A new charity rater site was unveiled today! It's called, well, The Charity Rater.
This release from Saundra Schimmelpfennig, the long-and-confusing-last-name blogger at Good Intentions are Not Enough, might not have an innovative title, but it does offer an innovative and, I think, necessary approach to charity evaluation.
The site is essentially a step-by-step guide (a "toolkit," as Schimmelpfennig calls it) to evaluation for individuals interested in donating to a specific charity. It offers a survey with questions that vary based on the type of organization, but include basic questions about financials, accountability, advertising, organizational structure and mission (the last of which I was very glad to see included.) It takes about 20-30 minutes and at the end, the survey spits out a score.
To make good social investments, people need to understand why an organization is more effective than another. Charity Rater provides an easily-understood glimpse into the complicated world of evaluation, efficiency and effectiveness. It creates more engagement and allows the lay-donor to be as critical of an organization as he or she would like. This is a necessary component of an effective evaluator, as any evaluation site that simply tells people where to donate is only slightly better than advertising directing those same donations.
I played around with it to evaluate two non-profits I've worked with to see how they'd fare. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the results. Both got shoddy marks.
Mostly these poor scores are due to Charity Rater's limited scope--it was rushed to completion to help donors vet their Haiti relief organizations. It is currently designed only to evaluate aid organizations. Soon, it will be expanded for all charities and will more accurately be able to assess the worth of any organization.
However, the negative scores my organizations received also reflects one major problem I have with most charity evaluators: They assume an organization's lack of transparency means the organization is ineffective. Charity Rater has you use an organization's website to answer the questions in its survey and if the website doesn't have the information needed, the organization is penalized.
Charity Rater does mention this weakness and the site approaches the lack of transparency issue in a positive way: "Let the charity know what information you need and that you expect them to make this same information readily available to all donors in the future." For the organizations I rated, most of the information is available, it just isn't available on the website. The organizations didn't put them online to deceive, they just didn't think about it.
Charity Rater's survey will be a great guideline not just for donors, but also for non-profits to learn what types of information should be made accessible to donors, as well as how to approach programmatic decisions. I've asked Schimmelpfennig for a copy of the survey and I hope to use it as a tool to make the organizations I work with more transparent and accessible.
I am excited to see how Charity Rater grows and for the eventual data it releases. (Schimmelpfennig says the site will publish averaged scores of surveys from the same organization over time.) Check it out and give your feedback.
(Edit: A change to Charity Rater's database had artificially deflated scores. They are working on fixing it. I feel better about my organizations' scores, but both still need work to meet Charity Rater's transparency standards.)