From the Red Carpet

by CCC

In this season of so many red carpets we’re saturated with superlatives — some deserved others . . . meh. It’s impossible to say, really, exactly what makes one artist’s performance the “best”. But we do it anyway, obsessively and with a kind of certainty that belies the fact they cannot be easily and objectively represented on a spread sheet. But oh, how we love to rank things, and people, and institutions.

So it’s always intrigued me that while there is plenty of data to support about how well a non-profit is performing, for some reason, it’s long been an anathema to crunch the numbers and call out the performance measures. It’s almost as if there’s a certain decorum dictating that “good causes” not be subjected to tough scrutiny. GuideStar is useful in promoting transparency among non-profits, but that organization clearly states its mission is not as an evaluator or watchdog, but rather to encourage philanthropic giving.

Still, no systematic way to genuinely evaluate non-profit ROI or outcomes.

A little over a dozen years ago, the Cultural Data Project, born at the Pew Charitable Trusts, put an end to all that. Non-profits in Pennsylvania, Maryland and California began using the CDP’s tools to measure a range of performance variables and voila — it worked! To date, more than 14,000 organizations have filled out CDP reporting tools that assess organizational and operational efficiency.

The CDP’s Trend reports and comparison reports are helpful, too.

But I say the CDP’s excellent tools are just a good start. I believe it is time to rank non-profits, so donors and foundations can legitimately assess which are most likely to have impact. A ranking system would eliminate a huge amount of clutter tolerated in the worlds of cultural and humanitarian “causes” created by organizations with worthy missions and sloppy execution. Ultimately it means wasted dollars, which would likely be better spent channeled through more efficient and high-impact organizations directed to the best non-profits.

Why not rank non-profits the way we rank law schools or hospitals? To do so would be to acknowledge that non-profits are serious businesses with a real role to play in the quality of life of our communities.

Off with his perfectly coiffed head! I expect that might be the response to this somewhat radical proposal of mine, but I’ll stand by it, right here on the red carpet.

Download the “CCC: From the Red Carpet” PDF [593kb] here.

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