Looking at the ‘overhead ratio’ is a lousy way to evaluate the effectiveness of a charity.
Once you understand that concept, you are left wondering what else to look at when considering whether to donate.
The questions offer NPOs ideas on how to communicate to donors & potential donors other than with overhead ratios.
The fact sheet starts with a great description of the variety of roles filled by NGOs. I really appreciate the fishing analogy. Quoting from their fact sheet:
Protection –“give a man a fish”
Prevention – “teach a man to fish”
Promotion – “organize a fishermans’ co-op”
Transformation – “protect fishing & fishing rights”
All four roles are important.
Here are three of the six questions with a few thoughts:
Can the organisation tell you the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal?
This means you dig deeper than the glossy mailer or the front page of the website. Notice the conceptual overlap with the questions offered by Dan Pallotta, which I mentioned here. My paraphrase of his questions:
- What is the goal?
- How much progress has been made towards the goal?
- How do you know that you made progress?
Here is another question I really like:
How does the organisation coordinate its work with others, and how does it ensure that the beneficiaries have a say in its decision-making?
This avoids the damage of donors deciding what beneficiaries need without regard to what the beneficiaries believe they need. This is a recurring theme through what I’ve read on the issue of international aid.
Can you see on the website or in marketing materials whether this is a factor for the organization?
Here’s one more question to ask:
Does the organisation court media attention through sensationalism?
Obviously the answer to this question should be no.
I would expand the question to avoiding the use of manipulation.
You can figure this out fairly easily. Just ponder the website or promotional material.
After doing some reading on this issue, I saw with new eyes the promotional material from an international NGO that made a presentation at my church. The pictures of every aid recipient were either of sad, dirty, black/brown faces or of happy, freshly washed brown/black people standing next to a new home. The face of every caregiver was white. Space limits in this post don’t allow time to explain the wide range of problematic messages in the promo piece.
Check out the fact sheet for all six questions. It provides a superb replacement for the “what’s the overhead” conversation.
(h/t Saundra – @saundra_s)