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Poor Economics (book+web site)

"Part of why running a nonprofit is so hard is that pretty much all nonprofits are delegation. Donors aren’t buying a particular thing they know they want, they’re buying a chance to help others, without knowing exactly what it is they want. And that’s why randomized controlled trials have been transformational for the nonprofit sector — they’ve converted a delegation into a service. Great nonprofits don’t have to guess at what will help people the most; they just need to look up the most helpful service and then purchase more of it. Poor Economics is a remarkable book if only because it shows how crucial this is. It’s full of tales of small-scale experiments where well-intentioned do-gooders try hard to help some people and fail catastrophically. But they only notice because there are academics there collecting data; in the typical nonprofit, where the decisionmakers are far removed from the evidence on the ground, they’d probably never know that much was going wrong (assuming that they even cared)."