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Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Learn and share what works

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By Todd Cohen

Many charities are driving blind.

Backed by funders, charities do the heavy lifting in our communities. But facing big hurdles in delivering services and paying bills, charities often fail to gauge what they do and how well they do it.

That’s a big mistake.

Often poorly equipped to carry out society’s tough jobs, charities owe it to themselves and their backers to set goals and keep track of their impact and effectiveness.

And if they can share what they learn, charities and funders can learn from one another.

Tracking and sharing information about their work and impact, known as “knowledge management,” will be critical for charities with limited resources and skills.

To survive and thrive, charities must do a better job, curb costs and find partners.

And to enlist donors and volunteers – particularly in a tough economy — charities must show they can put the support they get to productive use and make a difference.

The good news is that emerging tools can help charities and funders alike make better sense of their work and impact.

Chicago-based B2P Commerce, for example, is developing tools to let charities measure their performance – and let funders and parent organizations track and aggregate performance data of grantees and affiliates or chapters.

Charities also can use their own Web sites, as well as GuideStar, to report on their impact and progress.

And members of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, a network of funders who help nonprofits improve themselves, are working to share what they know about what works.

To carry out the critical work of investing in and strengthening our communities, charities first must invest in and strengthen themselves.

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