The Red Cross took less than 7 hours to respond to my question about their effectiveness on the new Google Finance for Nonprofits portal. You can read our back and forth here. I believe that this is the first discussion occurring on a Google Nonprofit page. Personally I’m glad the discussion is about effectiveness. The Red Cross gives a good reply that most donors will be happy with. I was impressed. But I’m sure that no foundation or someone like Holden Karnofsky would find the answer sufficient. No links to impact data. But that’s OK. All of that is coming a short way down the road. I think that open discussions between donors, nonprofits and others in a hosted forum like Google will only hasten the move towards transparency and demonstrated impact.
Predictably, I disagree that their answer is good.
“I am afraid I am not a statistician,
so I am really not familiar with the kind of analysis you are asking
What is this? As Sean observes in his first comment, the Red Cross isn’t some two-person operation. It’s the AMERICAN RED CROSS. Why does Sean have to explain what he means by evidence of impact? This isn’t some term that Sean or I made up. If the responder isn’t qualified to answer this, why doesn’t she find someone who is?
“We do collect standard annual service data from our chapters,
such as the number and types of disasters to which they have
responded, the number of people they have trained in first aid, CPR,
disaster preparedness, etc. We know how many people donate blood (a
frighteningly small percentage of those who are eligible).”
Are you kidding me? How about these questions: who actually needs blood? What do they need it for? How many people need blood and don’t get it and what happens to them? Do people trained in first aid remember anything or retain any useful skills? (I know the answer to this one … generally no for a general-purpose course … in fact this is something I have experience with and I’d go out and say that they should do more monitoring of first-aid training, to come up with a more rigorous program that gets people to actually know what to do. The current system is not useless, I remember a few things, but they should have my contact info and be bugging me every 6 months to at least refresh my knowledge over the Internet. This could be so much better than it is.) Moving back off my tangent … great, they know how many disasters they responded to and what type … how did it go? Were people satisfied with their response, at least? Finally, where is all this information? The fact that they have it isn’t the same as showing it.
“Like I said, statistics are not my game. But even if they
were… how would we compare the community impact of, say, a unit of
blood, a person learning a lifesaving skill like CPR, a person
sheltered in a disaster, a meal delivered to someone cleaning up after
a disaster, etc.? And when it comes to efficiency, a meal served in a
shelter setting is obviously going to cost less than a meal delivered
on one of our trucks to a recovering neighborhood, so how do you
Good questions, and I have my own thoughts on them, but why doesn’t the Red Cross have its?
Sean, I know evaluation is not YOUR game, and that’s fine. But when speaking to an organization that has been around for a billion years and has a kajillion dollars, I think you can expect them to respond to questions like this with something other than “Wow! Weird! How WOULD we think about whether we’re doing a good job?”
I’d like to clarify that this comment is directed at Sean and not at anyone else. I don’t have a problem with Maura’s honesty about what she does and doesn’t know. I want to tell Sean that he shouldn’t take answers like this as the final answer, and I know that he is used to the way I communicate when I’m not taking the time to watch my tone.
Holden, Sometimes you have to slow down a bit. I know you want everyone to get on board with the way you think, but I’m impressed that the Red Cross was on the ball at all with this one. Of course donors should get better impact data. Of course the Red Cross should be able to provide information about how they make a difference.
While you might want the Red Cross to behave differently, your comments here will only make them feel like they shouldn’t have responded at all. I think getting people to engage in these conversations is far more important than yelling at them about how their answers don’t fit your world view.
The Red Cross doesn’t have to have this conversation because almost no donors ask them to. So if you decide that you’d rather attack them on principal, what you’re really doing is encouraging them to NOT be transparent. Sometimes Holden, you have to stop and think about how other people will respond to you.
As I said, I didn’t intend my comment to be directed at the Red Cross itself. Reading it over, I see how it reads that way, and I’ve also heard from some people who interpreted it that way. So, I just want to clarify:
1. I have no problem with Maura’s answer, I don’t see this as negative information about the Red Cross, and I apologize for any impression otherwise. And yes, my original comment was written extremely quickly and in an obnoxious tone, and I apologize for that.
2. However, I think it is important to distinguish between an honest answer and an answer that’s up to what we should expect as the final word from the Red Cross. Maybe you are already making this distinction by saying it’s not an answer others would find satisfactory, and maybe I’m just nitpicking … But it really makes me cringe to see someone congratulating the nation’s biggest aid organization because one of its reps sent you an “I don’t know” response. It does. Maybe I should keep more of my cringes to myself?