Philanthropedia Blog

Archive for March, 2010

Climate Change Expert Shares Her Thoughts about CA Prop 16

March 17th, 2010

We recently released the results of a mini-research effort trying to identify great Haiti nonprofits for donors to support in the disaster relief efforts. While we couldn’t conduct our usual methodology for this work, we think it is a great example of the value that experts can bring to donors and the public generally. There are many well-informed professionals doing great work who have in-depth knowledge and understanding about the most important issues in their field, as well as which nonprofits are most effective at addressing those issues.

To further highlight the value of experts, we would like to introduce, Ann Hancock, Executive Director of the Climate Protection Campaign, and Philanthropedia Bay Area climate change expert. While not specifically recommending a nonprofit through her guest blog, Ann does have a valuable perspective to offer on a timely and urgent issue facing the colleagues in her sector and the individual citizens who would be affected by these changes.

What do you think? Please share your reactions and what you’ve been learning about this Proposition. We invite your feedback and comments.


Help Stop PG&E’s Power Grab!

–Ann Hancock, Climate Protection Campaign


“There are two models for customer retention. The first model is to maintain customers by offering them the best service with the lowest prices and good customer care. That’s the preferred method. The other method is customer retention through captivity by locking in higher rates and buying a constitutional amendment. That’s PG&E’s method.”

— Mark Toney, The Utility Reform Network

Proposition 16, funded entirely by PG&E, will be on the June 2010 ballot. It is the worst special kind of special interest ballot initiative, paid for by a single corporation to benefit a single corporation.  Prop 16 would lock PG&E’s high rates into the California Constitution by locking out community choice and public power. Prop 16 replaces the current process that allows communities to choose non-profit utilities with a process that would require a super-majority for any choice other than PG&E.

The passage of Prop 16 would effectively eliminate localgovernments from establishing nonprofit Community Choice Aggregations, one of the most powerful options for financing community-scale renewable energy, reducing GHG emissions, and moving towards local energy independence. For example, Marin County awarded their CCA contract to Shell Energy North America, which agreed to double the amount of renewable energy while meeting or beating PG&E’s rates. Meanwhile, PG&E has proposed $5 billion in rate hikes.

Rather than keep their customers by providing excellent service at reasonable rates, PG&E has pledged to spend at least $35 million to protect their monopoly.

Proposition 16 “is a dagger aimed directly at a movement to enable municipalities to offer renewable green power to their residents in competition with private utilities.”

— Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

Though opponents of the measure will never match this level of funding, there are several indicators of a growing opposition, including the following:

  • Nine state Senators, including the Pro Tem, have sent a letter to PG&E expressing their strong opposition.
  • Most media coverage to date has reflected poorly on PG&E.
  • Official opposition is growing among many California cities, counties and organizations such as the California Municipal Utilities Association, the California League of Cities, the California Realtors Association, the League of Women Voters, and the Sierra Club.

“To use the initiative process to pursue PG&E’s self-interests calls into question your company’s integrity.”

— Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and eight other state Senators, in a letter to PG&E’s CEO Peter Darbee

A campaign has been established, coordinated by Kaufman Consulting in Sacramento. In addition, a strong core of volunteer activists from the Bay Area are conducting grassroots outreach and education. A PAC (Political Action Committee) has been set up, Taxpayers Against the PG&E Powergrab (FPPC# 1321957).

Defeating this initiative will require only modest funding. Contributions can be made to either the PAC (not tax deductable) or to various non-profit 501(c)3 organizations involved in the campaign.

To help defeat this Proposition by making a contribution, please contact Renata Brillinger, Climate Protection Campaign:

(707) 823-8278

renata@climateprotectioncampaign.org

Thank you for your support and we hope you will take action to defeat this initiative.

–Ann Hancock

For additional information about Prop 16 and other perspectives, you can check out: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_14693796?nclick_check=1

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/18/MNPC1CHDK7.DTL&type=newsbayarea

You can read more about Philanthropedia’s national climate change experts here and see which nonprofits they recommended here. The Bay Area climate change research results will be available in a few weeks.

Bay Area Education (x2)

March 16th, 2010

In these recent blog posts, we’re sharing our thoughts about each social cause as we begin new research. 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 erinn.andrews@myphilanthropedia.org.

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!

