Results-based accountability is all the rage, particularly with grantmakers. This is a trend which I approve as I had up to this moment believed that results were a) the real goal to represent accomplishing a nonprofit's theory of change and b) would help sift-out effective from ineffective nonprofits and c) would ensure that donor money would be spent more wisely.
Alas, a study by researchers Cleopatra Charles (Rutgers University-Newark) and Mirae Kim (University of Missouri) suggests that my hopes and dreams may be ill-conceived. Ms. Charles and Kim propose that:
In this sample of arts and cultural nonprofits, we conclude that despite a growing trend in the philanthropic sector that emphasizes nonprofit account- ability and measuring performance outcome, the empirical evidence does not provide strong support of its relevance among donors. The evidence suggests that better performance outcomes in terms of increased awareness and attendance have a negative rather than a positive influence on charitable giving.
Perhaps as some degree of consolation, these researchers offer:
A plausible theoretical reasoning is that better performance outcomes create the image of success, which may make organizations look less needy. We should note, however, that the statistical significance and size of the impact are both marginal, and we could not determine to what extent donors were aware of how well the organization they support has been doing.
So what has this to do with boards? Way too much I pose. I have also believed that the fundamental propeller for boards is their individual and collective Theory of Change (a defined or at least perceived understanding of what is the "problem" or challenge they are trying to solve; a unique approach to solving the perceived challenge; and, an understanding of what would be the results should the perceived problem be solved). Embracing a Theory of Change for me ensures that a board will not only value measurable outcomes but that same board would do everything in its ability to ensure that the resources it needs are available and managed efficiently and effectively.
The findings of this study do not suggest that boards would not want to ensure their resources are managed efficiently and effectively but it might suggest that boards might be equally satisfied with just having made the effort and not be "hung-up" with the results in terms of how much the effort solves the perceived problem. Really?
I am not actually clear as to whether one must purchase the study but here's a link to try.