If you only read one thing this week…

The worst way to judge a charity by Nick
April 30, 2012, 8:54 pm
Filed under: accountability

The LA Times is running a long over-due op-ed here on how misleading administrative costs are as a measure of charitable effectiveness. It won’t be news to anyone who works in the non-profit sector, but I’m always disappointed at how little push-back there has been from the sector on this metric. It’s high time we started being more assertive about what we want to be held accountable for.


Mobilizing for peaceful change in the US by Nick
October 10, 2011, 11:33 am
Filed under: accountability, Articles, governance, If you only have 15 mins

The New York Times is running an interesting piece of commentary by Paul Krugman on the wave of demonstrations and protests currently taking place in the US. Read it here. The comparisons to the ‘Arab Spring’ are fascinating (although that is not the point of this article).

International NGO transparency by Nick
September 29, 2010, 12:25 pm
Filed under: accountability, Articles, If you only have 15 mins

Till Bruckner writes a fascinating article on Aid Watch on his freedom of information request to USAID to disclose how taxpayer money is spent on aid operations in Georgia. After 14 months of argument, he finally got a response, with the budgets of 19 organizations receiving US government grants. Unfortunately, most were massively redacted. Except three… Take a look here and find out how Mercy Corps responded!

What Matters In Kosovo: Communities’ Own Measures of Aid Effectiveness by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
August 7, 2008, 9:15 pm
Filed under: accountability, Development theory, If you have 30 mins


In this important transition moment for Kosovo — after nine years of undetermined status — the view from communities offers critical lessons for structuring effective policy and aid for continued stability and recovery.

Responding to an open-ended inquiry regarding the most significant changes in terms of stability and recovery since the active conflict in the late 1990s, Kosovans from 13 diverse communities identified the issues, actors and approaches that have had the greatest impact on these changes. With projected financial needs for Kosovo estimated at €1.25 billion for 2008-2010, local and international actors should heed Kosovan’s own measures of effectiveness.

The key findings of this report indicate that

  • Stability and recovery is not primarily “politics”
  • Stability and recovery is locally driven and owned
  • Gaps exist between local priorities and policy initiatives
  • Community leadership narrows the gaps
  • Continued recovery requires a cross-sectoral, integrated approach

Since beginning work in Kosovo in 1993, Mercy Corps Kosovo’s focus has shifted from relief to recovery, to long-term development. Over a 15 year period, Mercy Corps Kosovo has implemented over 30 programs worth in excess of US$50 million and currently operates from a Head Office in Prishtinë / Priština, covering 27 Municipalities.

This research is part of The LEAPP Project (Learning for Effective Aid Practice and Policy), a two-year, multi-country study initiated by Mercy Corps to understand the impact of community-led programming in conflict and post-conflict transitional environments. Pilot research was conducted in Kosovo from May-June 2008.

Access “What Matters In Kosovo” here.

Qualitative or Quantitative – which is better? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

For anyone interested in understanding the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods this website hosted by the Web Center for Social Research Methods. All too often we get into fruitless debates about which approach is better, whereas both are equally valid approaches and more important is to determine which approach is better for the research you are looking at conducting. The bite size chunks and easy navigation make this is a useful site to peruse and then bookmark. Highly recommended!

Measuring Your Mission – Is it Possible? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

Any of us interested in the complexities, challenges and successes of macro-level measurement that tells us at an agency level whether we are making progress (or not) towards achieving our mission, should check out The Bridgespan Group. This non-profit consulting group helps agencies get closer to results measurement in a number of different ways. Although their focus is US domestic agencies, the papers that they have published are relevant to those of us in the international humanitarian field. In particular I liked a study entitled Great Valley Center: A Case Study in Measuring for Mission that talks about how they helped the Great Valley Center start to measure it’s results at the macro level. Interestingly, a recent study by the Independent Sector identified that nearly 60% of the nonprofits surveyed said that the results of at least some of their programs were too intangible to measure. Now that sounds familiar!!! Even if you aren’t interested in the specifics of the case, the generic challenges and potential solutions outlined are (I think) applicable to all of us.

Why budgeting fails, and what we can do about it. by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
March 27, 2008, 6:11 pm
Filed under: accountability, Articles, governance, If you have 30 mins, Management

Our own Tori Gilbert summarizes Harvard Business School’s paper by By Prof. Peter Horvath and Dr. Ralf Sauter.


The traditional budgeting process is counterproductive. It is inefficient, rapidly becomes obsolete, doesn’t motivate the right behaviors and is out of sync with strategy. Traditional budgeting is especially not suited to the realities of dynamic markets, making it difficult to implement budget adjustments called for throughout the year.

To be most useful in a dynamic marketplace, budgeting must integrate with and support strategy. The authors propose six guiding principles for an advanced budgeting system that optimizes the roles of budgeting while supporting strategy execution:

1. Align budgeting to strategy.
2. Link relevant nonfinancial performance measures to budgeting.
3. Reduce detail through the use of aggregated budgets.
4. Use rolling budgets instead of fixed budgets—a continual planning process, frequently updated and adaptable to changing conditions.
5. Use relative targets instead of fixed budgets to reward people–measuring success by comparing performance against relative, self-adjusting performance measures. Relative targets can motivate the right behavior, guiding people to act in an organization’s best interest.
6. Increase the focus on cross-functional core processes instead of departmental and organizational unit performance. This leads managers to be more attentive to organizational strategy and goals, and fosters collective effort and teamwork instead of internal competition for resources.

The Balanced Scorecard (see links below) is described as a helpful alignment mechanism. The Balanced Scorecard can supply the coordinating functions for budgets by communicating strategy to managers and give them direction; it can help managers oversee strategic initiatives and link them to financial activities. The BSC’s clear depiction of strategic priorities helps to set firm guidelines for budget planning. When implementing the BSC, it is crucial to de-emphasize the importance of budget-related objectives to the benefit of BSC-related objectives, while reducing the level of detail in the budget—otherwise you’ll only double the work and increase the frustration level.”

Read the article here.

Read the Wikipedia article on the Balanced Scorecard approach here.