Thursday, November 10, 2005

What should we talk about?

I've been away for quite awhile, vacationing and working in Australia, Canada, and several U.S. cities. All that time on planes means I've got a lot on my mind. Here's an opportunity for some reader feedback - please post a comment on which of the following you'd like me to rant about. Most (or most interesting comments) will determine next posts:

1) The possibilities for philanthropy represented in the Omidyar's recent $100 million gift to Tufts (Not your father's Alma Mater donation)

2) What Microsoft's shift to selling internet services might portend (Windows Live! Office Live! Philanthropy Live?)

3) All those big technology changes and huge gifts are fine, but what about the rest of us? (Cool philanthropic activities for the little people)

Stay tuned....

What should we talk about?

I've been away for quite awhile, vacationing and working in Australia, Canada, and several U.S. cities. All that time on planes means I've got a lot on my mind. Here's an opportunity for some reader feedback - please post a comment on which of the following you'd like me to rant about. Most (or most interesting comments) will determine next posts:

1) The possibilities for philanthropy represented in the Omidyar's recent $100 million gift to Tufts (Not your father's Alma Mater donation)

2) What Microsoft's shift to selling internet services might portend (Windows Live! Office Live! Philanthropy Live?)

3) All those big technology changes and huge gifts are fine, but what about the rest of us? (Cool philanthropic activities for the little people)

Stay tuned....

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Innovation in his own words

Brian Byrnes, CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, is doing some great work. Read his blog here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Follow the Irish

Download the text of Avila Kilmurray's closing speech to US community foundations here.

Look closely - its the last item under the banner that says 2005 Fall Conference for Community Foundations - they should have made this easier to find.

Open Source Education

The costs of higher education are out of control. That's the bad (and well-known) news. The good news is that - at least where over-priced textbooks are concerned - lots of people are doing lots about it. The open source textbook project and others noted in David Bollier's On the Commons essay is worth a look. Its also worth considering how these approaches could be applied in other domains.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

They did it

Community foundations from the US and more than 15 other countries did it this last weekend - they held a conference where words like "racism," "discrimination" and "community impact" took center stage. From the opening comments by Emmett Carson, CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation to closing remarks by Avila Kilmurray of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland, the need for community foundations to commit themselves to social justice was clearly articulated from the podium.

Now, the hard(er) work begins. I hope.

New Research Released

Two new reports released at the Seattle conference of US Community Foundations

On the Brink of New Promise: The Future of US Community Foundations is available here

Better Together: Regional Alliances and Small Community Foundation Sustainability is available here.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Foundations For Recovery

While I was writing my previous post on the need for creative community foundation action in response to Katrina, an announcement of was arriving in my inbox.

Can they respond?

Community foundations - as well as private, family and corporate foundations - have responded to Katrina in a big way (several hundred million dollars in foundation funds). Nationally, there have been several conference calls and regional meetings to coordinate efforts.

I'm on my way to the major annual conference for American community foundations. Like all such big events, the agenda for this one was set months ago. My question - how flexibly and creatively can the 1000+ people at this conference act to take advantage of this gathering and come up with a powerful, field-wide action in this moment?

The ability to be agile will be truly tested, as in all likelihood the conference will open on Monday with the announcement by Congress of some major new legislative sparks for charitable giving.

Open Source Art

Thanks to Larry Lessig for bringing to my attention this group of artists working on open source creativity.

Future of Community Foundations in the US

Eighteen months of work and here you go! On the Brink of New Promise will be launched at the 2005 Council on Foundations Community Foundations conference in Seattle this Monday, September 19, 2005.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Promoting giving

My previous post talks about pending legislation to spark giving.

If tax relief fails, I guess you can always sue. Floyd Norris covers Larry Ellison's "settlement charity" in which the Oracle Corporation CEO has settled a shareholder suit with a $100 million gift to a charity of Ellison's choice.

90 days to give

The Senate and House are working hard to offer "tax relief" for victims of Hurricane Katrina. One thing they seem likely to do is give Americans 90 days (October 1 to December 31, 2005) to rollover funds from their Individual Retirement Accounts to charity and avoid taxes on the IRA withdrawal. For more information on rapidly moving legislative efforts (is that an oxymoron?) click here

If the IRA charitable rollover is passed it will mark a victory for nonprofit and philanthropic sides that have been working on this for years. Nonprofits will have to move fast - 90 days till the end of the year. If it passes, many organizations, including the Council on Michigan Foundations stand ready to help community foundations and other public charities take advantage.

Monday, September 12, 2005

We need another way to think about this

So....two weeks after the rain stopped falling and 13 days after the blame starting getting passed around, the political divides over the role of government in protecting people (or saving them) from natural disasters rages on. In just one example, Larry Lessig takes on Bill O'Reilly and his ilk who see the failure of the public sector as proof of the need for less government, in their minds, "Government failed. More of itwould be worse."

When compared to the some of the claims about "what Katrina proved," O'Reilly almost sounds sane. Or at least saner than the neo nazis who think the Jews brought on Katrina, right-to-lifers who see the storm's 'fetus-like-shape' as proof that God wanted to wipe out abortion clinics in New Orleans, or the fundamentalist Christians who blame gay people. I am not making this up - click here for these and other hate-filled claims.

All it proves to me is that the "government or market" dichotomy of problems/solutions just doesn't work anymore (if it ever did). All the more reason to check out the really smart folks over at On The Commons who have been working for some time to fill in the vast rhetorical possibilities between these two poles. They remind us that there are important resources that we must hold in common (air, water, public safety) and that we must look beyond just the market and government for ways to protect, maintain and grow the commons.

Certainly philanthropy, resident of the murky middle place between these poles, should pay attention to the logic of the commons as it is clarified and becomes more widely understood. Then, perhaps, philanthropy might make more sense.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Managing the image instead of the relief

The Los Angeles Times reports that FEMA is trying to block the press from publishing photos of the dead in New Orleans. Now, I actually have a hard time with these photos - they're disturbing, they're sad, they're hard to look at, and - trust me on this - they're particularly hard to handle if you are searching for loved ones and you might know the person in the photograph. But the point is, information matters. To stop the photos or the reports is not an act of decency as FEMA claims, it is an act of censorship. These tactics reek of the same image management interest that has the Pentagon spending its time controlling photos of soldiers' coffins rather than figuring out ways to bring soldiers home alive.

These attempts at image control come just as the general buzz has built crediting the mainstream press for finally showing some chutzpah. After all, if it weren't for the television cameras, bloggers, and reporters showing the devastation in the Gulf Coast, Bush and Cheney might still be on vacation.

It does appear that the powers who prefer managing information to managing relief are succeeding in stopping a low power FM radio station from broadcasting about relief efforts.

There are also reports that PayPal has blocked accounts that were set up to funnel funds to the Red Cross and other aid organizations. Some think the huge volume of donations triggered PayPal's fraud detection systems.

The receding floodwaters will reveal things no one wants to see, but we must look. Our legacy of failure to provide for our most vulnerable and marginalized people was revealed by the floods themselves, and we must look.

