When a charity is created most people think about the altruistic intentions behind its creation. They think that the founder wanted to improve the world or wanted to further a specific cause. While I think that this is true in nearly every case, there are also other strong motivations and sometimes these can interfere with or even supersede the organisation’s stated mission.
I recently became aware of an expensive student volunteer exchange program, giving first world college students a chance to help people in the developing world. When I complained to a fellow effective altruist that I thought the program was ineffective compared to top GiveWell recommendations, he observed that the charity seemed fairly effective – only at a different goal. Once I’d considered that the charity might be aiming to provide an enjoyable experience for college students, things started to make sense. Their website shows how many students they have helped, and writes largely about the positive experiences these students had. Very little focus was placed on the outcome of the work in the developing world.
We have written before about how many charities measure intermediate metrics and gave a few reasons why this happens. Yet another reasons is that some charities do not have ‘improving the world’ as their primary focus.
Now of course all charities have many goals aside from their primary mission and often these other goals can improve a charity’s performance. For example growing a charity that is doing great work can be a very positive thing, even if done partly due to raw ambition. But the goal of growth could also push an ineffective charity to expand, taking away donations from effective ones. These side-goals become very worrying when an organization starts prioritizing them over the “bottom line” of the amount of good being done.
How to tell if an organization is over-prioritizing side-goals?
You also might be interested in our operations blog that details: our month to month organizational progress, the more technical ideas we have, and our board meeting minutes