Top rated charity opens up its real-time data

Credit: GiveDirectly

The charity that allows people to make a direct donation to a person living in Kenya just got a whole lot more transparent. GiveDirectly unveiled a new website with live data showing how it is performing on a host of measures. It is another step forward for the organization that made a big splash last year when a rigorous study of its work in Kenya showed the impact of giving poor western Kenyans money to spend as they see fit.

Donors now can see how much of their money is going to people in Kenya and Uganda, but see how GiveDirectly is performing over time. Information on the website is straightforward. The exact data points are just a click away for people who want to learn more. The data captured by staff in the two countries is immediately made public.

Because the data all live in a closed system, people don’t get to massage them,” said Michael Faye, co-founder and Executive Chairman of GiveDirectly, to Humanosphere. “We see it when our donors see it.”

An example of this in action is the expansion of field officers in the past few months. The sudden increase led to a decline in productivity due to new staff learning. Meanwhile, the speed of delivering payment after the initial census sped up from October to November. The staff increase may be behind the change, but the important thing for GiveDirectly is allow people to see that things do change over time.

Being transparent was always important, but making that happen was no easy task. Until recently, GiveDirectly staff collected data the old fashioned way – by hand. Tracking and collecting the data proved to be an obstacle to transparency. To solve the problem, Faye and his co-founder Paul Niehaus started Segovi. It is a separate company tasked with creating a platform for tracking cash transfers and the deliver of other goods. The solutions developed by Segovia are what allowed for the new dashboard. Faye and Niehaus say this is only the beginning for a transparent GiveDirectly.

GiveDirectly Screen Shot

“Donors live in this world where nonprofits tell you everything is great. We want to show a more realistic experience of poverty,” said Niehaus. “It is my hope to have a more meaningful discussions with our donors.”

The sharing of aggregated data is only the first step towards that goal, he explained. They want to share the stories of the recipients and show the challenges faced by people living in poverty. Stories will also bring forward the various ways that individuals choose to spend the money. Whether it be investing in a new roof, starting a business or paying for their children’s school fees. All the information helps fill out the picture of what GiveDirectly is doing. It fits into the idea, as Faye puts it, that GiveDirectly can serve as the “index fund” for charitable giving.

“We can’t do everything everywhere, but we can set the standards,” he said.

It is a standard that has garnered support. The charity evaluator GiveWell recently listed GiveDirectly as one of its four ‘top charities’ for the 2014 giving season. GiveWell bases its recommendations on the impacts of organizations and their cost effectiveness. Its high standards means that only a few charities get the nod. In addition to impact, the transparent flow of information was a notable asset for GiveDirectly.

“GiveDirectly has always communicated clearly and openly with us. It has tended to raise problems to us before we ask about them, and we generally believe that we have a very clear view of its operations. We feel more confident about our ability to keep track of future challenges than with any of the other charities discussed in this post,” wrote Elie Hassenfeld, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of GiveWell.

More data is on its way. More randomized control trials, seen by some as the gold standard for impact evaluation, are underway to measure the impacts of GiveDirectly’s work. People can read about them right now on the website. It is yet another example of how the organization values transparency and a benchmark for fellow organizations trying to create social impact. Many are still playing catch-up.

“The first challenge for NGOs is measuring their impact and the second challenge is actually sharing the data. I think we are at a point where most still struggle with the first,” said Faye.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.