Philanthropedia Blog

A Closer Look at Experts Part II: How do we find our experts and what information do we collect?

November 30th, 2009 by Erinn Andrews Leave a reply »

Last week, I outlined who our experts are and why we value them in an attempt to answer some questions from thoughtful leaders like Richard Marker from Wise Philanthropy. Since then, someone from the Nonprofit Law Blog has written about Philanthropedia and posed some additional good questions about our experts. I’d like to thank these bloggers for their great questions and in this post, I’d like to explain how we find our experts and what kind of information we collect from them.

Finding Experts

We aim to build a group of qualified experts with a balanced representation of professionals from many different fields, with diverse geographical representation, and with diverse areas of expertise. To find these experts, we do a variety of things such as research thought leaders in the space, look for program officers at foundations who specialize in this area, research universities who have faculty focused on these issues, identify journalists who write extensively about the topic, look for executive directors or heads of nonprofits working in the space, etc.

Some examples of our climate change experts include Michael Fischer, Executive Director of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity, Mark Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation, Sally Benson, Director  of the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University, Luis Davila,
Program Director of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, and Kimery Wiltshire, Chief Executive Officer and President of Exloco. You can read more expert bios here.

We try to identify as many qualified experts as possible to invite them to join the network. When experts fill out our survey, we collect information to confirm the strength and diversity of our expert network. For example, we ask experts how many years they have been working in their field, what professional affiliations and/or academic background they have in the field, what their professional title is and who their employer is, and, we ask them to self-rank their level of expertise.

Surveying Experts

We believe experts will each have their own idea about what makes a nonprofit effective. Therefore, rather than ask the experts to identify nonprofits who fit a certain pre-established set of criteria, we ask experts what top 3 criteria they use to judge nonprofit effectiveness. We then ask them, in the case of climate change, to identify top nonprofits which fit their criteria working at the national level, as well as top start-up nonprofits in the space. We think it’s important to identify not only the well established strong nonprofits, but also the nonprofits which have high potential to be innovative and successful. Note: we do not allow nonprofit executives to list the nonprofit they work for and we do not compensate the experts for participating in this research.

What’s particularly interesting about this research is that it captures the perspectives of different kinds of professionals working in the same sector. We were curious to find what top 3 criteria nonprofit executives would cite compared to say, foundation professionals in our climate change research. In fact, both sets of climate change experts cited the same first criterion; however the other 2 were completely different. We found that both sets of climate change professionals believed that it was most important that the organization be able to produce measurable results that go toward fulfilling their mission.

However, climate change foundation professionals then believed these two criteria were next most important:

  • the organization has a high quality strategic vision, mission, and/or theory of change
  • the organization has high quality staff/personnel

Interestingly, climate change nonprofit executives said their next two criteria were quite different:

  • the organization is able to manage their finances well
  • the organization is able to build communities of action—a criterion that is rather social cause-specific because of the number of grassroots organizations working in the sector

These results point to the very reason why we think it’s important to include the perspectives of many different kinds of experts. We don’t believe that the criteria foundation professionals use are any more valuable than the criteria nonprofit executives use.

In a second survey, we want to learn more about the strengths and areas for improvement for each of the top, most-mentioned, nonprofits. We share this information with donors on our website as part of an organization profile. Additionally, because we aim to help donors make smarter donation decisions, we want to learn how experts would allocate funding across these top organizations. This information then is turned into the expert mutual fund to which donors can contribute.

A major challenge we face is being able to collect candid opinions about strong nonprofits. Most of our experts do not want their name associated with a particular “vote” or quote about a nonprofit. However, the majority are willing to be identified as having participated. Therefore, we’ve struck a balance where we keep the votes and quotes anonymous, but share the biography information of those experts who are willing to be identified.

There are certainly areas for improvement in our own methodology and we’re actively working to improve each part of our process. However, we firmly believe there is value in capturing this kind of information and making it available to the public—a resource that has never before existed.

4 comments

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