Peace Primary & Nonprofit Research

The Ploughshares Fund is a public grantmaking foundation that focuses on “building a safer, more peaceful world”. To do that they make grants to organizations that they determine are the “smartest people with the best ideas”. While identifying high impact nonprofits can be difficult for individual donors, the Ploughshares Fund has expertise in their focus area. If you share their mission, you could decide to donate to them and let them make the decision of which organizations to fund.

Right now, the Ploughshares Fund is running a project they call Peace Primary. The project involves 12 organizations that Ploughshares has identified as having strong records of high impact activity. Visitors to the website are invited to “vote” for one or more of the “candidates” by making a donation. The organization with the most votes (most dollars raised) will win a $100,000 grant from Ploughshares.

I think this is a great example of how grantmakers can involve the community, but even more importantly, how the expertise of foundations can be shares with the public. In a world where measuring and comparing nonprofits is extremely difficult for individual donors, gaining access to recommendations from a trusted expert is invaluable.

As much as I like Ploughshares’ initiative, I’d like to see them go one step further. Right now, information explaining why each of the chosen candidate organizations are effective and achieve high impact is scanty at best. While I assume that Ploughshares is correct in their evaluation of the field, as an individual donor I would be far more interested in the project if Ploughshares explained their rational for each group. Releasing their entire store of research on each nonprofit would be ideal, even just a couple paragraphs explaining why each one is so great would be a big step forward.

There’s been a fair amount of talk this year about community involvement by private foundations. But while letting the public help foundations decide which nonprofits to fund is interesting, I’m more interested in information flowing the other way. As it stands now, foundations have most of the expertise on identifying the best nonprofits, but only 12% of the philanthropic dollars (they are responsible for only 12.4% of annual charitable giving). Individual donors have almost no expertise in nonprofit evaluation, yet they make over 75% of the annual charitable gifts in the US.

I think that Ploughshares is doing something important by sharing a list of high impact nonprofits in their field of interest. I hope we see a lot more projects like this in the coming years.