Back arrow
back to all episodes
September 12, 2023
Eric Barela
From Personal Perspective to Social Impact: Launching Altruous with Eric Barela

From Personal Perspective to Social Impact: Launching Altruous with Eric Barela

Show Notes:

In this episode, Mike Spear and Eric Barela discuss the launch of their new project, Altruous, and share pieces of their personal backstories of how they got into this work. They highlight the significance of Altruous in addressing social challenges and amplifying unheard voices. The conversation explores the intersection of social justice and personal background, emphasizing the need to recognize and value diverse perspectives. They discuss expected value calculations, the debate between quantitative and qualitative evaluation, the role of human evaluators in an AI-driven world, and the importance of comprehensive evaluation methods. 

“If we're going to pat ourselves on the back for doing good things, then we should actually be doing good things.”

Topics covered:

(00:07:55) The Intersection of Social Justice and Personal Background

(00:15:06) High EV Calculation

(00:21:48) Quantitative vs Qualitative Evaluation

(00:29:11) The Importance of Qualitative and Quantitative Data

(00:38:01) The Role of Human Evaluators in an AI-Driven World

(00:45:47) Shared Passion for Impact Measurement

(00:53:32) Burning Man's Impact and Integrity

(01:00:25) Measuring Impact and Avoiding Harm

(01:07:30) Marks of Success for Altruous

(01:14:48) Democratizing Monitoring and Evaluation

Links mentioned:

Guest links:

Episode Tags:

Subscribe to Cause & Purpose
on your favorite platforms:

Link to YouTube.Link to Spotify Podcasts.Link to Apple Podcasts.Link to Google Podcasts.


00:00:03 - Eric Barela
If we stop there and say, so we gave this much, so we're obviously having a great impact. There's something missing because impact is what happens when somebody else takes what we've provided and does something with it.

00:00:22 - Mike Spear
Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about the leaders, innovators and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm your host, Mike Spear. One of the biggest pieces of feedback I get about the show is that there's too much focus on the guests and not enough backstory about me or what brings me to this type of work. While that's pretty unlikely to change in the long term, we're going to do a little something different with this episode. I sat down with my co founder at Altruous, Eric Barela, to talk about ourselves, our perspective on the impact sector, and what drove us to launch our new project, Eric is a career long measurement and evaluation specialist. He's worked at many large impact driven organizations. He served on the board of the American Evaluation Association and is an advisor to the American Journal of Evaluation. Listen, man, thanks for doing this. I'm really excited to have you on and start talking about know as you know, Cause and Purpose has been kind of a passion project, something I've been just doing for myself and for my consulting work. But as we get into launching Altruous, excited to double down on it. We've got a great lineup of guests this year. As you know, we've already had a bunch this season already, but now we've got a series more, and I thought now would be a good time to kind of take a little break, check in and talk about what we're doing at Altruous. One of the things also know for myself, the main bit of feedback I get from friends and folks who listen is that there's not enough of myself in the show. So I'm excited to share a bit about that. But we'll start with you. Eric Barela, lifelong career monitoring and evaluation pro, decided to sign on to Altruous. Give us a bit of your background. I think at this point, some folks maybe have read the blog article, seen you on the website, but tell us where you came from and what brought you to M e work.

00:02:03 - Eric Barela
Sure. So I was born and raised in East Los Angeles. For those who don't know, East La is a very, very large, predominantly working class, very Latino, very Chicano, actually Mexican American neighborhood. I grew up around a lot of diversity. Not the kind of diversity I think a lot of people think of. I was around a lot of different Latin cultures, grew up with a lot of different Asian cultures, didn't encounter very many white people until I actually got to college, for all intents and purposes. And I probably still am very much a nerd, as I like to think of it, I'm very proudly so my parents would bring me out as a bit of a parlor trick to recite the names of all US presidents when I was five years old. Also I think what kind of shaped me as I was growing up too was fact that I am a gay man. And I think that was a bit confusing for people too, because again, just not very much exposure to it. I wasn't even sure what I was until getting into high school and college. But I think having that in my background definitely shaped who I am and why I do what I do. So I was very good at school. The question was never if I would go to college, but where I learned during that, that exposure is a big thing. My parents weren't really exposed to kind of the college application process and everything and they knew enough to know how to guide me, but they also knew enough to know that others were going to need to guide me as well. And so already I think that experience really helped to shape me in terms of understanding that sometimes people need a leg up, people need a bit of sponsorship, people need to be let in the door. Because I did. And so I go to UCLA as an undergrad. I know that is one thing of the many things that we have in common. First term at UCLA happened and I took a class called the Social Psychology of Higher Education Ed 180. So it was an upper division class that I could take as a first year. Something happened. I think everyone around me could hear the light bulb going, light bulb turning on, the opportunity to ask questions, get answers, study data, just really resonated. It was something that I learned early on that I just really love. And so through happenstance I happened to decide early, early on that I wanted to go into some kind of a research career. So I majored in psychology and studied education, did a year abroad, studied in England, which really again broadened my horizons. So I did a year there. And when I came back I graduated and I needed a job and a friend had a job at what at the time was UCLA's Center for the Study of Evaluation. I got a job as an administrative assistant there. Kind of saw logistically how research and evaluation worked and learned the difference between research and evaluation and really liked what evaluation was able to offer me, that you're able to ask pragmatic questions and get pragmatic answers and actually roll up your sleeves and do something and really affect more immediate change. And that I thought was just really cool to be able to use my skills in that way, to be able to help other organizations, other people, to make better decisions, to better themselves. And so I then went to the University of Colorado Boulder to get my master's in education, focusing on kind of educational foundations and policy, but again with a concentration in evaluation. And there is where I was mentored by Dr. Ernest house. He in the evaluation literature and the evaluation canon, developed an approach called social justice evaluation, where the evaluator works to give voice to those who maybe don't have one in the program or in the organization. He made a mark for himself studying the Pushxel program under Jesse Jackson. That kind of stuck with me being good at school, being in graduate school, doing okay, coming out, and everybody seemingly being okay with that. I'll bet everybody knew, but I still had to come out to them for them to say, oh, wow, living as an out gay man, an out chicano, an out graduate student, an out nerd, I felt like I had a voice. I think back to where I grew up, and I think back to some other experiences that I've had where I've gotten a PhD. And I know kids who I played with who were shot and killed when they were teenagers. I've seen police brutality up close, thankfully did not affect me personally, but I have seen it. And I know that a lot of people around me didn't get the same chances I had, weren't surrounded by the love and support that I was. If there's going to be a way for me to do that in some way, shape, or form, that's what I want to do. I think the interesting part for me was trying to find how to do that with the skills and experience that I had and with the things that I like to do. So how can I support others? How can I give somebody that voice? By being a researcher, by being an evaluator? And so the social justice theory really resonated. And then I hightailed it back to UCLA to do my PhD. And that's where I studied under Dr. Marvin Alkin. And at the time, she wasn't Dr. Tina Christie, but she now is. She's the current dean of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. And that's where I learned a lot about utilization.

