGO (which best understands how to solve the problem). By doing so, we also avoid some of the really ridiculous solutions we have seen proposed by some outside auditors.