Join a lively debate on rating nonprofit societal outcomes

I never expected that I’d jump right into the New Year’s blog by joining a lively debate of proposed new rating systems for nonprofit societal outcomes.

But I couldn’t resist adding my cautions to the lively exchange taking place between my dear colleague Hildy Gottlieb and CharityNavigator‘s Ken Berger.

Hildy is making the case for measuring community-wide outcomes first, rather than isolating individual nonprofits and ascribing outcomes to them. Ken and colleague Robert Penna argue back that most nonprofits work on individual or family level outcomes and thus their impact can be isolated and measured.

Is that true? Perhaps to some extent. But really, how effective can a community mental health organization be in serving the needs of its clients when they may be recently laid off, facing foreclosure, and unsure of their next meal? How effective is even the best of schools or classroom teachers when their students face these same concerns?

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book In defense of food over my vacation. I’m struck by the comparisons between the inadequacy of reductionist science to evaluate food and its impact on our health and the similar challenge of  ascribing definitive causality to a particular nonprofit intervention wholly independent of other factors (including the quality of the implementers and not just the selection of implementation method).

You can read my comments and add your own at today’s Open Forum on Ken’s Commentary.

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