More insights from the ten year olds

I never know what posts are going to cause what kind of reactions. This post from yesterday on learning to give with a 10 year old blew the top of off my twitter feed and emails. I feel a bit like W.C. Fields - never share the stage with a kid or a dog.

As a learning experience for me, it only got better after posting the story. I had some great email exchanges with people about why the story of the 10 year old and his mom resonated so deeply. I had some great conversations with my own 10 year old - who hears about philanthropy and nonprofits and policy and social enterprise all day, every day. I heard from several people who said it was great market research for the websites they manage or are building (yes, it makes sense to listen to your users). And I talked with some folks about how important it is to keep the kids (and ourselves) engaged all year, not just at the end of the year.

I spent almost an hour on the phone with the mom in the story listening to her recount the conversations she had had with her son (and her parents) over the last few weeks as they undertook this research. Here are some of the issues about giving that the 10 year old raised:

  • Overhead is complicated.
  • It's hard to choose between supporting a school that serves more kids less deeply or fewer kids but for far longer periods of time.
  • Some organizations are really clear about what they are doing, how, and how they are measuring it (see his "write up" below on the Homeless Prenatal Program)
  • Some organizations are not so clear. Their websites have a ton of information, but not all of it is helpful.
  • Saving the animals, saving the earth, and changing how people behave are all related.
  • Not all of the work he cares about gets done by 501c3s.
  • Giving takes a lot of thought, but in the end there is still a lot of feeling involved. It doesn't feel like there is one right answer.
  • The "Hunger 101" gadget on the website of the SF Food Bank is "magnificent and all of us, 10, 40-something, and 80-something, learned from it."
The 10 year old sent me a 4 page document answering my three questions (What is the organization trying to do? How do they do it? And how do they know if they are making a difference?) on each of 14 organizations - 13 501c3s and a 501c5. (Hitting on a point I've been quite interested in - where change come from)

With his permission, and in his own words, here are some of his observations after spending 20 minutes per website for each of the organizations, plus some additional research that he did with his mom. Note that his full list included national environmental policy organizations, food systems groups, animal conservation organizations, and a labor union that organizes farm workers. I was most impressed with his ability to see connections between environmental policy, animal welfare, food safety, worker conditions, hunger, and infant health. As you'll see below, he also cares about girls' education in central Asia.

SF Food Bank

  1. This organization is trying to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin County.

  2. This organization collects food and money from donors and gives food to poor people in senior/daycare centers, public schools, neighborhood pantries, soup kitchens etc.

  3. We don’t know how the SFFB knows if they are making progress, but volunteers and donors rate them highly (four out of five stars), and they serve about 200,000 people every year.

Central Asia Institute

  1. CAI builds schools, especially for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan to raise the standard of living in poor communities (the “girl effect”).

  2. CAI builds schools, gives scholarships to students, pays teachers salaries, trains teachers, builds community women’s centers in their schools, and supports public health projects where they work in schools.

  3. The CAI website doesn’t tell much about how CAI is doing, but Greg Mortensen’s books convinced us that his work is very important.

Homeless Prenatal Program

  1. HPP helps homeless pregnant women have healthy babies and make good families.

  2. They help families with babies find housing and move in.

  3. To measure how well they’re doing they measure the %age of babies born at a healthy birth weight and without any drugs in their bodies

Note the use of ratings and stars, the references to outside sources (Greg Mortensen's books and The Girl Effect), the ability of a 10 year old to find some information (metrics for prenatal program) and not others (metrics for SFFB). I think he knocked this project out of the park.

After reading his friend's reviews of the different organizations, my son and I discussed the things that he would want to know about two seemingly similar programs. You may recall from yesterday that my son is not a fan of overhead costs. He read through his friend's list, and we talked about how to choose between different schools that educate girls in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, three places of great interest to my son. He knows about Room To Read and CAI. He's long sent 1/4 of his annual giving budget to two orphanages in Nepal at which close friends of ours have worked, volunteered, and adopted children.

After reading his friend's reviews and listening to my conversation with the mom, my son noted the importance of pencils, teachers, books, and chairs for the girls going to school.