Background

Proposition 49 (2002) in California led to the creation of 4,000 new after-school programs. These programs were meant to tie academic standards to after school activities, were run by the district or community based organizations, included elements of youth development, and were mostly for students K-8 from 3-6pm. As awareness of the summer learning loss among disadvantaged students increased, new programming was created for students in the summer in the hopes of closing the achievement gap.

The San Francisco Bay Area is notable for the enormous number of nonprofits working in the education space. And while efforts have been made to collaborate among these groups, the coordination mechanisms to link the nonprofit are just not there. This problem may also be exacerbated by the regional divisions: Alameda County (Oakland), South Bay, San Francisco, West Contra Costa where nonprofits often work but only in their region.

The Education Landscape

After-school or out-of-school programming is not the only relevant distinction in education, however. As I interviewed education experts, I discovered there are many different ways to look at the “pieces” of education. One could divide up education via school levels: preK-K, grades 1-5, grades 6-12, and higher education. One could conduct research based on content expertise: literacy, math, science, etc. One could consider the distinction in-school versus out-of-school education. One could look at the level of involvement: school level, district level, or policy at the state level. Or, one could look topically across “problems” in education and try to identify nonprofits addressing those problems: human capital, turnarounds of low-performing schools, data, standards, and assessments, instructional improvement, etc.

In fact, the more I thought about these many divisions, the more I realized how large of a social cause education really is. Therefore, we decided it was best to conduct two “causes” around education in order to capture as much of the sector as possible. I tried to think about the two topics among the many from which to choose that would allow us to reach as many education nonprofits as possible, but also keep two distinct groups of experts for the survey purposes.

I first considered the in-school versus out-of-school distinction. I thought these two buckets would be distinct enough because in-school nonprofits would focus on things like school reform, the achievement gap, human capital, instructional improvement, curricular content development, low-performing schools turnarounds, and data, standards and assessments. While out-of-school nonprofits would focus on youth development, summer programming, and after school programming. However, as I talked to more experts, I learned that while this division was “real” so-to-speak, it was becoming more and more blurred as the K-12 system and out-of-school programs made a more concerted effort to work together. Traditionally these entities operated without much coordination. Therefore, I felt that if we also conducted research along these lines we would be exacerbating these long-standing divisions which the sector is trying so hard to eliminate.

When thinking about the other possible divisions that could capture experts in two distinct buckets, I decided that early childhood education and middle/secondary education could work. Those who specialize on early childhood education primarily focus on things like school readiness, literacy, math, and other early developmental processes. Further, elementary school teachers mostly teach all subjects to their students rather than specialize. However, once students arrive at the middle and secondary levels, this focus shifts both for the student and the teacher. Of course, after school programs don’t necessarily organize around the preK-5th grade and 6-12th grade divisions, however, I felt there was enough specialization along these dimensions to justify two separate research groups.

Who cares? Problem Statements

To learn more, I asked the experts what the main problems related to education are in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  • There are a larger and larger number of students leaving the K-12 school system unprepared for what happens next. Connected to this problem is that among these large numbers of unprepared students, there are a disproportionate number of low income, African American, Latino, English Language Learners, and special needs students. The outcome is problematic: inequitable distribution of success.
  • Public schools are failing 50% of students and students are falling off-track earlier and earlier. There must be more of an effort focused on middle school students to catch students where they fall off.
  • We need more and better prepared teachers.  Our teachers are not prepared to serve the needs of low-income, underrepresented students. We must build the capacity of our teachers.
  • Districts need the capacity to build and develop their core workforce.
  • Equity. We need to increase access and have higher performance and higher quality learning experiences for all students, in particular, underserved and underperforming students. There is an achievement gap and an opportunity gap.
  • The biggest challenge in education: how to measure teacher impact.

Scope of the Research (x2)

Education Bay Area – Early Childhood Education: Public pre-K-5th grade

We are interested in learning more about education nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area that are having an impact on early childhood education: public pre-K-5th grade, in- or out-of-school education. This could be nonprofits working on literacy, school readiness, school reform, the achievement gap, human capital, instructional improvement, curricular content development, low-performing schools turnarounds, data, standards and assessments, after school programming (ie. youth development kind of work), summer programming, parental involvement, etc. Types of nonprofits could include research, policy, advocacy, training, traditional nonprofits or community based organizations, the traditional after-school kind of nonprofits/CBOs, or even the public schools themselves.

