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Oct 25, 2012

Metrics and Reporting Gone Wild

The Chronicle of Philanthropy posted a great example of the hidden costs of the “accountability” and metrics focus of contemporary philanthropy.  The federal social innovation fund has copied the approach of too many foundations and grant-makers to focus too intensively on measuring and matching requirements.  This can effectively cut the link between mission and money.  It also is a great example of the inconsistencies in current philanthropy.

80 pages of instructions on metrics and evaluation?  How can a single grant-maker possibly know enough to design a one-size-fits-all?  This isn’t just a problem of government; it is a trend that pervades the philanthropic world that needs to be re-examined.  A need to hire staff and consultants to design a measurement system?  Time cards for hourly tracking; and separate requirements by each funder (feds and match)?  This is a system gone awry.

Ironic that some grant-makers will not fund overhead, yet they are very willing to impose overhead costs.  Though the article doesn’t say so, I wonder if the “unanticipated” compliance costs made the grant smaller than the cost of the program:  a grant that cost a nonprofit money.  Hardly what I would call philanthropy.

See the chapter “Blurring the Lines Between Donor and Manager” in my book More Than Just Money to see other thoughts on re-thinking the role of grant-maker and nonprofit executive in making sure we stay focused on community need and nonprofit mission.