00:08:55 - Mike Spear
I want to go back. I don't want to skip over a couple of things that you mentioned. What is unique and different about social justice evaluation? How is the work that you're doing today informed by some of these demographics that you find yourself in? Being LGBTQ, being Latino? What is social justice evaluation, and how does your personal background influence the work that you're doing today?

00:09:18 - Eric Barela
So social justice evaluation is really focused on that ultimate goal, on not only telling the story of an organization, but also making sure that those who have been silenced have a say in that story. There are other approaches to evaluation that focus on the method, others that focus on use. And so this is really about valuing voice and valuing kind of community in a way, making sure the entire community participating in the program, from the participants to the implementers, have some kind of a voice they're somehow represented. So that ultimate goal for me is something that I try to instill in all of my work. I see myself as somebody who is very fortunate. I've had a lot of success. I have transcended my surroundings, so to speak, although I never really saw it that way. And I have some power and privilege. I am a cisgendered male. I am well educated. With that comes a certain amount of privilege and a certain amount of power. I'm also a member of an ethnic minority. I'm also a member of the LGBTQIA plus community, communities that can often be silenced. And so I feel there's an imperative for me to try to marry the two, to try to give voice to those who have been silenced either by program or by society, and to do it in a way where I can actually use my position to make that a reality. So I know you've been a journalist, nonprofit, tech guy, a professional poker player.

00:11:29 - Mike Spear
That's true.

00:11:30 - Eric Barela
How do those things come into play when considering your career path and social impact?

00:11:38 - Mike Spear
This might sound strange on its face, but for me, what we're doing at Altruous, it's at the perfect center of all of my past careers. If you drew a Ven diagram of all the different things that I've done and sort of like the attributes that you learn and develop and the things that you do, it's, like, exactly at the center. I should also say that part of the origin of this this really came from a conversation I had with a friend, Dr. Ben Chipolini, years ago. Kind of dusted it off more recently, coming through the Pandemic like I'm a social person. Pandemic was real hard, and I decided to start a service business essentially a couple of months before the Pandemic hit. So less than ideal timing. So it was a frustrating period of time. And as we were coming out of the Pandemic, I really wanted to get clear on how I wanted to spend my time, who I wanted to spend my time with, and the impact that I wanted to have through the work that I was doing. I hadn't until then felt ready to start another startup. But coming out of the Pandemic, I really felt as if I had no choice. Time's a wasting. We're not getting any younger. The social challenges out there that we're all facing are not going away. And so the time is now. I love Nick Ebling in his work with Not Impossible Labs, and one of the things he says is, if not us, who? If not now, when? And I try to remind myself that on a pretty regular basis to go back to my career paths. I was always interested in film and television, photography. I did theater as a kid, onto journalism and documentary work. So storytelling has been a very important part of my life. It's something I've always been passionate about. It's part of the reason why I want to do this podcast. My eyes were open to social entrepreneurship and impact work in the nonprofit space, specifically when I joined classy early on. And that was a ten year odyssey that I wouldn't trade for anything. I really became very much who I was at that time, and it took me a long time to figure out who I was without it, to be honest with you. But I love the creation behind a startup. I love bringing something new into the world. I love collaborating with great people, and I want to have the backs of these folks that are out there in the field. So it comes from both of those things. I've always loved travel and seeing things in different ways. I'm scuba certified, so one of the reasons I became scuba certified is I just wanted to hang upside down underwater and see the world from a different angle, just to expand the way you think.

00:13:54 - Eric Barela

00:13:55 - Mike Spear
And poker, believe it or not, does factor in. What I learned from poker was how to read people, how to assess somebody's motivations very quickly, how to trust instincts. You start seeing signals for things that may not add up or that you don't understand, but it's a skill to make sense of those quickly and interpret them in the right way. And that has informed how I view philanthropists and foundations and nonprofits that I work with. Most importantly, I have learned to live by expected value calculations. I've learned to make calculated risks. It's why I went to class C in the first place. It's basically how I live my life. So when I look at organizational impact, it's one thing to say, okay, we've done XYZ. We've had this impact on the world historically. Here's our efficiency. I say that's great, and then I yawn and go somewhere else. What I want to know is the potential value. If you have a track record, awesome. You deserve to scale that and keep at it. Where I get really excited is the high potential underserved, underfunded, innovative group of hungry people trying to solve a real problem. And when you look at expected value, really, the calculation for those of you who don't know it, and you can look it up online, there's some great resources, but expected value calculation is essentially, what's the best thing that can happen? And you multiply that by the likelihood that's going to happen, subtract that by the worst thing that can happen and the likelihood of that thing happening, and you can have as many of those in the series. It doesn't have to be the best or the worst, but the good things that can happen. So when I make decisions about life, about starting a new company, about social impact, what I'm looking for is a high EV calculation and I try to run those trials as many times as I possibly can. I look at impact both through the lens of the track record and equally so the potential. How is a team positioned? How qualified are they? How resourced are they? What's the strength of the organizational body not overhead? What's the strength of the body? What's the likelihood they'll be able to achieve what they set out to achieve? How aligned is their solution with the best thinking in the space? What the smartest people in the world think is the most effective way of solving a given problem? And then we look at the outputs, outcomes and impact to the extent that it's measurable. We look at randomized control studies if they're available, but we also look at what impact that intervention is likely to have in the future. And if that messy calculation ends up being high EV, let's get those guys some cash, let's put some win in their sails and let's start solving some real problems. The storytelling aspect really speaks to what I want to do, what I enjoy doing, what I'm passionate about, what I see as a problem with the other players in the space, how their storytelling is pretty weak. Even if you agree with their information, it's hard to parse. So really wanting to communicate this stuff in a very compelling way, wanting to tell the right story, ask the right questions, uncover the often very surprising high impact, high potential programs that are out there, and look at it not just from proven track record, but from what they can do for us in the future. I also know I love this one. Ted Talk by Sean Acorn. It's totally unrelated to social impact. It's about the happiness advantage. It's about positive Psych. And he starts to talk. Have you seen this? Are you familiar? I haven't, no. It's a great talk. He's the guy's hilarious. He starts the talk by saying, you should never start your talk with a graph, but I'm going to start my talk with a graph. And to boot, it's totally made of information and it's a very clear line and has one little dot above the line. And he says, that's anomaly. So we can delete it, and we know it's anomaly because it's screwing my data. But what he talks about is where he gets excited is about that anomaly. He says, Why is it so much above the rest? And where I get really excited is not bringing everybody up to the baseline. That's great, that's a good goal. Fine, if that's your thing, terrific. For me, I don't get excited about helping everybody be average. What I get excited about is seeing the high performing weirdo and saying, how do we bring everybody up to that level? How do we support that solution, that person, that entity, whatever it is? And how do we use what they know to help others achieve that kind of success?

00:18:08 - Eric Barela
Altruous two high performing weirdos helping other high performing weirdos perform.

00:18:14 - Mike Spear
I mean, that's not a crazy tagline. I don't know if it works on a sticker, but we can give it a shot.

