Archived Posts March 2007 | Acton PowerBlog

Here’s a recommended read for anyone interested in measuring the effectiveness of a faith-based charity. The Heritage Foundation has published a special report titled, “Outcome-Based Evaluation: Faith-Based Social Service Organizations and Stewardship” by Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., Claudia Horn, Calvin W. Edwards, Collette Caprara, and Karen M. Woods — Acton’s former Director of Effective Compassion.


Outcome-based evaluation has the potential to engender a revolution of increased effectiveness in the faith commu­nity and to debunk skeptics’ claim that faith-based programs are only about “feel good” results rather than producing solid and measurable impacts. When administered properly, OBE can help both to clarify and to fulfill an organization’s found­ing mission and goals, as well as to ensure that the needy are served effectively and that funds are used responsibly.


Faith-based organizations in particular can benefit from using outcome-based evaluation to substantiate their success. Many of the innovative outreach programs of churches and faith groups are comparatively small when com­pared to the scale of conventional secular service projects. Yet, with the personal heartfelt commitment that is typical of faith-inspired service providers as well as their responsiveness to the individual needs and potential of recipients, faith-based initiatives often soar beyond conventional services in their impact on recipients’ lives. In fact, their very missions are often worded in qualitative terms of life transformation.

In street-smart language, Bob Cote, founder of Step 13—a Denver-based program that works with the largest and most complicated segment of the homeless: addicted street people—says the goal of his program is to “fix peo­ple, not just warehouse them.” “Our mission is to help these folks become responsible, productive community assets,” he explains. “We don’t want to just fill their stomachs. We want to fill their needs for employment, self-suf૟iciency, and self esteem.”

Anyone concerned with good governance in the nonprofit sector — and it’s independence — should read the updated draft report on “principles of effective practice” issued by Independent Sector. The group has been working closely with the Senate Finance Committee, which for the past two years has been investigating abuses in the world of charities and nonprofits. The abuses, which usually involve excessive executive compensation and lavish perks, pop up with dreary regularity. A good example of this is what’s been revealed at the Smithsonian, the nation’s museum in Washington, where the former CEO was hauling in a $900,000 salary and more than $2 million in “office and home expenses.”

Still, many in the nonprofit world have been following this ongoing Senate investigation with more than a little worry. That’s because any new regulations of the charitable sector have the potential to impose not only burdensome new regulations but also erode the traditional independence of nonprofits from government control.

The new draft report from Independent Sector has confirmed that those fears were not unfounded. It talks about encouraging “self regulation” in the nonprofit world, but is vague about how voluntary these are really likely to be. Adam Meyerson, president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, said earlier this month that he had “two levels of concern” with the draft report.

First, we have concerns about specific proposals. In particular, we fear that some of the draft principles take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting rules for a very diverse sector, are an invitation to arbitrary enforcement, or would require private organizations to reveal publicly their internal decision making processes.

Second, we are concerned about how the proposed principles would be administered and enforced. Independent Sector doesn’t explain what it means by “self-regulation.” And there are some forms of self-regulation that would be seriously harmful to the foundation world and to charitable giving.

He cites a specific proposal, known as Draft Principle #6: “A charitable organization must make information about its operations, including its governance, finances, programs, and activities widely available to the public. Charitable organizations should also make information available on the methods they use to evaluate the outcomes of their work and are encouraged to share the results of those evaluations.”

Meyerson points out that there is already a great deal of mandated disclosure. What’s more, this draft principle intrudes on the privacy necessary to effectively manage charities.

Grant-making strategy and evaluation properly falls in this zone of privacy. So long as a foundation is making grants to legitimate public charities, there is no reason tax authorities or watchdog groups need to know why it is choosing some grantees over others. Quite the contrary, maintaining privacy enables foundations to exercise their honest judgment on this most sensitive of judgment calls. Maintaining privacy also protects the grant applicants not chosen and allows foundations to provide them with confidential advice.

How a foundation determines its philanthropic strategy-how it makes decisions about which grants to make, and how it evaluates performance by grant recipients-is an inherently private decision by a private organization. Foundations should feel free to reveal their grant-making strategy if they wish, and many find it in their interest to do so, but it is an unnecessary breach of privacy to compel them to do so.

Read more about this issue on the “Uncharitable Regulations” resource page at the Philanthropy Roundtable site.

The effort to create a top-level domain suffix for adult Web sites has failed, for the third time (HT: X3). ICANN voted 9-5 to defeat the proposal, which was roundly opposed by an unlikely alliance of religious groups and the adult entertainment industry.