We must look at the ways previous decisions shaped what happened and to whom. We must act now - publicly, privately, individually, and collectively - to prevent such devastation from being reintroduced or reinforced in our communities. As we continue to provide relief and recovery we must also think about how we rebuild - not just our cities but our public priorities and policies, our philanthropic and civic institutions, and our communities - with a commitment to equity and racial justice that will make them stronger and safer for all of us.

Here's the good news. Equitable and humane efforts at bringing relief are coming from all points on earth, from all kinds of people, and in all kinds of ways. The institutions that have so completely failed our poor will also fail to stop truly just commitments to relief and rebuilding.

The bad news about technology

My last few posts have been on the cool ways individuals have been using technology to help displaced people find loved ones (Katrina People Finder Project). There are also Google Maps mashups that let you see specific properties in the flooded areas, find shelters, and compare before and after maps of the area.

[special callout to the folks at the map room for pulling this all together]

There's also the cool work of the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network folks who are also bringing volunteers and donation funded resources to help communications in the area.

Sadly, its not all good news. The New York Times reports that the swindles and online scams started almost as soon as the wind stopped blowing. In addition to all their other problems, those displaced by the storm can add identity theft to their list of woes.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

...more very cool ways technology might help

My previous post linked to some discussions about using technology in times of disaster. Here are two more examples, the Katrina People Finder wiki, the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network and Katrina HelpInfo.line using Skype

Looking ahead

There are some interesting ideas flying around the web about how today's always on, instant contact tech culture could be put to better use in disasters - natural and otherwise. Phil Cubeta covers it from the philanthropy side at Gift Hub and Boing Boing, Buzz Machine, and Dan Gillmor bring techie, media watching, journalistic views to bear. Be sure to read the comments.

Stop the insanity

Let's see....the levees failed because there were no resources to repair them (never mind the damage the levees did to Mother Nature's own flood control strategy), the people died because the public resources could not be mobilized to reach them in time (the nicest way I can think of to put it), and we continue to spend billions on waging wars that were started from falsehoods.

In their inimitable take-action kind of way the U.S. Senate has now taken the heartwarming step of postponing a vote on H.R. 8, a bill that would permanently repeal the estate tax. Don't misunderstand, Senator Frist still intends to bring the bill to a vote this year (later, when the TV cameras leave New Orleans, no doubt) because the number one thing we need right now is more tax cuts for the rich.

I am ashamed of my country.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A different twist on hurricane relief

Yesterday, feeling rather overwhelmed by the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina I posted a somewhat snarky note about how quickly we have gone from using the internet to generate millions of dollars in relief and priceless information about such catastrophes to using the disasters as launch pads for corporate or political marketing - "Hey, look how quickly the Democratic Party and United Airlines stepped up to offer aid to those who are suffering."

I still think this blatant alignment of corporate or political interests with the real needs and sorrows of real people is unfortunate, to say the very least. I've since received several more solicitations to give from entities not really in the disaster-relief business. I'm done with these. However, I am interested in two other philanthropic phenomena now happening, related to the hurricane and possible only through internet technology. - a web community first developed to protest the incessant harping about President Clinton's sexual misconduct has started something called Hurricane Housing, which will try to use the mass organizing power of the internet to help match those who need shelter with those who have a bed, a room or a couch to offer.

Craigslist has also become a virtual message board for people looking for loved ones - its lost and found section is filled with notices asking for information on people who have not yet been heard from.

These two uses of the net are compelling humanitarian applications of this pervasive technology. Corporate or political marketing spam disguised as charity is not, its merely invasive and crass.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A hurricane of email solicitations

My heart goes out to the people in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. The devastation there is truly awful. I will make a gift to help with relief efforts - probably for long term rebuilding. But how's this for a sign of how fast technology changes things - in the last few hours I have received solicitations to give to hurricane relief funds from:

--- The Democratic Party
--- People for the American Way
--- The International Community Foundation
--- United Airlines

Not necessarily your usual cast of characters for something like this. I'm sure to hear from the Red Cross and others soon, but here's my question: at what point does this impressive degree of organizing and outreach turn into spam and disorganization? My answer - right about now.

Yes, we were all impressed with the amount of money raised online in mere hours for tsunami relief back in December. The interesting twist to that story was how quickly one of the major relief organizations (Doctors without Borders) reached a point where they actually said "Stop! No more!" (see my post of January 5 2005, "Stop - we can't take it anymore"). But this time we've already tipped to the point where before the giving can flow we are getting smothered in requests. Let us hope the flood of requests doesn't dry up a potential flood of gifts.

Eyes on the Prize returns

Those of you who've been following along know that intellectual property and philanthropy is a major concern of mine. I'm happy (?) to report that the archetypical example of why IP matters to philanthropy may be coming to conclusion. Monday's New York Times reported that Eyes on the Prize, the groundbreaking PBS documentary on the civil rights movement, may be about to move out of copyright purgatory and back to TV screens, perhaps as early as next year.

When the series was first made (first shown in 1987), with significant philanthropic support, permissions for much of the content were secured for a limited time and those rights expired. This has kept this classic documentary from being shown since 1993. Major gifts from the Ford Foundation and an individual donor, Richard Gilder, will allow the project's administrators to re-new their purchases of these permissions. Total cost? Somewhere north of $600,000. Imagine how those resources could have been used if the permissions could have been purchased once? Imagine what these kinds of costs will mean if they were incurred by every such project? Imagine what life would be like if no creative material could be developed, shown, or referenced without constantly paying someone to do so?

Thank you, Ford and Mr. Gilder. Your support will allow ours and future generations to learn lessons not only about the civil rights movement but about the need for a creative commons as well.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Whole lot of shakin' goin' on

Lots of changes in the foundation world this past week.

The Council on Foundations has a new President, Steven Gunderson, a former congressman. The official word is here. The unofficial word, according to Phil Anthropoid, is here.

In other moves, Elan Garonzik, longtime program officer for philanthropy at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is leaving Michigan for New York to become Program Director at the ELMA Philanthropies.

Michigan will not be down any numbers as far as philanthropists are concerned, however. Sterling Speirn, longtime head of the Peninsula Community Foundation will be leaving California for Battle Creek, where he will take over as head of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Bzzz! Honeybee goes from typewriter to pdf

The Honeybee Network is a 15-year old example of how knowledge sharing can be done on a large scale and respect cultural and linguistic diversity as well as the common and proprietary value of ideas. The forum provides a way for farmers and others - mostly in India and southeast Asia - to share grassroots agricultural innovations. The website is in English but the newsletters and magazines are available in Hindi, Tamil and several other languages.

It started with a typed newsletter - these can be accessed as pdf files for a fun romp through recent formatting history.

There is also a searchable database of innovations with more than 10,000 items - available for free. Makes you wonder - if this can be built at the grassroots for the grassroots - why isn't there more of it?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Techies do it again

Community Knowledge Works presents a really interesting model of how to streamline information gathering procedures that are routine parts of transactions between foundations and nonprofits and consultants. If a large enough user base began using the resources of TechAtlas we might eventually be able to get at field-wide answers to questions like "How does technology help nonprofits achieve their missions?"