"Those things cost money," he said, "and you can't learn without them. Do they make smart decisions about pencils and books? Because I care more about the girls and what they learn. That they get to graduate. That would matter most to me," he responded. "Can we go there, to visit and help and see?" He asked.

Ah yes, the importance of volunteering and site visits. We're saving that for our 11 year old year- long giving circle that seems set to launch in 2011. Happy New Year.

How things have changed

A friend of mine with a 10 year old asked me how she could spend time with him making their charitable donations this year. She and her son are generous people and are actively involved in local community and political issues. The dollar amount of their giving is significant to them and puts them squarely in the heart of American generosity - they are absolutely typical of the long tail of American givers who collectively donate $225 billion +/- each year.

She had a working list of about two dozen organizations covering a range of issues, mostly environmental and wildlife preservation. She had heard of a site where she could check their overhead ratios (Charity Navigator). But she wasn't convinced that overhead was the most important factor in choosing a nonprofit organization and she thought that her son wouldn't care. Most of the organizations she had on her list had the same number of stars so this wasn't going to filter anything out for her.

I told her about GiveWell, the BBB, Philanthropedia and GreatNonprofits but warned her that these sites don't cover the full breadth of issues and may not have information on the organizations she was considering.

Remember - she wasn't looking for new organizations she was trying to compare organizations against each other. I told her she could look at the grant lists of organizations like GlobalGreenGrants, The Goldman Environmental Prize, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, her local community foundation, the Environmental Grantmakers Association and other funders of the environment to see if they had information she could use.

If she'd been looking for new ideas I would have sent her to those funders' lists above and to GlobalGiving or perhaps this new site I just learned of - SeeYourImpact. If this post from Sean had been up last week I'd have sent them to it.

All of this was helpful and rational. But not particularly emotionally satisfying. And if you are trying to get a 10 year old to do something there had better be some kind of fun or emotional hit or direct feedback to the kid. Otherwise giving is going to be like doing homework.

We talked about what she was hoping to accomplish by doing this with her 10 year old. She wanted him to make giving something he always did and would always plan for. She wanted him to gain some awareness of how different organizations do their work. And she wanted him to begin understanding how complicated and interconnected the issues of environmental health, animal habitat, and human health really are.

I gave her the following advice - send her son to the websites of each of the organizations on her list. With a pen and paper. Give him 20 minutes per site to answer the following questions:

  1. What does the organization do?
  2. How do they do it?
  3. How do they know if they are making a difference?
His task was to answer these questions for each organization. If he couldn't find the answers, she'd ask him why and what he thought that said about the organization. Then they'd look through the information they'd found and make some decisions. They could "balance their portfolio" with policy and advocacy and direct service organizations if they wanted. They could focus geographically, or by type of service, or by type of environmental issue.

I also asked him to take note of the organizations for which he couldn't find this information from their websites. I want him to email them and let them know what he did and what he could and couldn't find. Her conversations with her son, before, during and after his "research project" would probably be the most meaningful part of the effort in terms of her goals for him.

Throughout our conversation (or email exchange - which is how most of this transpired over the holidays) I kept thinking about how different this exercise was now than it would have been in 2000. So much more information. So much easier to access. All of it waiting to be found by a 10 year old (who is completely facile in finding information on the Internet, though still learning how to judge credibility). I'm still waiting to hear back from him about what he found, what he thought mattered, and how it influenced his decision making.

I spend a lot of time on the "rational" side of philanthropy so this was a great reminder of what the user experience of giving markets and nonprofit websites is like for others. I expect to learn a lot from my friend's son. Especially after explaining this all to my own 10 year old and hearing this from him: "Is 'overhead' what you call meetings? You go to so many meetings, Mama - I don't want to fund meetings. I want to help girls go to school in places where girls don't get to go to school." Talk about being put in my place.

Philanthropy Buzzword 2010.10 - Giving Pledge

Nothing says philanthropy in 2010 like "The Giving Pledge."

Well, except maybe the depressing reality that more Americans than ever before say they can't give to charity this year. Or that most of us will be doing our best to give the same amount we gave last year and many of us have no choice but to give less.

