Would you want your child operated on by a doctor whose work was never evaluated, even when it appeared that the way the surgery was commonly done may contribute to avoidable illness or death?

Would you risk hiring a contractor to build your house if that contractor never inspected the quality of their own work and never fixed any problems caused by shoddy or questionable construction?

Would you want your spouse to invest time and money into a job training program where few, if any, graduates ever found work?


It is likely that you would consider all of these programs to be unprofessional and maybe even detrimental, and you probably wouldn’t allow your family take part in any of them. Yet how often have you paid for these things to happen to someone else’s family. You may have even rewarded this unprofessional behavior by donating repeatedly because they worked cheaper and faster than other agencies took the time and money needed to evaluate their work.

Always look for whether the charity evaluates their own work

Unfortunately, many people never look at whether a charity evaluates their own work and may even consider evaluations to be a waste of money. Do you know if the aid agency you regularly donate to evaluates their work? What proof do you have? What changes and improvements did they make as a result of their evaluations? Have they shared country-wide/mid-term/end of project/or organization-wide evaluation with donors? Take a minute to search for an evaluation on their website. If you can’t find one there try ALNAP’s (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) Evaluation Reports Database.

Pretty stories don’t count

Even though Nicholas Kristof tells donors that aid agencies should use more pretty stories, they aren’t anything more than a marketing tool. There’s no way for donors to know if that person even existed, if their story is typical, or how many failures the charity had compared to that one success.

Annual reports don’t count

Unless the report has been verified by an outside party, there is no way to determine if the report is correct. The pressure for positive reports for donors can all too easily lead to questionable reporting practices from the field worker all the way up to senior management. While many charities are truthful in their reports, there is no way for the average donor to know which ones are and which ones aren’t.

Only donate to agencies that evaluate their work and share the findings

Charities are often afraid to share the results of evaluations because if an evaluation is done well it will detail past mistakes and suggest areas for improvement. If a charity shares these findings with the public there is the real possibility that they will appear less capable than a competing charity that chooses not to share its evaluations. To encourage charities to evaluate their work regularly and share the findings with the public, donors should fund only those charities that already share their evaluations. Donors also need to be prepared to pay for the cost of evaluations because in aid, what doesn’t get funded doesn’t get implemented.


Related Posts:

Volunteer surgical teams struggle with common aid problems

It’s time to stop telling pretty stories and start really evaluating the impact of aid

“Philanthropy is important and serious work. It does require time and thought”

More bad donor advice

Related Resource:

ALNAP’s (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) Evaluation Reports Database

Smart Compassion has recently been an important issue at the “Ocean State” of Rhode Island.  At the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business Administration, students of the introductory Operations and Supply Chain Management course – BUS 355, taught by Professor Koray Özpolat, have been offered an optional semester-long project called “Humanitarian Logistics Project”

Building on their logistics and supply chain training, teams of three to four students design public service announcements (PSA) to inform the American public about the most effective way to donate in response to the international disasters. These PSAs are then submitted to the national PSAid contest run by USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).

The outcome has been fantastic. In 2012 and 2013, four URI teams were nationally recognized in this contest which created lots of buzz in the university and state media (below, see a PSA that was awarded the 2nd place in 2012). Not only the winning teams but many other students doing this project received satisfaction. A student evaluated the project as follows:

URI info

Educators willing to adopt a similar project may take a look at the Özpolat et al. (2014)* paper recently published at the Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education.

Overall, contests, similar to PSAid, can successfully be integrated into syllabi of college courses as semester-long team-based projects. While only six PSAs are recognized annually, all contestants are actual winners because their entries are ever-green at the contest website serving the humanitarian relief community in educating their donors.

* Özpolat K.,Chen Y., Hales, D., Yu D., and Yalcin M. G., 2014. “Using Contests to provide Business Students Project-Based Learning in Humanitarian Logistics: PSAid Example”, Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 12(4), 269-285.