“Jacob has already pointed to the Hope Consulting study that Hewlett partly-funded. I encourage everyone to read it (it’s available at www.hopeconsulting.us) because it offers another important piece of the puzzle in this regard (note that, like Jacob, I have a connection to Hope Consulting–they are a client of my firm).
The Hope data shows that while 85% of donors say they care about nonprofit performance only 35% ever do any research. Another set of questions hints at why. Donors say they are actually quite satisfied with the performance of the charities they give to, and think those charities have excellent leadership.
When you combine this finding with the fact that overall confidence in the nonprofit sector has been steadily falling, it becomes clear (to me at least) that we are confronting the Lake Wobegon problem.
Donors believe that all the charities that they support are above average. While there are problems in the charitable sector and ineffective charities–those are the charities that other people give to. Why would a donor convinced that their charities are effective have need of a rating system or external validation? Why should they waste any time on researching performance even though they care about performance? These donors already know the answer to the question. Similarly few parents spend much time doing independent research about whether their child is lovable and cute or above average.
So a big portion of the challenge is one of helping more donors understand that not all charities are above average. And some of the ones below average may in fact be charities that they give to. But right now not very many donors are willing to give up their a priori beliefs that their charities are good charities (cognitive dissonance is a powerful force). And often when they come across a rating system that grades their charities poorly they conclude the fault is with the rating system not the charity.
I would add to Jacob’s list (perhaps a sub-point) that another piece of the puzzle to changing behavior is convincing people that the outcomes directly related to their actions are suboptimal. I suspect that to do this we need to engage the elephant more than the rider in the Heath’s rubric.”