00:18:19 - Eric Barela
No, I love that. And thank you for giving others a bit more insight into you. I think the thing that you said and the thing that really excites me about altruist and about its potential is that feeling of someone's got your back. Trying to make the world a better place can be lonely, it can be controversial, it can be a lot of negative things, but it's going to be something that really does make the world a better place. And I want us to be in those people's corners.

00:18:58 - Mike Spear
It's also important to me, as we build this, to maintain objectivity. And that's a journalism thing, too. There's a lot of stuff out there that's sort of taking money from both sides. There's a lot of finger pointing. People are very quick to jump to fraud, especially if they see what they believe to be high over overhead, which oftentimes is just somebody being honest about how they're allocating funds. This is about objectivity and neutrality. It's not about finger pointing. It's about picking winners based on the merits. And for those that don't, quote unquote, qualify, those who are not ready to be recommended by altruist, it's about helping them get to that point. It's not pointing fingers at them, just calling them bad guys or low impact or whatever the case might be. It's about giving them recommendations to get to the point where we really feel comfortable recommending them.

00:19:42 - Eric Barela
Absolutely. I think the point you made about objectivity is a really good one because it's also something that evaluators and M and E professionals face. The longer I'm an evaluator, the longer I am an evaluator internal to organizations, the more I've learned that objectivity is a skill, that one can be positioned anywhere and be objective. And the key is transparency and compassionate honesty.

00:20:15 - Mike Spear
It's not being direct with somebody, but being compassionate about it, separating the person.

00:20:18 - Eric Barela
From the problem and providing the evidentiary support. I've come to find this, and this is the data that supports that claim. And I've seen very well meaning people within organizations really maintain a level of objectivity that really is to be admired. I've seen external people get so involved with the programs and organizations they're working for that they really didn't have any objectivity. And so it's an important thing to consider, and it's really important for anybody in this space to really think about their positioning and really how to show their objectivity in that position.

00:21:09 - Mike Spear
Yeah. You're someone who comes from a minority background LGBTQIA. I've never been those things. I'm like your average sort of white dude from a middle class family and have had a lot of privilege and luck. And for a long time I felt like that meant that I didn't really have a story to tell. What I realized is part of what I bring to this work is that despite those things, I've experienced adversity, I've experienced trauma. My family is Jewish and very culturally Jewish. Not religious today, but very culturally. You know, my grandparents came over from Russia fleeing anti Semitism. My dad used to talk about having to get in fights in Chicago because people would pick on him for being Jewish when he was going to and from school. And he once told me I was a bit of a pacifist, especially as a kid, but he once told me he was going to get mad at me if I didn't defend myself against bullies or people that were picking on me. Despite everything, I've always felt this sort of I'm not an immigrant myself. I don't know what it is, third or fourth generation, I guess, depending on your math. But I've always carried this sort of minority, sort of immigrant, sort of chip on my shoulder, this sort of ethos, feeling excluded from the majority. I still cringe every time I hear somebody say, this is a Christian country, because that excludes my family, that excludes so many others. What I'm coming around to is understand that more about myself wanting to leverage those things as a positive in this work. And even though I have had the privilege and grew up, as I said, very straight, cisgendered white dude from the suburbs, I feel empathy for folks who have not been so lucky. And that's part of why that's part of who I'm talking about when I say I want to go have their back.

00:23:01 - Eric Barela
Yeah. When we think about it, everyone has been on either side of privilege. It's not just BIPOC people. It's not just the LGBTQIA plus community. It's not just women. It's not just non binary people. It is really all of us in some way, shape, or form. And I think it's important for everyone to remember that. And I think there are a lot of people who do not, because, yeah, you're a straight, cisgendered dude.

00:23:38 - Mike Spear
I'm like the average guy. You pointed to the average guy. That's me.

00:23:41 - Eric Barela
But you have a story to tell. You really do. I mean, if you didn't have a story to tell, then there would be a whole lot fewer movies and TV shows about white guys.

00:23:54 - Mike Spear
That's one of the reasons.

00:23:55 - Eric Barela
Yeah, but yeah, we all do. And it's important, I think, to realize that everyone's story is important. That just because I am a gay Latino male that I have wisdom, or when I talk to my older African American female friends, that they are seen as the wise black lady. And I think it's important to know that we all possess some kind of wisdom, and it's not that one person is privileged over another. In that case, or we should remember that that's the case.

00:24:34 - Mike Spear
Yeah. I've very seldom felt privileged. I very seldom felt like I have the advantages of the average white dude. But I've also felt where I've been in a room and I've been taken seriously, more seriously than others purely because of how I look. And that's always seemed very unfair to me. I've experienced that, and it's made me very uncomfortable when it's happened. And oftentimes those people had better ideas who were more qualified than I am, and I find myself echoing what they say just to get their voices heard a little bit. But it's always a weird dynamic when somebody who's smarter, better educated, more hands on with whatever the situation might be, is not given the opportunity to speak where somebody like me is.

00:25:20 - Eric Barela
This is bringing it back to the social justice evaluation why I find it so important to be able to lift up those other voices. And honestly, you tell me that you saw me as a died in the wool social entrepreneur. I've seen you as a died in the wool social justice evaluator.

00:25:41 - Mike Spear

00:25:42 - Eric Barela
You want to give people that push up. You want to open the door, you want to have their backs. And it's really what makes me so excited for this work that we have an opportunity to do that on a large scale. I just think that's really cool. The evaluation nerd to me is coming out, just saying, this is really neat. I love it.

00:26:07 - Mike Spear
Absolutely. And I'm very excited to be at the beginning of this journey. I'll also add that when I left classy, I guess every career transition, but particularly when I left classy, I took a hard look at the things that I could have done better. I'm like Bill Belichick after a football game, we could win the game, but it's always about what we missed. And I did a lot of studying, a lot of reading, and a lot of research around how to build businesses well, how to build thriving cultures well. I learned a lot about monitoring and evaluation and how to think about impact. And I'm very excited to take the hard lessons learned, to take what I know that I did well or what we did well, and that sort of academic knowledge and put it in play and really build something that's lasting and built on a strong position of values, uncompromising in its values and its approach to the world. I think there's a lot that will learn and grow and change, and I hope to constantly be iterating. But the standard of excellence should be uncompromising, and that's building something that's inclusive, that works for everybody and then is uncompromising in its adherence to high standards of excellence is something I'm as excited about as the rest of it, which we've already talked about.

00:27:30 - Eric Barela
Yeah, if not us, then who? Not now, then when? I know that's just something that just keeps ringing in my head, because I see so many nonprofit leaders have that same attitude. It's why they're working in the nonprofit sector. And so to be able to help them really prove that that's really a good way of thinking yeah. Is really important, and I'm really looking forward to being able to support that in any way that we can.

00:28:04 - Mike Spear
We spent a lot of time talking about the virtues of and the differences and the efficacy of qualitative versus quantitative evaluation.

