How should we evaluate nonprofits?
Donors look for assurances that the resources they provide are being used
well. Those of us in nonprofit leadership look for ways to justify the hard
work we do. We live in a culture of numbers, so we count. How many pounds of
food did we distribute? How many houses were rebuilt? But since we work with
people, it's hard to measure good work. There are so many variables.
Progress is slow. You can count meals; it's hard to count healthier lives.
How do we know we are making a difference?
I propose that assessment can be meaningful, even if it might not be easily
quantifiable. Here are five evaluation tools for nonprofit leaders. It
should not be a surprise that ethics, the discipline of thinking about the
quality of human action, can help us think carefully and well when numbers
don't seem enough.
1. Rules: the best action is guided by principles
Questions: Are we doing the right thing? Are we doing it in the right way?
2. Consequences: the best action does the greatest good for the greatest
Questions: Are we making a difference? How do we know?
3. Character, or virtue: good organizations are good people doing good
Questions: Do we have good people? Do we do our work well?
4. Context: it's good if it fits the situation
Question: Is our response the best fit?
5. Liberation: it's only good if it leads to greater human flourishing
Question: Does our work help make the world better for people? Does it not
only change individuals but systems as well?
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