Friday, December 29, 2006

Best ofs...and what is to come

Here (from the Center for Citizen Media) are Dan Gillmor's media predictions for 2007. He structured them as multiple choice questions, many of which had (all of the above) as an answer. I've taken his list and cut it down to those that I think could have bearing on philanthropy.

The growing role of citizen media is a key theme for Gillmor. I agree that this trend has fundamental implications for communities - who has information, who decides what gets shown or told, and where and how information is shared. These changing power dynamics will be at the heart of changed philanthropy. Here's Gillmor's list - see if you agree that, if these things come true, philanthropy should pay attention.

1. The biggest network-news shock will occur when:

c. Google launches a highly viewed daily “newscast” featuring editor- and audience-selected YouTube videos, and syndicates the program to independent TV stations

2. CNN will:
C. Create a system to routinely paying citizen journalists for their videos

3. Local TV news shows will:
C. Attempt to persuade citizen journalists to provide all the content without compensation
D. Collaborate with citizen journalists, and pay them, to produce more comprehensive reports

9. The most important journalism innovation will be:
A. The combination of reputation and popularity in selecting news that matters
C. A major investigation, reported in part by the audience, leading to significant state and/or federal legislation

10. A prominent blogger will:
C. Win a MacArthur “genius” grant

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bumper stickers in the blogosphere

Badges are the latest 'must-have' fundraising tool. What is a badge? It is a little icon that gets posted on a blog or website promoting a cause the site owner/blogger cares about. When a reader clicks on the badge he/she can make a donation to the cause. Here are two examples of what this might look like (both of these are for PlayPumps international, but they can be for any cause or organization)

Before long, blogs will look like those beater cars with layers of bumper stickers on every square inch of the back fender, trunk, rear window and so on. Anyway, its another fundraising tool. And another source of funds raised that the philanthropy watchers should be watching - how much money gets raised this way?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Intervention: first stop on the road to philanthropic strategy

Denise Caruso's book, Intervention, is the Silent Spring of the 21st Century. If we are lucky, Caruso's analysis of the risks of bioengineering will kick off a broad movement to protect the natural diversity of living species the way Rachel Carson's 1962 manifesto set off the environmental movement.

The book has profound relevance for philanthropists, regardless of your specific funding area of interest. That's because, despite its focus on genetic engineering, Intervention is really about how we make choices. How do we define problems, identify solutions, calibrate risks, choose strategies and make funding decisions? Philanthropists do this all day long - allocate limited resources where they think they can have an impact. To choose correctly, we must know all of our options, as well as consider the longer-term consequences of today's actions. Caruso's book artfully, and with no small amount of terrifying truth, shows how we tend to ignore the risks inherent in today's decisions because they may be slow to manifest, difficult to measure, and come long after what are recognized instead as short-term benefits. It is for precisely these reasons, she argues, that we need a new way to think about risk - not to step away from it, but to consider it, strategize about, and create strategies that can succeed.

What Caruso offers us is a practical way to better understand the implications of our choices. Given the complexity of issues that engage philanthropists, from health care to alternative energy to learning to creating accessible and sustainable food supplies, the need is great for navigational tools. Much attention is given to the need for more strategic philanthropy; we are, after all, making critical decisions with limited resources. But the truth is, we haven't many methods for really doing this now.

Caruso provides several important guides to developing effective philanthropic strategies. First, the book's discussion of feral bacteria and purposively invasive species should make every intelligent reader squeamish and considerably more aware (and, ideally, more active) about the risks of genetically modified foods, plants, and animals. Second, Caruso puts her finger right on the troublesome results that occur when self-interested experts (in any field) are allowed to dominate funding decisions to the exclusion of the self-interested voices of the broader public. And, finally, Intervention provides specific ideas on how to think more comprehensively and inclusively at the design stage of philanthropic strategy so that the choices being made - between benefit and risk - are understood and incorporated into actions.

The message here is not that risk should be avoided. In fact, what Caruso points out is that avoiding risk is not possible. Simply ignoring it is tantamount to failing from the starting line. What she provides is a way of thinking about risk that will lead to more informed choices, better decisions, and - just possibly - successful philanthropic strategies.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The end of foundations as we know them

In this post on SocialEdge Allison Fine predicts that the age of large eponymous foundations may be coming to an end. She credits (blames?) the increasing regulatory burden on foundations, and notes that foundations are synonymous with slow giving and that this is an age demands speed.

