7 Ways to Evaluate a Charity — and let the rating systems be damned!

Everyone in my office groaned when they saw the topic of Phillip Haid’s blog post at HuffPost Impact this morning. The title “Charity Ratings Kill Innovation,” was sure to awaken my most repeated soapbox speech. I’ll spare you going through it again here, save to say that Haid is right on target; read his full blog here. The oversimplification of charity rating systems makes my blood boil. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Haid that these typically do more harm than good.

Still, as a proponent of careful philanthropic investment I would be remiss if I stopped there and didn’t point the way toward a more thoughtful approach to evaluating charitable organizations and their programs. There are lots of models out there — the ones I respect all decline to offer a “one number rating system.”

When I evaluate charitable organizations for our philanthropy advisory clients, I tend to look at 7 primary areas in order to assess likely ongoing impact:

  1. How the organization measures up against established best practices and outcomes in its field
  2. What its programs add to its own service universe
  3. How human resources are leveraged
  4. Quality of financial and operational systems
  5. Clarity and consistency of purpose
  6. Internal and external communications
  7. Internal systems that support measurable impact in one way or another

This is quite a job, and organizations and philanthropists often need help making a meaningful evaluation. I’ll save the formal announcement for another time, but Do More Mission is hard at work putting arrangements in place for a sister organization, the Do More Mission Foundation. This organization will give charitable organizations and philanthropists access to some of the kinds of services that Do More Mission does not provide, and at a rate substantially lower than market rate. Among those services will be an opportunity for a charitable organization to be evaluated by a team of professionals in a substantive and thorough manner. The instrument is yet to be developed and the staff has yet to be hired — we’re at least 4 or 5 months away from rolling this out for your use.

However, the fundamental underpinnings of the evaluation system will be based on the 7 parameters enumerated above.

I encourage you to use these as guideposts in your own thoughtful analysis of who to support and at what level.  It takes longer than a quick trip to your friendly neighborhood charity rating website, but in the end it’ll make you a better philanthropist, and will put your money and effort to the greatest use.