The other way to use iPhone for giving

Yesterday I asked what the first iPhone philanthropy application would be.

I should have known - buying one and auctioning it off for a fundraiser.

Keep a Child Alive, a NYC organization that provides AIDS drugs to kids, sent a staff member to stand on line to buy one the phones. Along with a lot of other donations, the organization will hold an eBay auction and sell the phone (and everything else) to the highest bidders.

I shoulda known. Talk about the new and the old coming together.


Wanted: iPhone App


According to the wee bit of media coverage I've seen, its clear that the world will never be the same after everyone (anyone?) gets their hands on the iPhone (Friday 6 pm local time, where ever you are) . Given this, I want to know "How will the iPhone change philanthropy?"

It seems doable, since the iPhone is a mobile phone, an online teller to your bank, a web surfing computer, and (soon) a stored payment system. You can even listen to your own music playlist while you consider your giving options. What will be the first iPhone philanthropy application? And where will it come fron?

Meanwhile, in my real-world never-ending quest to track ways to give without giving, I must now add instant messaging to the list. You can give simply by IM'ing with MSN.

So far my list of "embedded giving" mechanisms includes:

Less techy are the requests at the grocery store checkout line to donate to cancer research or the extra line for a donation to redress hunger, located on a restaurant credit card slip between "tip" and "total.

I'm sure there are more. Send 'em my way.

Why is philanthropic analysis so different?

I'm a bit of a geek. And I read a lot of tech blogs. one of my favorites is Read/Write Web.
The site provides funny, helpful, easy-to-read reviews of web 2.0 tools. Regular features include in-depth analysis and user-centered information on individual products and companies. Every few weeks or so it will roll these up into overviews of whole subsectors of web 2.0 - like this one on distance learning tools or this one on alternative search engines.

Why don't we do this for donors? What if we had a network of knowledgeable, credible analysts who regularly investigated and wrote about social issues - school reform, cancer research, AIDS interventions, clean water solutions, cultural innovation, environmental justice. The writers could provide overviews of the issues, updates on regulatory issues, new program launches, important collaborations, results and outcomes from certain interventions, new research, etc. There would also be regular reviews of new/existing organizations working on the issue - what they do well, who they compete against, what they excel at, where they fall short.

What am I talking about? Publicly accessible, independently developed reviews of organizations and social issues. They would blend the best of good program analysis and foundation strategy with the accessibility and good writing of specialty blogs such as Read/Write Web. They'd make recommendations. Conflicts or vested interests would be declared for all to see. Donors, foundations, the media, and others could use them. Or not. Those reviews that were no good would disappear into the blogosphere. No one would use them. Those that are helpful, credible, independent, supported with evidence would rise to the top, donors would use them for funding decisions, and the investment in high quality research would pay off by influencing lots of grant decisions, not just those of single organizations.

Yes, what I'm proposing would revolutionize the work of typical foundation program officers. In fact, if the system worked it would initiate a competitive marketplace for the highest quality analysis of issues and organizations. It might even lead to fewer program officer jobs (since there are only about 10,000 of these anyway its hardly a big blip in employment numbers). And I'm sure the idea seems utterly unimaginable within the context of many foundations.

But it barely qualifies as innovative when you think about other areas of our lives - like which magazines we read, the product reviews we rely on, financial investments we make, and restaurant/movie/book critics we respect. I'm not saying anyone can do this kind of critical analysis of core social issues and solutions well. In fact, I'm arguing for a market approach to the work that would separate the quality analysis from the rest. How would we know what was good? The same way we know what newspapers to trust, what web reviews to believe, and which financial adviser to hire to manage our 401K plans. When you really think about it, the only thing novel about the idea is that it isn't yet how we do this.


The meek may/may not inherit the earth

But nonprofits can now get donations of Google Earth. Read more here.


We interrupt this blog...

..to bring you links to and stories about this blog.

In line with the theme of the last post, Transparency is the New Black, see:


Now back to our regular programming...

Transparency is the new black

There is a lot of talk about transparency in philanthropy. That's not really new. In most of these discussions transparency has been synonymous with requirements for reporting financial data.

What's interesting now is that transparency is being discussed, and demonstrated, about much more important elements than simple financial data. There are some interesting changes underway that may actually mean point to an active definition of transparency more along the lines of "Here's what we're doing and why and what it amounts to."

Here's a smattering:

This is quite a hodgepodge of activities - Maplight is a philanthropically-funded site that focuses on money in politics; the 990 is mostly - but not exclusively - financial data; The Clear Fund is in start-up mode; SecondLife conversations may mean nothing when it comes time for real life philanthropy; wikis are practically old hat at this point, and foundation blogs are not the most revealing portals.

But they all show legitimate philanthropic interest in opening up the doors - to bring ideas in and to put information out. These are good things.

Why is it happening? There are no doubt several forces at work: changes in the business of giving and a number of new market-based initiatives focused on transparency; younger professionals who bring with them more open attitudes and experiences to accessing and sharing information; and a real interest (maybe) in putting information out to a) help others use it and b) keep regulators at bay.


In memoriam

Joe Breitenecher of TPI passed away on Friday June 22 after a long battle with cancer. Joe cared about people, he was passionate, a bit contrarian, and liked a philosophical challenge about the roles philanthropy could play in our society. He focused on the end goal and he wouldn't participate if he couldn't find a way to a laugh somewhere in the work. I will miss him.



