Accountability and transparency in giving

A friend of the family Tony Carson, an interesting fellow who was great at crosswords and so secured for himself a place at Bletchley Park during World War II, had a hand in designing the Smith Family’s program Learning for Life. It helps families pay for school books and also case manages things to try to address kids’ motivation etc.  In the bumph that the send me as a previous donor, the Smith Family shows me a picture of single father Andrew and his son Josh. It tells me that Josh had behaviour problems from years 5 to 7 but that attending the Learning Club made all the difference.  I have little reason to doubt this, but I wonder about other families. How successful is this program?

Of course the stuff I’m getting is marketing material. And the cartel of good intentions means that I’ll never hear of things that didn’t work out so well. For all I know the Smith Family is ruthless with our money making sure it’s working.  But I’m never going to be able to see this in action, because telling us of programs that didn’t measure up isn’t a very good way of marketing all the good that people’s money does, something that William Easterly points out about foreign aid. so it seemed to me that the some agency could do us all a favour by offering some kind of audit of effectiveness of such programs with public reporting of results.  It’s the kind of thing the government could help bring about, particularly if it tied deductible gift recipient status to the performance of such audits.  If it was done well, always a big assumption, it could make a big difference to the effectiveness of the charitable dollar.

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14 years ago

Yes, this is a big issue, but that’s why there was a Senate inquiry into disclosure regimes for charities and not-for-profits not long ago (2008):

There was also a large Productivity Commission report into the charitable and not-for-profit sector last year:

The great difficulty with what you propose is bringing about greater transparency without eroding the effectiveness of the organisations being audited. Providing comprehensive information about the success of programs is an onerous, costly task; diverting money to this end will result in less money being devoted to the charitable programs themselves, thereby undermining the effectiveness of your donation.

I suspect there is not a silver-bullet solution in this area.