Friday, December 13, 2002

Standards of quality

Philanthropic foundations and nonprofits are too polite. They hate to say no, they don't like to criticize others' work, and they try to operate all "under the big tent" more often than not. There are many reasons for this, and it has many effects. One effect is to make judging quality very difficult. The industry lacks performance ratings, metrics of quality, even commonly held operating standards for assessing operations . None of the existing players wants to put a stake in the ground and say " these are our criteria for quality, this is how we assess it, this is what currently qualifies and what doesn't, and we'll be back to assess again in 6 months or a year." Of course, just because foundations, grantmakers, and nonprofits won't speak the above sentence, doesn't mean they don't employ criteria and pass value judgements all the time.

By acting as if the creation of meaningful, public standards was a bad thing, the industry does itself a disservice. New entrants into philanthropy can't turn to independent ratings services, indices of performance, or credible media sources as standard bearers. Philanthropy lacks these industry supports partly because of its long-standing refusal to admit to the role of competition in the field. Ironically, the result of the resistance to independent standards and monitors may just be purely market-based decisions.

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