00:28:13 - Eric Barela

00:28:14 - Mike Spear
So I really want to know, what's the difference? How do they play together? How should people look at evaluation as a whole, knowing that some of the things are qualitative and some are quantitative? And part of the reason I asked I'll let you answer in a second. Part of the reason I ask is I've encountered a lot of nonprofits typically doing sort of less tangible things, maybe social work or something like that, that tell me basically that they can't come up with impact data because what they do is all qualitative. And I understand there's a certain amount of subjectivity, but I was like, my mentality is you should at least give it a shot, at least try to measure something. So let's talk about the difference between those two, how they work together, how you should look at it broadly. And what do you tell organizations that might have a little bit of a softer science?

00:29:01 - Eric Barela
Very good set of questions about the quantitative qualitative debate. And it's funny because in kind of the research in the research sector, in the academy, in the practitioner sector, this debate will come up, and then you'll have a lot of people saying, oh, we're beyond that, we're beyond that. We don't talk about that anymore. A couple of months later, it comes right back up. So apparently we are still dealing with it. In the research and evaluation sector, I see quantitative and qualitative data as both necessary and honestly insufficient on their own. Quantitative data usually helps us answer what's going on, how much, how many. And that's important to know. It's important to know what it is we're doing. But it's very hard for a number in and of itself to tell us anything about why or how something is happening. So we may know what is happening. But getting that qualitative data, observing behavior, talking to people, getting that more narrative body of data allows us to dive a bit deeper into the why and into the how. So I see them as linked. I think you can tell one part of the story with one type of data. You can tell another part of the story with another type of data. But the fuller story comes when you're able to talk about the what, the how, and the why. So for me, they're both integral to the evaluation process. People may say that makes me a mixed methods methodologist, and that comes with its own set of stipulations and prerequisites. I think that's really where I fall. Being an evaluator, though, I see myself and I see those in my profession as. Something of a Felix the cat. We have a bag of tricks because when we get to an organization or when we get to a program, we don't necessarily know what's going to be there. We may see a ton of very rigorously collected quantitative data that is just crying out for a statistical software program to make sense of it. We may find a whole bunch of papers thrown into a folder that is the extent of the data that's been collected. So we never know. It's important for us to have various methods in our arsenal, in our bag of tricks to tackle whatever data is or collect the data that we need to collect. Certain questions that an organization may have are going to be best answered through quantitative means, others best through qualitative means and think it's not privileging one over the other. It's figuring out what the most important question is and getting the appropriate data to answer that question. Not doing that, I think, does a disservice. We're trying to serve communities and individuals and when we're not asking the questions that need to be asked about whether we actually are providing that support and see what the support is actually doing, then we're really doing a disservice to those who we're supposed to be supporting. Maybe it's not the most popular opinion, but I really come down in the middle and I really come down in the let's ask why first position around methodology.

00:33:03 - Mike Spear
Well, certainly it's important to ask the right questions or everything else is going to be off. We've learned that one for sure as we're talking about qualitative versus quantitative. Something you said just immediately triggered vanity metrics. It's important to count, it's important to know the individual widgets or whatever the case might be, your unit of measurement. But how do you differentiate, first of all, what is a vanity metric? But second, how do you differentiate that from a quantitative metric that really is meaningful?

00:33:31 - Eric Barela
So first, it's not that vanity metrics aren't meaningful, it's the way that they're used. And so a vanity metric is really an output that's used as a proxy for impact. So the amount of money a granting organization gives away, the amount of licenses a software company provides, it's necessary to know that again. So we know what we're putting out into the world, but if we stop there and say, so we gave this much, so we're obviously having a great impact, there's something missing because impact is what happens when somebody else takes what we've provided and does something with it. And so when we stop and say the amount of money shows us what our impact is, that is misleading. It is unfortunately all too common in the corporate sector and the for profit sector and not as much in the nonprofit sector, but it still definitely is there where we talk about how much we did. And that is what goes into a glossy annual report that is where the measurement stops and it's necessary to know those things, but it's not sufficient because again, we need to know what actually happened with that. So it's all well and good to say. We had this number of people, x number of people attend a workshop. What did they do with the information they learned at the workshop? That's really the outcome question, the impact question. What did somebody do with the resources that we provided them? And so wanting to get deeper is really kind of how to take those vanity metrics and really push them and really make them legitimate outcome and impact metrics. I'll be the first to say it can be hard to measure that. It can be hard to measure what people do, especially if you can't get a hold of them again. And so it can be tough. It's much easier to make something numeric than again to try to find out the what versus the how and the why. But it's important. And what I've seen in various organizations I've worked for is there sometimes is a fear around getting impact data because what if it's not the best data? What if it tells us we're not as?

00:36:23 - Mike Spear
What if it makes us look bad?

00:36:25 - Eric Barela
Yeah. We're not as impactful as we think we are, right? Yeah. There is a fear that collecting impact data will expose some of the cracks that an organization has. However, that's where I say knowledge is power. I would rather know if something isn't quite working and learn about how to potentially fix it than just go blithely along thinking that everything we do is the best possible intervention we could be providing. And it turns out to not be. So I think knowing is really important and being strong enough to face that possibility, knowing that you can use the data, you can use the process to improve, to get better.

00:37:19 - Mike Spear
Where does that hesitation come from? Do you think it's just human nature not wanting to be called out or shown your own flaws? Or is it something to do with the culture of philanthropy just because there's so much around fear of failure to surface from your donors, because then you start talking about fraud and all this stuff. It really is a problem when it comes to allowing organizations to innovate.

00:37:39 - Eric Barela
Yeah, I think it's a bit of both. I can say feedback is a gift till the cows come home. But it can be tough when somebody's coming at you with what isn't quite working, especially if you've put a lot of your heart and soul into it. I get that it can be tough to be told you may not be exactly right. But I also think, in addition to human nature, the philanthropic sector also kind of exacerbates it when so much money is supposed to be earmarked for program and not overhead. Well, if the program isn't implemented perfectly to get the maximum possible impact out of it, then there is a definite danger of that money being pulled if it's so tied to the implementation of that program.

00:38:31 - Mike Spear
It's amazing how universal the overhead conversation still is. Every time I talk to somebody about altruist, typically if they're not in the sector, if they're not an M E person or they're not an advisor of some kind or the head of an organization, they go, oh well, you got to keep the salaries down. It's like a gut reaction. I'm still shocked by it. But people deliver the programs. People are the programs a lot of times. And if you're going to hire and retain good people, you got to pay them something.

00:38:56 - Eric Barela
Absolutely. I think a lot of granting organizations lose sight of that. Programs do not implement themselves. Some programs would be great if they did, but people do. Just because there is supposed nobility working in the nonprofit sector, you are making a difference and that should be able to sustain you more than money. And I think that's a croc. People need to be treated like the professionals they are. And those who work in the nonprofit sector, they're professionals too.

00:39:37 - Mike Spear
Well, I think it's also a question about standing on principle rather than or being a moralist in a lot of ways, rather than getting serious about solving problems.

00:39:45 - Eric Barela
True, very true.