The proposal would have created a new “.xxx” suffix that would have allowed voluntary participation of adult content providers. Many in that line of work are concerned that such a voluntary program could become mandatory, “pushing them into a so-called online ghetto.”

Religious groups are concerned that such a voluntary program would simply legitimate pornographic content on the Web without effectively segmenting objectionable content from the rest of the Internet.

We’ve talked before about options for self-regulation that could function well in place of a dedicated domain suffix, such as an NSFW (not safe for work) HTML attribute.

But as long as the “.xxx” domain proposal includes a voluntary “opt-in” for adult sites, don’t expect the unlikely alliance of religious activists and pornographers to dissolve.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Despite all the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, all is not well with the dream of a united Europe — at least as it’s envisioned by the political class and Brussels technocrats. In addition to its ongoing economic malaise, the European Union still seems unable to fully acknowledge its cultural, religious and political roots. “People who suffer from amnesia have great difficulty making sound choices about the future because they do not know where they have come from,” Samuel Gregg writes. “The same is true for Europe.”

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In a piece for The American Spectator earlier this week, Mark Tooley of IRD evaluates the global warming dust-up at the NAE.

In “Prepare for Biblical Floods and Droughts,” Tooley especially criticizes the reaction of emergent church leader Brian McLaren, who used the examples of Noah and Joseph to argue for the legitimacy of a prophetic voice on climate change.

Tooley writes that we can expect

Global Warming to remain the main obsession of the evangelical left and of NAE leadership. It is, after all the perfect issue for left-leaning evangelicals to show their concern, while also relying upon the habits of their own sub-culture. Global Warming, as a metaphysical movement, warns of a cataclysmic judgment for “bad” behavior. Evangelicals are accustomed to that kind of preaching. Meanwhile, the liberal evangelicals want more government, higher taxes, and increased regulation of the private economy. They feel guilty about capitalism, and want other evangelicals to share in their guilt. Liberal evangelicals prefer not to talk about sexual sins. Carbon sins are a welcome substitute.

Tooley also criticizes an NAE statement on torture, saying that “it could just as easily have come from the National Council of Churches, and was crafted by a special committee dominated by activists and academics from the evangelical left.”

I’m no expert on the subject, having only seen a Fred Friendly seminar that addressed the topic and watching the dramatization of Sayid Jarrah’s character on “Lost”. Neither have I read the torture statement, but it’s not clear to me whether Tooley’s problem with the statement is the subject matter itself or the way in which it was treated. That is, could there have been an appropriately conservative statement on torture, or does any statement addressing that question necessarily mean it is a liberal political tool?

In any case, Tooley’s remarks about the alarmism of many on the evangelical left are well-taken, and should be tempered by a serious biblical perspective. I have it on pretty good authority that rising sea-levels won’t be the end of life on earth. Now an extreme sort of fire-based “global warming” (if that’s what you want to call it), that’s another story.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Today’s NYT has an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof recommending the work of micro-finance organizations, like Kiva, whom we’ve mentioned before.

Kristof writes in “You, Too, Can Be a Banker to the Poor” (TimesSelect) that “Small loans to entrepreneurs are now widely recognized as an important tool against poverty.”

He also rightly observes that “Web sites like Kiva are useful partly because they connect the donor directly to the beneficiary, without going through a bureaucratic and expensive layer of aid groups in between.” This is an aspect of globalization and the connectedness of the Internet that we rarely hear about.

For groups that are doing micro-finance work out of a specifically Christian commitment, check out Five Talents and Opportunity International.

To read the Kristof column, you’ll need a subscription to TimesSelect. The good news is that if you have a valid .edu email address, the Times is offering you a complimentary subscription.

I saw a spate of headlines over the weekend that proclaimed something like, “Now scientists create a sheep that’s 15% human.”

15% human? Really? Isn’t that like being “a little pregnant”?

Followers of this blog may already know that I’ve written a fair bit, most of it disapproving (at least with respect to the newest genetic innovations), on the creation of chimeras. One of the concerns raised about this latest effort is the potentially devastating effects of so-called “silent” viruses, which are harmless to animals but could migrate with the harvested parts.

According to reports, Dr Patrick Dixon, an international lecturer on biological trends, warned: “Many silent viruses could create a biological nightmare in humans. Mutant animal viruses are a real threat, as we have seen with HIV.”

I’m inclined to think that this kind of work respects neither the animal nor the human person. And the latter is in part illustrated by the fact that if you just went off of what the headlines said, you’d think it’s possible for something to be partially human. It’s really a confusion about what it means to be human. You either are or you aren’t.