I recently read Peter Drury’s insightful opinion piece on transparency within aid organizations. Peter is the Director of Strategy for Splash, a Seattle-based non-profit that works in water, sanitation and hygiene; he understands how aid organizations work. In his editorial Peter communicates his frustration about the incentive structure in aid organizations, and the lack of transparency about where donations are spent. He asserts the current paradigm is to not give donors clear, accurate data on the successes, and failures— and that this paradigm is rooted in the fear that donors will stop funding organizations that ever fail. Peter argues that accurate data on the outcomes from donations are essential to articulating the value proposition an aid organization makes to a donors. By sharing program activities and actual costs, an aid organization can communicate accurate indicators of excellence, and use those indicators to communicate the value achieved by donations. Peter concludes with a compelling challenge: “But I earnestly challenge (and dare) my peers in nonprofit leadership to tell the truth, to behave transparently, and learn to define and articulate your value proposition, value creation, and your true impact for good.”
The counter-intuitive results of Splash’s policy of data transparency are encouraging: “In fact, in cases where Splash’s transparency has showcased failure, most often donors have renewed future gifts or grants at a higher level (rather than reducing giving, or ceasing altogether, as some might fear).”
One of the reasons Peter’s piece strongly resonated with me is that we take data so seriously at PotaVida. We believe that there will never be enough philanthropy to reach the 750M people without access to safe water if philanthropic donations are not used efficiently. We believe that clear, accurate, actionable data is the best route to identifying successes and failure, and we summarize this by saying: “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” We are dedicated to bringing accurate data to help aid organizations better plan programs, implement activities, and communicate outcomes. With an approach like Peter’s demand for accurate data, we will realize our goal.