The GiveWell Blog

Kudos to Ken Berger

Charity Navigator’s CEO writes:

We MUST get past the notion of doing the “good work” with no accountability. We MUST get past the idea that nonprofits are too complex or unique to be measured. I have seen it close up for years and it is not a pretty picture. The nonprofit sector must get its act together and make sure it is really helping provide meaningful change in communities and peoples lives. It is life or death for many of those we serve whether we are effective or not. So let’s work together to measure, manage and deliver what is really important to make our world a better place. (Emphasis in original)

I respectfully disagree with those who call this “just talk.” Rather, I’m with Sean, who says: “Ken has put his chips down big and made a huge bet that he’s going to pull this all off.”

For years, Charity Navigator has dominated news stories about how to give effectively, even while the limitations of its methodology have been widely recognized within the nonprofit sector. Now, Ken is not just talking about but committing to doing more. His statement is so public and so clear that there’s no credible way to turn back, for him or his organization. If Charity Navigator doesn’t want to have its own quotes used against it for the rest of its existence, it will have to see its commitment to real, meaningful evaluation through.

We don’t yet know all the details of how Charity Navigator is going to go about this, and if we have issues with the methodology it ends up adopting, you’ll hear about them. But Ken absolutely deserves a “standing ovation” now. He is the issuer of our press release who had the most to lose, and he’s chosen to fight for what he knows is right rather than stand pat.


  • James Edward Dillard on December 1, 2009 at 8:13 pm said:

    Why is everyone so happy for Ken Berger? He’s only proving that he’s not an ostrich (head in the sand). Let’s see what they actually come up with in terms of ratings before we celebrate him.

    On Ken’s blog he asked me to give him a break because he’s been talking about impact for a year now… guess that makes him better than the rest of us who thought that was the point.

    Talk or no talk, this isn’t a bold move. You’re willing to criticize non profits like Acumen or Smile Train simply because they don’t give enough information on their site, but you’re willing to take him at his word? Come on.

  • Holden on December 1, 2009 at 8:26 pm said:

    James, we aren’t taking him at his word. We will be examining and critiquing Charity Navigator’s new ratings if and when they’re operational. Until they are, we will not suggest that any donors use Charity Navigator for their giving decisions.

    What we are giving Ken credit for is making a commitment that can’t be un-made. It’s easy for neutral observers to see and talk about the problems with financial metrics. It’s much harder – and thus more admirable – for someone who runs an organization that has made its brand off such metrics.

    Ken is speaking the truth despite organizational incentives to do otherwise. We also give credit to charities that do this, even when we have other concerns about them (examples here and here).

  • James Edward Dillard on December 1, 2009 at 9:59 pm said:

    Check out the comment he made to my response on his blog: they “MAY dial down” the emphasis on overhead.

    I understand that it’s important for you, your project and your funders to play nice here, but it’s frustrating to watch you call out organizations like Kiva/Acumen fund who are a hell of a lot better than most and then applaud while an organization that misleads millions of donors/dollars annually makes a verbal commitment to potentially change.

    So he signed on for your pledge, that’s awesome. You know what would be better? Shutting down his site until they have something worthy of the hard working people who try to make an impact every day. Don’t get off his back now — the non-profit sector and the people we serve deserve better.

  • James, we haven’t gotten off his back. The post is “Kudos to Ken Berger”, not “Use Charity Navigator.” Moreover, I think the post is clear about where we stand on Charity Navigator’s ratings as they’re currently constituted. If not, I’ll be clear now: we think they’re near-useless.

    We’ve praised Kiva (here and here) as well as criticizing it. We try to highlight the unusually good and the unusually bad, sometimes within the same organization. Praising or criticizing a specific person or action shouldn’t be read as giving an overall thumbs-up/thumbs-down to the associated organization.

  • James Edward Dillard on December 2, 2009 at 7:29 pm said:

    All good points. We’ll see where they go from here.

  • Erich Riesenberg on December 16, 2009 at 11:05 am said:

    Givewell has slammed Chairty Navigator for years.

    Didn’t you slam them anonymously when you had the astroturf scandal?

Comments are closed.