Announcing ImpactMatters: Auditing Charity Impact across Causes

Im­pact Mat­ters just launched to­day, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that is try­ing to com­ple­ment GiveWell by au­dit­ing char­i­ties across sec­tors for their use of ev­i­dence and im­pact. In their own words:

We be­lieve in a sim­ple philos­o­phy: choose your cause with your heart, but your non­profit with your head. A pow­er­ful mis­sion is just the start. Dili­gent donors then ask the next ques­tion: does the non­profit use and pro­duce ap­pro­pri­ate ev­i­dence of im­pact on that mis­sion?

We con­duct “im­pact au­dits”, short-term en­gage­ments with two ob­jec­tives:

  1. Help non­prof­its: Guide non­prof­its in strength­en­ing their use and pro­duc­tion of ap­pro­pri­ate ev­i­dence of im­pact.

  2. Help donors: Cer­tify to donors that an or­ga­ni­za­tion is ap­pro­pri­ately ev­i­dence-based.

The re­sult is sim­ple: non­prof­its get tai­lored guidance on how to im­prove their use of ev­i­dence, and donors can be con­fi­dent their char­i­ta­ble dol­lars are ad­vanc­ing the mis­sion they care about.

HISTORY

Im­pactMat­ters was founded by Yale economist Dean Kar­lan and his former stu­dent Eli­jah Gold­berg in 2015 to solve two crit­i­cal gaps in the non­profit sec­tor. First, non­prof­its that want to be more ev­i­dence-based in their work of­ten don’t have the ex­per­tise or guidance to figure out how. Se­cond, while we now know a lot more than a few decades ago about what does and doesn’t work, for ex­am­ple to in­crease liter­acy or re­duce child deaths, it is of­ten difficult to map that ev­i­dence-base to non­prof­its.

En­ter the im­pact au­dit.

APPROACH

We call these two gaps the “non­profit rat­ing” prob­lem. Many non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions strug­gle to use ev­i­dence to guide their de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Similarly, many donors strug­gle to as­sess the im­pact of non­prof­its. An im­pact au­dit solves these re­lated challenges:

  1. Pro­vides value back to the non­profit: Fol­low­ing the re­view, we provide a de­tailed pri­vate man­age­ment let­ter to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The man­age­ment let­ter in­cludes spe­cific recom­men­da­tions for how the non­profit can im­prove its pro­gram and op­er­a­tions. In ad­di­tion, the let­ter di­rects the non­profit to re­sources and or­ga­ni­za­tions that can help with spe­cific needs. Im­pactMat­ters does not serve as an con­sul­tant, but rather pro­vides in­de­pen­dent recom­men­da­tions for how the non­profit can im­prove its work.

  2. Cer­tifies ap­pro­pri­ately ev­i­dence-based non­prof­its to fun­ders: Im­pactMat­ters be­lieves donors should choose their cause with their heart, but their non­prof­its with their head. Our im­pact au­dits make choos­ing a non­profit eas­ier, by cer­tify­ing non­prof­its as ap­pro­pri­ately ev­i­dence-based. Often, we will look for ev­i­dence from a ran­dom­ized trial to make that cer­tifi­ca­tion. How­ever, a core be­lief at Im­pactMat­ters is that not ev­ery non­profit needs a ran­dom­ized trial: some pro­grams can­not be tested with ran­dom­ized tri­als, and oth­ers can rely on ran­dom­ized trial re­sults from el­se­where. We look for ap­pro­pri­ate ev­i­dence, mak­ing the pro­cess se­lec­tive while still al­low­ing recom­men­da­tions across a range of causes. As a re­sult, donors can give with their heart while re­main­ing con­fi­dent in the im­pact of their philan­thropy.

METRICS OF OUR OWN SUCCESS

We define suc­cess as fol­lows:

  • Or­ga­ni­za­tions shift to­wards more ev­i­dence-based pro­gram­ming as appropriate

  • Dona­tions shift to ap­pro­pri­ately ev­i­dence-based organizations

  • Im­pact au­dit stan­dards are adopted by oth­ers, cre­at­ing a mar­ket for impact