So often I'm asked by people how to ensure what they give their dollars to "works" to make the change the hope to see. Since most of my clients do not choose (or have the resources to) invest in double-blind evaluations, I suggest they seek out how others have determined "what works,"
This can be done simply. One way is to keep your eyes open when you read the newspaper. For example, here's an article in the Seattle Times that explains how research has shown how music affects children's brains and their ability to learn. The New York TImes even has a regular column called "Fixes" that looks at solutions to social problems and explains why they work. Another example: a Washington Post article that reports on a Harvard University study showing that economic mobility hasn't changed in 50 years -- and what might make improve people's journey upwards.
Other foundations that do spend resources to evaluate and research are other resources. For example, the Paul G Allen Family Foundation's Disrupting Poverty:Coming Together to Build Financial Security for Individuals and Communities can offer many strategies you may wish to fund.
Consulting groups often make papers available to the public. For example, McKinsey released a report on obesity and how to tackle it.
These kinds of resources are easily available, free, and suggest strategies that you can feel good about funding. Now your next job is to find the nonprofits that use the methods suggested in research...something I'll talk about in my next blog entry.