GreatNonprofits (and GiveWell)

GreatNonprofits is a charity and a website (still in beta) that provides "a place to find, review, and talk about great — and perhaps not yet great — nonprofits."  The Chronicle of Philanthropy (December 13, 2007) featured GreatNonprofits on its front page and titled its article using founder and CEO Perla Ni’s description of the organization as a "Zagat’s for Charities" (referring to the popular restaurant guidebook that publishes public opinions and cumulative ratings of various establishments).

First, the disclaimer:  GreatNonprofits is one of my clients.  With that being said, I must add with complete subjectivity, that the concept is brilliant.

Next, the issue for charities and their leaders:  more information about your organization – whether accurate or inaccurate, complete or incomplete, objective or biased, beneficial or detrimental – will be available to the public than ever before.  Such additional information may be self-reported (see posts on the new Form 990), published by the media (which has also increased its scrutiny over nonprofits, particularly where juicy stories lead to front page credits), or the result of insiders and outsiders posting their opinions of charities online through listservs, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and ratings services (e.g., Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, American Institute of Philanthropy).  How will charities monitor, manage, and respond to such information?  What is the responsibility of governing boards with respect to all of this?

These questions do not have simple answers, but they need to be asked and discussed at the board level.  Ironically, a nonprofit that assesses the effectiveness of charities, GiveWell, which was co-featured with GreatNonprofits in the same issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, ran into a public relations nightmare when it was later exposed that its CEO was posing online as an information-seeking donor to promote GiveWell.  Clearly, not the right way to manage information for an organization aspiring to be the "world’s first completely transparent charitable grant maker."

Read more about GreatNonprofits here.

Read The New York Times (January 8, 2008) article about the GiveWell story here