Need not be present to win...

There is no end to the prizes/competitions/contests currently underway in philanthropy. Here are a few:

My colleagues at Blueprint Research and Design have written about philanthropy and competitions - this work informed several foundation competitions that will roll out in 2007. Our papers are here.

We all get older...

And some of us get better as we age.

Here is the list of 15 finalists for the Civic Ventures Purpose Prize, which honors social innovators over age 60.

Social entrepreneurism. Its not just for kids.


Civil war vet leaves estate to charity

This story gives a somewhat new meaning to giving after living. Eighty years after his death, the estate of Adam Brinker, a civil war vet from Pennsylvania, has finally transferred gifts totalling $10 million to three charities. The full story is here.

I appreciate the irony of this story breaking today, as the major papers are covering new Giving USA numbers which include the "fact" that the number of bequests fell year over year since 2005. Or as Sally Beatty wrote in the WSJ:

Charitable bequests fell 2.1% to $22.91 billion, the second consecutive yearly decline. More financial consultants are urging wealthy individuals to make major gifts before they die so they can keep a closer eye on how their money is being spent, and get the satisfaction from watching their gifts be used to help others.
I wonder what year this bequest will count towards?



Real questions to consider

Prokofy Neva does a great job of outlining a new kind of philanthropy - an outline which was kick started by Friday's virtual world discussion. The full post and comments are worth reading. There is also a podcast. Here are, literally, the headlines of the outline:

  1. micropayments
  2. accountability
  3. participation
  4. solicitation
  5. combinations
  6. feedback/correction
  7. presence
  8. narrow bandwidth
  9. broad bandwidth
  10. preservation
These headings mean nothing without the content - I'm just trying to tempt you to go read the post. This type of public, thoughtful discussion of what philanthropy is, what it can be, what it can do (and all the can nots that go along with that list) is just what we need.



Virtual (real?) platforms for good

Today's discussion between Jonathan Fanton (President, The MacArthur Foundation) and Philip Rosedale (CEO, LindenLab) was a breakthrough event.

But not because of the technology, nor because it took place in SecondLife, was live-streamed on BlogTv and covered by IM, chat, and bloggers while it was going on. Nor because it gave some teenage resident of Teen SecondLife the opportunity to ask these two CEOs a direct question about ethics and society.

It was a breakthrough hour because it was a public, accessible*, not "insider-baseball" discussion of what philanthropy can do to improve the world. Real world issues were brought up. Misters Fanton and Rosedale were asked: What about the Iraq war? What about environmental damage? How can kids hold adults accountable? They answered honestly. Sometimes the answer was "Nothing. There is nothing we can do." Sometimes the answer was "Maybe virtual world residents can come together, develop an organized movement to advocate for U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court, and then move that into the real world - get the U.S. involved." Those are real, meaningful answers. Well done.

(Several participants did a great job of capturing the event, including the questions asked - check these blogs and notes.)

Philip Rosedale has spoken often and eloquently about the role of SecondLife as a platform for its participants. As he puts it, "It is the residents of SecondLife that make the world work." SecondLife is trying to be, as Rosedale says, "an empowering platform for individuals."

This strikes me as both a compelling metaphor for - even an aspirational, structurally different - goal for philanthropy. Imagine if philanthropy sought to be an "empowering platform for individuals (and organizations) to make change."

I realize this might sound easy. In fact, it almost sounds like the Ford Foundation's old tagline, "A resource for innovative people everywhere." Michael Milken also speaks to this point when he describes his philanthropy, so maybe we are headed in this direction.

But to really be a platform for individuals, where the participants decide how to do things, where the successful organizations are only those that help residents succeed, where feedback loops are tight, fast, and respected - these are new ways for philanthropic institutions to act. A good start, a conversation with anyone who could get there, was made today. I hope the Foundation and its partners are successful in achieving their goals: listening to new voices, providing means for isolated groups to get together, offering support for creative solutions "in world" that might transfer to "real life." The conversation started - lets hope (and help) it continues.



*It wasn't accessible to everyone. I spoke with at least two people who tried to get into the conference and found that SecondLife crashed their computers. These are folks with good hardware. So hats off to MacArthur/USC for making the webcast available and here is a multimedia reference to the event. And, to those who didn't/couldn't get in, try again. Its a whole new world - it takes some practice. In true acts of altruism, there are lots of avatars waiting to help you learn your way around.

Is it live? Virtual? Blogged?

Coverage of MacArthur Foundation in SecondLife

Media Update - film fests and secondlife

Here's another chance to vote for videos that move you. Check out the entries at the First Global Giving Film Fest and vote for your favorites. Videos and voting opportunities are here.

And don't forget, tomorrow, Friday June 22 at 9 am PT - Philanthropy goes virtual in SecondLife with the MacArthur Foundation



Who counts the change?


Last night after a wonderful meal, I took the credit card folder and pen from the waiter, opened it and started figuring out the tip. I entered the 20%, added it up, totaled and signed. Only then did I realize that the amount I had just agreed to pay was entered on a line marked "Katrina Relief Fund."

