The Secret Leaders of the Philanthropic Revolution

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Jeremy Gregg. Jeremy has been working in the area of fundraising and brand-building since 2001. A graduate of SMU with an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas, he is currently the Director of Development for Central Dallas Ministries. Jeremy is the author of the blog The Raiser’s Razor.

By Jeremy Gregg

What is the definition of power and influence in the philanthropic sector?

The NonProfit Times has offered an attempt to answer this question by issuing lists of the people whom they consider to hold said power and influence. Their 2007 list was the subject of one of my recent blogs as well as Phil Cubeta’s reply on his Gift Hub blog.

The image below comes courtesy of a 2005 post on adoption curve dot net, which I discovered when running a Google Image search for “power and influence.” The analysis struck me as a very fitting image to portray the ideas that I outline in my previous blog.

Power & Influence Map

I’ll concede that people like Patty Stonesifer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Susan Berresford of the Ford Foundation are indeed powerful. And that this power necessarily provides a certain level of influence.

But their power is not unexpected, and their influence fairly predictable in all but the most extreme circumstances. The “power and influence” of this particular Top 50 list, therefore, is fairly minimal.

Allow me to offer that a far more powerful list — a philanthromap, as it were — would be a more revelatory list such as:

The Top 50 Non-Profit Leaders Who are Quietly Changing the Sector

Or, as I with my conspiratorial bent would prefer:
The Secret Leaders of the Philanthropic Revolution

Who are these leaders? What are their defining traits? Are they the sort of folks whom we would be proud to invite to speak at our child’s school, or are they of that ilk that should be on some sort of public list that is carefully watched by the shadow government — or both?Who, I ask, truly holds the power in the philanthropic sector?Who, as the diagram at the top portrays, are the true “players” as opposed to merely the “context setters”?

I would propose that the following traits would make for a fairly short but substantive list of the truly powerful leaders of our sector, the likes of which NonProfit Times in all its illustrious glory would never publish:

  • They have no cash to throw around (i.e. the revolution will not be funded);
  • Their organization is not a household name (i.e. their national and local office are likely the same);
  • They regularly voice their ideas in speeches, blogs, print publications or other media — and they write their own material;
  • As the above image from adoption curve dot net blog illustrates, they have a high stake in the outcome of their actions/publications. This stake is deeply personal, far beyond compensation; that is, they have an intimate connection with the future of our sector.

I also think that an important consideration is whether or not they are compensated for their thoughts (i.e. they are part of a think-tank), or whether their publications are a veiled attempt to gain consulting contracts or sell services/products. This certainly should not fully eliminate people (love it or hate it, Terry Axelrod has made a lot of money while significantly changing our sector through her “Raising More Money” model). But there is a significant difference between Ms. Axelrod’s motivation in writing a blog and that of someone like the anonymous writer of Don’t Tell the Donor, who certainly has spent more resources on their blog than they will ever reap from its luminosity.

What names would you add to such a list? Phil Cubeta and I offered some initial suggestions in the aforementioned blogs. These are but a beginning.

Please add me your own nominations to this philanthromap as comments on this post


  1. Jeremy Gregg says:

    PhilanthroMap: Who really wields power & influence in the non-profit sector?

    There were few surprises in the 10th annual NPT Power & Influence Top 50 list from The NonProfit Times, which touts itself as “the leading business publication for nonprofit management.” The list, along with pics and brief bios of the Top 50 winners, is available here as an Adobe Acrobat PDF:

    According to the publication, this report is an attempt to “celebrate some of the sector’s top executives and thinkers. These executives were selected for the impact they have now and for the innovative plans they are putting in place to evolve the charitable sector.”

    The list is dominated by the leaders of foundations, thinktanks, watchdog agencies and national organizations. There are two notable exceptions:

    Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, who has transcended the role of leader of a local poverty relief agency to grab an increasingly dominant share of the national conversation on issues related to poverty and the role of charity. As the publication says, “Never one to mince words, he is one of the most effective advocates in the nation. His ability to cut through to the essence of an issue and get people to find a commonality is why he was such a potent force to help lead the recent Nonprofit Congress.”

    Julie Thomas, Executive Director of the Volunteer Center for North Texas. In her award, the publication sites “Thomas’s entrepreneurial spirit is a magnet for money to support operations, including foundation money and a warehouse outlet where new and gently used items donated by local firms are sold. She also initiated the first criminal background checking system in Texas for volunteers and staff members in nonprofits, including faith-based organizations.”
    Congratulations to Robert and Julie for making it to this list (this is Robert’s second award, and Julie’s first). I think that it is critical that such lists integrate leaders like Robert and Julie, who are not associated with a national organization but whose work and voices have national impact. It is critical that those who claim to represeent our sector on an national and interantional basis — i.e. NP Times — not forget about these voices.

