Saturday, November 17, 2007

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...."