00:39:46 - Mike Spear
That's kind of where I come at it from a very basic level. It's like, do we want to solve this or not? And if he answers yes, then let's pay good people to do it. Yeah. I think it also speaks a lot of what I see out there as the conversation around organizational evaluation has evolved. It seems to be landing in a funny place where it's like we've moved away from the overhead to an extent. But now even the cutting edge stuff, the stuff that's seen as cutting edge, it's all focused around an efficiency metric. It's like cost per outcome, which is directly tied to salary. So it's like we've moved beyond overhead. We're talking about cost per outcome, but it's still a race to the bottom, which means we have to sacrifice overhead.

00:40:29 - Eric Barela
Right. I think I do want an efficient organization. I do want an organization that is going to use the resources I provide in as streamlined of a manner as possible. However, what if I'm funding a very efficient organization that's not implementing a good program? Then you're just making sure that more people get the not so good program. A program is extending its reach, but it's not reaching the participants with the right resources.

00:41:11 - Mike Spear
Yeah. What you're talking about is really quality and depth of impact. Right. It's short termism versus long termism too. If all we care about is the outputs, the efficiency of outputs, nobody's looking at the quality and long term effect that that has on folks.

00:41:24 - Eric Barela
Exactly. It's funny. It puts me in the mind of an exercise I was told to do at somewhere I used to work, we were told to dream big, think about our department one day having 150 people. What would they be able to do? What kind of work would we be able to do? I was kind of insulted by it because, yeah, that would be great. But right now, my team is, one, I need to go from one to two to three to be able to actually do the work that needs to be done. So I can dream about 150. I can dream about what I want to see in the long term, but I also need some very realistic, pragmatic decisions to be made about how I hire one other person. And so for me, that kind of goes along with qualitative and quantitative data being both necessary for impact measurement. I think we have to think about the short term and the long term. It's all well and good if we start thinking about how we want the world to look in 2050. However, it's 2023 now, and so there's 27 years between 2023 and 2050. What are things going to look like during that period as well? So I think we've got to have an eye on the long term, but we can't take our eye off of the short term because then we're living in fantasy. And I think it is important to dream, but we also need to be living in reality.

00:43:07 - Mike Spear
Yeah. One of the things that we have spoken about is sort of the rise of new programs, teaching people m e work. It's been around for a while, but there's more and more programs popping up in universities and such. What is the future of the profession? And I asked this knowing about, obviously, the recent explosion of AI in an AI driven world. What is the role of a human evaluator?

00:43:31 - Eric Barela
I think the role is to interpret what actually happened, what is actually happening. AI, the kind of the data science work before that is really good at prediction. It's really good at saying how something could work, how something should work, but it doesn't really tell us yet how something does work, or something did work. And so I think there's still a role for us to be able to actually look retrospectively and see if this prescribed path, number one, actually occurred, and two, what the effects of it were. I am not one of those who's necessarily afraid of AI in my profession. I have a lot of other fears about it, but not in my profession.

00:44:34 - Mike Spear
Got it. This is sort of an open question. It's a little bit of a I'm putting on the spot. I realize in your career you've mostly worked for large institutions. You've worked in education, which is notoriously slow moving. You were a salesforce, most recently, large companies, large groups. When we were talking about altruist, I was sort of teasing you that I thought that at heart you were actually an entrepreneur. Know a startup guy is kind of.

00:44:59 - Eric Barela
How I put you did?

00:45:01 - Mike Spear
Yes. You know, why altruist? Why did you choose to take this path? Because you could have gone to any sort of established M E organization, started a know there's a million things you could have done. Why did you choose the path of social entrepreneurship? And why is altruist specifically exciting to you?

00:45:17 - Eric Barela
I did end up choosing this path because it was something new for me, but somewhere where I could still apply the skills and experience that I love so much, and I'm still able to do the job of an evaluator, but in a different setting. And that's how I really framed my career so far, really planned it. So I started in a school district, working for the La Unified School District as an internal evaluator there. Learned some fascinating things, had lots of money to do studies, and then 2008 happened. And so then I went to a nonprofit to help them figure out what they needed to do with respect to impact measurement and how to use that to improve the work that they were doing. Kind of did what I needed to do there. And then I went to what at the time was the Salesforce Foundation to again be their internal evaluator, to talk about how their citizen philanthropy was working, their strategic grants, and their technology donation program. So I've always been looking for a new milieu, so to speak, to apply this work. And I think what was really helpful, honestly, was being laid off from Salesforce as part of their 10% reduction in force back in January of 2023. Salesforce, for the most part, treated their workers as professionals. I remember when Mike Pence, when he was governor of Indiana, signed into law some pretty draconian anti LGBTQIA legislation. So Mark Benioff fired off a tweet saying, if this is going to be the law in Indiana, well, maybe Salesforce needs to relocate its Indiana workers. It's something that I think really stuck with me. And from that, Mark Benioff received an award from GLAAD in the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation about being an ally. And he got up to speak, and the thing that really struck me is he said, salesforce is nothing without its employees. If I don't treat my employees well, nothing that I want to get done will get done. To me, it seems like a natural progression to now take this into the social entrepreneurship space. Hopefully you think so too.

00:47:56 - Mike Spear
I had a lot of confidence in bringing you into the mix because we didn't know each other well, but it was pretty clear. Your intelligence was very clear, and your passion for the space was very clear. I also am fortunate to know many of the people that you've worked with in your past who have universally spoken glowingly of you. So I had a great deal of validation as well, even if that didn't come through in our quote unquote interviews. In those conversations, I sort of was able to validate in other ways, but also knowing that with the layoff, salesforce didn't do everything well, but they did give folks a bit of a runway, which is important in an early stage startup. So I know I had a sense that you could do it if you wanted to.

00:48:33 - Eric Barela
Yeah. And I did. I think just as important to me, though, is I like to collaborate. Yeah, I don't know if that has been has made itself abundantly clear through this talk, but I do enjoy collaborating with people. And it was important for me that if I was going to join this space, to be working alongside someone who really understands the need for the nonprofit sector to really be held up, to address these incredible challenges to see the promise of nonprofits from the large to the small, to see the value of impact measurement, to not say, well, the philanthropic sector doesn't really care about impact measurement. They just want those vanity metrics. And so you saw the potential in that as well, and that just made it so much easier for me to decide.

00:49:36 - Mike Spear
I feel very much the same way about folks who are sort of on the front lines doing the field work as you do about evaluators. I feel protective of them. I think it's a noble thing to give up comfort and revenue and safety and all those things to go do something good for other people. So I want to be out there getting those people's backs. Another thing that I saw in you, even beyond the other stuff that I mentioned that I think you and I share, is some frustration and disappointment with people in organizations who talk a good game but then don't follow through. I think we've both experienced the promise of deep investment in things that matter and a real commitment to values based stuff and in one way or another, it just sort of doesn't happen.

00:50:18 - Eric Barela

00:50:19 - Mike Spear
Yeah. And I see this in talking to you, I saw this as an opportunity to do that well on our own terms, to have totally uncompromised agency in how this goes.