Education Bay Area – Middle-Secondary Education: Public 6-12th grade

We are interested in learning more about education nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area that are having an impact on public 6-12th grade, in- or out-of-school education. This could be nonprofits working on school reform, the achievement gap, human capital, instructional improvement, curricular content development, low-performing schools turnarounds, data, standards and assessments, after school programming (ie. youth development kind of work), summer programming, parental involvement, etc. Types of nonprofits could include research, policy, advocacy, training, traditional nonprofits or community based organizations, the traditional after-school kind of nonprofits/CBOs, or even the public schools themselves.

We’re excited to see the results of this research and share it with donors to help direct more funding to some of the highest impact education nonprofits in the Bay Area. As we begin this process, I’d love to hear what you think about these ideas. How might you have divided this social cause? What other major problems are facing education in the Bay Area? I invite you to share your thoughts and look forward to hearing from you.

Haiti Expert Recommends High-Impact Nonprofits to Support

March 11th, 2010

There are approximately 900 nonprofits listed under the category of ‘Haiti’ in Guidestar alone.  During the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake, many donors have been asking the question: which nonprofits should I support? At Philanthropedia, we believe that supporting high-impact nonprofits is the most effective way to make a difference with your donation. Our solution to identifying high-impact nonprofits is to rely on the recommendations of experts who know the sector the best. Given the time constraints and unique transitory nature of natural disasters, we weren’t able to run our full methodology for Haiti relief as a social cause. However, we believe this interview with one Haiti expert is a good demonstration of the value that experts can bring in helping to identify high-impact nonprofits for donors to support.

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The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 killed an estimated 230,000 people, which is equivalent to the metro population of the Greater Portland Area (Fox News February 10, 2010; http://www.portlandmaine.gov/). The outpouring of generosity to support the immediate disaster relief efforts has been tremendous. Yet, with the collapse of 250,000 houses and 30,000 commercial buildings, and an estimated 1.5 million people homeless (BBC January 22, 2010), supporting high-impact nonprofits focused on long-term development in addition to immediate relief organizations is important for the reconstruction of Haiti.

Haiti has suffered from previous natural disasters (3,000 people were killed in floods following the 2004 Hurricane Jeanne and 800 people were killed in landslides during the 2008 hurricane season). Haiti is, by a significant margin, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with four out of five people living in poverty (New York Times January 25, 2010). Mark Schneider, who led the Caribbean division of the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Clinton Administration, said that efforts to redevelop Haiti’s long-ravaged economy may have been set back by “decades” (CNN January 19, 2010).

To identify high-impact nonprofits in Haiti, we interviewed Moira (Feeney) Duvernay, an expert who has had 12 years of work experience in Haiti and who was the lead attorney in two cases against former Haitian military officials. Through her recommendations, we created a Haiti expert fund, so donors can easily support a cohort of high-impact nonprofits each tackling a different social problem. We believe that this is a good demonstration of the value that expert opinions can bring to help identify high-impact nonprofits for donors to support. Click here to donate to the Haiti Fund!

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Moira (Feeney) Duvernay

Attorney At Law, Law Offices of Amitai Schwartz. 2008 – present.
Staff Attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) 2006-2008
12 years of relevant work experience

Expertise:
Moira has been involved in human rights work related to Haiti since 1998. She was the Center for Justice and Accountability’s lead attorney in the case against former Haitian death squad leader Toto Constant. She also litigated CJA’s other successful Haiti case, Jean v. Dorelien, in which CJA’s clients recovered just under $1 million from former Haitian colonel Carl Dorelien who in 1997 had won  $3.2 million in the Florida state lottery. Both Constant and Dorelien were found liable for human rights abuses committed during the 1991-1994 military dictatorship in Haiti.

Currently, Moira is on the board of Sustainable Organization Integrated Livelihood (SOIL) which works to protect soil resources, empower communities, and transform wastes into resources in Northern Haiti.  SOIL ‘s projects include building eco and community friendly composting toilet facilities that are having a huge positive impact on some of Haiti’s most pressing public health issues . She is also involved in the US-based Haiti solidarity community working to raise awareness of human rights issues in the US and Haiti. Moira is fluent in French, Creole, and Spanish.