It makes you think. The amount was a generous donation. It was an expensive meal. Did I really want to pay twice the amount I had been expecting to, since I had to pay for dinner and I'd just written this amount on the "donate" line? Could I justify (to myself) paying that much money for dinner and not sending something to the Relief Fund?

Then I went grocery shopping. The clerk asked if I'd like to add a dollar to the total for hungry children. At my ATM I was informed I could make a gift to the local social service agency. The Post Office offered me a stamp - above retail price - that would send extra pennies to a cancer research fund. My phone bill suggested that "I round up this month" and when I went online to compare cell phone plans I used a search site that sent pennies to a charity. I ultimately had to decide between the cool red phone that raised money for AIDS or a regular black phone.

Folks at xigi wrote about this earlier, and gave it a great name - embedded giving. They were referring to a conference that used the collective good will of its attendees to raise some money for a specific cause. Others noted the Food Bank bins in their kids' schools and I was reminded of a Bar Mitzvah I attended recently where the very creative table centerpieces were weighted down with canned goods that were donated after the party.

Two questions:

  • How and where is the value of these gifts captured in giving data?
  • Does giving all day, every day, with every transaction cause people to say "No thanks, I gave at the grocery store/post office/credit card bill/restaurant."




Real Hybrid Philanthropy


Google.org's first grants have been announced - focusing on hybrid cars. Seems appropriate, for a hybrid philanthropic entity to focus on cars that use two types of fuel (Google.org will use two types of supports - investments and grants - to achieve its goals).

Stories in the NYT and USA Today show the cars, which not only plug in but even the cars are designed to give back. One of the 6 hybrids shown at the Googleplex yesterday was outfitted to return electricity to the power grid.

Yesterday's announcement included $1 million in grants and a pledge of another $10 million to come for the RechargeIT Initiative. Here (of course) is a YouTube Video about it.

Mapping markets for transparency


Transparency and accountability are like the “mom and apple pie” of the citizen sector. Everyone agrees we need them (and that we should value, if not actually love, them). But nobody seems to be able to agree on the recipe for the best pie or what makes a great mom. Last week the IRS announced a draft of a new Form 990 and invited public comments (through September 14). The 990, the bane of many people’s existence, is the core reporting form for American nonprofit organizations. Its sister, the 990 PF, is filed by private foundations (and is not being revised at this time). According to the IRS:

“The revised Form 990 draft includes a shorter 10 page core form that will be supplemented by numerous schedules that provide information on activities of particular interest to the public and IRS. The revised core form includes two new sections of interest: 1) a summary section that provides a snapshot of the organization and its activities and 2) a section that requires governance information, including questions on board composition, conflict of interest policies and audit information.”


Several new schedules of information will be part of the new form, including sections focused on:

• Political and lobbying activities (new in part)
• Supplemental financial statement detail (new in part)
• Foreign activities (new)
• Hospitals (new)
• Tax exempt Bonds (new)
• Non-cash contributions (new)

The IRS isn’t alone in moving on these issues. Other entities, such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar, which rely on the 990s for their data, are announcing new services. Independent Sector wrapped up its work on this issue. The full report of The Panel on the Nonprofit Sector has been submitted to Congress and can be downloaded here.

In addition, new organizations are also getting in the business. Just last week I was invited to join two advisory boards for independent organizations that want to address transparency and accountability practices and standards. Both are startups. The Nonprofit Reporter is the brainchild of a former Fortune 500 CEO working with a colleague who essentially invented industry-specific consumer satisfaction polling. The other – GiveWell/The Clear Fund – are acts of entrepreneurial passion screaming out of a very smart and energetic Harvard-grad turned hedge-fund-staffer turned activist in his mid-twenties.

These organizations and reporting vehicles are all variations on a theme – collecting and analyzing data on the operations and performance of nonprofit organizations. There are many potential markets for such information – government agencies, board members, competitors, researchers, individual donors, foundations, and the media to name a few. I decided I needed a map of the options to try to understand who was doing what, how they were doing it, what information was being duplicated, what information was still unknown, and what were the business models behind each of the entities trying to serve those many markets. The initial map is shown in the photo at the top of this post. This was a short-flight draft. I’m working to expand, update, and clarify it.

Contact me directly if you’d like a pdf of the map or a version you can edit yourself. I’ll send you one as long as you agree to send your revisions to me, with explanation of changes (in the spirit of the creative commons, lets work together to make the map most useful).


Congress, the Council, and Cowboys to talk Philanthropy

OK – I made up the part about the cowboys, but representatives of the Council on Foundations, Congress, and experts in rural philanthropy are coming together for the first-ever “Rural Philanthropy Conference” in Missoula, Montana August 7-9. The event is hosted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), to create a vision of how philanthropy might work with the public and private sectors in “Creating the 21st Century Agenda for Philanthropy and Rural America.”

For more information, to download the conference program and to register, go to the Rural Philanthropy Conference.