I had to move this to the top of the list, just based on the number of Google hits - (9,570,000 ), intensity of sycophantic posts about it, and its role as discussion starter.

Here's the year's entire list:

2010.10 - Giving Pledge
2010.9 - Markets for Good
2010.8 Crowdfunding
2010.7 - Chugger
2010.6 - Co
2010.5 - Charity washing
2010.4 - Curator
2010.3 - Networked
2010.2 - Sector Agnostic
2010.1 - Scale

Two great books from 2010

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Jaron Lanier,
You are not a Gadget

I wrote this in mid June and never posted it for a reason that I can no longer remember. Last week Jed Emerson called me and asked me if I'd read Jaron Lanier's book and/or blogged about it. I pulled this off of the hard drive to share with him and thought perhaps others might be interested.

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The shifting domains of public and private


“What is public, what is private and who decides?” has been the guiding question behind my work for twenty years. It shaped my decision to go to graduate school, it shaped my dissertation, and it shapes my work today. I got involved with philanthropy because it allowed me to think about private resources and public systems. If I were leaving graduate school today I might very well opt to work for a social networking company, a medical research firm, or someplace I could talk about Wikileaks all day – the questions of public and private have become mainstream.


In trying to make sense of two very different books, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and You are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier, I realized the question of public and private was at the heart of both books. Skloot’s book is about race, class, and medical research. Lanier looks at technology, music, web 2.0, social networks, and the demise of the middle class. But both are fundamentally about the changing relationships between public and private.


Henrietta Lacks was a working mom of five children in Baltimore in the early 1950s when she was first overtaken by severe abdominal pain. The pain led her to the hospital at Johns Hopkins University, which at the time provided most of the area’s care to the poor. It also served both blacks and whites. Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated with radium. Before she died, and again afterward, the doctors providing the treatment took tissue samples of the tumors. From these tumors came the first human cells to ever grow outside of a body.


These cells (named #HeLa – for Henrietta Lacks) eventually contributed to most of the major medical breakthroughs of the next 60 years, including the polio vaccine, AIDS treatments, cancer drugs, and HPV vaccine. No one asked Henrietta or her family if they could use her tissue for these purposes. Over the next 50 years Henrietta’s descendants would both be ignored and hounded by medical researchers, reporters, and charlatans. They would be dismissed as profit-seekers, ignored by those with higher educations, refused medical treatment for lack of insurance, and lied to about medical tests performed on them. Henrietta’s cells have become immortal, and influenced medical research and patient practice. Henrietta’s family has been lied to, used, and, occasionally recognized, for the role these cells played. All of us, as patients, potential tissue donors, and users of over-the-counter and prescription medicine have benefited from the systems, companies, and practices that evolved from Henrietta’s immortal cells.


At the cellular level, we all look the same. As one cancer researcher explains to Henrietta’s daughter in answer to her question about why the cells aren’t black if her mother was, “Under the microscope, cells don’t have a color. They all look the same….You can’t tell what color a person is from their cells.” (Skloot, location 4316, Kindle edition)


Jaron Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget looks at how we're also starting to all look the same on the Internet. He deals with the dehumanizing nature of the Internet, emphasizing that we have done this to ourselves. As we all answer the same Facebook question, fill in the same data fields about ourselves, and willingly contribute our ideas for free to aggregators such as Twitter and Facebook, we collectively devalue ourselves. No wonder, says Lanier, that writers, photographers and musicians struggle now to make a living practicing their crafts – what was once primarily private creativity is now a project of the “hivemind.” Private creation becomes less and less possible as the public stage of social networks becomes ever more pervasive.

As I read Lanier’s argument I felt as if he were pointing right at me. I am a user and supporter of Creative Commons licensing, even as I occasionally feel bitter that someone is quoting me without attribution. Through this blog I have given away most of my relevant professional thinking for the last eight years, building a consulting practice that feeds and support it. I have done the math to make the business model work, but I have not seriously considered the degree to which my “non attributable” thinking has made it harder or easier for me to lay claim to my ideas.


