When Excellent Charities Sing
by Greg Thomson
Some of the most inspiring conversations that I’ve had in the charitable sector have been with Executive Directors or other senior staff who are absolutely manic about their clients. They obsess about how to continually improve their services so that their clients can be better off. Pretty much universally the discussion eventually gets to the data that underpins the decisions that the charity makes and this is often where the discussion really gets interesting. While numbers and stats can be tremendously boring for some, these senior staff reel off data that gets them even more excited about what they do.
This is what I mean when I say that there is not enough emphasis on the numbers at charities. If a charity is tracking those key metrics that matter most about serving its clients and is manic about improving what they do to improve those it serves, they should be singing this from the rooftops (or at least mentioning it prominently in their annual report and website).
Charity Intelligence is working to get this type of information more readily available for donors in Canada so that they can make better-informed giving decisions. We recently released a report (available to view here) that shows that most Canadian charities are not singing their own praises loudly enough. In fact, our report on Social Results Reporting shows that we were only able to find 34% of the information that we would like to see. And when it comes to the most important question: “What impact is this charity having?”, we found only 19% of this critical information.
I am hoping that a good chunk of the problem is that charities simply are not reporting on a great deal of the data that they use in their internal decision making. My worry, however, based on many discussions with charities, is that some are flowing mostly rudderless down the stream. They have a great idea and are trying to do something about it. They have been doing it for many years and they “know” that it works. But when pressed, they cannot demonstrate that they are making any difference, and have no idea where they should even look for improvements.
No charity should measure things simply to report on them. This is a waste of time and donor dollars. However, data is vitally important. Data on those key metrics that tell a charity whether they have had more or less impact on their clients this year than last (or 5 years ago) provides the rudder that allows client-manic charities to excel. And donors will listen when excellent charities sing.