21. Evaluating NGOs – What’s hard? What’s surprising?

February 23, 2010 at 10:02 AM 2 comments

“I learned that it is hard to find trustworthy websites. For example, I went to a website that was linked as a non-profit, but it had no evidence on the site that it was actually a non-profit website.” Journal from “Erik”

They are getting more sophisticated about evaluating NGOs, asking interesting questions. I started the discussion with “What is hard about evaluating your NGO? And/or What surprises did you have?”

They find it difficult to track the spending. (They can use www.charitynavigator.org and www.idealist.org or even look at the annual reports which is what grantors will do.)  A boy was surprised to find out how agressivley activist Greenpeace is and was disappointed to find that the majority of board members were teachers and only two with PhDs. “What would you have liked to see?” “Could teachers also have a very valid role in this organization?” Tried not to feel personally insulted with his “Those who can do, those who can’t teach.” underlying message – a real hot button for me.

One of the ocean NGOs had no news from a Google news search and their board was mostly unqualified volunteers. Emma (not her real name) said ‘I couldn’t see what they were actually DOING, they were just raising awareness and I don’t see how that helps anything.’

Several said it was hard to find the science behind the NGO actions. I agree with that one. Would like to see it much more up front on NGO websites. And what they will measure to see if they have actually made a difference! I don’t mean to sound mean, but seriously, the scientific method is a really efficient way to solve problems that NGOs want to see fixed.

Anne, some questions for the world of NGOs: What is the difference between a ‘top down’ and ‘grass roots’? Kids are confused about global, huge organizations like The Heifer Project. Please could you also comment on the pros and cons of celebrity involvement, and maybe on why the science behind the action is not more emphasized on NGO websites?

The Power of Circulating and Listening

Yeah. Need to get off the computer, wander around class giving positive quedos as well as gentle re-directing. Oh, and talking LESS, listening MORE. Only 26 years in, still time to improve!

Ongoing Assessments

We give “A Few Qs” every week to 10 days, to keep ’em honest and accountable. Questions are based on the lesson objectives and activities since the last quiz. I do open-ended, short answer q.s instead of multiple choice these days. I get a little more insight into their thinking that way. That is a better format for special ed students as it doesn’t require as much reading comprehension and they are not distracted by the distractor answers. And, surprisingly, they are pretty quick to grade. I go through question by question to make it as fair and fast as possible and get them back by the next day. Go over. Redos for up to a “B” the next day at lunch. Takes some pressure off and allows for some re-teaching and quick course adjustment.

“How are you feeling about starting your Take Action Project?” – quotes from today’s quiz:

“I am starting to feel that my Take Action topic is eaven more important than I thought at first.”

“I think it will be fun but a little stressful because so much work is put into it.”

“I’m still unsure exactly how I’m going to raise money.”

“I am feeling good about it. I like how we are going to take action and I think we have found a good NGO.”

“Pretty good! I’m looking forward to raising money by making friendship bracelets.”

“I am feeling happy because now I will be able to help the world with everyone else.”

That last one says it for me.

Overall, it’s looking like they are fairly calm and that all the background research while not always kick *#$$% exciting, has given them a level of confidence that they are doing something ‘serious’ and useful.



Entry filed under: TAP Curriculum. Tags: , , , , , , , .

20. Student feedback so far. Kids want to know problems with NGOs

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. annemccartengibbs  |  February 23, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    I love the student’s comments from the quiz! Here are my two cents on the questions you posed:

    What is the difference between a ‘top down’ and ‘grass roots’? Kids are confused about global, huge organizations like The Heifer Project.

    There’s not a hard and fast definition, these aren’t scientific terms, but I think a general consensus is that a grassroots organization is working and trying to effect change at the local level – at the level of a village, a neighborhood, or a community. Heifer, for example, tries to improve the nutrition and welfare of communities through giving animals to individual families (with the requirement that they give the offspring to other families in their community.) Even though Heifer is a very big organization, the unit of society that they choose to focus on is small. This has a lot of advantages. When the animal is owned by an individual family, they have lots of reasons to take good care of it. Things that are owned by a community at large, which is more abstract, are not always cared for so well (think of the graffiti and trash that can build up at a community center that everyone expects someone else to take care of.)

    Another meaning of grassroots, which doesn’t apply to Heifer, is that the project or idea was thought up and designed at the local level. Obviously, it can be very hard for young American philanthropists to even find out about small projects that local communities want to do to improve their lives. Foundations, like the Global Fund for Women, who have staff that speak the language and can travel and get to know local people, are one way to get around that problem. The internet also provides ways around it. Web sites like globalgiving.org make it easier to find these kind of grassroots projects and help make them happen. In both cases, the foundations and sites like globalgiving also check the projects out to help us be sure they are for real and legitimate, since it would be very hard for us to do that ourselves from Orinda.

    A top down approach tries to attack a problem from a high level of social organization. A good example is all the organizations that worked very hard to try and help create an international agreement on global warming at the Copenhagen climate meeting a few months ago. Working at the global level is about as far as you can get from working at the village level! And if you can make it work, it’s a very efficient way to address a global problem. Countries could agree on the goals, and then each figure out the best ways to meet them based on their economies and culture. But, as Cop15 showed, it can be very hard to get an agreement. Other international top down approaches are things like when all the countries that have scientists on Antarctica agree on rules limiting what they can do to protect the environment there. Political and law-making approaches to problems are often top down.

    Neither approach is right or wrong. But one or the other might work better in some situations and on some problems.

    Please could you also comment on the pros and cons of celebrity involvement,

    This is one of those things that people who work in the nonprofit sector debate. Clearly, a celebrity can do an amazing amount to raise awareness of an issue, and to help raise money. In many cases, the celebrity cares deeply about the issue, and does work for no pay for many years to help the cause.

    But there seem to be two problems that can arise. One is when a nonprofit feels like they need a celebrity, or a celebrity feels like they need a “cause,” and a partnership is made, but the celebrity isn’t really committed to the issue. To be a good spokesperson for a cause, a celebrity has to really study up – become well-informed – and consistently support the cause over time. When they don’t, it shows, and their messages do not work to bring people to the cause. They might even drive them away.

    Another problem, though it is rare, is when an organization gets so involved with working with celebrities that it becomes a major focus of their time and energy. Nonprofits, like the rest of us, can get caught up in the glamour. And that can be a problem if it takes their attention away from their issue and actions to solve it. When there are a number of celebrities working with a nonprofit, they need a certain amount of attention from the staff, and some of them might not be that committed to the cause. Peta is an organization that may have this problem, in my opinion.

    …and maybe on why the science behind the action is not more emphasized on NGO websites?

    I don’t really know why. Maybe it is because they feel that the majority of people who come to their websites do not want to read about the scientific details. Or that they don’t want the readers to get bogged down with too much information, and forget to donate! But of course, web sites allow for lots of different sections, and they could easily put tons of scientific info in one place and not have it get in the way of those who didn’t want to read it. Maybe some emailed questions from your students will help them realize that there is interest in the science behind their work.



  • 2. Karen Snelson  |  February 23, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    I had to back track today after I started checking the kid’s work on finding NGO’s . They missed the point that It was finding non profits working on the same issue as their TAP Problem.
    They are not used to learning in order to accomplish their own goals.

    Also they listed http://www.dosomething.org.
    as the NGO. I want to rewrite the worksheet so it is unmistakable that they are researching for ideas for direct action and organizations for their Take action project.

    They loved writing down what they liked to do and matching it with things they could do for their project.



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