Community philanthropy and online reputations

Well, here is one way that communities can use social networking software and reputational systems to guide their philanthropy. The Arts Commission of Vienna has invited 100 arts groups to help deploy a software platform called netznetz that will then involve those groups in advising funding decisions.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Intellectual property and community philanthropy

Warning - the following is an open-ended, free write, procrastination exercise because I'm not getting anywhere on this draft chapter I'm working on.

And, yes, I am back on this rant again - I won't get off this line of thinking until I get this new book done. Which is going to take awhile since all I have now is a huge pile of notes, a huge pile of reading to do, and several half-started chapters.

I continue to think about the ramifications for community philanthropy in this time of rapidly changing intellectual property laws. Why? Well, for one thing, the way we act on our community instincts is changing - from where we find and talk about movies to how we learn about world events to the ways my neighborhood organizes itself to get the dog park fixed. Mobile phone blogging, mobile phone activism and citizen journalism are all examples of how quickly we've come to rely on individuals with cell phones to provide us with news-worthy content.

Everyone in my community is capable of snapping the photo, recording the audio, and wirelessly emailing it to the news station - helpful in a disaster, yes, but what about the crazy old lady around the corner who just likes to rat on her neighbors? We can all help each other out, we can also all turn each other in.

Trust and reputation matter in the P2P world in powerful ways - how are trust and reputation changing on the neighbor to neighbor level? How does this influence how we create, find, support and leave communities?

And what about property and philanthropy? In talking about how philanthropic foundations act on their values, a colleague of mine recently commented that "the relationship between how great wealth is created and the problems that great wealth creation creates is philanthropy's great paradox."* It often reveals itself in differing value systems between board members and staff, but it runs much deeper than that. So deep, that most foundations simply start by accepting the paradox, after all what can they do about it?

This makes it hard to talk about private versus community ownership. This makes it hard to talk about property. This makes it a real problem to think about intellectual property, private use and rights, and community use and rights at a time when everything from baby names to phrases like "freedom of expression" are being trademarked or copyrighted and entire businesses exist to do nothing but file patents for business processes and sue those who don't pay license fees. But why should this matter to philanthropy? Well, for one thing, ideas matter to philanthropy. Who owns and who can use those ideas should matter to philanthropy. Who decides what ideas get heard where and when should matter to philanthropy. How can progress on environmental issues, artistic creation, education, health care, human rights, scientific inquiry, playground design or anything else philanthropy supports actually be achieved if ideas and strategies need to be run past a patent attorney to make sure their available for use?

Philanthropy needs to care about intellectual property, private ownership, and community use. But it seems to care about them in the same way it cares about regulatory systems, economic injustice, and advocacy as a change strategy - which is to say episodically and reluctantly. Which is too bad. Because I think private philanthropy is well positioned to make a huge difference on these issues, for the betterment of fair use and community rights.

*This may apply to many foundations, though perhaps not those at the conservative political end of the spectrum (for whom there is no paradox) or for those on the far liberal, social justice end who have deliberately organized themselves to put decisions and wealth in the hands of activists.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Kintera buys Collaborative Standards

Most of you already know this by now, but since I've been commenting on the likelihood of such mergers and purchases since last Fall, I figured I'd better post the final conclusion. This purchase makes me more convinced that the technology underpinnings of how giving happens are set to change dramatically in the next few years.

If you take a wander through Kintera's annual report, you see some outlines of how the company views the puzzle pieces of giving. The 2004 report notes the acquisition of workplace giving firms, fundraising and advocacy consultants (notably the firm that advised Howard Dean's web campaign), prospect research firms, volunteer management, special events, and now, with the purchase of Collaborative Standards, they've brought grant making in house. They also offer customer relationship management, email coordination, major gift solicitation and co-branded donor advised funds.

Kintera is a one stop shop. Or at least wants to be. Political donations, workplace giving, event management, advised funds, major gifts, capital campaigns, friends asking friends* for money (*a process the company has filed patents on) - every transactional piece of giving or raising funds is within the company's line of sight.

Time will tell if the company can pull this off, but at this point it is crystal clear that these folks see the pieces of giving and fundraising and doing as a set of relationships ripe for realignment. Where traditional foundations, nonprofits, United Ways, and others focus on their differences, Kintera seems focused on what they all have in common. If Kintera succeeds in shifting these common functions to their Internet platform, the differences between the land-based entities might become even harder to hang a hat on.

The trouble with infrastructure

Today's New York Times has a depressing story about the state of nonprofit infrastructure. In his piece on the demise of America Coming Together, Glen Justice quotes one donor, Agnes Varis, as saying, "Everybody is ready to give money, but there are so many ideas.... Democrats always do that. They just spawn groups. It takes a while to figure out where to do it [give money]." What an absurd - yet real - problem - lots of willing supporters but no for them to make sense of the whole.

Without going into the politics of this, it is striking that a nonprofit network built in record time and for huge amounts of money just a few years ago, would be coming apart so soon. When the groups identified in the article shut down they will leave a hole to be filled from scratch for the next election.

This cycle plays out too often, in all realms - not just electoral politics. We need to deliberately build organizations and networks that can maintain relevance in the 'between' times so they can leap into action in times of crisis, opportunity, election, or recall (as the case may be). This lesson applies in all walks of civic life now, from the need for emergency responders to the potentially lifesaving powers of an always on, ever-accessible public communications network to the community vitality that comes from knowing your neighbors in good times lest you need them or they you in bad times.

Nonprofits, political and community organizers, and volunteers are the infrastructure of civic life. This is the trouble with infrastructure - we need to invest it when we would prefer not to think about it so we can rely on it when we need it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Everything Old is New Again

Here's a new (well, relatively - it was started in 2002) take on community philanthropy. Modest Needs is a website that helps people give small gifts to other people to get them through short-term financial crises. This is the oldest form of community philanthropy - helping your neighbor - brought into the web age. It has some very nice features that more formal institutions of community philanthropy might consider - check out the ledger, financials and the statement on transparency.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Wise Words about Community Foundations

I spend a lot of time with a lot of smart people. Last week I had the chance to spend a day with several CEOs of community foundations in Ohio - a smart bunch. Here's a paraphrase of one of the many wise thoughts I heard:

"Community foundations' products are the changes they make happen - whether it be economic development, new housing, or safer kids. That's what we do."
Ronn Richard, President, The Cleveland Foundation

Thinking about community foundations this way puts the communities first, and all the processes, standards, technology, and back office issues second. Focusing this way would be a refreshing mindshift for everyone making decisions about operations, board leadership, marketing, staff capacity, investment strategies, or other structural needs in community foundations.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The big questions

Science Magazine has just published a list of the 125 biggest questions we face over the next 25 years. See the list

What would be on your list of the 125 biggest social questions in the next 25 years? Think about it. Let me know.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Back soon - deadlines looming

I am a few hours away from finishing my third major writing project of the last few months, all of which came due on June 30. Ironically, I haven't written for the blog since early May because I have been writing almost nonstop since then. I'll be back here soon with thoughts on the following: hybrid systems of change, cool new capital strategies for nonprofits, and some thoughts on what I'm tentatively calling open philanthropy.

