Here's how it works - you're sitting at home (or on the bus with your wifi-enabled tv-receiving cell phone) watching the news. A story comes on that moves you - perhaps about homelessness, hunger, or wildlife conservation. You surf over to cnn.com/specials/2007/impact. There you can choose among a number of causes and organizations that fit your interests (data on nonprofits served up through a partnership with Charity Navigator). Click - read - donate - go back to watching the news.
Now, here's the sentence on the CNN website that really caught my eye:
"The lists are composed of some of the highest rated charities by CharityNavigator.org...and are vetted by CNN journalists for credibility."
In the interest of transparency its good to know that the organizations are vetted, and by whom. Hats off to CNN for this disclosure. We know what Charity Navigator does - crunches numbers from a nonprofit organization's tax form, focuses on operating costs as a percentage of total budget, and ranks nonprofits by this ratio. The lower the costs of running an organization, relative to its total budget, the higher the rating by Charity Navigator.
Given the misleading nature of this ratio (Does it make any sense to equate "best quality" with "cheapest?" - We don't do this in any other area of our consumer-driven lives, why do we make this assumption when it comes to nonprofit organizations?) I don't put much stock in the Charity Navigator ratings.
But how and by what criteria are the journalists vetting the organizations "for credibility"? The site doesn't give us any more information than the sentence quoted above.
This arrangement sparked (at least) two questions:
This new service may have further-reaching IMPACT than intended.
1) What does it mean for philanthropy if the media begin assessing it, not just covering it?
2) What does it mean for journalistic independence if journalists become analysts?
P.S. I started out calling this post "cross-platform embedded giving." I am not trying to start the week with an entry for "longest jargon phrase," but long time readers of this blog will know that a "tech meets media meets philanthropy" story is right up my alley. Talk about blending sectors and industries.