Closing Keynote: Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator

In the conference’s closing keynote titled “The Battle for the Soul of the Nonprofit Sector,” Charity Navigator CEO Ken Berger spoke on a wide variety of issues influencing monitoring and evaluation of nonprofits in the United States. Berger was forthright and honest about the potential divisiveness of his speech, and presented a number of interesting points for debate. His address was essentially divided into two sections; first, he addressed the existing problems with monitoring, evaluation, and reporting in the nonprofit sector and enumerated many of the problems that nonprofit staff face when applying for and soliciting funding. Second, Berger offered solutions to some of these issues, and emphasized that nonprofits must provide meaningful information in their reports. Meaningful information is key for internal and external reports, and allows potential donors and foundation grantmakers to assess the value and impact of an organization they might wish to fund.

Although he (humorously) described the tension between nonprofits and evidence-based programming (essentially he argued that many charities cannot provide evidence that they’re doing good works in their communities and making meaningful change because they cannot or do not measure their outcomes), Berger offered a solution. First, he noted that nonprofits must start offering their donors and external agencies meaningful information for review. This includes financials, good organizational governance—Berger noted that “today’s results can be tomorrow’s ethical scandal,” and cited the catastrophe with Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute as an example—and the ability of the organization to work at maximum capacity to provide results. Clearly, reporting, monitoring, and evaluation are not top priorities for many nonprofits; indeed, most, if not all, smaller nonprofits do not have the capacity to do any kind of internal evaluation and provide that to potential funders. In cases like this, Berger suggested that these groups cite constituent evaluations and seek area certifying bodies (if available) to provide external validation.

Berger closed by encouraging the audience to effect change in their own organizations by adapting to the new regulations, by becoming “thought leaders,” and by using their voices to educate others on these issues. “We can change the focus of the nonprofit sector,” he said, and if we at this conference take the lead, “we can overcome so much of this.” It was a fascinating and certainly controversial ending to the evening.