Doing good is important, but it is just as important to do it well.
It wasn’t too long ago that charities were given the benefit of the doubt regarding effectiveness. If your intentions were good and you were doing something, that was enough. Putting a Band-Aid on a symptom or solving a problem were seen as much the same. Whether you were giving a fish, or teaching a man to fish made no difference.
Until recently, the percentage of donations spent on overhead has been the most common way of evaluating charities. As a result, some very ineffective and sometimes harmful work has been funded around the world. However, as Bryant Myers wrote in Walking With the Poor, “the poor deserved better than gifted amateurs.”
Today, thankfully, many donors are not just asking how much of their money is going to the intended recipients, but also what it is doing for them once it gets there.
I think Plant With Purpose has one of the best programs for holistic transformation in existence. I have a great deal of respect for what many other organizations are doing, and there are many ways to alleviate poverty, but I believe that what we are doing is particularly effective. That is the principle reason that I am still here after 20 years. More than once I considered working for another organization, but the unique combination of environmental, economic and spiritual impact has kept me at Plant With Purpose. However, my feelings about our effectiveness are not enough.
We need empirical data to show that we are making long-term positive environmental, economic and spiritual impacts on the communities where we work. Technology is making measurement of some of these impacts easier. For example, we are now using satellite imagery and an index called NDVI to measure changes in forest cover around our communities, and learning that we are in fact having a positive influence on the forest. We have also measured the resulting improvements in water quality. We are using outside evaluators and a recognized index to measure the effectiveness of our Village Savings and Loan programs, together with other indicators to measure increasing wealth in communities. Crop yields and spiritual growth are also being evaluated. Much of this is done on an ongoing basis, but every three years we do a more comprehensive evaluation. We are currently in the planning phase for our next triennial evaluation, which will be conducted this fall.
Once we have measurements of our impacts, we can continually improve our work, testing various options and incorporating new techniques. Over the past few years one of the most exciting things has been seeing our programs get more effective, bringing about greater transformation for more people, less expensively. That is a trend I expect to continue in the coming year. It is also a commitment we make to all of our supporters and beneficiaries: as excited as we are with our work, we are not content with where we are. We will keep getting better.