Background:
Moira first got involved in Haiti when she volunteered as an English and Spanish teacher in Haiti at the Louverture Cleary School, administered by the Haitian Project, a US-based non-profit.  She taught school for one year in Haiti, but it was really her students who taught her the most, including how to speak Haitian Creole.  She came back to the United States and worked for the international human rights organization Global Exchange based in San Francisco. She served as the coordinator of their Haiti program, organizing election observation delegations.  She also led and organized educational travel focused on issues of global justice to Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Chiapas, Mexico.

Education:
After her work with Global Exchange, Moira pursued her law degree at UC Hastings College of the Law. During her time in law school, she helped create a sister school relationship with the law school in Jeremie, Haiti. The Hastings to Haiti Partnership is now a thriving program that allows educational exchange between American and Haitian law students and professors. In addition to her J.D. from Hastings, Moira has a B.A. in international relations from Brown University.

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Nonprofit Recommendations:

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)

Moira recommends IJDH because of its focus on the long term legal and human rights implications of the earthquake.

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti fights for the human rights of Haiti’s poor, in court, on the streets, and wherever decisions about Haitians’ rights are made. This organization represents the unjustly imprisoned and victims of political persecution, coordinates grassroots advocacy in Haiti and in the US, trains human rights advocates in Haiti, and disseminates human rights information worldwide. Read more at IJDH at http://ijdh.org/about/goals.

Area of Focus: Human Rights
Location: Joseph, OR / Port au Prince, Haiti
Website: http://ijdh.org/
Phone: 541- 432- 0597
Email: info@ijdh.org

Partners in Health (PIH)

Moira recommends Partners in Health because they have a strong infrastructure set up in Haiti for both the short and long term.

Zanmi Lasante (“Partners In Health” in Haitian Kreyol) is PIH’s flagship project – the oldest, largest, most ambitious, and most replicated. Today, ZL has operations in nine sites across Haiti’s Central Plateau and beyond. It ranks as one of the largest nongovernmental health care providers in Haiti – and is the only provider of comprehensive primary care (regardless of one’s ability to pay) for more than half a million impoverished people living in the mountainous Central Plateau. Read more about PIH at http://pih.org/where/Haiti/Haiti.html.

Area of Focus: Health
Location: Boston, MA
Website: http://pih.org
Phone: 617- 432- 5256
Email: haiti@pih.org

Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihood (SOIL)

Moira is on the board of SOIL and believes their method of reusing waste promotes sustainability and combats sanitary problems. They partner with groups like Partners in Health so they can respond quickly to situations on the ground in Haiti. For example, they were able to get to Port-au-Prince from the North faster than most international groups after the 2010 earthquake.

SOIL creates sustainable toilets that allow one to reuse waste which can be used as soil for growing. This process helps protect soil resources, empower communities, and transforms waste into a resource in Haiti. Read more about SOIL at http://www.oursoil.org/what.

Area of Focus: Sanitation
Location: Sherburne, NY
Website: www.oursoil.org
Phone: 503-807-3923
Email:sash@oursoil.org

Konbit Pou Aviti/KONPAY (Working Together for Haiti)

Moira believes that KONPAY has a strong infrastructure on the ground in Haiti. They are doing a great job at providing emergency relief in Jacmel, an area hit hard by the earthquake but cut off from most relief efforts that are focused on Port au Prince. KONPAY is directing 100% of earthquake donations to getting deliveries of medical supplies and food to the Jacmel region where an estimated 100,000 are currently homeless.

KONPAY focuses on Haitian solutions to environmental, social, and economic problems, and provides training and funding to grassroots and community-based projects. They support Haitian-led efforts to reforest Haiti and protect the environment.

Area of Focus: Environment and Community Development
Location: Gloucester, MA
Website: http://www.konpay.org
Phone: 978-335-2758
Email: melinda@konpay.org

Haitian Education Leadership Program (H.E.L.P.)

Moira recommends Haitian Education Leadership Program because they provide scholarships to low-income students with high academic potential and achievement for higher education. She believes now more than ever it will be important to support this kind of work because these students are Haiti’s future. She believes that providing these students (who do not have the resources) with the opportunity to pursue higher education is the key to the long term investment in Haiti.

