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.

Summary:

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.

Highlight:

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.

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
posted by on 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
posted by on 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.

I’ve discussed previously the complex interrelationships between the next-generation gaming consoles and hi-def DVD formats, especially as complicated by the pornification of culture and technology.

So far I’ve focused on the battle between Sony’s PS3 (paired with the Blu-ray format) and the Xbox 360 (paired with the HD-DVD format), and argued that the hi-def formats rather than the porn industry itself would act as a decisive influence.

In an recent Newsweek article, Brian Braiker conclusively exposes the vacuous nature of the often highly exaggerated claims about the influence of the porn industry on technology (HT: Constitutionally Correct). He rightly wonders,

If people aren’t buying adult DVDs in the numbers the “official” estimates suggest—and, in fact, if cable and free online porn is driving the demand for physical product even lower—how does it make sense that porn will be the deciding factor in the battle for supremacy between Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats?

It doesn’t make sense, and that’s why the “conventional wisdom” about the power of porn needs to be questioned. And there’s more and more reason to suppose that Blu-ray is beginning to turn the tide against HD-DVD, even though the latter is far more porn-friendly. New plans have also been announced about the release cheaper Blu-ray players from Funai Electric Co. Ltd and from Sony later in 2007, increasing the low-end competitiveness of the format.

There’s a good debate on video about the format wars here, which also addresses the question of porn’s influence. Tom Arnold, editor at Hollywood Reporter, raises the observation that neither format can win as long as both are readily available. In this way, the format wars can really be seen to mirror the “cola wars” of the 80′s between Pepsi and Coke. If the market is large enough, perhaps it can support multiple formats, brands, or flavors. Arnold also said, “Porn is not the driver.”

But beyond the issue of the influence of porn on the format war, and its indirect impact on the next-gen console conflict, the dichotomy of the PS3 vs. Xbox 360 also needs to be adjusted. The fact is that Nintendo’s Wii is an important and powerful player in the console gaming market. This despite the accusations leveled by some that the Wii is not truly “next-gen” because it displays at 480p resolution (which qualifies only as “enhanced” and not “high” definition). But this past February saw the Wii dominate both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 in sales.

So, assuming that the Wii doesn’t suffer from the attempt by a Christian group to label it a “portal to porno” because of the potential to access adult content through its connection to the Internet, the next-gen console contest is officially a three horse race.

Internet access is a feature shared by the other next-gen consoles too, and despite the rather unfriendly response from the gaming community to ThePornTalk.com’s message, I see it as a praiseworthy and well-meant attempt to inform parents about the reality of technological advances. It certainly is true parents often are unaware of the potential content and capabilities of game consoles.

Hey, what can I say – sometimes in the great war to save Gaia, you have to do some… unsavory things, like killing baby polar bears so they don’t have to suffer the humiliation of being raised by humans after being rejected by their mothers. With an assist from our resident Photoshop genius, Jonathan Spalink, I humbly present this artistic token of support to our friends in the environmental movement, in the hopes that it will help them to educate the public about the importance of their quest to save this bear by killing it.

The boss is out of town this weekend, and he left me the keys to this sweet blog!

It should be noted that cooler heads have prevailed in this situation…

Update: Atomic cuteness bomb explodes over Germany; mass cases of “the snuggles” reported

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Friday, March 23, 2007

I have tried to read everything that I can find the time to digest on the subject of global warming. I saw Al Gore’s award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and even had some nice things to say about it. I have always been put off by the use of terms like "environmental whackos" and "earthist nut balls" from the political right. There is, in my humble opinion, little doubt that the earth is getting warmer. What is in great doubt is almost everything else. How warm will the earth become and how soon? Why is it really warming? What can we do about this problem now? How fast should we respond? And will radical responses, the kind that Al Gore argued for this week in the House hearing room on Capitol Hill, make a real difference? Bottom line: Will these alarmist responses help or harm the overall state of things on the earth? I am presently a skeptic when it comes to proving most of the claims being made by the alarmists. Something inside of me wants to agree with the climatologists who have deep concerns, if for no other reason than to avoid association with the right wing craziness and the radical left.

But make no mistake about it, this issue is politicized in every possible way. Anyone who argues otherwise is asleep. Both sides have a horse in this race. And alarmism does sell right now. Just think about the conspiracy theories that run rampant throughout modern life. Al Gore spoke of the planet "having a fever and if your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science-fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the blanket is flame retardant, you take action." That is about as alarmist as you can get it, so it seems to me. I am not sure if Gore is referring to Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, when he refers to a science-fiction novel, but it is a best-seller that has had immense impact on many, including me. Before you blow it off please read it. Be sure to read the forty-plus pages of annotated notes and bibliography of books that Crichton read in order to write this book. It is a fun book, but it makes a serious point that I think Gore and his friends miss. (I actually wonder if the book makes them angry because it is so good.)

The press reports say that Al Gore was at his "most passionate" when describing global warming as a "moral imperative." Dennis Hastert (R.IL) offered agreement with Gore saying that human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature, as did some other Republicans. This crusade has taken on the tones of a moral crusade with many people becoming more and more alarmed. This includes a number of evangelicals who have signed unwise and misleading statements on the climate. I, for one, take the words "moral imperative"  very seriously. I think these words are being pressed into service in troubling ways that border on becoming vacuous if we are not truly careful.

In a column published yesterday by Hoover Institute scholar Thomas Sowell he says that we should not expect a lot of fair and open debate about climate change in the near future. Why? National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a debate in which people were polled before and after the debate. After hearing the debate a good number of people who previously believed global warming was primarily caused by human carbon emissions changed their minds. Sowell suggests that this spells the end of such open debate in the near future. That would be a real shame. If this is really a "moral imperative" then those who are convinced that it is should not fear the debate but rather enter it and show people like me why they are right. I am open to facts and would change my mind if I saw the right reasons to do so. Attacking the motives of the non-alarmists is not convincing at all. In fact, it makes me loathe to accept the Gore thesis more than ever. After all, isn’t this the same politician who invented the Internet?