Sean Stannard-Stockton wants to see more research focused on particular nonprofits, rather than on “techniques” for helping people; his reasoning is that this would be more useful to donors.
I don’t believe it’s possible to evaluate a nonprofit as an organization, completely in isolation from what it does and whether it works. Especially if I’m trying to make a case to individual donors who don’t know me or the people running the nonprofit. (I’ve argued this more fully in the past).
Phil Steinmeyer is more interested in techniques than in nonprofits; his reasoning is that differences in the effectiveness of different techniques are large enough to overwhelm organizational differences. (One example of this that I’d give is the question of fighting diarrhea by building wells/latrines or focusing on promotion of oral rehydration therapy; there is little obvious synergy between the two, and little reason to believe that they’d be similar in terms of effectiveness.)
I believe there is some value in evaluating “techniques” in the abstract, but doing so is not sufficient if you’re trying to figure out where to donate. The devil is in the details: it’s essential to know whether a nonprofit is carrying out a “technique” in a manner and context that match up with the “technique” you’ve read about. I don’t know of any “techniques” that are so simple, and so clearly effective, that I would bet on a charity simply because of formal adherence to such “techniques,” regardless of where, when, and with whom (and how faithfully) it’s adhering to them.
That’s why it’s crucial that we look at specific charities, judging them on what they do and what the evidence is that it works. It’s not the only analysis we do (we also look at independent research), and it has been the most intensive and expensive part of our process, but we see it as necessary for anyone trying to produce truly valuable and actionable information for individual donors.