Virtual philanthropy, digital poverty

Martin Varsavsky is an Argentine Spanish entrepreneur. He is an investor and foundation executive. And he has noted that virtual worlds bring with them a new way to be poor. Read his post about "digital poverty" in Stardoll, his thoughts about using his foundation to address the issue, and why he chose not to. Here is an excerpt and a call for the digital free trade movement:


"Since there´s little cost involved in producing these clothes. Couldn´t we start an NGO that actually gave them for free or for practically nothing to poor girls in say Ecuador, Peru, Colombia? And in general, now that wealth is both felt (no food) and perceived (Swedish girls can buy clothes, Peruvian girls can´t), don´t we have an opportunity in the virtual world to do virtual philanthropy and make a lot of little girls, boys, and even grown ups happy?... Personally I think that there is a chance of bringing digital justice to this world. Pricing digital property in terms of the average purchasing power of each country would be a good start. Cause as opposed to real property digital property has no cost for an extra copy. Let´s take advantage of this and start the digital fair trade movement!"




Father's Day Gifts of Giving

Skip the tie. Give dad a "gift of giving."

Its easier than buying him a gift card. Just log on, open a giving account (or make a charitable gift in his honor) and let the good feelings flow. You can do it for your "globally-aware Dad" at GlobalGiving. Give "Teacher-Dad" a gift through at DonorsChoose. Find something for "Progressive-Dad" at the Tides Network. And "The-dad-who-cares-about domestic issues" will love the perfect gift from NetworkForGood. Dad can even give a gift with his kids at YouthGive.

Its a whole lot more meaningful than another gift card. The primary beneficiary of gift cards is the merchant. These cards have become enormous sellers in the last few years, accounting for about 5% of the $457 billion spent during last year’s holiday season alone. Merchants love gift cards because some crazy percentage of them get tossed out with the scads of wrapping paper and tinsel. This means the merchant gets the cash (in advance) and never has to sell the good.

In contrast, the real beneficiaries of "gifts of giving" are dad and you. Why? Because it opens the door to the gift of conversation. Instead of asking Dad what color necktie he’d like, ask him what matters to him, and what he’d like to see different in the world. Make a gift in his honor to that cause or organization. Find out if you also share some of his interests or concerns. Maybe the rest of the family wants to chime in – is there something you all support (or would like to)? Is there a volunteer opportunity you could all do together?

The conversation alone is worth the price of the gift. And certainly more memorable than another ugly necktie or a gift card that he'll lose in a drawer.

More about counting

My earlier post about the abundance of giving indices – and the inability to find correlations among them – sparked a bit of interest. One comment included a pitch for increasing giving by linking it to shopping and or internet searching- something offered by all kinds of retailers (see the (RED) campaign for one of many examples) and several search engines such as GoodTree and GoodSearch and EveryClick

This kind of behavior is not new. Grocery stores “up sell” a dollar at the register for everything from curing juvenile diabetes to feeding the hungry. Working Assets might have taken the idea to scale first, with its “make change by rounding up your phone bill” services.

Here’s the irony. Who counts that giving? No body, so far as I can tell. So we’re promoting more giving that is even less trackable?

Another question. If every purchase and search lets an individual tack on a 50 cents for charity, will those folks be more or less inclined to make a gift of $50 (or $500 or $5000) when asked directly by nonprofits? Do those of you who round up your Working Assets bills (and I do, but not by much) count those contributions in any way? Do they factor in to your annual family giving budget (assuming you have such a thing)? Or do you remind yourselves of them at the end of the year when the direct mail comes flooding in, and say the heck with it, I gave with the phone bill?

Back to the original point. We don’t really know what we give now. The more ways we find to practice what my friends over at xigi.net call "embedded giving” the harder it will get to answer this question. Of course, if we give more this way, maybe counting doesn't matter. Of course, if we can't count, we won't know if its more.

MacArthur Foundation breaks bonds of real world!

On June 22, 2007 The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will become the first foundation to leave behind the limitations of physical space and fly into virtual worlds. The Foundation will take the bold step of exploring philanthropy in ‘worlds’ without government, where money grows on trees, and where all participation is voluntary.

Foundation President Jonathan Fanton kicks off a series of explorations and events in conversation with Phillip Rosedale, CEO of LindenLab, the company that makes SecondLife. You can read President Fanton’s comments on the Foundation’s Spotlight blog (!)

So what? After all, nonprofits have been in SecondLife for months. TechSoup’s Nonprofit Commons, facilitated by the incomparable Susan Tenby and omni-techie Beth Kanter (and others from around the world) is live and active. Its also supported by a philanthropic gift from the first SecondLife millionaire, Anshe Chung, who donated the space for the commons. This allows Tech Soup to make space available to other nonprofits for the unbeatable price of ---free!

Well, so this. Virtual worlds allow us to create our institutions, systems, mores, governance structures, economies, and communities from scratch. SecondLife has a robust market economy, self-enforced behavior standards, a culture of voluntarism, and trees that grow money. So, what does philanthropy look like in such a place? Let us hope it is not an edifice with impressively framed photographs of past generations of generous family members.

Here's how President Fanton explains the Foundation's as intentions with the experiment:

"Last year, we [MacArthur] launched a $50 million initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations.

Recently, we have been introduced to virtual worlds such as Second Life and There.com. I believe that the importance of virtual worlds may be less about their growth as economies, and more about their capacity for collaboration and human development. Activities in virtual worlds already are supported by MacArthur and other foundations, but we have much to discover about the right role for philanthropy itself in virtual worlds."

