Nonprofit effectiveness and volunteering

Volunteers in Haiti

We should all be concerned about the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations in providing value.  The private sector has it easy in some respects. If a company doesn’t provide value — a service or product a customer values and is willing to pay for — they eventually go out of business. The feedback loop for nonprofit organizations is less direct and longer. Good intentions are often given more weight than real results.

A recent column in the New York Times highlights some of these concerns. Jacob Kushner’s article, The Voluntourists Dilemma, deserves to be read. We should consider whether the organizations we donate to and volunteer with are delivering the results we expect. This is clearly a board governance issue. But it is also the responsibility for those of us writing checks and donating time. Asking these questions is a crucial step in helping the organizations we care about get better.