In search of good metrics

Choosing who to help

With so many good causes out there, it’s difficult to choose who to support. Many folks I’ve met are drawn to a specific cause often because of circumstances. That might be a love of children, personal struggle with poverty or family illness.

Looking for the big impact

For me, I’m looking for the biggest bang for the buck – the biggest impact. I’m looking for organizations that make efficient use of donations and have a direct, positive impact on a problem. And so I’m looking for metrics, impact measurement not just anecdotal evidence and good stories.

With my digital background I am used to pioneering measurement where little existed before. The advertising industry offered mostly tear sheets and good stories before the web came along and brought with it the capacity to measure every visit, click and sale. And I started my career in accounting where audited financial statements brought at least a level playing field so that by comparison one could achieve some level of understanding of progress.

What’s out there

So what have I found so far? A mixed bag. Yes, the bigger causes put their financial statements on their websites. You get top level numbers that show you a kind of expense ratio – how much of the input goes to the output. But aside from the feel good stories at the front the report, it’s difficult to determine the true impact of specific initiatives.

I did find an interesting site called GiveWell. It’s a bunch of financial analysts in the US that are bringing a more holistic approach to evaluating the effectiveness of donations.

Unlike existing evaluators, which focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, we focus on how well programs actually work – i.e., their effects on the people they serve.

And on the other side of the equation I found an interesting report from Imagine Canada on what people give. They group giving into: donations, volunteering and helping others directly. Turns out that the churches actually get the most donations-they got 46% of the $10 billion Canadians donated in 2007! I would have thought it was one of the medical causes.

I’m sure there’s more info out there. In the mean time, my quest is to find the biggest bang for the buck. Perhaps I have to start by helping organizations define their metrics for measuring their impact.

  1. Thanks for this post, Cindy – interesting. I’m not surprised churches account for a large % since, for most churches, it’s a “flow through”; our church gives thousands to charities & to supporting refugee families. The women at our church raised $5000 at the “rummage” sale, all of which goes to women’s shelters we work with. I’m gonna take the metrics back for further discussion. Thanks!

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