The Objective vs. Subjective Process of Selecting the “Best” Non-profits for Donors

Pionero is continuously improving, reassessing and updating its evaluation methods of nonprofit organizations (NPOs). This is, after all, the core of Pionero’s mission to promote the most outstanding NPOs and present them to the donors who are seeking them.

 Our Programs Coordinator, Isabela carrying out Stakeholder analysis of a small NPO

Our Programs Coordinator, Isabela carrying out Stakeholder analysis of a small NPO

It is however, not so simple to get a truly accurate reflection of an NPO in all our 5 criteria areas; Impact, Efficiency, Sustainability, Need/Relevance, Transparency.  In areas such as Efficiency and Transparency, it is somewhat more straightforward as we can analyse data sets such as annual reports and operational budgets to get a clearer picture. However, in other areas such as Impact and Need, some would argue that it is impossible to give a definitive answer given the subjectivity of factors at play.

Nevertheless, Pionero is committed to creating systems that accurately and impartially reflect NPO strengths and improvement areas whilst also being open and transparent regarding subjective areas. There is a delicate balance to be struck when advising donors between giving the accurate impartial facts and the subjective pros and cons regarding an NPO.  What Pionero therefore strives for, is a very comprehensive insight into each individual donor’s values, beliefs and philanthropy goals afterwhich Pionero will then present a shortlist of appropriate NPOs that are in line with the information provided by the donor. Ultimately however, Pionero leaves it up to the donor when making the final decision regarding which NPO to support.

 NPO evaluation of medium sized NPO, Niños de Guatemala

NPO evaluation of medium sized NPO, Niños de Guatemala

To give an example of the subjective nature of choosing the “best” NPO for the donor, given the choice between a small and a medium-sized NPO, both organizations’ merits and shortcomings may be seen differently depending on the donor. A larger NPO will likely have higher transparency levels but higher administration costs compared to a smaller NPO. The smaller NPO is more likely to send a higher donation percentage directly to the project and have closer community links but on the other hand, may have less transparent reporting structures due to lower staffing capacity. No NPO is perfect therefore it is ultimately up to the donor to use the detailed and impartial information gathered by Pionero to make the final decision.

Nevertheless, no matter what NPO is chosen, any of the NPOs on Pionero’s approved database is verified and meets the strict criteria set out by Pionero. Pionero has a selection of both small and medium-sized NPOs within the same thematic area. This is because even though the same issue area may be dealt with by several NPOs, each NPO will have its own solution style and approach to solve similar problems of which can be tackled in numerous ways.

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Disaster Relief Philanthropy in Guatemala Volcano Crisis

 Source: National Police of Guatemala

Source: National Police of Guatemala

On June 3rd, Guatemala witnessed the worst eruption from Fuego (“fire”) volcano ever recorded. 70 fatalities have been recorded[1] and 192 are missing[2]. These numbers are sure to increase over the coming days.

Pionero Philanthropy’s base is in Antigua, approximately 9 miles from Fuego and we have seen a large variety of Philanthropic efforts taking place on a local, national and international scale.

When searching for “Guatemala Volcano” on www.gofundme.com, a staggering 545 campaigns appear. One page has raised over $70,000 and the majority, at least a few thousand dollars. Some of these pages are raising funds that will be transferred to reputable non-profit organizations (NPOs), whilst others are using the money to buy supplies such as medicines, food and clothing to carry out their own efforts.

 The village of El Rodeo before and after the eruption. A whole village wiped out. Source: Meteorología GT

The village of El Rodeo before and after the eruption. A whole village wiped out. Source: Meteorología GT

Other actors include local and national companies, from cafes and hotels to nationwide Pharmacies and chains setting up Donation drop off points whose items are distributed through intermediary NPOs.

Local NPOs, including those whose expertise isn’t in disaster response, are utilizing their local networks to coordinate the distribution of materials and their broader network and donor bases abroad for monetary support through Social Media channels.

Given that Pionero’s mission is to connect donors to outstanding causes and that we are here on the ground, we felt it necessary to provide some reflections and pointers on what we believe every donor needs to keep in mind in order to best support Guatemala at this tragic time.

Pionero’s 5 pillars for selecting the most impactful NPOs are; Impact, Sustainability, Efficiency, Relevance/Need and Transparency and although we are currently in this period of great uncertainty regarding which NPOs are fulfiling these criteria best, there are regardless some key questions every donor needs to consider:

 

 Local volunteers forming human chains to distribute material donations

Local volunteers forming human chains to distribute material donations

1.) Material or Monetary donations?

This depends on where you are located. If located abroad, then money is indisputably the best method of supporting aid efforts.

There is no point sending, shipping or travelling to Guatemala.