Lanier’s most compelling point focuses on how technology manages us. Anyone who has ever trained a dog knows what he means. When you use treats to train a dog to be quiet your first thought is “Wow, look how smart this dog is.” Then you mistakenly think, “Look at what I can do.” And finally, the 5000th time you reach for a treat when he barks you realize what has been going on all along, and you realize, “Wow, look how smart he is. Look what he can make me do.”


Just as we think we are training the dog (and not vice versa), we tend to think we are in control of the technology we use. Lanier points out the degree to which the design decisions made by coders actually affect the ways we work. The obvious one is twitter with its 140-character limit on our wisdom or pithy insights. But the truth is that all technology, at both the interface and the functional level, influences how I express myself. And influence the way you listen and respond to me.


The cumulative impact of web 2.0 has been to accelerate the rate at which we blur ourselves with machines. Lanier decries the effects of thinking about the Internet as conscience creature. He bemoans and belittles the hivemind, swarm mentalities, and purely public, shared creativity. In so doing, he encourages us each to reclaim some of our private thinking and creative spaces, our own ideas, and our ability to control them.


In the decades since doctors took cells from Henrietta Lacks, the medical profession, individuals, and U.S. courts have struggled with the idea and implementation of informed consent. Despite case law, HIPPA, and patients’ bill of rights, there is no standard legal answer to the question of who owns our tissue once it is taken from our bodies. Some researchers argue that fully informed patients will bring medical research to its knees and create a marketplace of profiteering body part salespeople. Others see exactly the opposite truth, and point out the following irony: “It’s illegal to sell human organs and tissues for transplants or medical treatments, but it’s perfectly legal to give them away while charging fees for collecting and processing them.” (Skloot, location 5266, Kindle edition)


Skloot argues that the “tissue rights” movement may be the next big social movement. Could there be any more intimate a petri dish than this in which to consider questions about who decides what is private and what is public? And if the intimacy of cells and body tissue is too close, Lanier raises the same question on a global scale. In this age of social networks and sharing, are we giving away our individuality in creating these vast repositories of ideas, material, music, and thoughts?


One of the scientists in Skloot’s work says we all owe something to the public good, and should view the medical community’s use of our tissues with this in mind. Even as I readily give away my thoughts on this blog and benefit from medical research on human tissue I find this viewpoint troubling. Are my thoughts and ideas the same as my tissues? And what about Lanier’s concern, that we now so readily give our thoughts to the public sphere that private ideas are harder to create, find and value. True? Overblown?


Is the my confusion caused by the difference between material (cells, tissue) and ideas? It can't be that simple - as economic artifacts cells that reproduce outside of the body are quite similar to ideas. They both get more valuable as used. They can be reproduced without diminishing the original source. Does it have to do with consent and control in different types of markets? With issues of control and expertise? Or just fluid definitions of public and private? Maybe I am just intellectually inconsistent.


Skloot may be right that the tissue rights movement will be the next great social movement. If so, we will become even more familiar with these questions of public and private. Lanier argues that we are not gadgets. Skloot asks us if we want to be petri dishes. Both books make us think hard about our private abilities and our public obligations.


Predictions and strategy

Here is a video of Matt Bishop of Philanthrocapitalism fame putting forward his predictions for philanthropy.



His list includes a rise in online citizen philanthropy, bad news for microfinance, rise in impact investing, Steve Jobs signing the Giving Pledge, boom year for education giving, down turn in government aid, and increased awareness of social capital markets. You can compare his calls for the year with my annual list in the Blueprint 2011, the next decade here, and my list of buzzwords from 2010 which sets us up for 2011.

Most interesting, in my opinion, is Bishop's sense there will be more attention on policy issues, not just from big givers but also from the rest of us. This would be a good thing, if it comes to pass.

I'd like to point out that the very fact that Bishop highlights education and maternal health as two "hot areas" for giving in 2011 is indicative of the limits of philanthropy as a solution. Global solutions don't lend themselves to "annual hot lists" - as I noted here. This blog received a comment from a reader that said: Planned giving and philanthropic leadership are the need of the hour as many countries are crisis-ridden."

