Research on Generosity

The University of Notre Dame has a research center on generosity. They are currently offering dissertation fellowships for research - information is here. They also have a science of generosity community and a blog.


Why would a foundation tweet?

A few days ago I checked my Twitter stream and saw several items tagged #JIFLAB. I could tell that these tweets were coming from staff of The James Irvine Foundation. I pinged the people I knew and asked "What's #JIFLAB? What's going on?"

I've been asked the question "Why should my foundation tweet?" at least 1,000 times. My usual answer has to do with listening. Chances are some of the people you want to learn from are using Twitter. Chances are they are using it to be part of interesting/important/relevant/useful/ thought-provoking conversations. If your job requires you to know what the key people in a certain field are talking about, then listening to and being part of the conversations on Twitter is part of that.

One of the people in the#JIFLAB conversation was the Foundation's CEO, Jim Canales. I asked Jim (on Twitter, of course) if I could interview him for this blog on why the Foundation was tweeting and what they hoped to learn.

We tried the interview by Twitter but switched to email. Here's the quick-and-dirty back and forth. Here is why one Foundation is trying out Twitter.

LB) Why is JIF staff tweeting? Is it part of an emergent strategy (on social media? listening? transparency? something else?) and, if so, what other practices are part of that strategy?

JC) In setting out the Foundation's goals for 2011 (I do this annually for both board and staff to align our work and set key institutional priorities), I described that we should actively explore the ways in which social media might serve to advance our Foundation's programmatic goals. More specifically, we are interested in exploring ways to use social media to: (1) share what we are learning more rapidly and broadly; (2) listen more actively to our partners and key stakeholders, building greater two-way exchange instead of one-way transmission of information; (3) build alliances and broader networks of support to advance our program goals; and (4) demonstrate Irvine's continued commitment to transparency and openness.

In setting this priority, I have consciously noted that 2011 is a time for active learning, broad exploration and selective experimentation. I don't want us using social media for the sake of using social media alone, and we are focused on identifying staff who are interested in being early adopters and users (I put myself in this category). The training that you spotted on the #JIFLAB stream was focused on staff who had the most interest and wanted to learn more.

LB) What do you hope to learn? How will you and individual staff know if its "worth it?"

JC) Many others have been active in this space (you included), and we hope to learn from you and them how they are using social media to improve and enhance the work of philanthropy.

One way to understand "worthiness" will be to answer these kinds of questions:
  • Did we find ways where the use of social media served as an effective complement to our grantmaking strategies?
  • Did social media lead us to be more effective at sharing lessons learned, results achieved, and our shortcomings?
  • How does social media help us to stay "closer to the ground" in understanding the trends and current issues on the minds of our partners and stakeholders?
  • Has the substance of what we learned from engagement with social media influenced our work, especially in ways different from more traditional approaches to "scan the landscape"?
  • Does social media contribute to a more authentic and less formal relationship between Irvine and its various partners?
  • Does the use of social media link us to new voices and perspectives that we might not otherwise engage with?
  • And, perhaps most importantly, can we point to ways where social media helped Irvine to have greater impact toward our program goals?
LB) Can I check back in in with you in August, December to see how its going?

JC) Absolutely. This is a work in progress, and we are eager to share what we are learning at the same time as we want others to teach us what we don't know."

Thanks Jim, for giving us one CEO's view of what a foundation can learn from social media. I think Jim has set out an important range of goals - mostly about listening and learning. As this blog post itself reveals, being part of different conversations can change what you learn about, who you talk to and what you know. I simply "overheard" the #JIFLAB conversation, there was no formal inquiry or outreach.

Even if the Foundation can't prove a substantive difference in its knowledge base, conversational style or level of access I think the experiment is worthy. Linking those kinds of change to achieving the Foundation's mission will be tough, but not impossible. Smart philanthropy requires using good information well. Social media offers several new tools for doing so.

I wish the Foundation staff well in their adventures in listening and learning. I'll check back in with Jim and #JIF in a few months. In the meantime, please welcome the Foundation to the conversation.

Information on foundations use of social media can be found at www.glasspockets.org - a Foundation Center Initiative. Check out their cool new heat map.


Following up on Ten for the Next Ten

I had a great time on Wednesday leading a webinar hosted by Guidestar on my Ten Predictions for the Next Ten Years post. Thanks to the ~1700 people who tuned in!

The twitter #tenforten discussion was fabulous, I've seen some blog posts riffing off the discussion, and the slides and audio are online here.

The question and answer section of the discussion was not long enough. So here are some parts of the discussion we didn't get to on Wednesday. There's more Q & A on the GuideStar Trust blog - you can log into that part of the conversation here.

Prediction #2: Gaming Pedagogy will become a frame for social change
Question:

What will NPOs need to do in the face of a gaming culture to engage donors that they may not be doing presently?

Answer:

Gaming pedagogy is all about rapid feedback, fun content, "leveling up." People who are playing games are thoroughly absorbed - focused and energized to solve the problem/challenge presented by the game. Nonprofits need to be visible where the gamers are (in games), use gaming tactics like rapid feedback and fun challenges to engage donors - not just to get their money but to generate ideas, provide services, expand the community. Check out Jane McGonigal's Reality Is Broken for great examples. Also see the incredible work of GamesForChange,* GamesForHealth, and SeriousGames.