00:50:31 - Eric Barela
I think that uncompromising agency is not something you necessarily get when you work internal to an organization because there is an organizational agency that you must abide by or help to create, help to kind of recreate. Yeah, there is a huge frustration there. We definitely did bond over that. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think now more than ever, our society and our planet need nonprofits to succeed and we need nonprofits to be given the appropriate resources to succeed. I think we're seeing that governments and corporations will contribute to the solution, but will not be the solution entirely. And when you've got people who are really gung ho about doing something because it makes good copy and then really don't follow through again, it goes back to who we're trying to support, and you're really doing a disservice there. And so I want to be supporting those organizations that are actually putting their money where their mouth is, whatever little money they've got, and are actually making a difference and creating that impact to Foment transformation.

00:52:02 - Mike Spear
Yeah, no, I would totally agree with that. And I would even add, for me, a lot of it just comes down to integrity. If we're going to pat ourselves on the back for doing good things, then we should actually be doing good things. The other thing to me is urgency. We're out of time. Climate change. You want to look at all the social justice issues over the past several years, mental health issues that have popped up, I mean, you name it. There's just so much urgency right now, and there's no reason, there's no reason at all why we can't be seriously working towards a lot of these issues. And there are people doing it, but we need more. We need all hands on deck. And for me, it's the integrity piece, but it's also the sense of urgency that we can solve these problems. People out there working hard to do it, they know the right things to do. They just need some win in their sails.

00:52:47 - Eric Barela
Absolutely. I think if we didn't feel that way, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Probably. Honestly go get a real job, a different job. This is a real job.

00:52:59 - Mike Spear
I know I tease they're easier things to do than start a new company.

00:53:05 - Eric Barela
Yes. As I'm learning. But it is all worth it in the end, and the ends justify the means. In a way, I'm glad we're on this journey together.

00:53:17 - Mike Spear
Yeah, I'm excited about it.

00:53:18 - Eric Barela
So I've got a question for you.

00:53:20 - Mike Spear
Oh, yeah.

00:53:21 - Eric Barela
So one of the other things we have in common is perhaps a love of, but definitely an attendance at Burning Man. This festival, I did not August for a week. It is this experimental utopian community. It is not a festival. And I'm curious to know how you see that fitting in to the work that you're doing here.

00:53:49 - Mike Spear
Wow. That's a big question. When I think about doing the work at Altruous, I think about other stuff first. But the things that I really value about the burn are probably not what everybody thinks about. I've had very memorable conversations with people where good people are looking to do important things in direct and very efficient ways. My first year there, I attended a lecture at Center Camp, where this literature professor from Brooklyn, lifelong burner, was talking about the real conflict of Burning Man supposedly being this very populist, this very egalitarian, open society. Yet everywhere you look is cultural appropriation. It's very expensive to get there. Between the ticket price and all the fees and the food and everything that goes along with taking the time off, it's inherently elitist while being populist in spirit. In certain ways and there's a certain lack of integrity there. He wasn't calling people out in the negative. What he was saying was that it's incumbent on us as burners to bring the values, the principles of Burning Man that we all care about to people in the outside world. And he was advocating for Burning Man without walls. He was advocating for scholarship programs and for bringing true inclusivity to something that can talk a good game but doesn't always live up to the hype. I had a conversation more recently with somebody who had invented a solar array that fits in a shipping container that could be deployed anywhere and power essentially a small city. Oh, wow. And he'd prototype the thing and we were literally sitting under it. I had no idea we were sitting under it while we were having this conversation. He points to it and he says, you see that thing that comes out of the shipping container that it's on, expands out. It's powering this entire camp. And so Burning Man is a very fossil fuel intensive experience. Yes, but they've been measuring that historically, all the way back to day one. They've been measuring the fossil fuel footprint of Burning Man. This is a person who was on the board of the Burning Man Foundation, who I was talking to, trying to be fully burdened about it, the food that's used, the power that is required, the fossil fuels burned to get there, all of the things doing the power grid in a way that will retroactively offset the lifetime footprint of Burning Man. And they've calculated it. We've gone to real social impact conferences and talked about it. That one comes to mind. The other one is know, the Bernie Man Foundation has Fly Ranch, which is a permanent installation. And at the ranch they have tons of experiments going. The one that comes to mind really is indigenous plant species restoration. They're actually rebuilding the original flora from this region of Nevada, which is largely a desert, and doing so in a sustainable way that aligns with what little I know about sustainable agriculture and horticulture practices. So it's those, it's challenging your beliefs, it's exploring art and it's having fun and it's meeting new people and having compelling interactions. But what I go back for year after year is those conversations also learn about Fourth World development there, about new approaches to developing Third World regions in a way that has them leapfrog First World cultures rather than sort of bring them along and not make them quite so bad.

00:57:02 - Eric Barela
They're the ones leading the rising tide that is raising all ships as opposed to the First World.

00:57:07 - Mike Spear
And people take care of each other too. It's the kind of thing where you're supposed to show up with everything that you need to survive and enjoy the week. But I tell people you could show up there naked with nothing, and people will take care of you. So it's just a really cool little temporary society that you can immerse yourself in for a week, learn from and try to bring some of those things back to real life.

00:57:29 - Eric Barela
I love it and I had a feeling you were going to say some of these things and actually they resonate and I think are pretty similar with what I get from Burning Men as well. The transience of it all is something that's always struck me because this is an 80,000 member community that springs up in the Nevada desert once a year, becomes the third largest city in Nevada and then disappears. It doesn't have to be there, right? There is nothing saying that Burning Man must occur every year. But people come together to give of themselves. And I think when you said this is an opportunity for people to give and to provide, I think that's when Burning Man is at its best, when people are actually interacting and giving of themselves, I think there are a lot of people there who go for the party and they are the takers. And that can become problematic. And also, I think the thing you said about it being a very privileged group, I wish a lot more people of color would go to Birding Man, but it is pretty cost prohibitive. It is expensive. It is also really rough to do. I think the environment we're in tries to kill us. It is not an easy thing to do. But I really do think that I think Burning Man Without Walls burning Man Without Borders is a wonderful idea and I think it should be explored. I hope the Burning Man Foundation does.

00:58:59 - Mike Spear
No, they are actively investing in it. There's also an active need based scholarship program which I know works. My cousin who's a starving student at the Know got in and went on that, so I know that they're actually doing that and there are just good people thinking about it. So even for the folks that don't make the trip, for whatever reason, there are good people thinking about how to bring that spirit out in a way that's more accessible. It's a leave no trace culture. So once the city disappears, there are people out there for I think it's like two weeks afterwards, literally combing the desert, picking up every scrap of trash. Berners would call it MOOP Matter outer out of place. But it's like completely, as much as humanly possible left as pristine as it was when we arrived.

00:59:44 - Eric Barela
I'm curious to know if you think there's anything you're seeing in the social sector, any kind of a trend that you think is actually doing more harm than good.