My response "... I think it is a fallacy to equate anything you would describe as “crisis ridden” with “philanthropy” as a solution. Philanthropy is – by design – episodic, donor directed, temporal, fragmented, decentralized and disaggregated. Not what any people, society, institution, community should expect to be responsible in “crisis ridden” situations."
Those same characteristics shape the kind of impact philanthropy can possible have on ongoing issues such as education and maternal health or whatever the 2012 issues of the year will be. We don't help anyone by pretending otherwise. It's not to say that philanthropy can't make a difference. It is to say that we need develop philanthropic strategies that draw from the strengths of philanthropy and don't burden it with being a long term, equitable, prioritized source of funding or attention.

Ten for the next 10: 2010 - 2020

(Cross posted on the Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog)


(photo by alykat, Creative Commons, attribution, non commercial)

Earlier this year, I took a look back at my decade of predictions, 1999-2009. You can find that online here. I've also published my annual forecast for what will matter in philanthropy and social investing in 2011 - you can find that online here (use the special SSIR discount code)

I'm an historian by training so I can't help but think in decennial terms - the 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. We're wrapping up the first decade of the 21st Century. Everywhere you look you can find Top 10 lists. I've got my own going - the annual roundup of Philanthropy Buzzwords can be found here. We're up to #8 (crowdfunding). We'll get the last two posted before December 31st.

With this post I'm going to take a slightly different tack on the end-of-year ritual top 10 lists. Rather than focus in (anymore than the buzzwords list already does) on the top 10 of the year gone by, let's think about the factors that will shape philanthropy for the decade ahead.

Here are my premonitions on what will become familiar in philanthropy in the decade to come:

1. The rules will change - federal tax law, nonprofits and politics, municipal and state tax exemptions, IP regulations, B corporations and the entry of the SEC into social investing - by 2020 philanthropy in the US and trans-nationally is going to be operating under fundamentally different rules.

2. More spend down foundations - as the wealthy get more active in philanthropy at younger ages I expect more of them will set time-limits on their foundations. After all, if you start giving away your billions in your twenties you've got as many years left ahead of you as most of the nation's perpetual foundations have behind them.

3. Gaming and game pedagogy will be built in to problem solving - And foundations, philanthropists, and change making organizations will be using these structures and incentives to address everything from obesity to art creation, from public policy debates to conserving energy.

4. Disaster relief giving will be more structured and planned - Weather forecasters and scientists are predicting a dramatic uptick in natural disasters, especially those that are weather related. Efforts to organize and plan for these disasters will take hold. New mechanisms for individual disaster response giving will exist.

5. Impact investing will surpass philanthropy - Total giving in the USA increased by about 50% or $100 billion in the last decade. The 2000 number (as reported by Giving USA) was $203 billion and the 2009 working number is $303 billion. If that rate of growth continues over the next decade we'll hit $450 billion in total giving by 2020. Meanwhile (admittedly self-interested) predictions of impact investing peg the a potential investment opportunity between $400 billion and $1 trillion.

6. Institutional philanthropy will be more collaborative - the generation that will be key professional staff and the donors behind major new foundations in the next decade are used to "spending other people's money," "leverage," and "real time collaboration." I think we'll see foundations working more deliberately through networks, in joint funding, and through syndicates.

7. Data analysis and visualization will be key skills for philanthropists - Communications and evaluation were the two "add on" departments of foundations in the last decade. Learning got a lot of play as an important skill. New data tools and products specific to philanthropy started to appear in the last year or so. Smart program people who can use data, make sense of it, and help foundation's communicate their own data through analysis and visualization will be the key going forward.

8. Foundations and nonprofits will still be here - There will be all kinds of other ways for donors to use their dollars for good, but they will still be starting new private foundations. Most of the foundations that exist today will exist in 2020, as will an amazing percentage of today's nonprofits.

9. Mobile phones will replace credit card donations. We'll look back and laugh at the idea of entering credit card numbers into web sites. The mobile revolution is more than text giving. Our phones (handheld computers) will be our point of access to the web and social networks, communications systems, volunteering tools, and wallets.