Nobody asked me, but here are some things I hope we see as the Foundation and its partners at USC role out in this experiment:
  • Inclusive decision-making by avatars;
  • Avatars with time-limited decision making power (so they have to switch roles);
  • Resource support that aligns with, and remains true until, the identified goals of the work are achieved;
  • Allocation decisions and offerings that can rise above a lot of noise in order to attract attention; offer inherent value; be flexible enough to adapt to unfiltered ideas and criticism; and fun and engaging, regardless of how serious they also are, to maintain the interests of avatars who can not only ‘vote with their feet,’ these folks can simply fly away.
  • It would also be a great way to test out the virtual philanthropy simulator ideas I wrote about earlier; or
  • Even a place to bring together Google and SalesForce to create a virtual social-enterprise AppExchange, as I pondered here. (It would be called SecondGoogForce. Or maybe GoogForceLife...)
Why do this virtually? Well, experimentation is easier, cheaper, and (perhaps) more telling in these environments. Some things just work differently (remember the money trees....) And perhaps, good new things learned In World will be brought out, to the real world and real world problems.

What would failure look like for the Foundation? I can’t speak for them. However, I'd guess that part of the experiment is to learn about how virtual worlds shift discourse and decision making. To see which functions communities ‘assign’ to their voluntary sector and which to a ‘public role,’ if they get to build from scratch. It will also be interesting to see how resource allocation works in a land of virtual real estate. What about property ownership – for real and intellectual and design property? Are virtual worlds viable, even perhaps necessary, platforms for first world nonprofits and fundraisers? Or are they a passing fancy?

Thanks to the MacArthur Foundation, and its explorations into this new turf, we may soon know some of the answers to these questions. Stay tuned. And get In World on June 22.

100 million here, 100 million there

Here, edited, are the top three posts in the email newsletter version of today's Philanthropy News Digest. I have to say, these numbers get your attention....

 (1)  Gates Foundation Awards $105 Million to University of 
Washington for Health Institute
(2) HSBC Launches $100 Million Climate Change Effort
(3) Washington and Lee University Receives $100 Million Gift

If this keeps up, $100 million may become the base number for a "big gift." Sort of the way ATMs made $20 bills ubiquitous.



Can we count what we can count?

I was impressed by Gavin Clabaugh's post on "whether or not online giving has increased the giving pie." You can find the post here and the NTEN discussion that prompted it.

I tend to agree with Gavin, facts or no facts. Here's why -- the data we do have about giving shows that the percentage of their net income that individual American give has barely budged (ranging between 1.7 and 2.1 percent) over the last forty years. This over the course of a time period involving major tax changes, an explosion of new giving vehicles (including online giving), moments of intense media interest in giving, and the rapid growth of commercial ventures aimed at facilitating charitable giving. Oh yeah, and a period of wealth creation perhaps unparalleled in history.

But the bigger issue is the data we do have. Or, more accurately, the data we don't have.

There are lots of sources - my colleagues and I recently counted more than two dozen surveys, annual counts, facts/figures, and data sources about American giving. These range from highly sophisticated and longitudinally comparable analyses such as GIVING USA to one-off proprietary surveys of high-net worth individuals published by banks to specialty analyses of subsectors such as foundation or corporate giving. And then there are raw data available from the IRS, in the form of nonprofit reports and aggregated, anonymized samples of taxpayers.

However, when you try to triangulate these data you get a mess. Tim Ogden of Geneva Global told me he tried to reproduce the numbers reported in one major bank study, following the same methodology the paper described. His result was off from the reported result by tens of millions of dollars. And Tim triple-checked his math. We also tend to rely on a figure or number that, when you check the sources, all roads lead back to a single analysis. Instead of considering these numbers to be "reliable estimates from many sources," we need to understand that they may be "single estimates reported out many times." You can't cross-check data that all lead back to a single source.

So, if we can't count the simple things - how much do we give - we should figure out how to do so. It may simply be a case of explaining the differences between the different numbers, and why some data should be used for some analyses and other data for other analyses. Because, if we can't count the simple things (dollars), don't get me started on a discussion of measuring things like social impact.


More on new learning institutions


Check out the MacArthur Foundation's Spotlight blog for more information on how the Foundation is investing in new learning institutions. This post looks at the work of HASTAC, a multidisciplinary consortium of university professors that is "walking" and "talking" about some great new ideas.

You can read and comment directly on some of HASTAC's thinking by going to their draft paper hosted by the Institute for the Future of the Book. Here you can "walk the walk" and use some cool new technology for collaborative writing while reading about collaborative learning and networked institutions (its all very 'meta').

It complements the "thinkering" work being done about schools and libraries that I noted here.


Thinkering - libraries, schools, foundations

I have written many an ode to libraries. A perfect Sunday for me includes coffee, bike riding and tennis with my kid, and a spell on the couch with the New York Times Book Review and my laptop open to the home page of the SF Public Library. I read the reviews, go online, and request the books. Within days they're delivered to the branch near my home, I walk there with the dog, and stock up for a week or so. Then I switch over to paperbackswap.com and post all of the authors' backlists on my wish list. And then, usually 5-6 days later when I can't control myself anymore, I go to my local bookstore and buy something.