00:59:53 - Mike Spear
It's that lack of integrity. It's people saying they're doing good things, believing they're doing good things because they wrote a check or because they have a program and they're either investing things that are irrelevant. So there's opportunity costs there where that money could have gone to a higher impact program or things that are actively harmful. Some of the books that have come out more recently talk about the Scared Straight program, which had millions of dollars of investment and actually the graduates of the program ended up in a randomized control study being more willing to wind up in jail than their peers who didn't go through it. There's many examples of celebrity participation gone wrong. I think it's incumbent upon funders to support innovation, to look for high impact programs, to be aware of negative side effects of the programs they're invested in. When we were talking about vanity metrics, the first type of organization I've worked with, a couple of these that come to mind are certain types of rehab programs. So I'm aware of certain organizations that run a domestic facility where folks who have been involved in substance abuse or victims of abuse from somebody else will come and live. They're doing, on one level, great work. But what they're measuring is number of people in the program, their ability to get them out of whatever situation it was, their ability to get them sober, if that's the case. And there's other things that they do, but it's fairly common where the people who enter the program never leave. They're there for a very long time and they end up dependent on the providers that they're working with. And so we look at vanity metrics, it's so easy to look at numbers and say, hey, we're so successful, we've helped these folks, our target population, we're helping, we're helping, we're helping. But what's the goal? Is the goal just to get them out of the situation? Or is the goal to get them into thriving lives, to get them into a safe environment, to get them employment if that's what they need, to get them to self sufficiency, where they can be truly independent? To me, that's the mark of success. And that's where you start to talk about impact rather than just the outputs, which as you said, if that's as far as you go, you're not really telling the full story. And so I think organizations, I think oftentimes it's hard to say they're doing more harm than good because they're not there. They are helping people, they're getting people out of a dire situation. But there's so much more potential there that being able to measure your impact, being able to understand it and look at it. If you're an honest broker, as someone who runs those organizations, you should want to improve, you should want to deepen that impact. But as a funder, you should be aware of those things and look for organizations that have really innovative approaches that are oriented towards the impact even if they can't fully measure it yet, that are oriented in that way rather than purely fixating on number of people served, et cetera.

01:02:48 - Eric Barela
Yeah, there are a lot of indicators between number of people served and societal change. And oftentimes we've. Got to look at those because it can take a long time to see impact. I think especially in education, it'll take years, as we all know, being students at one time ourselves. But there's got to be a line that we can draw. There's got to be a direction that we can see where if we're starting to hit certain metrics, get data on certain indicators that it's showing us we're going in the right direction. And I think it's okay to look at those leading indicators because again, they're showing us the way. It's, again, a fear of not being able to show all the impact right away. That, again, I think that kind of hobbles some organizations.

01:03:41 - Mike Spear
Yeah, but you'd be amazed at how much fear dominates that as well. Sometimes the leaders of the organization get so attached to the people they're serving and so invested in the direct service work that they don't want to give that up. It can become a toxic relationship where you're actually inhibiting that individual's growth because you don't want to let them go, because they're your client, they're your friend, they're your confidant. So it's just so important. And this is where monitoring and evaluation really, I think, can inform the impact that a program is having and improve the impact that it's having. To establish boundaries to say, here's what we're willing to do through our services, here's how we measure the success of that. And anything outside of that scope runs the risk of becoming harmful rather than supportive.

01:04:25 - Eric Barela
Yes, I've seen that in action in a lot of organizations. One of the best uses of a theory of change, whether it's for an organization or for a program, is to document what the work is and what it is not.

01:04:41 - Mike Spear

01:04:41 - Eric Barela
And I've gone back to teams, to departments, to organizations that I've helped build theories of change for, and I've asked them, how has it gone? Do you still use this? What have you been able to use it for? And the thing that I've heard the most is it allows us to say no, because if it doesn't fit into how we're defining our success, then it can be a detractor. And so it's easy to say we can't do that because it doesn't fit with what we've already thought of.

01:05:17 - Mike Spear
Yeah. I have a question for you. We have long term visions. We have values, we have a couple of BHAGs. I hope to develop more BHAGs. For me, part of the Bhag process or one good behag to create is people you want to work with and organizations that you want to have on the platform. In some ways, I guess it's a marketing and growth thing. It's a function, success, whatever. But if those people and organizations take us seriously enough to collaborate, it's an indication that we're doing some things right. I'm curious. Who are some of the people and organizations out there in the world that you see that if and when we're able to gain their approval and their respect and collaborate or work with them or have them listed on the site, whatever the case might be, that it'll be a moment in time for you. It'd be really something you're proud of having achieved.

01:06:06 - Eric Barela
One way that I am viewing success here is first from the nonprofit perspective. If my eventual team and me has nonprofits knocking down our door, trying to get vetted to join the platform, that to me is important because we're seen as a trusted ally, we want nonprofits to come knock down our doors. And so to actually have that, to be able to come to you and say, dude, I need more people because the nonprofits keep coming, keep coming, keep coming, I would love for that to happen. I would also like to see some foundations, some granting institutions, see us as somebody who's doing credible due diligence for potential grantees. A lot of the larger foundations have teams to do this, but if they're able to also use our work and really give us that credibility, I think for me that would be another sign of success too.

01:07:26 - Mike Spear
Yeah, I think on that level it's a sign of sophistication. It's how sophisticated their team is at the sort of low end of the resource level or sophistication level. It'll be turnkey for those people. They'll see our research and our M and E work and that'll be as far as they need to take it. But for ones that do have their own in house teams, my hope is that we're top of the funnel for them, that we can help them discover things they wouldn't have otherwise and they can use our research as a starting point for going deeper on their own.

01:07:54 - Eric Barela
I also have a mark of success in terms of evaluators because I know we're creating this in part to also give evaluators a place to highlight their information, highlight their data, share their work. Because if a lot of nonprofits are knocking down a door, we still can't do all of the vetting, we still can't evaluate every single organization out there. And so to bring in more through the evaluator partnerships that we want to develop I think is going to be really important. And so to have my colleagues well, I think you know enough about m e for me to be able to say our colleagues in the evaluation space to have them see Altruous as again a credible platform for them to share their work. I would love for effective impact measurement to have a broader influence. To have a wider influence. I would love for some internal evaluators to contribute to revenue generation. I think that's attention in our work because if we are revenue generating, are we truly objective? And I would love for Altruous to be able to be that example of being able to generate revenue while being objective and being able to show both so to be able to give that to evaluators, I think, would be a really big mark of success for me, too. So come on board, evaluators. Come on.

01:09:36 - Mike Spear
For me, some of those BHAGs or marks of success would be organizations I hold in very high regard coming on. I think polaris project came up in conversation recently. I think they're terrific.

01:09:47 - Eric Barela
Oh, polaris is wonderful. They're an anti human trafficking organization that is pretty darn amazing.