With H.E.L.P. scholarships, top Haitian students can escape desperate poverty to become doctors and nurses, accountants, engineers, teachers, and computer programmers. H.E.L.P. is sponsoring 110 students for the 2009/2010 academic year, all of whom thankfully survived the earthquake. H.E.L.P. graduates provide economic security for their families and the much needed expertise for the development of their country.

Area of Focus: Education
Location: New York, NY
Website: http://www.haitianeducation.org/
Phone: 646- 485-8667
Email: info@haitianeducation.org

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For more information about Haiti and a list of organizations working in Haiti visit: http://www.haitispecialenvoy.org/

Click here to donate to the Haiti Fund!

Bay Area Arts and Culture

March 8th, 2010

As I mentioned in the last blog post about research, we’re sharing our thoughts about each social cause as we begin new research. 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 erinn.andrews@myphilanthropedia.org.

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!

Background

In the 1960s, there was an explosion of nonprofit arts organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1961, before the birth of the national Endowment for the Arts, San Francisco passed a law to require part of the hotel tax to go to funding the arts. Over time, each Bay Area region evolved to have different kinds of arts and culture groups across all disciplines, styles, and ethnicities: jazz, classical, folk, dance, choreography, visual arts, literary arts, poetry, film, video, and so on. In fact, at one point, the San Francisco Bay Area was second only to New York in terms of having the largest number of dance companies. Therefore, with decades of support and development, the vibrancy and variety among the arts in the Bay Area has led to a unique texture in the cultural fabric of this region. Today there are hundreds and hundreds of arts and culture nonprofits, of all sizes and varieties, all across the Bay Area.

The Arts and Culture Landscape

What does the world of arts and culture look like in the Bay Area? Through my conversations with arts experts, I learned that there are a number of ways to look at the landscape. First, one could examine nonprofits according to the two metrics: creation of work or engagement. Creation of work relates to supporting cultural heritage or preservation of art, as well as the support of new work, both in the development and production phase. Engagement in the arts could include introduction to the arts through performances for young audiences, it could include standards-based arts education in the schools, or it could include out-of-school arts learning for youth and/or adults.

Another way to look at arts and culture is by buckets or type of organization: nonprofits might focus on arts education, be considered major arts institutions, be community-based arts organizations (this might include service organizations, art therapy, low-income community programs, etc.), or be considered independent artists and organizations such as dance and theater companies.

A third way to examine this field is to look at organizations by budget size. Small arts and culture organizations might fall under $100,000 in annual budget. Mid-sized organizations might fall in the $100,000-$1,000,000 range. And large organizations might be above one million dollars. The largest arts nonprofits in the Bay Area might have a $4-6 million annual budget (still below that of some of the largest arts organizations in New York).

And yet another way to think about arts and culture nonprofits is to look at them by genre, discipline, or even location. I’m sure there are even more ways one could divide up “arts and culture” as a social cause.

As an organization, we value diversity of expert type in our network of professionals and diversity among the types of nonprofits represented in the expert mutual fund. Therefore, it’s important for us to keep the scope of our research broad enough to allow for this kind of diversity to emerge among the responses of our experts.

One difficult decision we faced was whether to limit the organization size in the scope of our research. An argument can certainly be made for asking experts to only highlight small-medium sized arts nonprofits because they most likely need the additional funding in this down-turned economy. However, we believe that the primary purpose of the research we run is to help individual donors understand which nonprofits are having the most impact in a given sector, rather than which nonprofits most need the additional funding. Therefore, we will invite participants to comment on any size nonprofit focusing on impact and encourage experts to think beyond organizations that have simply been around for the most number of years or are well established. We’re looking for quality of the organization above all else.

Who cares? Problem Statements

In most of our research, we begin by understanding what problems nonprofits in a particular sector are trying to solve. Again, this was a bit tricky to do with arts and culture nonprofits. Here are a few responses from experts to the question, “what problem are most arts nonprofits trying to solve?”

  • Today, people have very little time to reflect on and distill their life experiences. The arts provide individuals with this opportunity.
  • In an increasing capitalist, consumer-focused society, cultural heritage is being lost. Arts organizations must try to preserve these traditions.
  • Commercial publishers seek monetary gains, therefore arts organizations must do what they can to encourage the literary arts to flourish.
  • We are in danger of losing “art for arts sake.” We must encourage the creative expression of human beings because it’s good for the soul and for the mind.
  • Funding for the arts in schools has been cut back over the last three decades. Arts organizations must fill in the gap and develop arts education programs to support students.
  • Arts aren’t about solving problems, they’re intrinsically valuable to human culture, they’re about being alive and expressing yourself.