I also spent 24 years as a student (preK to PhD) and taught high school for another four. Schools and libraries are two institutions I know well and use a lot.

So the MacArthur Foundation's work on learning institutions of the future is of great interest to me. The Foundation is doing all kinds of things - including working with the design school of the Illinois Institute of Technology on "thinkering" spaces. This is an incredibly interesting effort to understand and prototype places where children think and tinker (hence the name) with real and virtual objects and reflect on what they've done. The results will be, I predict, very informative for the next generation of architects, teachers, parents, day care centers, and (maybe even) corporate employers.

But our need for this work (which I agree is needed) bothers me on a broad level. I have the same reaction to it that I do to the idea of "Nature Deficit Disorder" or the "The Dangerous Book for Boys." These are two ideas that result from the fact that many parents don't let their kids be kids - either from fear (legitimate in many cases), overscheduling, or planning for college admissions when the kid is 6.

For many kids in cities or those who live in areas where it is dangerous to hang around outside, the inability to play is a real loss. But for many other kids, their reasons for not getting outside more are what should be called "high class problems." In both cases it amazes me how we, as a society, can make a syndrome (or a disorder) out of choices made by families and inflicted on ourselves. Kids know how to play. They know how to ask questions, and test things, and create ideas about how and why things work certain ways. Piaget, Montessori, Rudolf Steiner and others articulated the wonders of the child as learner and the value of play ("thinkering"?) decades ago.

So my hope for the thinkering work is that it assume that its the institutions that must change, not the kids. That it assumes that kids know how to make sense of things real and virtual, and that it is our responsibility as adults to build institutions and opportunities for all kids to do their best with all types of objects - real, virtual, and, most important, imaginary.

On another tact, it is a cool project from the point of view of how the designers and techies think about systems and institutions. Anyone interested in designing change should check out the information on prototyping, design principles and system strategies.


Deadline extended

The Project Enterprise Ideas contest hosted by NOW on PBS has extended its deadline to the end of June. Nominate worthy social enterprise ventures that you know.

Philanthropic prize for eco-friendly products

The Dutch annual idea fest, Picnic, is hosting a contest for "innovative consumer-friendly product or a service "that contribute to an eco-friendly lifestyle, directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and score highly on convenience, quality and design." First prize = 500,000 euros. Learn more here and here.

The funding comes from the Dutch postcode lottery, not something most Americans would think of as philanthropy. But wait a second, as more and more states privatize their lotteries, maybe Americans will start to see state-sponsored lotteries used to fund nonprofits that then host contests for commercial innovation. Now that is a new arrangement of capital for social good.

Success isn't always in the metrics

If you think its touch to develop indicators of success for a philanthropic grant program, try measuring national happiness. Check out this post from the NewEconomist, which cites an economist's study of the ten indicators of "happy capitalism." They are:

1. High degree of trust in fellow citizens
2. Low amount of corruption
3. Low unemployment
4. High level of education
5. High income
6. High employment rate of older people
7. Small shadow economy
8. Extensive economic freedom
9. Low employment protection
10. High birth rate

If this kind of cluster analysis can be done on capitalism, surely we can figure out indicators for the success of foundation grants to after school programs, for malaria treatments, or for reductions in gun violence.

Of course, when thinking about indicators for philanthropic grants, one should also take heed of a comment posted about the above. It reads, and I quote, "No wonder people hate economists." Sometimes, success may not be in the metrics.


Social enterprise on tv, web, next door

What are two of the hottest ideas of 2007?

How about social enterprise and online videos? In the civil sector, 2007 might go down as the year social entrepreneurs went mainstream. As for every sector, 2007 is the year YouTube went from 0 to 100 million users and $1.65 billion and made everyone a video star.

Now these two big ideas have come together. No less a respected force than PBS has launched a (very worthwhile) new series on social enterprise. Its part of the regular programming of NOW. It was, almost predictably, launched with a YouTube video. PBS has also built out a very useful and engaging web site, a blog called Better World and a contest to nominate a social enterpreneur (entries accepted until June 8).

PBS is not the only source of online video about social entrepreneurs. SocialEdge, a project of the Skoll Foundation, which has played a crucial role in bringing attention and resources to social enterprise, also has blogs, videos, and podcasts. And because old and new can happily coexist, my local NPR station (radio equivalent of PBS) is brought to me by "listeners like me and SocialEdge, an online community for social entrepreneurs."

Fora.tv covers social enterprise from a variety of viewpoints, including that of The Institute of OneWorldHealth, the relationship between social enterprise and democracy, and from the perspectives of individual social entrepreneurs.

Even the venerable Harvard Business School is presenting its work on social enterprise by streaming video. The University of Michigan has a video archive on social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Reporter has a video and radio archive.

A search for "social enterprise" on YouTube brings up 75 videos. A Google video search finds another 29. These are definitely two trends that fit each other. Video helps spread the ideas of social enterprise, makes it personal, engaging, and - as in the case of organizations such as Witness - can also be a tool for the enterprise itself.

Next thing you know, there will be a social enterprise video game. Whats that? There is already? Of course there is, its called Village.



Designing change


Read Dennis Whittle's post and one from Diego Rodriguez on the incredible ideas a group of Stanford d. school students developed for, with help from, and a focus on GlobalGiving.