01:09:55 - Mike Spear
Yeah, well and my nerdy side really gets activated when they talk about their operational workflows, how they leverage CRM, really, the efficiency with which they operate and do some really impactful work. Greenwave, for me, is like this little organization nobody's ever heard of, but I've just been a fan of theirs since I heard about it. They've got a really niche program, and it's a very humble beginning. So the founder is not a nonprofit guy. He's like a fisherman. But what they do is basically train fishermen who are at risk of essentially losing their livelihoods to instead of just double down on a career that has a questionable future and is extractive largely to our environment to turn them into farmers on the water. So they're growing in these cherished farms that are suspended in the water. So the surface footprint is like 30 yards or something like that square, but it goes super deep, and they're growing things like kelp and oysters and mussels and all kinds of things. So it's giving these fishermen that had somewhat bleak career futures. Fishing is a family business, that's generational. So there's a lot of pride wrapped up in that and a lot of family legacy wrapped up in it. To give them something that checks all those boxes and fills their needs, but in a way that is environmentally sustainable and healthy for our ecosystem and for our diets is pretty incredible. So little organizations like that that basically nobody's ever heard of who are just doing really cool work in very interesting ways, very quietly. To get those guys some recognition, I think means a lot. So as we can get some of those, if greenwave ever hears this and signs up, that would be a huge coup for me personally. But to start getting more and more of those stories and help them scale their solutions, the more stories I hear about that, the more excited I'll be about it.

01:11:38 - Eric Barela
Yeah, I can definitely say, as I'm now meeting with nonprofits to kind of work through our framework, bring them on board, I get to hear some pretty cool stories about really cool organizations doing some really cool things. It's definitely a highlight of my day when I get to hear about organizations really working hard to provide some pretty innovative support to people who really need it. It's a perk.

01:12:03 - Mike Spear
Yeah. As we've been talking to more and more organizations and starting to bring some onto the platform, it's been eye opening for me to see how many of these organizations, in some cases, have annual budgets in the millions? Well resourced don't have fully fleshed out M E programs are starting to evaluate their own measurement practices now, rethink their approach to impact. So you don't have to be this tiny organization to not sort of have that fully vetted. You can be, having been around for a decade, not be where you want to be. What do you say to organizations who don't have those resources, don't have the internal team, don't have the robustness of metrics that they might want? What's their role to play in altruist, and where do they get started down that journey?

01:12:50 - Eric Barela
I think first, having the will to do it. I've worked at a large foundation that was pretty darn well resourced. I was the first M and E person hired there, and they had already been in existence for 1415 years. So any organization can come to it. It helps to start. It really helps to start. And I go back to Simon Sinek on this and really start with why. Why does your organization exist? Why do you get up in the morning to do the work of the organization that's already the beginnings of an impact statement, and then you kind of work backwards? Okay, well, how do we know we're going to be there? Okay, well, what do we have to do to make sure that we know we're on the right track? So what do we have planned? Okay, what do we have coming in to be able to do the things that we have planned to be able to push the work forward? You could really just start with that. Why is your impact, your how is kind of getting to your outcomes and even your activities, the what is really related to your inputs and your outputs. So just starting with that framework, why, how, what is something that can be done to at least get the ball rolling? There's another myth, I think that we face in the social sector in philanthropy, that if it's not complex, it's not good. I've always found that if it is complex, it doesn't necessarily get used. And so there's a balance. We've got to be able to look at complex problems and really do justice to them, but we can do it in a simple way. Simple doesn't mean simplistic, and complex doesn't necessarily mean complicated. I think the role that altruists can play is to help that balance be highlighted. I have a PhD in education in educational evaluation. I've been doing this work for 20 some years. Doesn't mean I'm the only person who knows how to do it, because I've been doing it for so long. I would love to see a democratization of monitoring and evaluation. It can be done at different levels. You may not be able to answer questions as sophisticated as you need, but you are going to be able to answer some questions and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. By answering those questions, you generate a lot more that might lead to some more money in the budget to be able to build the capacity. So there are things that can be done that, while not something you need a PhD to create, are things that you can do with your content knowledge and with your kind of organizational knowledge.

01:15:54 - Mike Spear
Yeah, I think that's right on democratizing the M and E process, but I also think democratizing access to that information on the donor side is important too.

01:16:04 - Eric Barela
Yes, absolutely.

01:16:05 - Mike Spear
And as you're fond of reminding people, the M E work is important for accountability's sake, but especially early stage, maybe especially late stage, I don't know. At any stage, it's a valuable learning experience and can be used, if nothing else, to help improve your programs and operation and deepen the impact you're already having.

01:16:25 - Eric Barela
We often say that we're lifelong learners as people. Organizations need to be lifelong learners as well. Early stage, late stage, any stage, there's always learning to be done when M E is at its most effective is when there is that learning taking place. Otherwise it's just compliance and you can hire whoever you want to do that compliance because it's just going to go into a report that goes into a binder, that goes to a funder that it will never, ever be read. You completed an exercise, you fulfilled the task, you checked a box. Fine. But for it to actually be useful and to be it's got to be used by the organization because funders aren't necessarily going to do it for you. It's yet another example of if not you, then who? If not now, then when? Organizations need to do the same thing with their evaluation data because ain't nobody going to do it for you.

01:17:23 - Mike Spear
Thanks for sharing your time and your expertise.

01:17:26 - Eric Barela

01:17:27 - Mike Spear
It's fun to get to talk about altruist a little bit and about our.

01:17:30 - Eric Barela
Own journeys and thank you for sharing your time and expertise as well.

01:17:35 - Mike Spear
This is the start of a fun journey and I think you bring a lot of amazing knowledge and instincts and insight to the table. So I'm excited to be on this journey in general, but especially with you. I'm excited about all the things that we have in front of us to really drive some efficiencies in the space, bring about some of the changes we've talked about, and start unlocking all that money locked up in das and being sent to the same organizations year after year and start funding some real innovation and uncovering some great programs.

01:18:04 - Eric Barela
This is going to be fun. This is going to be a good journey and I'm glad we're doing it together.

01:18:11 - Mike Spear
Well, that's our show about altruist. Hope you enjoyed it. We'd love for you to take the next step by checking out the new that's We're rapidly onboarding new high impact programs for your consideration. We're signing up customers and seeking early investment to help build out the full platform and reach as many impact driven funders as possible. If you enjoyed the show, please follow, subscribe or leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts and share the link with any friends or colleagues you think might find it valuable. We've got another great show in store for you. Next week, Matt Scott will join us for a second appearance on Cause and Purpose. He just published a new book called The High Growth Nonprofit. He has a ton to update us on and some new stories to tell. Hope you can join us. Until then, Cause and Purpose is a production of On behalf of myself, Eric and our entire team, thank you for listening and we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Eric Barela

Eric Barela is a social impact measurement pro who believes that organizations understand and act on their impact, they can maximize the good they do. Eric has over two decades of experience building and maintaining impact measurement systems in both the nonprofit and technology sectors. Former Director of Measurement & Evaluation at, and board member at American Evaluation Association


Keep on Listenin'

Latest episodes in your mailbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Search podcasts, blog posts, people