Philanthropedia Blog

Archive for February, 2010

Bay Area Climate Change

February 25th, 2010

We are excited to launch research on a number of new social causes! We’re starting with a bundle of 4 local Bay Area causes and we’ll spread out the start of each survey by a few days or a week. At the start of each survey launch, we’ll share a blog post about the cause we’ll be studying. The purpose of sharing this additional information is to explain why we think these are interesting or relevant areas to research, what we learned about the nuances of the cause, and the difficulties we faced in narrowing the scope of the research, so you, the reader, can understand what we considered as we refined our thinking about the research.

If you are an expert on any of these topics, you should be receiving an email from us soon and we hope you will be compelled to participate! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact me at

Additionally, I’m sure I haven’t been able to capture every nuance in these sectors, so I invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might think about this work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, I hope you will learn something new and tune in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!


Last summer, we conducted research to identify high-impact nonprofits working on climate change at the national level. However, as we thought about what additional causes to consider in the Bay Area, we realized that climate change is also a very important and meaningful cause at the local level. Here’s some of the reasoning why (starting at the national level and zooming into the Bay Area):

Climate change is a timely and important topic in the US. In the last few decades, scientific research has shown the effects that carbon emissions and other human-made pollutants in our atmosphere have had on global temperatures. These startling and sobering results have caused a number of environmental organizations to shift their focus to climate change mitigation.

Climate change is a relevant local cause as well. The Bay Area has a long history of involvement in the environment, especially around topics such as land conservation and open-space protection. And Silicon Valley specifically, (home to many tech start-ups) has a history of innovation around green tech, renewable energy, and sustainability. While there is work to be done at the national and corporate level, progress toward climate mitigation can also be made at the local level. Here, the Bay Area is uniquely suited to lead the way in reducing ones carbon footprint.

Individuals in the Bay Area are also in a position to help lessen the effects of climate change. Many of today’s solutions for climate mitigation at the individual and home-level are expensive, but because of the disproportionate wealth in these communities, individuals are at the forefront of adopting new policies and behaviors to work toward a solution. Therefore, research focused on climate change in the Bay Area is a timely, relevant, and interesting topic because of the unique combination of California history, entrepreneurial capacity, and individual financial strength and willingness to change.

Climate change has also been in the news lately at the state level. In 2006, California passed AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act mandating that by 2020, California reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. However, in light of the state’s financial crisis, some politicians have proposed suspending the act for some period of time until the state is more financially stable. This would have major negative implications for the nonprofits working to mitigate the effects of climate change and for the community in general.

Who cares? Problem Statements

The experts with whom I spoke identified a number of problems that nonprofits might be trying to address around climate change. Here are a few examples that range from general to specific:

  • Climate change is accelerating at a dangerously rapid pace due to human actions which is detrimental to the earth and the species that inhabit it.
  • 40-50% of the greenhouse gas emissions in California come from cars and trucks.
  • Emissions from transit vehicles are detrimental to the environment because they increase the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere which contributes to the premature acceleration of global warming. As temperatures on Earth rise, polar ice caps melt which cause the sea level to rise. With over 800 miles of shoreline, California is particularly vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise.
  • As the state falls deeper into economic distress, climate change is seen as less urgent to address.

Scope of the Research

If Philanthropedia were interested in policy solutions alone, we would have more seriously considered looking at climate change at the state level. However, because of the Bay Area’s unique positioning, we think this more local level of analysis is equally valuable. Additionally, we are interested in identifying nonprofits that have a variety of approaches to solving the many problems in each sector, not just those with a policy focus.

Therefore, the scope of this research will be broad and could include organizations focused on transportation, energy, biodiversity, land use, agricultural activities, sustainable conservation, etc. We will ask experts to identify climate change nonprofits that could be policy organizations, research groups, trade associations, advocacy groups, utility commissions, traditional nonprofits or community based organizations, and/or energy commissions. Specifically excluded from consideration will be for-profit organizations such as solar or green tech companies, green architects, or climate/energy consultants.

To the climate change experts out there, I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface with these observations. I invite you to contribute your thoughts as well. In your opinion, what are the main problems that climate change nonprofits are trying to address in the Bay Area? Why is this topic unique to this region? What additional context is necessary to understand the complexity of this issue?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Research Plans for 2010

February 24th, 2010

We’re sorry it has been a few weeks since our last post, but we have been hard at work and are excited to share more about what we’ve been up to! Primarily, we have been spending our time on research in two main ways. First, over the last few months we’ve been writing a whitepaper. This whitepaper outlines in detail what problem we believe Philanthropedia is solving, detailed information about our results to date and the in-depth analysis we conducted, and the ways in which we plan to improve for our next rounds of research. Soon, we will be making this paper public, will summarize the main points and conclusions in a few accompanying blog posts, and will invite your feedback.

Second, over the last few weeks, we’ve been deciding which social causes to cover next. Our plan is to round out our national research by adding at least 4 more causes to those we already have (microfinance, education, and climate change). However, we also intend to continue our research at the local level, to build on our one local cause so far: homelessness in the Bay Area. So, we will add an additional 4 causes to the local Bay Area level.

What to research?

There are a number of things we take into consideration as we decide which social causes to look into. One major consideration is: are there donors who are interested in the topic we’re considering (i.e. is there already individual donor donation flow to nonprofits in this sector) or is there potential to have donor interest in the future. Another major consideration is: are there experts in the sector who have the depth and breadth of expertise necessary to evaluate and compare the nonprofits doing work in that space. These are the two most important criteria we consider as we decide which causes to study next.

Once we decide on a cause, we do research to understand the appropriate level of analysis. We try to strike a balance between being too broad and too narrow. We want to be broad so we can capture information about a variety of nonprofits, each potentially focused on different problems or implementing different approaches in their work. But we want to be narrow enough so experts understand what types of nonprofits to recommend and which ones to exclude from consideration.

Therefore, in order to learn more about each new research topic, I spoke with a number of experts to learn the nuances of their sector. Before going into the details of what I learned, I’d like to first say thank you to these experts. I had the privilege of speaking with over 50 foundation professionals, professors, nonprofit leaders, and many others (from six different social causes) who candidly and openly shared their perspective about their field. I am humbled by the amazing response and enthusiasm from these professionals, and grateful for the valuable time they spent answering my questions. It’s encouraging to see so many experts voluntarily participating in this work. In return, we hope that our research will help more donation dollars flow to some of the most high-impact nonprofits in their sector, helping these experts and their colleagues accomplish some of their own sector goals, as well.

In the coming blog posts, I will share what I learned from these discussions which helped us define the scope of our research. I’ll begin by exploring the local Bay Area research we plan to conduct first. In addition, we will also be sharing a number of other major announcements in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

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