From ideas to beta web sites - in four weeks. This is the pace of innovation. If academia and nonprofits can do it - and they can - lets see more of it!

Its inspiring. Hats off.


Corporate philanthropy non-news

Don't let the mashed-up graphic fool you, Google did not buy SalesForce today.

Like many Bay Area bloggers I was invited to today's "major announcement" by Salesforce.
The two companies announced a strategic partnership for users of Google AdWords and SalesForce. I read a lot of tech and venture capital blogs, as well as the WSJ, so know full well of the "Google buys Salesforce" rumors. Given the expectations of merger, the actual news is not so exciting. But I was still intrigued.

A merger would be interesting, from a philanthropy point of view. Salesforce created the "1/1/1/1 model" 1/1/1/1 model— 1% time, 1% equity, 1% product and now 1 with the Earth—of corporate philanthropy. This is cool, and good for nonprofits - I know many that have benefitted from using Salesforce's CRM. Salesforce also has an interesting model for encouraging/investing in the development of 3rd party applications - it calls this the AppExchange and Salesforce provides space and capital to 32 companies - essentially incubating new businesses that build off of its software platform.

(The AppExchange is interesting to me as an analog for the civil sector - instead of starting new nonprofits perhaps social entrepreneurs (and others) could bring their ideas and resources under the umbrella of major existing organizations, leveraging everyone's time, money and expertise.)

And everyone knows about Google.org.

So I was interested in the potential merger announcement. If "GoogForce" had been announced (as the tech/advertising bloggers call the imagined merged company) what might it portend for philanthropy? Here are some thoughts:

  • 1/1/1/1 of a much larger entity?
  • More action from Google.org since SalesForce Foundation is quite busy?
  • The non-tax exempt status of Google.org carried over to SalesForce?
  • A GoogleAppExchange for all kinds of social businesses and nonprofits?
  • Google AdWords and SalesForce CRM integration for nonprofits and donors?
  • More giving in total? less?
  • More in-kind support and more volunteer time?
  • Creative new technology platforms for donors, nonprofits, and social enterprise?
  • Would it have an impact on Microsoft giving?
  • On tech support providers like CompuMentor/Techsoup?
  • Nothing interesting at all?
What do you think? What would you want to see happen? What would you fear happening?

1 picture = 1000 words

We all know the old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words. As Chris Jordan's new photography exhibit shows, that same picture might also be worth:

  • The 8 million trees harvested monthly for US mail order catalogs;
  • 2 million plastic bottles used every 5 minutes;
  • 11,000 jet trails over the US every 8 hours;
  • 426,000 cell phones thrown out daily;
  • 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every 5 seconds; or
  • 29,569 handguns, one for every gun death in the US in 2004.
Check out the photos. If you are in New York between June 14 and July 31 check it out in person. The photos really do justice to these sobering statistics.

If only he had a picture of the 260 billion dollars Americans gave to charity last year (at least some of which was intended to address the problems shown in the other photos).

A shout out to my mother-in-law for sending Jordan's web site my way.

Foundations and global issues

The European Foundation Centre Annual General Assembly took place over the weekend (1 - 3 June) in Madrid. Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees got the discussion rolling with a call to foundations to become more involved in the global challenges of migration and refugee issues.

The theme of the conference was "The new challenges of global philanthropy" building on a 2006 survey of European foundations which found they are increasingly working across and outside of their own national borders.

The next large scale conversation about philanthropy around the world starts this Thursday in New York at the Grantmakers Without Borders Conference on Social Change Philanthropy.

And a nod to a new (to me) blog on philanthropy from a Portuguese perspective, Profit-non-profit. Add it to your reader and please send me other philanthropy blogs from anywhere beside the US - I need to read them.


Structural incentives for aligned investing

There really isn't a free market in the U.S., or anywhere. Government regulations, global trade agreements, and tax structures shape what gets made where, who can buy it, at what cost, and how things travel around the globe.

So, when you think about entrepreneurship, new markets, new fuels, new tools, and capitalism you have to think about the regulatory, legislative, and tax systems that shape them. Those who really understand how capital markets work understand, deeply, how these systems are shaped by government controls - the presence, lack, or tightness of those controls is what matters.

The structural systems of laws and regulations can be particularly powerful in sparking new products, companies, industries and markets. My favorite example is the investment and securities industry. Charles Schwab revolutionized brokerage services in May 1975 when brokers commissions were deregulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Discount brokerages are an industry birthed whole by an SEC regulatory change. In turn, brokerages such as Schwab, E*Trade, and AmeriTrade brought the securities markets to main street, at least partly resulting in an America where more than 50% of the population owned stocks in 2006, compared with 10% of Americans in 1929.

Here's another example of how regulations shape markets, for both vendors (See brokerages above) and consumers. Most Americans who own stock do so through 401K plans. These plansInternal Revenue Code - exploded in size and number in the last decades -
- created by and named for a paragraph deep in the where there were 17000 plans with 10 million participants in 1985, by 2005 there were 400,000 plans with 50 million participants and nearly $3 trillion in investments under management.

Why do these stories matter? Because the 1975 SEC regulation that gave birth to discount brokerages didn't suddenly come about - it was the result of lobbying and lawsuits. The 401K plan and the paragraph that underlies it (literally), as well as subsequent changes in pension laws get written because of deliberate support and lobbying by groups such as the American Benefits Council and the ERISA Industry Committee.

