Are Charity Watchdogs Listening?
One of the recurring themes I kept hearing among the chatter at the fundraising industry’s biggest trade shows this past year was rising dissent from fundraisers about charity watchdog ratings.
Then in August, two studies commissioned by the DMANF slammed charity watchdogs’ ratings. The response from executives at Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and the American Institute of Philanthropy seemed more defensive than explanatory, which didn’t exactly endear them to fundraisers. In fact, in our January issue of FundRaising Success, Jeff Brooks suggests that fundraisers “ignore the watchdogs.”
But there is evidence that the watchdogs are listening and even responding to fundraisers’ grievances. In a blog post, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark discusses the steps Charity Navigator is making to take more into consideration than just financial efficiency. Per Newmark:
[Charity Navigator is] announcing better ways to evaluate charities, getting very real about it. For example, they’re taking measures to measure how transparent the operations of a nonprofit are, that is, how much they reveal of their operations.
Another really big deal is that they’re embedding “constituency voice” into their considerations, that is, charity helpers and receivers tell you how effective the charity is.
Also, they’re “creating a web platform through which we can train, certify, and guide an army of volunteer Charity Navigator raters.
Finally, they’re “integrating the evaluative insights of other providers. Our two current partners are the bookends on the constituency voice spectrum — GreatNonprofits and Keystone Accountability. Great Nonprofits channels feedback on nonprofits performance through an open system. Keystone proactively builds benchmarked feedback data sets through systematic data collection.” GreatNonprofiits should go online very soon, with more to come.
Now, to be fair, Newmark does disclose at the end of his post that he recently joined the advisory boards of Charity Navigator and GreatNonprofits. Perhaps that means you should take this information with a grain of salt, but it does sound like at least one charity watchdog is taking your thoughts and criticisms seriously and trying to become more comprehensive in its ratings. We’ll see.