10. Scale will have a networked meaning. Scale is one of the buzzwords of the last decade in philanthropy. By 2020 ,we'll have given up our misconception that "scale = big" and instead be focused on "scale = networked." We will have recognized that problems get solved through "small pieces loosely coupled."

In the generous spirit of the season, here are some extra thoughts.

11. "Impact economy" will replace "social sector" as the term of art.
12. Foundation leadership and boards will not reflect the racial, ethnic, or gender makeup of the nation.
13. China and India will be atop global philanthropy leader boards.
14. There will be a multinational oversight organization for global philanthropy or social investing.

What do you think will happen by 2020? What will philanthropy look like? What can we barely imagine today that will be commonplace by then? Let us know in the comments and have a great year ahead.


Philanthropy Buzzword 2010.9 - Markets for Good

Last year Impact Investing topped the buzzword list. This year we've expanded from the changes in investing to the larger markets of which they are a part. The phrase "Markets for Good" got its biggest push at this year's SoCAP conference, but the idea has been around in various forms for some time.

Markets for Good - (noun, pl) - The mix of financial mechanisms that move private resources to public goods. Current financial tools in the marketplace run from giving to impact investing.

The philanthropy buzzword 2010 list so far:

2010.8 Crowdfunding
2010.7 - Chugger
2010.6 - Co
2010.5 - Charitywashing
2010.4 - Curator
2010.3 - Networked
2010.2 - Sector Agnostic
2010.1 - Scale

2010 Publications

Ah, December, time to reflect on the year gone by.

2010 was wonderfully productive on the writing front. Thanks to everyone who contributed to and used Disrupting Philanthropy, the breakout publication of the year. But it wasn't the only thing I wrote - here are several other publications from the last twelve months.

The MacArthur Foundation Series on Field Building:

Changing the Ecosystems of Change

Building Fields for Policy Change

Border Crossing: Working Across Sectors for Social Purpose

Building to Last: Field Building as Philanthropic Strategy

In addition to the above papers in the MacArthur series, I also published the following:

Disrupting Philanthropy: The Future of Technology and the Social Sector

In Philanthropy UK Newsletter, Alliance Magazine, Alliance article on banks and philanthropy.

Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2010 (Kindle edition, sale price)

Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2011 (preview)
Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2011 (purchase)

You can find several other papers, speeches and databases on my Scribd page. Presentations are posted on Slideshare.

Video - from the DataJam, Foundation Center and NYU Heyman Center (forthcoming)

Audio - including inaugural Foundation Center #Glasspockets Podcast.

Phew! Can't wait for 2011.

Philanthropy Buzzword 2010.8 - Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding. - the latest buzzword for philanthropy and social enterprise

Crowdfunding is the "magic" behind Kickstarter and IndieGoGo - post an idea, activate your networks, and see if you can raise small bits of money from as many people as possible to meet a funding goal. Crowdfunding is linked to a technology platform that lets you highlight certain projects, share information easily, link and make badges and crosspromote easily. It also can have an offline component - as seen in community fundraising efforts like Feast.

You can join a conversation about crowdfunding business models with Sam Beinhacker and Josh Tetrick at #SocialEdge discussion on crowdfunding.

WebDistortion provides this review of 9 Crowdfunding sites including Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, ProFounder, CoFundOs, and others.

Wired Magazine recently reviewed crowdfunding for science. These sites include SciFlies, EurekaFund, and FundScience. Wired also did a piece on crowdfunding photojournalism.

If you're keeping track here are the other 7 1/2 buzzwords so far this year. (We have a bonus buzzword - Chugging/Chugger 2010.7a - In honor of the new Voluntary Sector network on The Guardian UK . I ran my first post over there last week asking "What will change everything in philanthropy?"

2010.7a - Chugger
2010.7 - Giving Pledge
2010.6 - Co
2010.5 - Charitywashing
2010.4 - Curator
2010.3 - Networked
2010.2 - Sector Agnostic
2010.1 - Scale

As interesting as it gets?

My first post for the Guardian UK Voluntary Sector Network is up - take a look.

And let us know in the comments there what you think will change everything.....