    I find it somehow fitting, therefore, that Mr. Egger’s name was somehow left out of the Philanthropy News Digest’s article on the release of these awards. As if someone over there thought, “Nahhh, this guy couldn’t really be on this list.”

    I am not trying to detract from the accomplishments of people like Patty Stonesifer (Gates Foundation), Israel L. Gaither (Salvation Army) or Diana Aviv (Independent Sector). Their work is very important and wields great influence on our sector. However, their inclusion on such a list comes at no surprise.

    That being said, I was surprised not to see Trent Stamp of Charity Navigator (who has never made the list). Even Charles W. Collier of Harvard has only made the list once, and that was in 2004.

    Also, I was disappointed that this list did not reflect the amazing influence of people and companies from outsdie the sector. Although the aforementioned people did a great deal to change the way that our sector operates in 2007, their power or influence was hardly greater than the impact of the following:, which is working to integrate philanthropy as a business strategy. Google’s free checkout system could potentially revolutionize the way that online donations are processed (something that I called for in an Open Letter earlier this year). Think of it as social enterprise 2.0.

    The (RED) Campaign, which is working to change the way that corporate philanthropy influences consumers. Think of it as cause marketing 2.0.

    Free Rice, which admittedly was launched too late for consideration, but which has built an incredibly addictive form of fundraising that blends entertainment and advertising with hunger relief. This is the next generation of the “click-to-give” sites such as, which has helped thousands of non-profits to share their message with donors (especially since their acquisition by Google, and the launch of their nonprofit channel). By empowering even the smallest nonprofit to put their clients in front of their donors, sites like YouTube are moving us away from fundraising and towards relationship-building., which has shaped the way that non-profits lobby for political change. I think that one of the signs of greatness is the number of imitators that one has, and has inspired countless other sites to quickly and efficiently engage visitors in the lobbying process.
    And there are, of course, many others.

    But these are all popular names, and there are very few surprises on these lists. That’s why I’d rather see a list like this:

    The Top 50 Non-Profit Leaders Who are Quietly Changing the Sector

    Such a list would not feature the CEOs of international non-profits or Presidents of foundations that drop billions of dollar into the sector annually. It would feature the names of people like Larry James of CDM, Phil Cubeta of GiftHub, and Tracy Gary of Inspired Legacies. People whose names may not appear in the Chronicle of Philanthropy or Nonprofit Times each issue, but who are building a movement to shift charity towards meaningful change.

    If you were in charge of creating such a philanthromap, who would you include?

    Here are some ideas that we discussed before:

    Alas, if only bloggers had the power. Oh well. Maybe one day, Phil Cubeta will let me move into the dumpster next door.

    Until then, “no alarms, no surprises….”

  2. Jeremy, I like this concept. I’ve talked before about how the media’s focus on large grantmakers and “name brands” is similar to if the business press focused on companies like AT&T, Exxon (some of the largest companies) Disney, McDonalds (some of the best known brands), and Johnson & Johnson (one of the most trusted).

    Instead, the business press focuses on the margins. Where is the change taking place? Who is doing things differently?

    YouTube, Facebook, hybrid cars, organic food,, and Mike Huckabee are not in the news because they are the big established players. None of them have more “power and influence” than the big companies I listed below. But they are the “changemakers”.

    My nominations for the people I think are making the most waves at the margin.

    Trent Stamp, Charity Navigator

    Jean Case, The Case Foundation

    Robert Egger, DC Central Kitchen

    Phil Buchanan, Center for Effective Philanthropy

    Paul Shoemaker, Social Venture Partners

    Daniel Ben-Horin & Marnie Webb, NetSquared

    Clara Miller, Nonprofit Finance Fund

    Holden Karnofsky, GiveWell

    The team at Good Capital

    Matt & Jessica Flannery,

    Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank

    Foundation Source

    Luther Ragin, FB Heron Foundation

    Paul Brest & Jim Canales (Hewlett & Irvine Foundations)

    Bill Gates, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (not for the money, but for deciding at age 50 to quit Microsoft and become a full time philanthropist).

    This list isn’t exhaustive, I just wrote it off the top of my mind. Obviously some are more deserving than others. But these people or organizations are all truly changing philanthropy.