Media Coverage of Philanthropy Innovation

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has an excellent, rather amazing, issue out this week.

In September, Cheryl Dahle, a podcast guest, wrote a “rant” about why foundations don’t deserve more media coverage. I respond with a rebuttal arguing that the business press doesn’t require the biggest companies to be innovative to publish a business section, they often focus on small, innovative companies. I then provide a list of innovative projects that were not being covered.

Well, the Chronicle of Philanthropy took just this tact, sticking innovative philanthropic startups GiveWell and Great Nonprofits on their most recent cover.

In A Quest for the Best, about GiveWell, the Chronicle wrote:

When Mr. Karnofsky delved into the world of philanthropy, he was stunned by some of what he found: that many charities he contacted had difficulty providing reliable evidence that their programs worked; that foundations did not explain publicly why they made grants to one charity over another; and that individuals provided the bulk of charitable donations, but had no neutral source to tell them whether an organization was actually saving or improving any lives.

He and Mr. Hassenfeld set out to shake things up. They raised $325,000 — $10,000 from Mr. Karnofsky and most of the rest from workers at the investment company — and created the Clear Fund, an arm of GiveWell that they dubbed the “world’s first completely transparent charitable grant maker.” Their goal: to scrutinize the data provided by grant applicants and to post their assessments of those charities, both positive and negative, on their Web site — giving charities the right to respond online to anything they wrote.

In A Zagat’s for Charities, about Great Nonprofits, the Chronicle wrote:

Ms. Ni, the site’s founder and chief executive, likens the site to a Zagat restaurant guide, something to help the public decide if a charity is worth donating to or asking for help, just as Zagat helps determine if an Italian restaurant is worth driving across town for. And like the Zagat guides, Great Nonprofits tailors its services to each city. After months of testing, sites for Pittsburgh and San Francisco have opened in the past few weeks, and Ms. Ni expects to expand to other cities soon.

(I was surprised to see that I managed to sneak into both stories. I’m quoted in the article about GiveWell and the Chronicle slapped a photo of me volunteering for Great Nonprofits in the paper edition, frankly not a very flattering photo, but oh well… at least I’m hanging out with the cool kids.)

Both groups got a lot of column space and a number of photos. These were excellent, interesting stories. Personally, I think that both stories would have enthralled the readers of the New York Times, Financial Times, or Wall Street Journal annual Giving sections. There are interesting, compelling stories out there about philanthropy. I’m glad they’re being told.