A lively debate about nonprofit evaluation and metrics has been raging in response to my request for input on my meeting later this week with Google.org. However, the conversation has splintered into a debate over whether a systematic, “metric” driven process of scientific measurement is needed, or whether the frame of scientific measurement is “an epistemologically impoverished frame” through which to understand nonprofit evaluation.
I personally believe evaluating nonprofits is mostly about evaluating their output (the social good they produce). Since it is difficult (impossible?) to quantify this output, I think the focus on metrics as a framework for evaluation is misplaced. Metrics can be used, but they should be designed on a case-by-case basis for each situation. That being said, I think the conversation has fallen into the trap of being constrained by historical frames of reference.
I want to have a different conversation.
I’m interested in what information is available to donors who want to evaluate a nonprofit and which of this information is useful. Google.com is mostly a resource that points to information; they don’t tend to create a lot of their own content. So if we imagine a future version of the nonprofit data inside of Google Finance, I don’t imagine it will be some new metric that we design. Instead, it will point to existing information on the web. When I first wrote about nonprofit info in Google Finance, I said I hoped they would not display Charity Navigator ratings (although I would support them noting if a nonprofit had a zero or one star rating since I do believe that a Charity Navigator rating at this level is a significant red flag)
So the conversation I want to have is what information do readers think that donors should consider when evaluating a nonprofit? Then secondly, where or how can this information be captured online so that it can be displayed in Google Finance?
Open Invitation to Foundation Employees
I realize that if you work at a foundation, you may not want to jump into a conversation that involves telling another foundation what to do. However, the conversation we’re having here is really important and would not be complete without the input of the army of program officers (ie. Nonprofit evaluators) that read this blog. So please consider commenting anonymously (just let us know you’re a program officer) or comment publicly and realize that we’re having a broad conversation about nonprofit evaluation that goes beyond Google.org and Google Finance
Open Invitation to Nonprofit Employees
A conversation about nonprofit evaluation would not be complete without the input of the nonprofits being evaluated. What information do you, as nonprofits, what donors looking at when they evaluate you? It could be that someday the Google Finance website about your organization becomes the top ranked search result on google for your nonprofit. What do you want on that page?