A while ago, a family member of mine worked for a nonprofit to provide career assistance to individuals with mental illness. The organization recruits part-time employees to help community members write job application materials, prepare for interviews, and to provide transportation to and from interviews. As a veteran recruiter looking to make a social impact, he started the position with a sense of dedication and calling. Surprisingly, however, after a short half of a year, he quit, citing frustration over the fact that those he worked hard to help lost the job less than a week after getting it. He felt like he was doing everything for nothing.
Today, more than ever, services and programs are created to step in where governments and markets fail. Often funded by Foundations and through public donations, these services and programs battle big social issues with creative approaches. However, if we put intentions aside, many programs and services rarely deliver satisfactory outcomes.
And what is even more disappointing is the fact that, over time, the under-performance of not-for-profit programs and services has become so taken for granted that we have normalized it.
Indeed, no program can deliver results 100% of the time, but a program that fails to deliver 30% of the time should never go unexamined, let alone becoming industry standard. Going back to the example of the family member of mine, over the course of six months, if he had one or two clients unable to keep their job, it’s bad luck. But the fact that the majority of his clients couldn’t keep their job indicates that the program is not working.
We need to hold program development accountable. This is not only because funders will ask for that evaluation sheet at the end of a funding cycle. More importantly, we need to hold program design accountable for the sake of and on behalf of communities served.
Each individual participating in a program hopes to change their life for better. For every program that promises the potential to solve a problem but does not, it is the diminishing sense of self and hope of that individual that is at stake. Badly-designed programs fail both the funders and the communities.