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Measuring Nonprofit Impact, Part III: A Deeper Look at Philanthropedia's Experts

We hope that our articles these past few weeks (see the list on the right) have given you a better idea of what Philanthropedia is and the value that experts can bring to analyzing the nonprofit sector. You may, however, still have some lingering questions about who our experts are and how we find them.

We aim to build a group of qualified experts with a balanced representation of professionals from many different fields, with diverse geographical representation, and with diverse areas of expertise. To find these experts, we research thought leaders in a particular space, look for program officers at foundations who specialize in the area, identify faculty at research universities who focus on the issue, determine which journalists have written extensively about the topic, and look for executive directors or heads of nonprofits working in the space.

We try to identify as many qualified experts as possible to invite them to join the network. Through this process, we build out a list of 500 to 1,000 experts in any given cause. In general, 100 to 200 experts end up participating in our research. We generally try to be inclusive in the building of the expert list. Additionally, we invite experts in causes we have not examined to reach out to us so that we can review their credentials should we decide to research the nonprofits in those areas.

When experts fill out our survey, we collect information to confirm the strength and diversity of our expert network. For example, we ask experts how many years they have been working in their respective fields, what professional affiliations and/or academic backgrounds they have, what their professional titles are, and who their employers are.

We also ask the experts to self-rank their level of expertise. Because we believe that even new professionals have a valuable, often different perspective to offer, two years is the minimum number that we require from experts to participate. Across the 1,400 experts who have participated in our research to date, however, the average number of years of experience is just about 17.

At the end of our process, we review all of the responses to ensure they're high quality. We want to be sure experts are backing up their recommendations with evidence and not simply listing their favorite charities. We eliminate responses and disqualify experts if we feel they haven't provided enough information to justify their recommendations.

To give you a sense of what kinds of insights our experts can offer, here is an expert comment on the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC): "They take the lead in analyzing federal nutrition programs, including child nutrition, and mobilizing input to Congress from individuals and organizations around the country. For example, their School Breakfast Score Card has charted the growth of school breakfast access, and has empowered advocates in the states to effectively push for greater participation and better policies at the state level. This is one of two co-chairs, along with the School Nutrition Association of the Child Nutrition Forum, an organization that comes to life every five years to prepare for Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Its useful guides and briefs help practitioners and advocate across the country do their work. This is where we turn when we need to know about pending legislation or the interpretation of regulations."

If you believe you're an expert in a particular cause and wish to be involved in our research, please reach out to us at and give us your background information and the cause with which you associate.

Read More in the Series

Read Part I, Spotlight on Philanthropedia

Read Part II, The Value of Experts

Read Part IV, Philanthropedia's Survey Process

Erinn Andrews, Philanthropedia
© 2011, Philanthropedia

Erinn has been the chief operating officer of Philanthropedia since the nonprofit's inception in June 2009. She was primarily responsible for developing and scaling Philanthropedia's methodology and conducting the social cause research. As a new member of the GuideStar family, Erinn, now director of data, research, and partner relationships, will continue to oversee Philanthropedia's research but is assuming new responsibilities within GuideStar as well.

Topics: Impact