I found this part of my conversation with experts to be particularly interesting because while these are “problems,” most arts experts with whom I spoke don’t believe the purpose of arts organizations is to actually solve problems. This makes arts and culture a very unique social cause for Philanthropedia. I don’t think this will fundamentally change the way our research is run, but it’s important context to understand as we frame the survey and as we analyze the results in the weeks to come.

High-Impact Arts and Culture Nonprofits

Impact in the nonprofit sector is always hard to define, yet I have found that it’s even more difficult to define in arts and culture. How might we measure impact in the arts world? First, from a more objective standpoint, donors or funders might look at the “staying power” of an organization which could be evaluated by measuring the growth of support over time. One could look for evidence that someone cares about this work: attendance numbers, subscription numbers, percentage of the house that’s full, and/or donor support. Second, one might look for more subjective measures: what do organizations achieve with what they have or how much programming can they produce on a given budget; what’s the scope of this activity and what’s the quality of this activity? And then there’s the dimension of whether the performance, exhibit, reading, etc. was enjoyable, interesting, or thought-provoking to an audience member.

With the help of a few experts, I’ve come to this definition for what a high-impact arts and culture nonprofit might look like: A high-impact arts and culture nonprofit is one which is successful at creating or producing something of value to those who care about the arts and culture. A high-impact arts and culture nonprofit is able to contribute to the field by creating meaningful work and/or helping others develop an appreciation for the arts and culture.

Scope of the Research

Given all of this information and context, we decided that in the survey, we’d ask experts to recommend nonprofits that could be developing or producing new work, be focused on performance, preservation and promotion of traditional culture, have an educational component, serve any age or type of audience, have any budget size, and/or represent any genre or discipline of art. We are interested in arts nonprofits that have had real impact in their community and do outstanding work, NOT nonprofits that have simply been around for many years or most need additional funding. This research will be focused on organizations, not individual artists.

We’re excited to see the results of this research and share it with donors to help direct more funding to some of the great arts and culture nonprofits in the Bay Area who are really making an impact. As we begin this process, I’d love to hear what you think about these ideas. What other nuances did I miss? Do you agree with these definitions? If not, how might you define impact of arts and culture nonprofits? I invite you to share your thoughts and look forward to hearing from you.

The Philanthropedia Whitepaper

March 5th, 2010

We are excited to share this whitepaper, “Consolidating Expert Opinion about High-Impact Nonprofits: Review of Philanthropedia’s Methodology.” It summarizes more than two and a half years of research and highlights the results of our climate change research in much more depth. We are copying the executive summary below.  You can download the full whitepaper, as well as add your feedback at http://www.myphilanthropedia.org/whitepaper.

Executive Summary

The Philanthropedia whitepaper, “Collecting Expert Opinion about High-Impact Nonprofits: Review of Philanthropedia’s Methodology,” serves two main purposes: (1) to make the case for using experts to identify high-impact nonprofits, and (2) to share our progress towards a specific methodology to date.

Our overall conclusions are that:

  • Our methodology captures expert opinion about high-impact nonprofits in different social causes.
  • Using experts to identify high-impact nonprofits offers unique advantages in terms of high quality information about nonprofits at low cost to gather that information.

Because of the potential of this approach to evaluating nonprofits, we are investing in improvements to further strengthen our research.

The Case for Using Experts to Evaluate Nonprofits

Philanthropy is primarily concerned with distributing limited monetary resources to charities doing the best work in solving social problems.  Therefore, we believe there are two main problems the sector faces:

  1. How to identify these high-impact nonprofits
  2. How to how to distribute resources effectively to these nonprofits

In this whitepaper, we assess existing nonprofit evaluators and ourselves on two dimensions: quality and cost.

  • Quality relates to how closely the measures used to evaluate a nonprofit are correlated with impact per dollar invested and the nonprofit’s capacity to absorb more resources.  We define impact as a measure of the lasting improvements produced by that nonprofit to address the core problems in a particular social cause.
  • Cost is the combination of resources needed to perform the evaluation of a nonprofit including money, people, and time.  Therefore a good solution is one where there is a quick, scalable, low cost way to evaluate many nonprofits across multiple social causes.

