Here are observations on technology/nonprofits/philanthropy since my last update in August.
- Several foundation staff people have asked questions of their Linkedin networks.
- A few foundation staff people have joined Facebook.
- JustMeans has added lots of content and some users.
- MySpace and PayPal teamed up to let nonprofits and political groups raise funds on the Impact Channel.
- Facebook apps, including those for charity, continue to grow (in number, I said nothing about impact).
- The Giving Channel launched (blatant self promotion).
- YouTube announced a nonprofit channel, which also provides nonprofits with the ability to raise money using Google checkout.
- ThinkMTV launched.
- New Progressive Coalition's directory of charitable/political giving opportunities and PROI (Political Return on Investment) go live.
- DonorsChoose, once featured in Doonesbury, gets major traction going with the "blogger charity smackdown"
- President Clinton launched mycommitment.org.
- The $100 laptop went on sale - for $200?!
- Packard Foundation announced it will start a blog (note: a human is the source of this info; the blog is not yet live or linked to from the foundation's site).
So here's the idea - foundations reach out for 'beta testers' - either through their own sites or through other blogs that reach the particular communities of interest. This would work for a Foundation thinking about new issues, holding community forums or needs assessments, or looking for genuine input from 'stakeholders.' Packard tried this (sort of) with its Nitrogen Wiki. But the beta tester community is a way to get thousands of people, who care about what you're doing, to participate in designing your program for you. (Tom Sawyer comes to mind)
Of course, foundations rarely have trouble getting people to come to their input/listening post/community feedback sessions. But these are one-off focus groups, where the community members are always more polite and restrained than they really feel (even when foundation staff leave the room and the facilitator promises anonymity). Beta testers work with the ideas, over time, for free, because they care about and need the final product/program to work. There ought to be a way for foundations to use this kind of remote, anonymous (if you want to be), ongoing community engagement - whether in designing a program, making grants, reviewing community needs, monitoring progress, and helping gauge failure or success.