Philanthropedia Blog

Archive for April, 2010

National Women’s Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice

April 27th, 2010

We are excited to launch research on a number of new social causes at the national level! There are 5 causes at the national level we plan to pursue and we’ll spread out the start of each survey by a week or two. 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!

Background on Women’s Health

We started by thinking about women’s health topics because there is significant donor and foundation support for this topic. As we’ve said before, these are two key considerations when deciding what causes to research: (1) Do donors care about this topic? (2) Are there foundations that support nonprofits in that sector? Usually, foundations will have established evaluation criteria for a sector and they generally employ folks whose main purpose is to think about nonprofit effectiveness.

As you might imagine, women’s health topics can be divided in many different ways!

I discovered that some experts believe women’s health topics can be divided into four major buckets:

(1) Research (universities or research institutes that study things like dementia, menopause), (2) Health disparities (advocacy groups focused on access to knowledge, clinics, resources, and screenings), (3) Empowerment sciences (providing microloans which impact a woman’s health, education, and legal issues), and (4) Policy intervention.

Others experts divided women’s health into (1) mental, (2) physical, and (3) reproductive health, where reproductive health might include teen pregnancy prevention, research and programming, education, affordability, access, and unplanned pregnancy.

Or, women’s health could be divided into conditions or diseases specific to women, conditions experienced differently by women, gender constructs, and inequities. One could also divide it according to reproductive years, middle aged, and elder care (long term care).

Wow—I hadn’t thought there were so many sub-issues within women’s health! As I talked to more and more experts, I found that women’s health as a topic can be frustrating for those working within the sector because the focus can seem too broad. Further, the types of problems women’s health professionals are trying to solve don’t necessarily seem like women’s health problems. For example, women’s transportation may not seem like an obvious problem for a women’s health nonprofit to solve, but it is relevant when a woman does not have access to transportation to get to a clinic.

Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice:

In an effort to narrow down the possible options within women’s health and to help focus our research, I decided that reproductive health was broad enough to allow for a large number of potential experts and nonprofits, but not so broad as to include every aspect of women’s health.

As I spoke with experts, I learned that within the last few years, “reproductive health” has come to include three sub-categories: reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice.

  • Reproductive health might include service providers, clinical care, and possibly some advocacy and policy work. A section of this could be sexual health focused on prevention, cancer screenings, contraception, abortion, and a subset of sexual health too: LGBTQ health concerns.
  • Reproductive rights is more broad and could include research, advocacy, litigation, and policy.
  • Reproductive justice is the most recent addition to this trio and generally has to do with empowering the formerly powerless or individuals without a majority voice in this sector, such as younger women, women of color, etc.

Who cares? Problem Statements

The experts with whom I spoke identified a number of problems that nonprofits might be trying to address around women’s health and specifically reproductive health, rights, & justice. Here are a few examples that range from general to specific:

  • Politicizing women’s health issues is a symptom of not understanding the complexity of the problem.
  • Women are not in seats of power to drive the agenda as much as they should be. This power disparity has been a long term battle.
  • In order to improve women’s health conditions, nonprofits must also focus their attention on economic empowerment, violence prevention, and making policy changes.
  • We need to expand the definition of reproductive health beyond just maintaining Roe v. Wade.

How to measure impact?

Because we have not researched any causes in the medical field, we wanted to learn more about how nonprofit leaders and their peers measure nonprofit impact in this sector. In no particular order here’s what a few of the experts said they look for and ask when evaluating reproductive health, rights, & justice nonprofits (not that they must do all these things!):

  • Do they deliver high quality reproductive health services to a large number of people? How many people do they reach?
  • Do they perform advocacy work and what effect has that had on the field?
  • Is there leadership training within the organization?
  • Does the organization inform policy and opinion leaders? Do they achieve their policy goals?
  • What is the quality and strength of their relationship with decision makers?
  • Do they have a breadth and depth of supporters/members?
  • How do their peer organizations view them?
  • How much federal funding have they secured?

Scope of the Research

In summary, after all of these considerations, we narrowed the scope of the research to focusing on reproductive health, rights, & justice nonprofits operating on a national or multi-state level. Reproductive health might include service providers and clinical care (focused on prevention, cancer screenings, contraception, abortion, etc.), as well as advocacy and policy organizations. A sub-section of reproductive health could be sexual health with a particular look at LGBTQ health concerns. Reproductive rights might include research, advocacy, litigation, and policy. Reproductive justice would include empowering the formerly powerless or individuals without a majority voice in this sector, such as younger women, women of color, and so on.

To the reproductive health, rights, & justice 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 reproductive health, rights, & justice nonprofits are trying to address at the national level? Why is this topic important? What additional context is necessary to understand the complexity of this issue?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Happy Earth Day! Experts Rank Which Bay Area Nonprofits Are Doing the Most to Fight Climate Change

April 22nd, 2010

Earth Day reminds many people to do something for the planet which is why we’re excited to announce the results of our Bay Area climate change research in time for this important event.

We surveyed 97 Bay Area climate change experts who identified 14 top nonprofits working in the San Francisco Bay Area to address climate change. You will find a few familiar names from our national climate change Expert Fund. All of these nonprofits have a local presence and some even have a global reach.

These organizations include associations, advocacy groups focused on transportation, research organizations, grassroots organizers, policy focused organizations, open space advocates, organizations promoting clean energy solutions, environmental health justice organizations, and more.

Here are the results:


High-Impact Nonprofit

Percentage of Expert Fund



ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA


Union of Concerned Scientists


Natural Resources Defense Council


Climate Protection Campaign


The Energy Foundation

Sierra Club

Communities for a Better Environment





Greenbelt Alliance

ClimateWorks Foundation




Acterra Action for a Sustainable Earth


Center for Biological Diversity




Rainforest Action Network


Visit our site to learn more about each of these outstanding climate change nonprofits. You can read about the impact these nonprofits have had, see what their other organizational strengths are, and find out what areas for improvement the experts think even the top nonprofits could have. To get a sense of who contributed to this research, please visit our experts here.

We urge you to take action this Earth Day and make a donation through our Bay Area Climate Change Expert Fund to support these outstanding nonprofits. You can also revisit our research on climate change nonprofits working at the national level here to contribute to those organizations, as well.

And finally, let us know what you think! How do you interpret these results?

Launching New National Research

April 14th, 2010

We are wrapping up research on new local, Bay Area causes. Thank you to the hundreds of experts who participated in this research. As we analyze those results and prepare to add new information to our website, we are starting to look ahead at what new causes to study. We will turn our attention back to the national level and over the course of the next few weeks and months, we will expand into a number of new causes. Here’s what we’re thinking about:


  • Women’s Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice
  • Education (re-run our research there)
  • Workforce/Economic Development
  • Childhood Nutrition
  • Arts & Culture

As we did this winter, just before we launch our research in each new cause, we will release a blog post explaining more about our thought process and reasoning behind each choice. Additionally, we will explain the scope of the research so if you have any experts to recommend who are knowledgeable about one of these topics, you can put us in touch.

As always, please share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions! If you or someone you know is an expert in one of these fields, please reach out to me at — I’d love to talk to you! And of course, stay tuned for announcements over the next few weeks about the results of our Bay Area research.

Welcome New Team Additions!

April 13th, 2010

Philanthropedia is made possible by a dedicated team that I am very proud to have the privilege to work with. However, we never have time to explore all promising ideas and are always looking to add more talent to help us change philanthropy for the better.

That’s why I am excited to announce that we are very lucky to have recruited 7 students, who are volunteering their time to help us pursue some of the most promising ideas. You can find a bit about each of them below.

Welcome aboard Lisa, Sin Lee, Derrick, Tristana, Julie, Jared, and Jacob!

Lisa Calfas
Lisa is a senior at Stanford studying psychology and physics. She spent last summer working with a stealth internet start-up, has served as a tour guide at Stanford, and has poured over countless data sets as a research assistant on campus. She’s been active in local non-profits, from leading a summer program for youth in Oakland to working closely with an East Palo Alto-based non-profit that serves local youth and their families. She’s interested in applying tools from the for-profit sector to increase the impact of non-profit organizations, helping them successfully address complex social issues.

Sin Lee Loh
Sin Lee is a Research Assistant at Philanthropedia. She is an avid technophile and is fascinated by the prospect of using technology to increase the impact of social causes. Although she is originally from Malaysia, she considers herself a globe-trotting citizen of the world.

Derrick Davis
Derrick Davis is a Stanford senior majoring in Public Policy. While he originally hails from beautiful Colorado, he has loved his time in the Bay and hopes to stay in the area as he pursues a degree in law. He originally became interested in Philanthropedia when he had the opportunity to work with the organization through his senior practicum course. He has found that philanthropy plays a critical role in addressing social issues when government provisions fail and he believes Philanthropedia has the potential to revolutionize the nonprofit sector.

Tristana Pirkl
Tristana Pirkl is a graduating senior at Stanford University, majoring in Human Biology, and originally from Alexandria, VA. She is focusing her studies on Global Women and Children’s Health and Human Rights and hopes to one day be a part of an effective international non-profit. She was originally interested in Philanthropedia in order to gain more insight on effective non-profits and is so excited to work with them this Spring Quarter!

Julie Martin
Julie is ABD “All But Dissertation” with her PhD in Political Science at Stanford University. Her dissertation is on legislative organization and the European Parliament, but her interests vary from technology, policy, government, and philanthropy. Julie believes in serving the community she lives in, and is always looking for opportunities to learn and utilize her skills through philanthropic endeavors.

Jared Brewer
Jared Brewer is Junior at Stanford studying Ocean Science and Policy through the Earth Systems program. A native of Boulder, Colorado, he grew up skiing and backpacking, and loves complicated music and the great outdoors. Jared first heard about Philanthropedia a month ago, and thought that the opportunity to meet interesting people, work on causes that matter, and potentially change the paradigm of philanthropy was too good to pass up.

Jacob Kovacs-Goodman
Jacob Kovacs-Goodman is a freshman at Stanford University whose interests include political philosophy, Latin, and ancient history. He is the Community Development Director of Stanford in Government, a Levison Leadership Development Fellow, and a participant in various other campus organizations involving service. His interest in Philanthropedia stems from his own prior work in public service, an acknowledgment of the many cultural and socioeconomic barriers one faces during service work, and an interest in what constitutes the best form of charitable aid.

Announcing New Grant from the Hewlett Foundation’s Philanthropy Program

April 9th, 2010

I am incredibly excited to announce that Philanthropedia is the proud recipient of another grant from the Hewlett Foundation’s philanthropy program, headed by Paul Brest and Jacob Harold. This follow-up grant will allow Philanthropedia to continue improving its research to identify high-impact nonprofits and inspire donors to give strategically. In addition, we believe this new round of funding is another testament to the Hewlett Foundation’s firm commitment to improving the effectiveness of the nonprofit sector.

What is particularly noteworthy here is that the Hewlett Foundation has continued its philanthropy program as other major foundations have either discontinued funding the philanthropy sector or at least shifted their focus to supporting only their past grantees. We congratulate Paul and Jacob for their persistence and commitment  and believe their efforts have already proven fruitful, not just because of the progress we have made, but also because groundbreaking initiatives such as TakeAction@GuideStar are now becoming a reality.

For us, the Hewlett Foundation’s support has been more than just financial. Philanthropedia has had the privilege of being incubated for the past several months in the foundation’s offices in Menlo Park, CA. Sharing a physical space with so many outstanding program officers has helped the Philanthropedia team learn about different social causes, jumpstart the process of recruiting experts, and ultimately carry out our research successfully. In addition, we have benefited tremendously from the advice of the entire foundation staff– colleagues in facilities, legal, communications, and so on – whose support has been crucial as we have been building Philanthropedia as an organization for the past 9 months.

Most importantly, I want to personally thank both Paul Brest and Jacob Harold for generously offering their time and advice. Without their help, Philanthropedia would certainly not exist. In particular, Jacob has spent countless hours with us on a wide range of issues, from the very tactical (e.g. how to phrase questions in our survey) to the very strategic (e.g. what is a compelling vision for philanthropy?). We have also benefitted tremendously from Paul’s advice, who has the gift of being incredibly rigorous in thinking about methodologies and theories of change while at the same time being very pragmatic and understanding of the need for incremental improvement and the risks associated with innovation. This is a remarkable and very rare combination that I have hardly ever encountered.

For all of the above, as well as for the other countless cases of support, the entire Philanthropedia team would like to thank the Hewlett Foundation and in particular the philanthropy program headed by Paul and Jacob. We aspire to realize Philanthropedia’s potential and do our part to contribute to the philanthropy sector as a whole.

Announcing TakeAction@GuideStar!

April 1st, 2010

Today we are incredibly excited to announce our partnership with GuideStar and to announce the beta launch of TakeAction@GuideStar, which will bring Philanthropedia’s expert reviewed high-impact nonprofits to GuideStar’s millions of users.

TakeAction is a new resource for donors that combines recommendations from charity evaluators Philanthropedia, GiveWell, and Root Cause and augments them with GreatNonprofits nonprofit reviews. Currently, TakeAction features our first 4 social causes – climate change, education, microfinance, and Bay Area homelessness. As we complete our research on additional Bay Area and national social causes, you can expect to see more of our experts’ recommendations featured on TakeAction as well. All of this information is presented in an easy-to-use format on GuideStar’s webpage, sorted by different social causes and focused on helping educate and guide individual donors as they make their decision about where to give.

We believe that TakeAction has the potential to make Philanthropedia’s motto “choose causes with your heart and organizations with your mind” a reality. We salute GuideStar for taking the brave step of introducing such a tool, which represents a decisive move away from offering simple, basic information to donors in favor of offering donors useful and actionable information that can guide giving decisions. We also congratulate GiveWell, Root Cause, and GreatNonprofits for partnering to create a resource that can aggregate useful data and focus donor attention on high-impact nonprofits.

Of course, as with any other innovation, we know that TakeAction will go through many iterations before we figure out the best way to provide a useful service to all donors. So please submit feedback to GuideStar to help us improve!

P.S. This is not an April’s Fools joke! Seriously, check out this link: TakeAction.

Philanthropedia is a registered 501(c)3 organization. All of your donations are 100% tax-deductible.