Foreign Policy Blogs

Efficiency Meltdown

Much of what I’m reading these days – in blogs, in articles – seems to swirl around the idea of efficiency: measuring efficiency, metrics for efficiency, foundations granting to efficient non-profits…and on and on.  I don’t actually set out to look for these articles, they are just there – alongside the many discussing how to best use Twitter for your non-profit.

It is this fatigue with hearing the word efficiency that I began to rebel.  One rebellious action, not writing my blog.  With so many opinions out there around how to measure, who to measure, what to measure, or not to measure – the noise becomes too much.  Still, my petulance will not make the issue go away.

Running an organization that straddles both non-profit and funder, I find myself both tempted to become more “efficient” and more staunch in my rationale for why we should not.  Dan Pallota’s Uncharitable got me to “just say no” to current standards of efficiency and David Wagner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It? has me asking if we truly understand the implications of how our philanthropic norms have evolved – and do we still agree with them after examination.

Pallota is writing a series on the fallacies of efficiency for the Harvard Business Review, keenly titled Free the NonProfits and asks whether you should really ask, “What percentage of my donation goes to the cause”.  From all that my mind has tried to absorb, I am certain about one thing – let’s build good organizations and worry less about their admin:program ratios.   Support the folks doing good work by getting involved, that’s how you’ll know they are doing good work. 

Our financial institutions, our car manufactures, and our governments are not efficient.  We are not machines, but organizations made up of human beings.  If the philanthropic/non-profit sector figured out a way to make its organizations and grant-making/fundraising fully efficient, we’d be selling the model to the rest of the economy.