October 21, 2010

A Move to Encourage Charities to Focus on Results

Can five short questions change the nonprofit world?

Independent Sector, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and GuideStar USA are collaborating on an effort to get charities to answer five fundamental questions about how they operate. The very process of answering the questions could help charities with strategic planning or describing themselves more clearly to the public, says proponents of the effort, called “Charting Impact.” If the idea catches hold, it could also provide a standardized framework through which to evaluate charities.

The five questions are:

* What is your organization aiming to accomplish?

* What are your strategies for making this happen?

* What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?

* How will your organization know if you are making progress?

* What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

The effort, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is currently being tested by a few dozen charities.

“We have a dream that some day these questions will be part of the conversation at all nonprofits,” says James Firman, president of the National Council on Aging and chair of the Independent Sector advisory group on nonprofit effectiveness.

At a session during the Independent Sector meeting on Thursday, Mr. Firman asked the audience for ideas about how to help the project gain momentum. Ideas ranged from paying charities a small stipend for answering the questions, to recruiting a group of foundations that would require charities to go through the question-and-answer process before receiving grants.

Art Taylor, president of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a watchdog group, said a charity could demonstrate a minimal level of competence and good governance merely by answer the questions.

“If they’re able to fill this form out, obviously they’ve had some successes,” he said.