In the meantime, check out Phil Cubeta's blog for The World We Want. Add your thoughts on The World We want. The book associated with this, coming from Peter Karoff and TPI later in 2005, is one of the three deadlines I'm pushing to meet.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Finally, knowledge where you need it

We've been talking about knowledge as a philanthropic resource for a long time (too long, perhaps?) There are some interesting examples out there of how information and knowledge can be shared, packaged and distributed. Below are two, one for free and one for sale. Please send me links to others that you know of that are trying to do these things:

1) Package information in a way that donors and communities can use it for philanthropy
2) Do this in a 'scalable' way - meaning you don't need to rely on being able to reach directly those who are in the know
3) Useful information that actually helps someone make a decision or think about an issue in a different way
4) Is accessible to those with internet access and at a reasonable cost**

Example One: Community Giving Resource
A free website and newsletter from the Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute that puts together information and tools gleaned by dozens of professional foundation staff and packages specifically for family foundations without staff and individual donors.

The Community Giving Resources site uses data from DataPlace, an impressive searchable database of census and economic information funded by several major foundations.

From a conservative political perspective, The American Enterprise Institute does a very good job of posting video, audio, and print transcripts, plus papers and presentations from its numerous conferences, on its website, immediately following the events, making the materials available for any who might want them for free for a limited period of time. For example, a recent discussion on philanthropy and education is here.

Example Two: Geneva Global Delta Reports**
**NOTE BENE: This example violates principle #4 above - its not free. Its the opposite. Its expensive.

But it is an interesting example of trying to provide meaningful information to donors based on input from a network of global "stringers" who seek out grassroots opportunities in developing countries for analysis by the staff of this Philadelphia-based firm. More information on their Portfolio Management (A term I coined several years ago in Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets) approach is here

Finally, another very cool approach to sharing information is available from Mitch Kapor, Founder of the Open Source Application Foundation and many other endeavors. Kapor, who created Lotus 1-2-3 and thus made us all need PCs, is now building open source software, specifically a calendar program called Chandler. He blogs about this often, puts beta versions of the program out for user input, and it is open source so by definition it is an exercise in sharing and using knowledge together. All that is great.

What I think is a potentially transferable practice to philanthropy, however, is the diary he shares about making the product. Successes, failures, questions, pitfalls - all for the world to see. Imagine if communities and donors tried the same kind of transparency, inviting in other opinions and advice, making the process open as well as the product, and - I would argue - building a better process and product as a result. Anyone out there in the funding world want to take the courageous leap to share their work this way....?

So, those are my cool examples of knowledge where you need it. Send me yours via email or in the comments. Thanks.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A month's worth of musings...

I haven't written in a while because there is a lot going on. Here's a quick recap of some of the many things I'm trying to make sense of these days:

1) What do the death of environmentalism, the state of the commons, media reform activism, the future of community philanthropy, new financial tools for sustainable development, digital media, and the history of philanthropy and k-12 education all have in common? That is, not including the fact that this is only a subset of the really cool issues I work on every day?

Well, at least in part, each of these involve stories of shifting power dynamics from institutions to individuals or vice versa; they all require a better sense of historical evolution of industries than most of us bring to our considerations of policy or strategic decisions; they are all at least partly shaped by global changes in where and how work gets done; and they are all issues that philanthropists are involved in. Philanthropy - soemthing for everyone!

2) If the definition of a mature industry is one in which competition is widespread, prices have dropped to their lowest possible stable level, and innovation is abounding outside the formal edges of the industry, is philanthropy there?* *(With apologies to Michael Porter for paraphrasing his work beyond recognition).

3) As technologies have changed the pace at which information is shared, the places where work is done, and the costs of communicating around the globe, and all media share common elements like creation processes, distribution needs, and licensing requirements - doesn't it make sense that our currently separate distribution and creation structures and the ownership/copyright/distribution laws for cable television, broadcast television and radio, satellite radio, print media, podcasting, blogging, are all about to crash into each other? Do we have any guiding principles that are being espoused, protected, and used to frame new structures and laws for all these media?

4) The crashing together of these different media, with their different business models, nonprofit players, and public subsidies is somehow (operative word) instructive for what appears to be happening between financial service firms, nonprofit philanthropy purveyors, and technology companies that specialize in transactions and data around giving.

Once separate spheres are edging toward each other, in some cases swallowing each other whole (e.g. financial firm buys nonprofit created data management and donor services software, see ChesterCAP LLC Purchases Dot.Che ) and rearranging the chairs around the dance floor, but no one seems to be paying a whole lot of attention to underlying principles about what is in the public interest, what does the market do best, where do nongovernmental agencies reign supreme and what principles might or should guide how the dance unfolds or how people make choices among potential dance partners.

So, there you have it. That's what I need to make sense of today. Any and all thoughts or advice welcome. Please comment.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

And on to the House

The Senate Finance Committee held hearings on the tax-exempt sector on April 5th. Now its the House's turn. The House Ways and Means Committee announced such hearings will take place on April 20th at 10:30 a.m. DC time. The complete announcement is here.

I wonder what stuffed animals the Congressmen will bring out for show? They have to top Senator Grassley's taxidermy springbok exhibit, don'cha think?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Interview with Lucy Bernholz

The editor of Philanthropy News Digest of the Foundation Center interviewed me a few weeks ago - the transcript is available here. The comments I made about the Senate Finance Committee's efforts at "charity reform" were made weeks prior to the April 5th Committee hearings - and were born out by the events of that day and the news coverage thereof, if I may say so myself.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Predicting the future - done.

I know, my mother said that is was rude to say "I Told You So."

But I did.

Back in October of 2004 I made several predictions. See Time to learn new dance steps and Predictions

Both called for major changes in the software industry that serves philanthropy.

Well, that future is now, or rather yesterday. On March 31, MicroEdge (market share gorilla in community foundations ~ 1800 clients overall) announced the firing of its CEO. On March 29, Community Foundations of America announced an alliance with Kintera.

Looking over the landscape of markets, vendors and products, I can tell you what I think will happen next. And it won't involve the customers (read: foundations, nonprofits, donors) getting what they want or need UNLESS they act faster than they've ever acted, in ways they haven't before, and with an eye to the motivations of market forces that are virtually foreign to them.

Yes, there could be an ending to this story that serves philanthropy well - there are very real steps that could be taken to take advantage of this situation. Anyone want to bet?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Senate Finance Committee Hearings on Nonprofits and Philanthropy

The Senate Finance Committee has announced hearings On Tuesday, April 5, 2005 at 10:00 am EST.

The hearing is titled, “Charities and Charitable Giving: Proposals for Reform.” and will take place in Room 628 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Witnesses scheduled to testify include:
The Honorable Mark Everson, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service
George K. Yin, Chief of Staff, Joint Committee on Taxation
Leon Panetta, Director, Panetta Institute for Public Policy
Dr. Jane Gravelle, Senior Specialist in Economic Policy, Congressional Research Service
Richard Johnson, Member, Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis, PLLC
Ms. Lori Swanson, Solicitor General, Office of Minnesota Attorney General
David Kuo, Former Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
Brian Gallagher, President, United Way of America
Diana Aviv, President and CEO, Independent Sector

Friday, March 25, 2005

What does it take to make change?

The very public fight over the future of the environmental movement marks a new moment in the civil discourse around philanthropy. For one thing, it has been anything but a civil discourse. Ever since the paper, "The Death of Environmentalism" hit cyberspace it has caused hand wringing, charges of arrogance and stupidity, defensive posturing and a whole lot of heated responses. It even hit the front page of the New York Times. My interest is not in the authors' content or the respondents' defensiveness but in the strategy for change that 1) possibly informed the paper, its tone and its distribution or 2) may result from the paper's tone, distribution and the responses it has generated.

I don't want to support obnoxious mudslinging as a means of sparking change (though it has certainly worked for many a political campaign). I'm not at all sure that the paper and its authors will shift policies and practices as they may have hoped. But I do think it is important that all of us be open to challenges to our ideas, that we see those challenges as chances to sharpen our thinking, and that everyone in the mainstream middle or progressive left wake up and realize that our ideas as currently packaged, marketed and implemented also are not making the changes we want.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Broken Promises, Broken Links

Lots of folks think this Republican Congress is overstepping its boundaries. Representatives Pelosi and Slaughter, Democrats both, released a report as part of the minority of the House Rules Committee. The report, titled Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy, is linked to on Eric Alterman's blog at the Center for American Progress, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and Daily Kos, among a few hundred other sites. Funny thing is, every one of these sites has a link to the report on the House Democrats site - AND THE LINK DOESN'T WORK! Where did the report go....?

Who speaks for progressive philanthropy?

The Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation are both investigating nonprofits and philanthropy. There is every likelihood that this, the 109th Congress, will enact some level of "reform" of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. Both Houses of Congress are currently controlled by Republicans, and both bodies have shown a remarkable degree of legislative dexterity when it comes to interpreting or simply rewriting the rules of law - as seen most recently in their involvement in a private family medical decision. This Congress and Administration are not the slightest bit shy in terms of allowing their supporters to the "dirty work," and so we have USA Next, the group behind the attach ads on Candidate John Kerry now aggressively taking on the AARP - which it deems as too liberal which I would read as "its big and it opposes privatizing social security."

What does this have to do with philanthropy and nonprofits? Well, philanthropy is big - US Foundations control more than $400 billion in assets and make more than $30 billion in grants each year. Nonprofits are big - accounting for hundreds of millions of jobs and more than 5% of GDP. And they both tend to be liberal. Which actual progressives would disagree with, but, its only really important that the conservatives see both foundations and nonprofits as liberal.

So, here's what we have:

1) A Republican controlled legislature pushing for "reform" of a big sector it deems too liberal.

2) The primary response so far from the sector itself has come from an independent panel on the Nonprofit Sector. This panel is fine, but it is consensus-based, attempting to be representative, and responsive. In other words, it has very little power and is only addressing those questions that are asked of it.

3) The Alliance for Charity Reform. This is a lobbying effort paid for mostly be members of the Philanthropy Roundtable - a politically conservative group of funders. The Alliance is not representative, it need not reach consensus, and it is focused on advancing a conservative agenda for philanthropy and nonprofits.

$) And, speaking up for the left, actively promoting a progressive agenda, lobbying Congress for reform that might strengthen the sector, its influence or its resources, is....Anybody? Is there Anybody out there?

This is the time to have the conversation about the future of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. The conservatives are there - they set the table and they came to dinner. Who will speak for progressive philanthropy?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Follow the money

As bad as the news is, it doesn't usually keep me up all night. But something about Congress and the President of the U.S. stepping into a family's medical decisions and a State Court case gave me nightmares all night. Where does the current administration's sense of its own power end? Can it just rewrite the rules of law, ignore the separation of powers, and step in wherever it wants?

I'm referring to the Bush Administration's decision to use federal power to intervene in a state court issue - the Terri Schiavo case. (Yes, these are the Republicans we're talking about - the party of state's rights, small government, and no deficits - harrumph) While Congress and the President just stepped in over the weekend, the husband and parents in this family have been battling for years - with one set of those enormous legal bills being paid for by the same conservative foundations that underwrote the never-ending investigation of the Clintons. For more details on the money trail see

So, when you think about how change happens in the U.S, and where power is held, its useful to remember a few things: Follow the money. The rules of the game matter. Those who oppose the separation of Church and State have their own views of the separation of nonprofits and politics, and those views do NOT include the separation of money and power. Keep these ideas in mind as this same Congress rewrites the rules for nonprofits and foundations - the nonprofit reform movement now underway in the Senate Finance Committee. As these "reform" efforts unfold I strongly urge all involved in philanthropy to follow the money and keep their eyes on the rulebook. The future of the game is on the line.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

What is the problem?

What is the problem in philanthropy today?

My mail pile today included reports from the Bradley Center, the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Global Philanthropy Forum. Just sifting through this pile, it became painfully clear to me that there is no consensus on this question. Some think the problem is that the donor's intent isn't adhered to closely enough. These folks are pushing hard to make sure that institutional philanthropy pays attention to what the donor wanted long after she's dead. The Bradley Center at the Hudson Institute is working on this one. Others look at that statement and think, are you kidding me? Donor intent? That's not the problem, the problem is effectiveness or visibility or accountability or credibility or accessibility or any one of a number of other things.

I'm sure some pithy fortune cookie can say it better than I can, but I know we can't fix something until we agree on whether or not its broken and, if it is, then what it should look like when its working. Isn't it astonishing that the Senate Finance Committee, Independent Sector, countless staff people inside and outside congress, land trusts, philanthropy associations, nonprofit associations, are working away on new rules and its not even clear we're all playing the same game? What is the problem that needs to be fixed?

Global Philanthropy Forum

If you're reading this and not already at Stanford University this week you probably aren't attending the Global Philanthropy Forum. The wonders of modern technology can let you check out some of the conference on a live web feed by clicking on the home page beginning on March 2.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Read this now.

OK, I've been busy and that's why there hasn't been much posting going on. I've been walking through a Gate-enhanced Central Park, writing several papers, giving a few talks, preparing for a trip to Israel, and learning to luge in Muskegon, Michigan.

And I've been reading a lot. This last month included two histories of public broadcasting, one analysis of healthcare in America (Critical Condition) and a history of videogames (Joystick Nation). I also read Subwayland, a collection of New York Times columns, some great fiction (Case Histories) and Amos Oz's memoir. I'm now onto Richard Bradley's Harvard Rules, which I complement with daily New York Times coverage of President Summers' "foot-in-mouth" problems.

