With all due diligence: Claims made by some ‘impact investments’ do not stack up

Demanding a financial return often reduces the social benefit rather more often than impact investors let on

A version of this article first published in the Financial Times.

It is a beguiling offer — an investment that can produce a financial return and also a social / environmental benefit. Private benefit plus public benefit. It probably does happen sometimes but certainly not for every impact investment product. Investors must be on their guard.

The impact of something is the difference between the world in which that thing happens versus the world in which it does not. So assessing impact means considering what would have happened without it.

This is how to assess the impact of anything. For example what would have become of you if you had not been educated? What would have happened to Europe without the reparations demanded from Germany after World War I?

Establishing what would have happened otherwise, the counterfactual, is sometimes impossible as in the reparations example. In those cases we have to make reasonable conjectures based on everything else we know. Sometimes it is possible – though it may be complicated. This is a whole branch of social science. Continue reading

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Foundation boards are a throwback to a ‘male, pale and stale’ world

Lack of diversity is a problem for foundations and grant-making committees

This article first published in the Financial Times.

Every donor who sets up a charitable foundation needs a board. And every company  starting a charitable programme needs to determine who will make the decisions about what it does and whom it supports.

There seems to be a major problem with these boards. In the UK, 99 per cent of foundation board members are white, according to data published this summer by the Association of Charitable Foundations. Only three per cent of foundation trustees are under 45 years old. Sixty per cent are retired. Two-thirds are male. They are “drawn from a narrow cross-section of society: white British, older and above average income,” the report says.

When a friend of mine began running a foundation outside Europe, she discovered that several people listed as trustees were, in fact, dead. The dead are weirdly important in philanthropy – for example, they are major donors – but they’re not meant to be making decisions. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charity begins with admitting we got it wrong

We need to be scientific and fearless about assessing whether proposed solutions work

This article first published in the FT

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seems to have wasted six years and $1bn, having initiated a programme to improve teaching effectiveness in US schools. An evaluation released last month showed that it had a negligible effect on its goals — some of them worsened — which included student achievement, access to effective teaching and dropout rates.

Much the same happened to Ark, the UK-based charity founded by the hedge fund industry. It created and co-funded a programme in 25,000 schools in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, supporting the government to improve school performance. It was based on sound research about how to reduce teacher absence, improve teaching and create more accountability through school inspections. Ark has worked on it since 2012. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charities (gasp!) using and producing sound evidence

This article first published in the Financial Times.

Anne Heller has done something that I had never previously seen in my 18 years in the non-profit sector. She identified a social problem, scoured academic literature to find a solution, and then set up a non-profit to implement it. That approach sounds jaw-droppingly obvious, but it is in fact very rare for a charity to design itself around existing evidence.

Ms Heller had worked for the city of New York when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, running shelters for homeless families. She noticed that about 10 per cent of the families who use the shelters returned repeatedly. In other words, the services which the shelters provided were not solving these people’s problems. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mapping the existing evidence about preventing child abuse in institutions

We are producing a map of the existing evidence about child abuse within organisations

New project! Giving Evidence is working to produce a map of the existing evidence (and gaps in it) about what is effective at reducing child abuse – particularly child sexual abuse – within organisations, such as youth clubs, sports clubs, churches etc. We’ll be working on it with the Centre for Evidence and Implementation, and Professor Aron Shlonsky of the University of Melbourne, who have undertaken considerable research around this topic. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Big Money Questions

Wide-ranging chat about charitable giving, with the Daily Mail.

What to give to, what to avoid, one of Caroline’s favourite charities, how to choose a charity… (~20 minutes) Please click on the picture below to watch the full video.

big money

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charities and donors: What would you like more research about?

Giving  Evidence and think-tank Charity Futures break new ground in researching what matters to charities and donors

Survey here! Pls take ten minutes to tell us what you would like to know!

Charity Futures, the new sector think tank led by Sir Stephen Bubb is running a major consultation to find out the topics on which donors and charity leaders most want more research to help them in their vital work.  Clearly this is essential for ensuring that charitable activity and giving can be based on sound evidence.

We have asked charities and donors for topics on which they would like additional research, and we are now asking you to say which of those you would prioritise. That is what the survey asks.

Giving Evidence is running the consultation, which invites input from any charity, foundation, public or private donor in the United Kingdom. Through an open ‘crowd-sourcing’ process, including a series of focus groups across the country and a couple of rounds of public, open, online survey, the project invites charities, private donors and institutional funders to say where more research would be of most use. The project is supported by a distinguished advisory group of funders, private donors, researchers, charity leaders and umbrella bodies (listed below). Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Donors left empty-handed on charity data questions

How can you tell if a charity is effective, when there is little independent analysis?

This article first published in the Financial Times

Judging by my inbox, there seems to be huge demand for advice about which charities to support. As donors have followed the turmoil around Oxfam, Save the Children, Kids Company and others before them, they want decent independent analysis along the lines of the data that rating agencies provide for bonds or Which? does for fridges.

There isn’t any.

It doesn’t exist, because of costs, incentives and the genuine challenges involved in nailing it down. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to make an evidence-based intervention

VIDEO: Watch Caroline’s new lesson with the Fitzroy Academy!

https://fitzroyacademy.com/lesson/evidence-based-interventions?playlist=social-impact#-QITpDwHX4A

Full lesson here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Give one charity donation, get one free

Making a big gift to draw other donors is only useful if the charity is highly effective

This article first published in the Financial Times

The practice of donors offering to “match” gifts made to charities they support has become common in the charity world. In the run-up to Christmas, many have been offering to double donations. In the recent Challenge Campaign, for instance, money given to selected charities was doubled by the Big Give, set up by Sir Alec Reed, founder of Reed, the recruitment firm.

Others schemes propose different deals: one donor was offering to give $2 for every $1 given on Friday to Charity Navigator, a charity rating agency; while PayPal will add 1 per cent to all donations made through its platform until New Year.

The UK’s Department for International Development does it too. Its UK Aid Match offered up to £5m from the UK aid budget to eight charities.

The theory is that the match attracts new donations. If your aim is helping your chosen charity to raise money, is it a good idea to offer to match other people’s contributions? The rigorous evidence suggests that it is.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment