CURRENT AFFAIRS & OPINION   FEATURED NONPROFIT   FUNDRAISING & CHARITABLE GIVING

Philanthropedia

How do we give effectively and intelligently?  Philanthropedia, formerly the Nonprofit Knowledge Network, suggests that you consider the recommendations of their "experts" and donate to one of their "Expert Mutual Funds," a group of top nonprofits selected by their experts.  Currently, Philanthropedia offers Expert Mutual Funds in the following fields of interest:

  • Climate Change
  • Education
  • Bay Area Homelessness

On its website, Philanthropedia states that it uses (or has used) 261 experts, including 138 focused on climate change, 36 in education, and 83 in Bay Area homelessness.  The organization emphasizes that experts are uniquely suited to evaluate nonprofit effectiveness.

We believe that evaluating nonprofit effectiveness is very challenging.  However, there are professionals who are well-suited to assess nonprofit impact.  Experts, such as foundation professionals, academics, and nonprofit executives have access to unique and non-public data about nonprofit performance.  In addition, these experts are best-suited to interpret these data through advanced models for nonprofit effectiveness.  Therefore, we rely on experts to identify which organizations they think are the strongest.

Boards of grantmaking organizations typically rely on their program staff in making their grant decisions.  The vast majority of individual donors do not have such resources.  So, a truly independent, trustworthy organization that provides reliable recommendations, based on the opinion of experts, in various fields of interest would be a great contribution to the nonprofit sector.  It can change the mindset of a person from "donor" to "social investor."  Instead of giving in response to a request or out of custom, a person can give because he or she wants to contribute to a change for the better. 

Of course, reliance on a group of experts may also have negative consequences.  Experts may tend to favor innovation over direct services.  At the same time, they may penalize organizations with failed projects even though such organizations may be more willing to experiment to find better solutions.  Collectively, they may overlook the importance of organizations that do invaluable work for very small classes of beneficiaries that are widely ignored.

For some donors, Philanthropedia will be an easy way to contribute in a more strategic manner.  For others, it will be another valuable resource for educating them on possible recipients of their donations.

Like some other commentators, I have some criticisms to share.  The Philanthropedia website does not list all of their experts, does not include bios of their experts, and does not explain in sufficient detail how the experts are selected (e.g., who makes up the selection committee, what are the selection criteria and how are they weighted?).  It also does not include a copy of the surveys provided to the experts and fails to explicitly state that the experts were not paid by Philanthropedia (although I believe that is the case) or by any organization that they reviewed.

Notwithstanding the criticisms, I welcome the addition of Philanthropedia and its concept of "A Foundation for Everyone."  I'm particularly impressed with the information the organization provides on each of its supported charities, including Zagat-like quotes from the experts on its strengths and areas for improvement.

Read more about Philanthropedia on Professor Richard Marker's Wise Philanthropy