On the magazine front, I'm caught up on the last four months of New Yorkers, Harpers, Atlantic Monthlies, Wired, Dwell, Inc., Foundation News, Philanthropy, Worth, Bloomberg Wealth Manager, Fast Company, and Business 2.0.. I'm keeping my head above water on the weeklies - Chronicle of Philanthropy, Business Week, and Fortune, and ever so grateful that I let The Economist lapse. I've got FeedDemon, Bloglines and iPodder tracking the audio waves and wires for me - to the best of my ability (given that I have a family, dog, and job) I'm pretty tuned in.

Why am I telling you this? Because I read a lot and when I tell you something is "the best thing I've read lately" it means there were a lot of other choices. So pay attention.

Katherine Fulton and Andrew Blau (with help from Gabriel Kasper and others at The Monitor Group) have just published Looking Out for the Future. Go get it now. There is a main paper that outlines the state of the field, a very cool "learning journey" that helps you get more info on sources and examples, and a memo on changing the field that just might. All of it is available online at, and while it is copyrighted (clear throat and make pitch for Creative Commons) its available for free use with attribution (there is still hope where intellectual property is concerned).

The paper does several things: It helps orient us in the current ecology of philanthropy and learn what and where there is real innovation. It presents a convincing argument about why it matters that we see the whole of philanthropy and not just the place in which we work, the funders we know, or the causes we give to.

The paper is rich and deep on the state of American philanthropy. It also is clear about the global nature of philanthropy and refreshingly honest on its own shortcomings in capturing the world's story. Fulton and Blau invite the reader to constantly reconsider the shifting lines between local and global. They capture the humanity and excitement of philanthropy. By noting the endless ways that cultural traditions interact with political and economic systems they begin to show how philanthropy reflects our expectations of ourselves and each other. The paper points us to the several possible futures (scenarios) and asks each actor to consider their role in the larger whole.

The challenge of changing philanthropy - of improving it, making it more accessible, more diverse, more reliable - is truly daunting. Fulton and Blau take it on. They may not have all the answers, but they've asked the right questions. By clearly outlining the barriers to change they have upped the ante several times for all who claim to be engaged in systems change.

Quite simply, it is the most important piece on philanthropy that I've read lately. Go get it.

And, yes, I remember that last month I told you to read Andrew Blau's paper on changes in The Future of Independent Media. Two months in a row. I don't know whether to hope Blau keeps this up and wait to see what April brings or hope he knocks it off and gives the rest of us a chance to catch up.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

What are friends for?

Well, Netflix thinks they're for helping you find the movies you like. Netflix has built in a feature that lets you comment on and rate movies and share your opinions with a group of friends. In return, you can see what your buddies had to say about something you were thinking about renting. This is, with a few bells and whistles, the old fashioned way of learning about a movie. Friends are how we learn about books, clothes, art, restaurants, cars, dates, and causes (among other things). We trust the opinions of those we know. We join boards when asked by friends (or colleagues), we give money when asked by friends, we attend rallies when our friends are going, we turn to our friends to support the things we care about.

So why don't more foundations use their friends? Why don't foundations that care about certain issues try to get their friends to care also? Why is endorsing an issue, an organization, a strategy, or a cause the purview of individuals and DVD rental companies, but not the norm for philanthropic organizations?

Friday, February 04, 2005

More reasons to worry about intellectual property

I've been talking for a long time about the influence of changing intellectual property laws on philanthropy. I've noted the rise in patents being filed for philanthropic tools, such as the Donor Managed Investment, a new financial form for giving a gift and retaining the ability to manage it.

Kintera has filed papers to patent its "Friends Asking Friends" technology This service allows nonprofits to unite websites and email lists to help raise money. Now, the technology may be new, but there is nothing older in philanthropy than friends asking friends. Every fundraiser worth her salt knows the first rule of raising money is to ask, ask, ask.

So, when Kintera gets its patent, which it expects early in 2005, how pervasively will it enforce it? Just licensing the software? Or will it go looking for revenue everytime a nonprofit tries to raise money or awareness of a cause by providing a quick link to "email your friends"? How about every time a Board of Directors develops a list of likely contributors and asks the Board members to make the asks?

If the technology that underpinned the hyperlink had been patented and license revenue sought out, the World Wide Web would have never grown the way it has. We should be similarly concerned about how far we go in patenting technology that underpins this most basic element of philanthropy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The best thing I've read lately... least in the realm of professional reading, is Andrew Blau's great new piece, The Future of Independent Media. Available on Global Business Network's web site, the paper provokes us to think about the rapidly changing interplay of commercial and noncommercial sectors, the varying understandings of these differences by generation, the challenge to philanthropic support if the costs of producing new work becomes minuscule while the costs and challenges of getting visibility for new work become enormous, and the need for all who interact with media (makers, users, funders, marketers) to redefine success.

I'm sure there is even more to this paper for those who work in media. As one who read it for its implications for philanthropy, I have to ask, "Is media the coal mine canary for all areas of philanthropic support? Aren't the dynamics of markets and new definitions of success going to be important in their own way in education, health care, environmental issues, and so on?"

In his focus on independent media, Blau does a fantastic job of explaining how technological shifts are fundamentally changing the who, how and why of media production - from a system of scarcity to one of superabundance. The shift is from a few audiences for big hits to countless audiences for small niche pieces. In turn, the funding needs move from creation to visibility, and the whole adds up to profoundly different set of operating assumptions for the role of philanthropic support.

Certainly, given the effects of globalization, demographic changes, technological acceleration, and public priority changes, the ground is shifting with the same seismic intensity (though, no doubt, for different reasons or in different directions) for philanthropic support of higher education, social services, land preservation, intergalactic exploration, agricultural innovation, and so on and so on. But do those philanthropists know it? Probably not as well as those who will be direct beneficiaries of Blau's piece on the media.

Important opportunity on copyright

The US Copyright Office is looking for input on how to deal with orphan works - those copyrighted pieces whose owners are unknown are can't be found. Read and comment on this issues at Public Knowledge

And speaking of copyright, the Creative Commons Blog is a great source of news on these new forms of rights and licenses for intellectual property. Its exciting to read the blog feed and see how this is spreading around the globe and across disciplines and media.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Wal-Marting of community philanthropy

This Business Week article on Wal-Mart's moves into financial services addresses the likely impact on community banks if the world's biggest retailer continues to expand its credit card, money transferring, payroll check cashing, and branch bank-affiliates model across its entire empire.

Community banks, long-time investors in local economies and staunch philanthropic allies to community foundations and other local nonprofits, have a tough-enough time competing against global banking behemoths. Wal-Mart's "everyday low prices" for money transfers put it smack in the middle of the multi-billion dollar remittance business. Perhaps it has plans to offer community development investments, mortgages, and small-business loans one aisle down from its payroll cashing service and just past the toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

If Wal-Mart continues down the path it has so far forged, community bankers, community philanthropists, and the big mutual fund companies and discount brokers have to ask: is philanthropy next? Might Wal-Mart launch the 21st Century version of Fidelity's Charitable Gift Fund?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Some are real and some are hypothetical...

