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