To date, nonprofit evaluators have been able to make progress on either the cost or quality front, however, none have been able to strike a good balance between high quality and low cost.  The Philanthropedia approach fills this gap by using a low-cost method of surveying experts to identify high quality information about nonprofits:

Philanthropedia offers a high quality solution because we capture the opinions of experts who are uniquely qualified to assess nonprofits.  Experts are qualified because they have access to nonpublic data about charities and have advanced mental models for evaluating impact.

Philanthropedia offers a low cost solution because it takes experts only about 40 minutes to complete both online surveys, experts are not paid for their participation, and one trained employee can conduct four social cause research projects concurrently over the course of 2-3 months.

Philanthropedia’s Methodology

Philanthropedia’s methodology of surveying diverse and representative groups of social cause experts to identify high-impact nonprofits runs in six steps.

  1. Research and define the social cause or scope of the research
  2. Identify and recruit experts
  3. Run a survey asking experts to identify high-impact nonprofit
  4. Analyze survey data
  5. Run a second survey to determine agreement among experts about high-impact nonprofits, collect strengths and areas for improvement for each nonprofit, and ask experts to allocate funding across nonprofits
  6. Compile and analyze final results and publish a list of high-impact nonprofits for the social cause

When identifying experts, we require they have a minimum of two years of experience, relevant work experience as evidenced by current or past job titles or employers, and a minimum expert self-rating on a Philanthropedia-developed scale.  Our goal is to create a representative expert network along two dimensions: profession type (foundation professionals, nonprofit senior staff, researchers, and others) and geography.  And, we screen for high-quality responses.

For the top 15% of nonprofits recommended by experts, we collect the number of expert votes, the percentage of agreement across the expert network that the nonprofit is among the most effective in that sector, the percentage allocation of each nonprofit as part of an Expert Fund, and the strengths and areas for improvement.

Results and Data Analysis

To date, we have researched four social causes to test and develop our methodology: education, climate change, microfinance, and Bay Area homelessness.  To demonstrate our approach, we analyze the results of our climate change research.  We built a diverse and representative expert network of 139 experts with an average of 12.94 years of experience.  The expert breakdown was 19% foundation professional, 12% researchers, 47% nonprofit senior staff, and 22% other (policy makers, government officials, etc).  Forty-one percent of our experts came from the east coast, 9% from the midwest, 4% from the south, 6% from the northwest, 30% from the west coast, and 10% international and from other locations.   Our experts recommended 15 nonprofits which represent the top 15% of the mentioned nonprofits.

In order to determine how much our final results were influenced by each expert type, we ran correlations between the combined top nonprofit list and the lists recommended by each expert type.  While nonprofit senior staff had the most influence on the final list (due to their larger representation in the sample size), all three expert types (foundation professionals, nonprofit senior staff, and researchers) had a high degree of agreement about which nonprofits were most effective.

In order to determine which factors might be influencing the final ranking of nonprofits, we ran correlations with the external factors: nonprofit revenue, brand awareness (as measured by the number of Google mentions), age of organization, and size of organization (as measured by number of employees).  We found that none of these external factors influenced the final nonprofit rakings in any significant way.  Therefore we conclude that compiling expert opinion adds unique value when identifying high-impact nonprofits.

Areas for Improvement

The results from our climate change research and other studies are very encouraging.  However, we believe there are still many areas for improvement.  In particular, we intend to make changes in the way we sample experts, in the way we state the questions in our surveys, and in the way we share the results.

We intend to improve:

  • the research quality in terms of expert responses and their ability to identify high-impact nonprofits.
  • the clarity of the language used in our surveys in order to better communicate our goals to experts.
  • our transparency by sharing more information publicly so that we can continue to build trust in the philanthropic community.

Conclusion

We are excited about the unique advantages that our methodology offers in terms of high quality and low cost, which is why we are investing in these further improvements.  We hope this whitepaper clarifies Philanthropedia’s approach of collecting expert opinion about high-impact nonprofits.

We do this research hoping to influence donors as they search for nonprofits to support.  We believe that donors can have a bigger impact in the nonprofit sector by directing more financial resources to some of the highest-impact nonprofits.

We invite feedback and discussion about this whitepaper and our work at: http://www.myphilanthropedia.org/whitepaper.


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