Prediction of a possible backlash to market solutions as source of social change

Question:

I didn't understand the reference to backlash to market solutions/micro-finance. Can you clarify?

Answer:

This comes from observations about microfinance and for-profit colleges in the United States. Both cases include several egregious examples of market providers emphasizing their financial return over their social missions. You can read about the microfinance issues here and here and about the for profit colleges here and here. While we've seen a steady increase in support for market based solutions to social goods, there has always been an important argument that market solutions won't hold all the answers. (Many argue an inherent tautology - as many social challenges are a result of market failures they say it is a fallacy to rely on market solutions. I think the reality is more nuanced - our social ills - from poverty to hunger and so on are a result of failures on all fronts - governments, markets, individuals and the social sector.) As market solutions pass the point of "marginal" and become mainstream their shortcomings will become more visible, their critics louder, and scandals within their ranks more often used to attempt to discredit the entire sector.

I've got some more Q & A over on the Guidestar Trust blog - thanks for joining me last week and check out the rest of the conversation here.

Please ask any other questions in the comments below or on the GuideStar Trust blog and thanks again for joining in the discussion -

*I'm on the Board of GamesForChange

Generosity Day



In 2001, two months after September 11, some friends of mine tried to turn the day after Thanksgiving into a day of service (We called it Giving Day). It stuck for a few years but faded with time. Those were pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, early blogging days. We spread the word pretty well for a bunch of email-dependent old fogies, but the idea never really seemed to take off.

Martin Luther King Day has become somewhat synonymous with service, led by the efforts of the Corporation for National and Community Service. It gets pretty good turnout, Presidents and First Ladies do their part. It's orchestrated and formal and a very good way to remember and honor Dr. King.

This year, some people I respect are aiming to remake Valentine's Day into Generosity Day. As Sasha Dichter of Acumen Fund told me "it's a day to "say yes" to things," to help out, to do for others. Well - I say YES to that idea.

I remember leaving the house with my then two-year old son and trying to get him to turn right. He wanted to turn left. I realized I always turned right, but there was no reason we couldn't turn left. We'd get where we were going. We'd just go his way, not mine. We've all had the experience of being shaken from our routines by something, big or small. Something that made us take notice of the world and the people around us in a bighearted way. Invariably, whatever it was that influenced us to help another, or to notice the normal with new eyes, didn't matter as much as the fact that we did, just for a moment, stop and see things differently.

I'm going to say yes to somebody today. I'm going to do a little bit more than I might otherwise do, extend my hand, look up. I will go left instead of right. I hope you will too. And thanks, Sasha, for asking.

Synecdoches, predictions, and being wrong

I'm taking a writing class and a swimming class. The writing class is taught by a well-known non-fiction writer. All ten of my classmates are published authors; several are accomplished journalists. I've been writing for a long time, but have not taken a writing class since Mr. Frost taught me to diagram sentences in fourth grade.

I've been swimming since I was 3 though I'm not sure I ever had lessons. Dad held me up in the water until he was sure I wasn't going to drown and then sibling rivalry took over. I know how to swim and have been doing so for decades but I don't know anything about form or efficiency.

Both classes got me thinking about how do I know what I know.

Over the weekend I learned the word synecdoche from a bookseller's tweet. I had to look it up. Here's what it means:

n : substituting a more inclusive term for a less inclusive one
or vice versa

This got me thinking about the many small trends, ideas, changes, in philanthropy and society that have caught my eye recently. As I take notes and clip websites I'm always asking myself "does this mean anything larger than itself?" Is it a sign of something, the harbinger of a trend? Is one thing a signal or a stand in for bigger trends, or is one small thing just one small thing? How do you know a synecdoche from a one-off?

Here are some of the things I've been noting:

  • Aging population. I've been following research and demographic trends on aging for some time. An article in Saturday''s NY Times included this paragraph: “No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy making,” analysts at Standard & Poor’s wrote in a recent report, “as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.” Standard & Poor's Global Aging 2010 Report
  • Racial demographics of USA: "U.S. racial minorities accounted for ~ 85 percent of the nation's population growth over the last decade..,Preliminary census estimates also suggest the number of multiracial Americans jumped roughly 20 percent since 2000, to over 5 million."
  • Foundation Center seeks leader for GrantCraft - in partnership with European Foundation Center. Interesting trans-Atlantic partnership. And another important acquisition (see GrantsFire) by The Foundation Center.
  • Google's Art Project. This is like Street View for museums. What does the ability to view art from your mobile phone mean for institutions, imagery, art, us? Will this raise the same issues as eBooks, citizen journalism, and music downloads?
  • Will 33Needs - a Kickstarter for social enterprise - work?

How do I know if any of these things matter for philanthropy? Part of how I know is by asking experts, asking you, doubting the possibilities, and looking for counter-factuals. I bring an historian's toolbox for making sense of clues and a great respect for nonlinear and unexpected turns of events. I try to understand others' methodologies and approaches, from journalists to data scientists. I try to learn new skills and get better at things I think I know how to do. Sometimes I'm right, often I'm wrong. One of the nicest comments I've received about the Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2011 report is praise and appreciation for the section it includes called "Renovations: What I Got Wrong."

Join me on Wednesday for a free webinar, hosted by Guidestar, to discuss some predictions I've made for the next decade in philanthropy. Think of it as "crowdthinking" about the future. Registration and sign up information is here. Hashtag for the event is #tenforten.