Why Altruous


Eric Barela, Ph.D.

Evaluation Advisor


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Helping the little guy

Growing up, I never really felt like an underdog. I grew up in a two-parent household surrounded by love. The vast majority of my extended family lived within a 20-mile radius from where I was raised. My needs were being met and I never truly wanted for much. I did very well in school. It was never a question of if I would go to college; it was always a question of where.

6th St. Bridge, East Los Angeles - Photo Credit: Sony Moses

As I grew older, I learned that society actually considers me an underdog for many reasons. I grew up in East Los Angeles in a working-class latinx home. I attended my local public schools. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. Although not something I acknowledged growing up, I am also a proud gay man. Given all of these supposed strikes against me, some see it as a miracle that I’ve succeeded. However, due to the support I received from my friends, my biological and chosen families, and the various communities I belong to, I was actually set up for success.

Being surrounded by love and support insulated me. However, I’ve always known that others were not so fortunate. I have had childhood friends who were shot and killed while they were teenagers. I saw neighbors resort to both legal and illegal ways to make ends meet. I have been witness to institutional racism, whether it be at the hands of police singling out certain skin colors or of teachers with differing views of how students of various ethnicities and gender identities should be supported. As I grew into adulthood, I saw our society change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The United States has marriage equality, but no longer has a federal law protecting a woman’s right to choose. The little guy needs our help now more than ever.

Reproductive Rights are Human Rights. Photo Credit: Emma Giuliani

Living life as a program evaluator

I’ve pursued a career in monitoring & evaluation (M&E). I became a program evaluator because I believe knowledge is power. If we have the right evidence, we can make better decisions. We can also better advocate for those who might not be at the decision-making table. For those who are unfamiliar, M&E uses quantitative and qualitative research methods to answer pragmatic questions for organizations about social impact and works to ensure that the generated data and findings can be used to strengthen what is working and improve what is not. Evaluators seek to understand and measure the social impact of organizations and programs. We know that impact is all about transformation, about long-term improvements for individuals and communities.

In a nutshell, evaluators help organizations and programs answer three vital questions: what, so what, and now what.

  • WHAT are the effects of our work (both positive and negative)?
  • SO WHAT does all of our work mean to those we’re trying to support?
  • NOW WHAT do we do with all of this information to improve?

Evaluators like to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. We love helping organizations go from good to better. We love to see our work have an immediate impact.

Alas, M&E is starting to also become the little guy. Many organizations, nonprofit and for-profit alike, report on their outputs as proxies for social impact. We like to call this a reporting of vanity metrics. These are numbers focused on what an organization is providing that look good in a glossy report, but say nothing about whether individuals and/or communities are undergoing transformation due in part to their work. For example: a large corporation reports on how much money it gives away and how many of their products are donated. These big numbers look cool in an annual report, but say nothing about what was done with money or how the products were used to improve lives.

Evaluators know that there are a variety of methods that can be used to appropriately measure social impact. However, there are some within the field who try to distill impact measurement to only one or two preferred methods. One size does not necessarily fit all; what works in one scenario may not work in another. Experiments are great for establishing causal effects, but it could be problematic to randomly assign students to classrooms. Calculating cost-to-outcome is a good way to establish a rationale for financial decisions that must be made. However, the definition of that outcome must be adhered to if the calculation is to approximate the potential cost. Any deviation from the defined outcome could render the calculation useless.

So, Why Altruous?

I see Altruous as an advocate for the little guys in the nonprofit space. This doesn’t just apply to those scrappy organizations that need a foot in the door. With our platform, we also have an opportunity to increase the presence of BIPOC nonprofit leaders and organizations supporting communities in innovative ways.

Helping Hands - Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas

To put it bluntly, our society and planet need nonprofits to succeed! Governments and corporations will not and cannot provide everything we need to survive and thrive. A relatively small percentage of nonprofits get large amounts of funding that is very often renewed. It can be really tough for smaller nonprofits to get into that inner circle of consistent funding. Also, creating impact is where the rubber meets the road. Those  smaller nonprofits with evidence of how they’re transforming individuals and communities and making the planet a better place to live should be rewarded. By funding these nonprofits, we have an opportunity to not only level the playing field, but to democratize it, to spread influence and results.

I also believe that Altruous is a place for evaluators to share their impact measurement work. There is a lot of cutting-edge work being done in the field and Altruous can function as a clearinghouse for novel methods to be shared. In addition, M&E can be seen as a non-revenue-generating activity. Measuring social impact doesn’t exactly generate the money to create more social impact. We want evaluators to have the opportunity to share their effective impact measurement on our platform so they can contribute to their organization’s long-term success in a tangible way.

Check out our Cause & Purpose episode talking about Altruous!

Excitement for the future

In Altruous, we have created a platform that rewards good work regardless of size or current funding. We have an opportunity to both expand and advocate for new players in the nonprofit sector. We also have the power to expand the influence of effective impact measurement by giving M&E professionals a place to showcase and share their work. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that our society and planet survive and thrive. I’m excited that Altruous will contribute to increasing that work!

About the Author:

Eric Barela, Ph.D.

Eric Barela, Ph.D.

Evaluation Advisor


Eric Barela is a social impact measurement pro who believes that when 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. Prior to Altruous, Eric headed evaluation efforts at Salesforce.org.

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