This is how laws get made, how markets get structured and - sometimes, as in the examples above, - how whole new industries (discount brokerages) or products (401k plans) happen. It is happening now with alternative energy - huge efforts are underway by everyone from electric car manufacturers to venture investors to the solar lobby to the coal (!) industry - to shape the regulations and incentives that will shape America's investments in alternative energy. These folks know that if you want to make a market first make the regulations.

So where are the advocates for socially responsible investing, new corporate structures, or mission-related investing in all this? They are active on the supply side - new products and investment vehicles and new structures or associations that foster social entrepreneurism are developing almost daily. This is wonderful. But what an irony that these folks, who the blue-blood portfolio managers of Wall Street often deride as a bunch of "underperforming shirkers of their fiduciary-responsibility" are trying to build a market without tax incentives, whereas "free market" activists hold nothing back when it comes to rewriting pension laws, estate tax precedent, and energy regulations that will benefit their pursuits.

When we think about the deployment of philanthropic capital and the creation of social capital markets, I recommend we take a page from the play book of those who have created widely successful financial products and markets before us. It is fabulous that more and more "blended value" product options and vendors are available to interested individuals and institutions. It is wonderful that new corporate structures such as the B Corporation are coming on line. These kinds of
disruptive innovations are great and they can build companies, they won't sustain whole industries or markets.

If we really want to catalyze a movement of investments and entities that promote and pursue sustainable values, products, and practices we need to do more than play as if there are free markets. We need to get smart - and active - about the structural regulations and incentives that can make these lofty goals viable, vibrant, market-changing mechanisms. In other words, we've got to think about tax incentives, structural supports, and regulations.

These things ain't sexy. However, history shows that they are what matters when it comes to building and sustaining new markets, new industries, and new financial practices.


Becoming a B (Corporation)

When I founded Blueprint Research & Design ten years ago, the question I asked myself, and everyone asked me was "why didn't I set it up as a nonprofit?" After all, we provide independent research and strategy advice to philanthropic foundations and individuals - all of our clients are either charitable individuals, philanthropic entities or the charitable arms of commercial enterprises.

The answer I gave then, and the one I give now, is that the company's mission - improving philanthropy - was a few steps removed from the charitable purposes that I believe nonprofits are supposed to serve. The integrity of social purpose entities depends on their being able to show direct benefit to the public. Blueprint's contributions benefit those who benefit the public - a distance I felt was too great to fit comfortably into the nonprofit classification.

I wished then, and now, for a structural option besides the dichotomous "commercial or nonprofit" structure; for a structure that would recognize our commercial nature AND our public benefit.

Today I got my wish. On Friday, June 1, the B Corporation was born. This is a new corporate designation for "purpose-driven [companies that] create benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders." I've been waiting and watching for B Corporations to become real for about a year now, since I first learned of the effort from a colleague who manages wealth for one of the world's best known tech-wealthy families. I heard again about the concept from folks at GoodCapital - and got the scoop on the launch at the Investors Circle conference in late May.

I just completed the B Corporation Survey. It asks detailed questions about Blueprint's goods and services, our means of developing and delivering them, the company's governance structure, employee benefits, stakeholder information, environmental commitments, and inclusive reach to under served populations.

The questions are provocative. For example, as a leaseholder can we do more to improve the environmental sustainability of our building? My staff worked with the building managers to improve recycling options, what more can we do since we don't own or manage the facility? Come next workweek, maybe we should try to meet with the building managers and the other tenants to discuss this.

Here's another one: my company is small, with 10 employees. Four members of our staff identify as members of racial/ethnic minority groups; seven are women, two identify as gay. By the standards of the survey this is pretty diverse. But we know we don't reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of our home town - San Francisco (or the state or the nation). We can do more, we know it, we try, and we can use help.

Do we provide a public benefit? To all shareholders in Blueprint's work? This was the key question I asked ten years ago and still ask today. Our work is designed to help philanthropists make more informed and effective decisions with all of their capital (financial, human, intellectual, physical, reputational, and networked). By rough calculation, Blueprint's guidance has directly influenced hundreds of millions of dollars in foundation grants. Indirectly - through speeches, books, panel presentations, articles, and workshops - we have influenced the thinking of individuals and entities who oversee billions of dollars endowed for public benefit. These shareholders benefit from our work - philanthropic, clients, employees, nonprofit partners of our clients, community organizations in San Francisco (we sit on boards, volunteer our time, and give money), corporate owners. Is that broad enough? Is there a greater public benefit we can provide?

We've completed the B Corporation survey (we scored a 62.9). We've submitted papers to file as a B Corporation. We actively participate (as speakers, bloggers, and active learners) in conferences and other learning opportunities for "the Fourth Sector." We're thought leaders on philanthropic capital markets.

There are lots of things Blueprint can do independently. More exciting, there is a real force developing - a community of like-minded entities. Information and peers can be found through Business for Social Responsibility, Social Venture Network, Investors Circle, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, Omidyar.net, SocialEdge, BALLE, MIXMarket, xigi.net, Global Philanthropy Forum. Its exciting, welcome, and time.

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