There is no postal system, private couriers are expensive, and carry on luggage and plane tickets are an inefficient use of funds. Your money goes further by donating to a reputable and effective NPO who can source products at the best price in-country. Furthermore, the flow of money supports the local economy rather than adding to international couriers and airlines' bottom lines. If you are a local resident of the area affected, material items, so long as they are relevant and given to a responsible NPO is another possible option.

2.) Do your due diligence before donating.

Donate to organizations that have a good reputation in the local and international community. Unfortunately, during times of crisis and goodwill, there are also people who take advantage and set up fundraising pages and campaigns that are fraudulent.

 Locals, volunteers and first responders at Alotenango where survivors take refuge. Fuego volcano smoking in the background.

Locals, volunteers and first responders at Alotenango where survivors take refuge. Fuego volcano smoking in the background.

3.) Donate to Natural Disaster NPOs or trusted NPOs you have confidence in

Although the country hasn’t experienced such an event with this volcano for over a century, you ideally want to donate to organizations that already have experience and processes in place for effectively distributing the resources. In times of crisis when the situation is constantly changing, you want to trust organizations that have tried and tested processes in place and networks with important actors such as government agencies so that distribution of resources can reach those most in need in the shortest time.

However, we aren’t living in an ideal world here in Guatemala and other than the Red Cross that is working with CONRED (Guatemala’s national civil protection authority in disaster management), it seems that there are very few to no specialized NPOs operating in disaster relief at the time of writing. There are however, many other NPOs who specialize in other areas such as health and housing who are utilizing their networks and resources to take action. If a donor has trust in a particular NPO with whom they feel confident, then donating to these NPOs could be an effective and fast-acting option.

 San Miguel Los Lotes, a village in the path of the Piroclastic flows. Source: Getty Images

San Miguel Los Lotes, a village in the path of the Piroclastic flows. Source: Getty Images

4.) Think about HOW you want to help – long term or short term?

Sure, everyone’s knee-jerk reaction is to donate items for immediate relief, but what happens once the media circus leaves town? Think about whether you want your funds to be used for the short term or the long term. For example, once communities move out of temporary refuges, they will need help with housing, roads and ongoing health care. It doesn't matter within which area you want to help, but at least bear in mind that natural disasters, although quick to take place, take years, if not decades to recover from.

 

We hope this blog entry has shed some light on the unique situation that is happening here In Guatemala and leads donors to think a little more before they donate. It is definitely worth it if you want to make the biggest difference possible.

 

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44369461

[2] https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/latest-guatemala-volcano-rumbling-spewing-ash-55658054?cid=social_fb_abcn

Field Work Fun

The team has been visiting and evaluating a variety of incredible small to medium sized NPOs these last few weeks in the Sacatepequez region of Guatemala and what an interesting and mission affirming time it has been for Pionero!

 Isabela (Guatemala Program Coordinator) and Harriette (Director) carrying out their NPO evaluation with NPO Niños con Bendición.

Isabela (Guatemala Program Coordinator) and Harriette (Director) carrying out their NPO evaluation with NPO Niños con Bendición.

 Evaluating awesome Education NPO, Niños de Guatemala.

Evaluating awesome Education NPO, Niños de Guatemala.

We have visited causes related to education, youth leadership, women's rights, skills acquisition and even a project that takes vulnerable mothers and their children out of dangerous situations in order to rehabilitate and prevent them from putting the children into orphanages.

As expected, we have met some impressive NPOs doing incredible work on the ground but who need a little helping hand with promotion and cheerleading to prospective donors abroad! Well, that’s where Pionero comes in!

So how do we decide what NPOs to evaluate and visit? What process are we using to ensure that we are selecting the most impactful, efficient, relevant, transparent and sustainable NPOs? Here is the process:

  1. First we investigate what NPOs to consider by building an initial list. We ask contacts of ours, stakeholder groups, government records of registered NPOs and specific NPO websites that advertise NPO information.
  2. We send a preliminary email to the NPOs with a short questionaire to ensure that they meet minimum standards such as registration, constitution, accounting practices etc
  3. We organise NPO visits where we meet directors, stakeholders and beneficiaries. We ask targeted questions and seek further information regarding our 5 pillars; Impact, Need/Relevance, Efficiency, Transparency, Sustainability.
  4. We make a final report based on our findings that is signed off by the NPO for accuracy. This report is presented to targeted donors who are seeking NPOs that meet their requirements.

Stay tuned for the next instalment from us as we continue our visits going into the Lake Atitlan region this week!

 Tuc Tuc Transport.... somewhere in the Sacatepequez region!

Tuc Tuc Transport.... somewhere in the Sacatepequez region!