Real developments in the world of philanthropic financial products:

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the Donor Managed Investment Fund introduced in 2004 by Winklevoss has landed its second client, a San Francisco Bay Area private school.

I received an email alerting me to new offerings from The Calvert Social Investment Foundation and Fannie Mae Foundation, which are predicted to grow the resources available for community investment projects (housing, job development) by making the trading of community investment bonds faster and easier.

Oddball musings about developments in philanthropic financial products:

In the November 2004 issue of Wired, Bruce Sterling raised the possibility of using social networks and network analysis to help scientists draw matching funds. Such an idea, which Sterling admits was influenced by work in the art world and the academy's citation index, would be generalizable to all philanthropic support if the network maps of programmatic, organizational and issue alliances and impacts could be developed. Maybe the next generation of foundation program officers will be customized versions of Friendster or Tribe?

Finally, James Surowiecki noted in his January 10th New Yorker column, The Catastrophe Problem that market interests have already created "catastrophe bonds" that allow buyers and sellers to trade in disaster insurance coverage. If the markets can create bonds for tsunamis and earthquakes, couldn't an enterprising banker come up with some new means of packaging philanthropic assets for development purposes, endowments for health insurance, or donor advised funds for college scholarships?

Will the nonprofit sector crash?

Here is one view of where nonprofits are headed. What do you think?

As the world shifts around us...

Modern American philanthropy has grown up within the social and economic contexts set over the last 100 years. For the most of those years (a period which captures the births of most of the nation's foundations) the social context in the nation has been expansionist. The social policy of the US has been set within the broadest reaches of the New Deal, the Great Society, and the civil rights and environmental movements. Yes, there have been waxing and waning trends in policies for elderly care, retirement, tax revenue, medical support, equal opportunity protection and preservation and conservation efforts, but for the most part the nation has been on a committed path of caring for our neediest, leveling opportunities, and trying to protect our natural resources.

This context has been critical to the shape and direction of modern American philanthropy - it has set the tone, the priorities, the opportunities, and the systems to which change might be made or alternatives offered.

So, what is the role of philanthropy to be in the next generation? Wither philanthropy in an "ownership society?"

As we move further down the path of the current administration to re-craft social security, fundamentally restructure the tax system, eviscerate environmental protections, and disregard global conventions on the treatment, privacy and protection of immigrants, foreign visitors (and citizens).

Changing social security systems reflects new assumptions and values about the role of society vis-a-vis the elderly and the role of the elderly in our society. The Patriot Act reflects significant changes in such age-old values as "innocent until proven guilty" and in the relationships between individual liberty and the purview of the state. Fostering extractive industries and refusing to invest in sustainable energy sources reflects a deep disregard for the health of our own children and grandchildren, not to many every other species on earth.

Where does philanthropy fit in this new framework? Will it offer alternatives? Fund the new mainstream? Reconsider systemic reform in favor of creating new systems? Established philanthropic organizations need to see this broader context as they set their own goals. New philanthropists should closely consider the historical relationships between philanthropy and the state and use those assessments to consider what types of structures, what types of actions, and what types of roles philanthropy can and should play against this changing public backdrop. And all of philanthropy's support organizations, vendors, consultants, leadership groups, networks and affinity groups or associations should be clear on where they fit in this changing set of values so recently reaffirmed by the voting majority.

Are you working with the current directions of the majority or against them? You have to know which way the tide is going in order to answer this question.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Archive problems

Sorry about the archive links - I'm working on it.

Can the twain meet?

Community philanthropy organizations grapple with the tension between working for social change and operating in a market environment. My writing about philanthropy as an industry has (thankfully) been challenged by some of the best thinkers on exactly this point. This is a good thing. My work focuses on one aspect of philanthropy and presents one conceptual analysis. One of the goals of my book was to put forward a vision of a future of philanthropy that would spark others to do the same. We need lots of visions and lots of ideas for the future of this enterprise.

Can community foundations catalyze or contribute to social movements, as Emmett Carson asks in this speech from last December. Does being part of an industry, or thinking about the industrial and market forces acting on philanthropy, make it impossible for them to be focused on social change? These two models for thinking about community philanthropy -- social movement or industry -- are posited by some as mutually exclusive possibilities. I don't think so.

Here are some guiding questions I'll be working on this year with my colleagues at Blueprint Research & Design:
1) How can philanthropy deploy cutting edge financial tools to advance social change?
2) How can the successes of social movements be used to inform the development of new modes of philanthropy?
3) Can philanthropy be a model for adapting market tools to address market failures (social ills)?
4)How can the industry of philanthropy be a force for driving social improvement?

I hope you'll join us in this discussion, through this virtual workspace and perhaps in some conferences, small group discussions, leadership meetings, board or staff meetings, affinity group listservs and any other appropriate forums. There is a lot at stake - let's start talking.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Open Source Philanthropy: Part Two

Mitch Kapor, creator of Lotus 1-2-3, and chair of the Mitch Kapor Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation, Open Source Applications Foundation, and the Level Playing Field Institute is using philanthropy to create open source software.

Ever more reason to ponder the potential applicability of open source principles, practices, and economics to creating philanthropic resources and products.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Open Source Philanthropic Economy

So, even though I said I was done with ideas to generate new philanthropic capital, I'm not. Yesterday, IBM announced that it was giving free access to 500 of its more than 40,000 global patents.

Today, the Times reports that IBM is still the global leader in annual patent filings, collecting more than 3,200 patents in 2004 on top of the 3,415 filed in 2003. This is the 12th year in a row the company has filed the most U.S. patents of any single entity.

Clearly the company values intellectual property. Clearly it invests in R & D. And, clearly, something is shifting in how and by whom this type of property actualizes its value. IBM wouldn't give away 500 patents if it didn't think that free, unrestricted, open source access to these ideas would generate new possibilities, new products, and new, bigger markets.

IBM is acting on a new understanding of collaboration and economic growth. Open source software, the Internet, and new arguments for an "intellectual commons" are behind the recognition of these new economic principles and IBM's actions.

So, I'm refining yesterday's idea about an industry-wide R & D alliance to call for an Open Source philanthropic product development enterprise. The same principles that spurred IBM to act - market innovation and growth - should apply.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

$25 Billion idea #6: The R & D Function

To read the full blog, click Philanthropy 2225

This is the 6th and last (for awhile) in my list of ideas for generating new philanthropic resources. I originally posited the problem as a response to the estimated $25 billion in giving that will be lost if the US Estate Tax repeal is made permanent. Hence the name. The first 5 ideas can be found in the December Archives of this blog.

