For some time now I’ve been pushing the idea that facilitating a way for philanthropy and social cause experts to share their knowledge with individual donors is the big opportunity in philanthropy. The Tactical Philanthropy Knowledge Network is our effort to tackle this problem. Another effort is under way by a group called Philanthropedia.

Philanthropedia surveys foundation professionals about the best nonprofits in a given sector and then presents the top ranked organizations to users of their service. Unlike many other ranking methodologies in which a relatively small set of indicators is applied across a variety of groups, Philanthropedia is leveraging the wisdom of experts (not crowds!) in order to access the qualitative evaluation process that is inherently at the heart of great grantmaking.

Philanthropedia’s first focus area was Education (they’ve also completed San Francisco bay area homelessness, Climate Change and are working on microfinance). After surveying 39 experts using a methodology developed by RAND called the Delphi Method, they published a list of eight outstanding organizations. They also include profiles of the groups, what the experts saw as strengths and what they saw as areas of improvement, as well as comments from beneficiaries. They also include information on the experts as a group as well as giving individual bios.

To be clear, I do not think that a donor should fund an organization just because a bunch of experts like it. Experts fall into “group think” all the time and some of the organizations the experts like may simply be popular with their peers. But I do believe strongly that the work Philanthropedia is doing offers an outstanding way for donors to find organizations to look at more closely.

We need a lot more projects with this sort of focus. Today there are 5,000 staffed foundations employing thousands of professional program officers. Yet this group only controls 13% of annual charitable giving. On the other side we have millions of individual donors who control 82% of annual charitable giving and yet have limited access to good knowledge about how to give well and to whom they should give.

We need to find ways to disperse the knowledge of professional grantmakers so that it can inform individual donors.


  1. I agree that sharing knowledge and expertise across foundations AND nonprofits is important, and I applaud efforts such as Philanthropedia. Yet how “experts” are chosen and who is consulted to produce such collective wisdom is important to consider. For example, were any funders that support education organizing and advocacy consulted? It is interesting to juxtapose the top 8 organizations Philanthropedia featured with the 7 organizations profiled in the recent Annenberg Institute report on education organizing. Two completely distinct sets of organizations that different experts say are doing important work to reform education.

  2. Yes, I agree that the methodology for choosing experts is critical. And different focuses will lead to different selection criteria. However, a quick look at the Annenberg report shows that the orgs they profiled were sites they were studying for evidence of impact. Where as Philanthropedia’s methodology is intended to surface high performing organizations.

    Both important, but quite different projects.

  3. Aaron Stiner says:

    I would actually like to expand this effort beyond experts. I think an “Amazon for nonprofits” sort of approach would be incredibly successful. Let’s leverage the knowledge and experiences of the 82% of donors by letting them rate, comment on and discuss their experiences with individual nonprofit organizations. We know conversations about donating to organizations happen anyway, offline and informally. Let’s bring them online into a public, open forum. It also then gives nonprofit organizations an opportunity to respond to favorable or unfavorable comments.