By Rob Hoskins and Lamar Vest
The end of the year is fast
approaching. It is a time of Christmas trees, Yule logs and year-end giving. But
as millions of Americans prepare to get out their checkbooks, the decision of
where to give has rarely been more difficult. In tough economic times,
nonprofit organizations are vying for decreasing resources and facing an uphill
battle in attracting the all-important year-end donor.
For decades, year-end giving has often been driven by the
stirred passions of a donor’s heart. We give
because we genuinely care. Our hearts are touched by images and stories of
children in poverty. Families living in
squalor. Individuals that have never heard the
good news that God loves them. Driven by these heart tugs, Americans currently give more than $3 billion to
charitable causes each year according to the Giving
But nonprofit organizations have to face facts. While it is the heart that often initiates a donor’s decision
to give, too many donors only ever glimpse the
impact of their giving in a few glossy photos and a pie chart in an annual
report. Many more give without ever knowing if
the organization to which they donated had any positive impact at all.
And that’s only half the problem. Most nonprofit
organizations have no way to measure whether their own initiatives are
achieving the desired results, not just in the short-term, but over the longer
test of time. We hear all the time, nonprofit
leaders might say, that lives are being improved through our efforts. No we can’t quantify it, but we’re sure it’s happening.
Especially when resources are short and needs are great, both donors and nonprofits
need information to make limited funds go farther and achieve greater
Fortunately, nonprofit organizations have new tools available to them to be more strategic in both how they invest donor
resources and how they report results—though most have yet to tap into
these research tools. Over
the past few years we have seen the positive impact of strategic research on
our own organizations.
Through American Bible Society’s Global Scripture Impact, the nearly
200-year-old Bible ministry has been able to modernize its approach to program
development and donor reporting. For example,
in 2009 the American Bible Society sought to significantly strengthen its work
among America’s incarcerated. Despite the program being America’s largest Bible
grant for correctional facilities—with a successful distribution of more
than 1 million Bibles and New Testaments—it was
unable to clearly measure and to report on this Bible ministry’s needed
effectiveness in the lives of inmates. Action
research conducted by Global Scripture Impact, which measured the specific
impact of Scripture materials in the lives of prisoners, found that
approximately 75 percent of inmates are
functionally illiterate, making it difficult to comprehend the Bible’s message.
As a result of this finding, the program was refocused to include literacy
programs in the more than 500 correctional facilities. American Bible Society
now also offers audio versions of the Bible, made available through the prison
library system. Research conducted 12 months
following the implementation of a recent Scripture distribution program found a
95 percent increase in Bible comprehension and
a 96 percent increase in inmates adopting
morally positive attitudes and behaviors as a result of increased Scripture
OneHope has also relied on research from an affiliated organization,
Metadigm Group, to improve its efficiency and
accomplish more with less. By using the
feedback of research in all phases of a project—from planning to execution to
modification—OneHope has been able to further advance its mission of reaching
the world’s children and youth with the message of the Bible in a way that
addresses specific cultural challenges.
In 2008, qualitative and
quantitative research of youth in Ghana led to an exciting restructuring of
youth ministry in the African nation.
While children and youth were consistent in attending
various faith-based programs in the region, research revealed there was a lack
of understanding major biblical themes. Without understanding, the young
people could not apply the truth of Scripture in a way that affects their
behavior. With the research as its catalyst, OneHope
launched an oral storytelling-based program called 17 Stories. Each child received a color, illustrated deck of 16 cards,
with each card representing an important story of the Bible. During a weeklong program,
an indigenous language-speaking teacher took children through the series of
cards. In a classroom setting, the teacher
would show each of the illustrated cards and verbally share the Bible story
depicted on each card. Data collected before
and after the program revealed a 78 percent increase in a child’s comprehension
of the themes of the Bible stories, illustrated by their ability and desire to
retell the story to a friend or adult. As a
result of the findings, 10 different organizations working in Ghana are now
working more collaboratively and strategically to serve the nation’s youth.
Research can impact an organization’s program components as well as program
delivery. For example, because research
findings uncovered concern among youth about the decline in family values as
well as superficial beliefs about the existence of God, organizations like
OneHope are now intentionally communicating about these issues through its
outreach to Ghana’s youth. Using more
appealing presentations and sharper, less content-heavy materials, OneHope is
now communicating these targeted messages through more youth-centric media.
Finally, ongoing longitudinal research is being
implemented by OneHope to track trends in the youth population and to quantify
the scope and degree of behavioral transformation.
Ours are not the only organizations benefiting from strategic research. Since 2007, Global Scripture Impact has conducted research
on more than 250 ministry programs in more than 70 countries for American Bible
Society and 13 other organizations. Since
being spun off from OneHope in 2008, Metadigm Group
has provided its research expertise to nine other organizations serving in a combined 35 countries.
Nonprofit organizations are entrusted with both a tremendous opportunity and a
tremendous responsibility. By using donor
funds more strategically through research-driven program planning and
execution, organizations can increase their effectiveness and, often, eliminate
needless redundancies. Given the tremendous
needs that remain unmet in the world, a more strategic approach to ministry,
relief work and humanitarian aid is not just timely, it is overdue.
For far too long
organizations have tugged at heartstrings without an equal delivery of measurable
results. It is time for donors and the organizations supported by
them to engage both their hearts and their heads.
Rob Hoskins is president of OneHope (OneHope.net). Based in South Florida, OneHope is reaching the world’s
children and youth with the message of the Bible in a way that addresses
specific cultural challenges. Founded in 1987,
OneHope has reached some 680 million young
people in 125 countries with the message of the Bible through its Book of Hope
publications and The
GodMan animated film.
Lamar Vest is president and CEO of The American Bible Society (AmericanBible.org). Headquartered in
New York City, the mission of the 194-year-old organization is to make the
Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand
and afford, so that all people may experience its life-changing message.