In a recent report listing its ten core beliefs about how foundations can increase the impact of their grants, McKinsey & Co. identified its number one core belief as follows:

“Hear the constituent voice.
Involve constituents at every stage of the assessment.”

One innovative way the philanthropic community might access the “constituent’s voice” is through user reviews of nonprofit organizations written by clients, volunteers, and other stakeholders.

This model is based on the user-generated reviews that have become ubiquitous in the private sector, at sites like Yelp, Amazon Review, TripAdvisor, Zagat’s, etc.

It represents a type of “crowd-sourcing,” whereby the community of those most affected by a nonprofit gain a voice in how it is evaluated by other funders, volunteers, clients, and so on.

Anyone is free to use these reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of nonprofits, as one input among many used in determining how well they are performing compared to their peers.

 

The Logic Behind This Model

 

Organizations and people can improve through feedback. 

Universities encourage students to fill out course evaluations; Ritz Carlton encourages guests to fill out customer satisfaction cards; and JD Powers provides customer satisfaction surveys of cars, hospitals and cell phone carriers.

Similarly, reviews of nonprofits by people who have had direct experience with them help the organizations find out what they are doing well (or not so well) in ways that can improve their daily operations going forward. 

By looking through the largest database of nonprofit reviews that currently exists, we can find examples of both positive and negative assessments of organizations.

For example, a client of the Cody Unser First Step Foundation, of Albuquerque, NM, which works to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord paralysis, wrote:

“(T)hey introduced me to an exciting sport that does not see limitations. Cody inspired me to push myself beyond my own expectations, by scuba diving. The feelings of being ‘free’ from the wheelchair were incredible.”

An example of a critical review is this assessment of an animal welfare organization using what the reviewer considered a “bogus” method of calculating the proportion of its animals that are successfully placed in new homes.

“I don’t doubt that the animals that are there and make it to the adoption floor are well cared for…(but this is) a very limited intake facility. High adoption percentages are very easy when a facility is limited intake.”

Whether praise in the form of a testimonial or constructive criticism holding a nonprofit accountable, user reviews like these ones pour into the website hosting them, GreatNonprofits.org (GNP), at the rate of nearly 100 per day. To date, over 38,000 such reviews have been logged over the past three years

GuideStar also displays these reviews, and efforts are underway to spread them to other philanthropy-oriented websites.

 

 

Extending User Reviews Across the Web

 

 

The next logical step in increasing the visibility of stakeholder stories is to build a common platform that enables reviews to be displayed at any website devoted to philanthropy.

Toward that end, the Lodestar Foundation has issued a challenge grant that, if matched by other donors, will fund building out the GNP platform into a much more robust system that can support multiple organizations going forward.

The concept behind this effort is that user reviews have the potential to help the entire nonprofit sector work toward greater transparency and accountability in the future.

What do you think?  Is this something organizations could benefit from?  Are you interested in being involved?

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