Matt Marshall, who writes the blog VentureBeat picked up the CalCars announcement of funding from Google.org. CalCars is a plug-in hybrid maker that turns already gas-sipping Toyota Prius(es) into 100+ mpg wondercars.* Google.org has invested in CalCars.
From the venture capital perspective the big question is "Will Google get into the car business?"
From my perspective the big question is "Who are the key audiences for cool philanthropic news?"
A venture capital focused blog is not where one usually finds news about grants. To me, this says a lot about who is part of the philanthropic sector and to whom it should be speaking (not all that needs to be said, don't get me wrong, but something). Philanthropy news should be about goals and accomplishments and opportunities and successes and failures - not dollar size of grants.
That the story broke in the vc world further shows the blending of commercial and social benefit sectors -"Here's an investment with social returns that is of interest to investors looking for financial returns." That it broke on a blog - well, yes, the media have changed.
There is lots of good thinking in foundations about how to be more strategic as individual foundations and as a sector. You can read about much of this at the Communications Network or Philanthropy Awareness Initiative.
But I think this work needs to push further - the public's awareness of philanthropy won't grow just through websites and research reports - it requires making meaningful commentary available, participating in conversations not controlled by foundations, putting information out on video and audio and allowing people to "listen again" to an incredible speaker.
Here's the "Big" idea:
It requires "talking" with people, not to them. Sharing ideas via video and audio - the way Fora.tv or university professors podcasts do - making links available to relevant papers, blogs, thinkers, further discussions - this is how we are learning and sharing ideas. Ultimately, its the ideas and the action and the people that philanthropy fosters, implements, supports, challenges, and funds that matter, not the funds themselves. Ideas, actions and people - these are multi-media, multi-platform, multi-dimensional - and communicating about them should be also.
Here's the "little" idea:
Imagine a simple step - foundation conferences often get great speakers who talk about health care or the arts or poverty or childhood development. These speakers cost money, they have a lot to say, its important that foundation leaders listen to them, and foundations can afford to bring these people and ideas in to talk to them.
AND it is AS important - to the goals of philanthropy and to the ideas and the speakers and the activists - that health care providers, arts administrators and artists, social workers and child advocates hear those folks.
So, invite those speakers in. Have foundation-wide discussions with them. And record the speeches, the presentations and the discussions that follow. Make those speeches available. Publicize the ideas, invite listeners, invite questions. Share these ideas in video and audio recordings - edited, posted, and publicized - as a deliberate part of sharing information about key issues. Put the ideas and the people and the action out there and let others grab hold and run with them - that's what philanthropy can do. Its much more important than a grants list.
*Full disclosure: Felix Kramer (who runs CalCars) and his family are friends of mine. I was an early early (small) supporter of CalCars work and have been a longtime reader of the CalCars blog.