Caring and sharing

18 February 2011

Who do you trust? The guy who claims huge success, but has nothing to back it up, or the guy who can show you evidence of his achievements. It’s a no-brainer, surely?

Apparently not. A review of the websites for some of the UK’s biggest charities turns up surprisingly few evaluations. There is the occasional “fact sheet”, and it’s not uncommon to find an annual report, but even these are usually played down, stored under such headings as ‘Media Centre’ or ‘How we’re run’. And we should be clear: a fact sheet is not an evaluation. It might make claims about results, but it gives the reader no idea of what those claims are based on.

Evaluation is a wonderful thing. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the work that you have done, highlight what worked, and understand what didn’t. Hopefully it will provide evidence of fantastic results, but if it doesn’t, it will certainly help you to do better next time. Above all, a proper evaluation can tell your donors, funders and supporters what you have achieved.

Something to share, surely? So why is it so hard to find evidence of evaluation on charity websites?

Perhaps charities aren’t producing evaluations. For some charities that, unfortunately, may be the case. But it’s not the whole story. Some of the charities NPC work with put in significant time and resources to make sure that their programmes are evaluated properly.

So maybe charities just don’t think that evaluations are for sharing. After all, a good evaluation will highlight the points for improvement as much as the successes in a programme. Charities don’t like talking about failure. Who does? In an economic climate that puts pressure on fundraising and emphasises value for money, potentially demonstrating that a project hasn’t had the desired results seems like the last thing a charity would want to do. But who would you trust to be doing a better job: the people who show you a one-page fact-sheet as evidence of their effectiveness? Or those who show you a full evaluation of their work, celebrate the success and learn from the failures? Who is more value-for-money: the charity that keeps the “secrets of its success” to itself, or the charity that demonstrates to its peers exactly how they managed to do what they did, and what just doesn’t work? Sharing evaluation isn’t just good for donors, it’s good for the sector in general.

It’s not just down to individual charities. We need to create an environment in which rigorous demonstration of results is valued properly by donors, funders and the wider public. And we need to help charities to get to grips with what to measure, and how to do it. But charities who are evaluating and who can demonstrate success should lead the field, encourage their peers, and start earning our trust.