On Algorithms, Analytics and Discernment

Have you seen it?

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The Top 100 Charity Industry Influencers ranked by Onalytica.  I ranked at #12.

In a list with people like John Haydon (who totes deserves to be at #1), Tom Ahern, Lisa Sargent, Michael Rosen, Pamela Grow, Jeff Brooks, Gail Perry . . . 

Phenomenal thought leaders whose work has – and continues to – inspire mine.  Their books are on my shelves, I’m fortunate to consider many as mentors and friends, but the quantity and quality of their work is – breathtaking.

There are a number of notable thought leaders and fundraisers who are NOT included on this list . . . Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang, Ken Burnett, Simone JoyauxLynne Wester, Steven Screen and Jim Shapiro, Sean Triner . . .

People whose work is exceptional and should be on every fundraisers’ Go To list.

Most alarming is the lack of diversity and inclusion particularly for people of color.


It’s a serious statement about what voices are amplified in our community.


There is, really, no world where I “outrank” John Lepp, for example, in influence and presence.

I hope that fundraising things I think/talk/tweet/blog about are helpful, but, let’s be honest . . . The vast majority – really – of my tweets are about dogs, not understanding sports and GIF wars with Ephraim Gopin.  I blog sporadically at best.

Onalytica states, “As ever with these lists, it must be stressed that the ranking correlates to a strong indication of influence – however no definitive measurement of influence exists. The individuals listed here are undoubtedly influential when it comes to driving discussion around charity. Onalytica’s PageRank based methodology is used to extract influential experts on a particular topic and takes into account the number and quality of contextual references that a user receives – this allows us to identify Topical Authority (reference) – our priority influence metric. We analyzed topical authority via their social engagement on Twitter and how much influential experts were referenced in association with charity on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Forums, Blogs, News and Tumblr content. These calculations also take into account a user’s resonance (topical engagement) relevance (number of posts on topic, and % relevance – the proportion of their social content on the topic) and reach (number of followers). “

OK, but what’s the REAL methodology here?  How is the algorithm constructed, what weight is attached to each point, how was this derived?

Because, let’s be honest, their goal here is to sell a product.  A product designed to identify “influencers” and then leverage them to advance your brand.  I’m sure it’s a fine product.  Never used it.

Remember “Who’s Who” . . . you’d get listed in Who’s Who and then they’d sell you the book for a lot of money.  It’s like that.  And it’s fine.

But is it real?


A lot of list members re-tweeted, posted on social media, promoted . . . I did it, too. Guilty.  And we shouldn’t detract from that, except to really point out the lack of diversity the list represented.  We – I – should have seen it much sooner than I did and made space for that inclusion.

But without knowing what really went into the creation of this list, do we really know who are influencers?

And there’s the impact on fundraising.

Do we REALLY know who’s producing good content and driving great advice?  How does the frontline fundraiser discern – from the massive variety of resources and pummeling of lists, webinars, advice – what is good, helpful and true vs. what is, well, clickbait sales?

A few thoughts . . . 

  1. KNOW the source . . . . it takes a lot more than a rank list to describe whose work is good.  Is the source of the information reputable, proven and supported by longevity?  What is the body of work they’ve produced?  How are they seen by the industry?  Who are they connected to?  Who vouches for and recommends them?
  2. RESULTS . . . can the ‘influencer’ show actual, proven, metrics-driven, data-informed results.  “If you do this x then y will happen and here’s 402 examples of when we did x and then y happened.”  Advice is great, thoughts are wonderful . . . but advice and thoughts without proven results are just . . . clickbait.
  3. GUT REACTION . . . all due respect to consultants, software companies, colleagues, but . . . very few thought leaders are truly altruistic.  They’re trying to sell you something.  And if the webinar, whitepaper, download, tweet storm feels like a sales pitch . . . . it probably is.
  4.  EXPERIENCE . . . this above all.  Does the influencer have true, proven, verified experience. Have they BEEN a fundraiser?  Sat in the seat, walked the trenches, done the work?  I’m sorry, but unless you’ve sat across from a donor and been told ‘no’ or actually dropped a direct mail that failed spectacularly and put the org in budget jeopardy, I tend to question your experience.  I’m NOT discounting the wonderful folks who have DEEP experience and haven’t been frontline – there are many who have but they’ve been working as consultants for DECADES so they know, they have the metrics to back it up.  But if a “consultant” suddenly appears on the scene with a couple of years at a vendor and never at a nonprofit . . . that might give us pause.
  5. SEEK OUT DIVERSITY . . . we need to proactively, energetically seek out different voices and different experiences and make space for them.  What are those of us on the list doing to make space for, amplify and encourage more diversity?   I try to work on this  – hold me accountable.
  6. ACCOUNTABILITY . . . let’s hold each other accountable and call out when we see mistakes but encourage when we see the great.  From all voices.

So, is this list legit?  There’s some value to it.  Definitive?  Goodness no.  Problematic?  Yes.  And if we look at it through a critical lens we can accept it for the marketing tool that it is . . .

Now, this also brings up – algorithms, data, detail – the implications for something like this on Prospect Research and data management but that’s a WHOLE other blog post.



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  1. Harvey on September 5, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Excellent post. and only possible improvement would have been including a picture of a dog.

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