buildOn Earns Trust with Transparency and Evaluations

Sunday night 60 minutes aired a piece questioning the veracity of Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea and the accomplishments of his NGO, Central Asia Institute (CAI). Since CAI also builds schools, I thought it was important that I reach out to our supporters.

The allegations made will likely cause a severe breach of trust and could shake stakeholder confidence in international development work and in the not-for-profit community. If this happens, the children and communities who are in greatest need of education will pay the price and suffer the most.

As you know, we strongly believe that integrity and transparency are among the most critical assets of any not-for-profit organization. buildOn is diligent in providing complete transparency and has earned the unwavering trust of our stakeholders. We’ve won this trust by providing mountains of data and metrics that support the results of our programs. In the last twelve months alone, Brandeis University and the Academy for Educational Development (AED) have conducted comprehensive evaluations of our programs in the U.S. and in developing countries. They have produced extensive reports that go well beyond validating the results of building 400 schools around the world and running after school programs in 118 urban high schools in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the U.S.

Internationally, AED found that, among other important results, buildOn programs “have significantly increased access to and quality of education and have inspired communities to send their children to school,” and that buildOn has built “a foundation from which [they] can advocate for school enrollment and gender equity in education.” (Read the full evaluation commissioned by the GE Foundation.)

Further, American students, board members and donors visited and worked side-by-side with local community members to help build 50% of all buildOn schools constructed last year. This is significant since we are working in very remote regions within some of the economically poorest countries on the planet.

In the U.S., Brandeis University identified “academic engagement, mentoring and hope as outcomes of buildOn’s after-school programs, and found evidence in the literature to support a causal link between these outcomes and improved academic achievement.” For instance, buildOn is working at Jane Addams High School in the South Bronx—one of the lowest performing schools in New York City. At this failing school, buildOn recruited some of the lowest performing students for our programs. In one year alone, 37% of buildOn students improved their attendance compared to only 7% of students in a comparison group. 64% improved their GPAs. Read the full report here.

In addition, at buildOn we track our programs at all levels of engagement. We know exactly how many people contributed how many days to build every buildOn school. We also know how many children and adults attend these schools every day. We know how many urban American youth are involved in our programs and how many hours of service they contribute every week.

We also take financial management and our responsibility to our donors very seriously. We have earned the unqualified rating (the highest rating possible) by certified public accounting firms on our audit for 15 straight years. (Up until 1996, we were not big enough to warrant a full financial statement audit. During that time we had the CPA firm BDO Siedman conduct a full compilation of our financial statements.) Additionally, we have earned the highest ranking on fiscal responsibility from Charity Navigator for seven straight years, since they began rating non-profits. In 2010, 88% of every dollar spent went directly to program costs. All of this puts buildOn in an elite category in terms of fiscal management and resource allocation.

We are proud of our programs and our transparency, and invite anyone interested to review our results and financial practices. Further, we are eager to share our program methodology so that our success may be replicated by others. We believe that trust is the cornerstone of our success. We work hard to win that trust every day.