What we need is a hybrid R & D venture/enterprise/alliance that brings together the power, longevity, and social commitment of the social sector with the best talents and capacities of commercial financial firms. Imagine being able to do product R & D with creative input from university endowments, foundations, individual donors, banking experts, financial investment whiz kids, and product marketing experts. Imagine having the resources of the full nonprofit sector available to inform the way new products can serve diverse populations, maximize community returns, and be used for social good and marrying that to the deep intelligence about tax code changes and market fluctuations that commercial firms use in creating new products. Imagine being able to develop rapid prototypes and quickly test them in all sectors. Or being able to create new products that would rely on revenue streams other than asset management fees, thus opening the doors to all kinds of new partnerships. Perhaps new products that are jointly developed and underwritten by licensing fees, so they quickly become available to donors and communities regardless of who the lead vendors are.

Why would the competing sectors (and competitors within sectors) do this? Because such efforts might actually be able to grow the resource pool for giving rather than just reallocate it. Products that serve the culturally-specific giving ethos of the nation's fastest growing ethnic, racial and religious groups, for example. Or products that provide social returns through commercial investments. Or commercial returns through mission-related investments. Or that pool small funds into securitized big funds.

What if the kind of thinking that went into creating Global GreenGrants, Grameen Bank, PayPal, NewTithing,, GoogleGrants, Slashdot, Creative Commons, eBay, Social Venture Partners, community reinvestment tax credits, OneWorldHealth, and the folks who turned Citibank into the largest processor of immigrant remittances was harnessed to create new philanthropic products?

Imagine if the nation's fastest growing ethnic, racial and religious communities could work with financial firms to develop products that fit their giving traditions? Similarly, imagine what the portfolio of philanthropic options would look like in 10 years if the innovators, dreamers and competitors that thrive in technology and financial industries were enticed into philanthropy as part of their work, not part of their retirement?

A pipe dream? Perhaps. But we've got nothing to lose by thinking this through, and we know that the current set up of proprietary R & D will 1) be slower, 2) benefit only a small slice of the industry first, and 3) grow market share for the winners without growing the actual market.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Stop - We can't take it anymore!

In what I would argue is a responsible act, Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) has announced that it has received all the money it can use (41 million euro) to provide its services in the tsunami-ravaged Indian ocean countries. Others are outraged, calling on MsF/DwB to take back this irresponsible remark and desperately afraid that acknowledging that there is enough money at one organization will cause all other giving to stop.

C'mon folks, we can't have it both ways. We want NGOs to be responsible stewards of financial resources and to honor donor intent. We don't want a repeat of the "blood banking" post September 11, when everyone gave blood and there was (sadly) no increased need for it. Blood, unlike money, actually has a shelf life. But - given the challenges of coordinating the tsunami-relief efforts, doesn't it make sense for a fully-funded effort to say, "Thanks, but how about supporting OxFam to provide clean water or to the UN for refugee services or to X for Y" and let donors send their funds elsewhere? WOuldn't it be great if we had a way to do this - refer, coordinate, and move resources to where they are needed and to those who can put them to immediate good use?

Or, wouldn't it be helpful if some of the potential donors to MsF/DwB for tsunami relief would still give to MsF/DwB but for their work in Darfur or Uganda (both appeals appear on the home page - or to the organization's general operations?

When the final toll is counted, the outpouring of private financial support for the victims of the tsunami will be enormous - probably unprecedented. This is great, and something we as humans can take pride in and express gratitude for. But to really help those in need we need those enormous resources to be well spent. Part of ensuring this happens is for individual donors, nations and NGOs to act responsibly. MsF/DwB is doing so in this case. If the whole doesn't work, its for want of coordination and systemic connections, not due the actions of one organization. What we need are ways to coordinate the moving of those "excess" resources to the other underfunded needs in the region and around the world.

For more on this theme, see yesterday's post on coordination.

Directing one's gift

Here's a blog: Charity Governance with a lot of useful information - and an opinion - on targeting one's gifts to specific programs (e.g. tsunami relief) when giving to NGOs.

Tsunami relief giving in January counts toward '04 tax deduction

From Today's NYT, Contributions: Giving for a Cause, and That Cause Only
January 5, 2005

"On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee proposed that
Congress approve a plan to allow taxpayers to claim a
deduction in 2004 for cash gifts to tsunami relief efforts
made through Jan. 31, 2005, in part to help support the
efforts of former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill
Clinton to stimulate private giving."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

1000 more points of light?

In covering his tracks from the lame initial and secondary pledges of American government aid to tsunami-struck communities, President Bush has claimed that "The greatest source of America's generosity is not our government; it's the good heart of the American people."

Sounds to me like yet another impossible claim that we should count on private giving to do what many (but not this President) think government should.

Leaving aside for a moment the ideological differences we hold about whether private generosity should be held up as an excuse for a weak public sector response, how do you think the chips will fall?

Will total 2004 giving spike up, drop down, or stay flat compared to 2003** as a result of:
1) the outpouring of end-of-year gifts to tsunami victims and
2) the unprecedented amounts of money that went into the 2004 presidential election, which may have drawn away from resources otherwise given to charity?

UP ___ DOWN ___ FLAT ___

[**Since 1971, in years without recession, the average rate of change is an increase of 3.8 percent adjusted for inflation. Source: AAFRC, Giving USA 2002]

Monday, January 03, 2005

Its all about coordination

Has anyone else noticed that the "philanthropic story" associated with the December tsunamis disasters is that of coordination? Well, that and the story of the US government's pitiful first and second response to the tragedy. Immediately following the first reports and the first calls for aid, the questions and focus have been on how to coordinate emergency respondents - now and in the coming months and years - across so many countries and such devastation.

This interests me for several reasons. First, I think it shows that the (American) media and donor communities learned a partial lesson from recent disasters -both natural and man-made. That lesson: coordination matters and it shouldn't be assumed. I'm fairly sure the people and organizations who make up the emergency respondent groups - NGOs, multilaterals such as the UN, and national governments - knew this lesson already and have for a long time.

Second, while the stories get right to the issue of coordination and the need for it, there is also something of a tone of surprise that it doesn't exist at some miraculous, internationally-fair, and politically-immune level.

Third, with the exception of the NGOs themselves, the wonderment about coordination and the lack thereof will no doubt come as a 'predictable surprise' next time.

In short, maybe we've gotten a little smarter about the need for planning ahead across organizations, across political boundaries and cultural lines, and across disaster-types (natural, man-made, war-caused), but we're not as smart as we need to be. If we were, we would use our extraordinary capacity for logistical planning, the unparalleled reach of existing networks, the sophistication of local NGOs, and the theoretical imperative behind every government to protect and serve its people to invest in the coordination systems and options when the sun is shining so they work when the rains (or waves or quakes or fires or plagues or wars or droughts or ....whatever) inevitably come.

Emergency response organizations respond to crises. Those of us who support and depend on them (read: all of us) ought to respond in the non-crisis intervals by investing in and/or voting for the coordination systems.

2005 Predictions in SF Business Times

The San Francisco Business Times picked my brain for some of what I think might be happening in philanthropy in 2005.

Information on remittances

The best source of information on migrant remittances is here.