She may be right. I'd throw a few other factors into the hopper - more choices in how to structure giving, increased awareness and interest in commercial enterprises with social purposes, and a growing comfort with online social networks that might actually give birth to the first real "net gen" philanthropic structure.

I also have to toss in my usual caveat - predictions of massive wealth transfers are fine, but we have to keep a realistic eye on the increasing lifespans of the WWII generation, the longevity of baby boomers, and the costs (to all of us) of living that long.

Learning to do what we do

This essay about teaching law in a networked age is worth reading and reflecting on, whatever your profession and however you learned what you know. What skills do you need in an age of endless digital discovery? Now that we can work anywhere, with almost anyone, and get instant feedback from insiders and outsiders, how might we structure philanthropic endeavors? My sense is that philanthropy has nicely adopted many of the tools of the networked age, but we still haven't really seen philanthropic institutions or structure develop that are 'genetically networked.' We've adapted and adopted what we had (to some extent), but haven't yet seen real 'generation net philanthropy.'

In another post on the same blog, video vidi visum: virtual, the author posted notes from a session at the State of Play conference. Again, important questions are asked that have relevance to philanthropy - what does place have to do with it? Where does learning happen? What role can simulations play in philanthropy? How do communities develop in virtual worlds and what might this teach us about how communities develop in our own backyards?

I found the blogs through the Berkman Center's email newsletter and blogs - a great resource on legal and social issues arising in our networked world.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006


'Twas the night before Christmas, and as promised, I couldn't resist the same kind of list making that marks most media this time of year.

So here they are, my 2006 lists of Philanthro-hype.

First: "The Five Most Hyped Philanthropic Stories of 2006"

1. OK, its a new structure. Now do something.
2. Muhammad Yunus and the Noble Peace Prize. Just two thoughts, his work is great, but a Nobel in Economics would have made more sense. Second, this is an almost classic case of the 30 year "overnight sensation."
3. Buffett's gift to Gates. Hats off for recognizing the potential to use existing resources (Namely The Gates Foundation's infrastructure - two steps forward towards alignment and aggregation of philanthropic resources. Good for you.) Now do something.
4. Rock/pop/movie stars saving Africa (Actually, I don't think so)
5. Microfinance - new, cool, and sexy. (See number two)

Second: "Five Trends That Should Actually Matter to Philanthropy in 2007 & Beyond"

1. The aging of the population in the northern and western hemispheres
2. China's investments in Africa
3. Real citizen media
4. Meaningful commercial investments (in scale and scope) in social good, including online philanthropy exchanges. 2007 might be the breakthrough year I've been predicting - will we reach critical mass in terms of financial innovation, public interest, social responsibility, and good ol' guilt/fear/possibility as motivators?
5. Is it hot in here or is it just the planet warming up?

Third: " The [X] List of Actions, Inventions or Commitments to the social good that Didn't Get the Hype they Deserve." This is a list without limits. I've posted mine below - send me your nominations.

Molina Healthcare

Freelancers Union

Human Rights:
(help me out here - nominations?)

Creative Commons

Sweden's commitment to be oil-free by 2021
LifeStraw (also file under health)

Save the commons

Finally, here is my list of other people's lists that I found interesting:

John Battelle's predictions

Clara Miller's Nonprofit Trends List for 2006

Lists of lists Courtesy of

More lists of list lists

50 greatest cartoons ever

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Beach Reading

I'm off for a week. I might write and I might not. Here's what I'll be reading, when my 6 year old gives me the chance.

Denise Caruso's Intervention. A look at the challenges we've created through genetic engineering. Caruso, who founded Hybrid Vigor, an institute devoted to interdisciplinary thinking, brings an unparalleled wisdom and way of thinking to this important debate. And Steven Johnson agrees.

John Maeda's Simplicity. In some ways this is the opposite of Intervention. And in many ways one creates the need for the other. Maeda is a brilliant multi-disciplinary thinker who impresses upon us the need for making the complex simple. His book, a 100 page wonder, (which I discovered post-purchase was edited by Jesse Scanlon, friend of a friend and a great writer on innovation at is 1) a model for me in terms of what a book needs to be nowadays and 2) one I will read and re-read. Plus:
Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children.
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
Elizabeth George, What Came Before He Shot Her.

Because life needs fiction.

Friday, December 15, 2006

NewsTrust - what philanthropy needs (and, maybe, what philanthropy reads?)

NewsTrust is cool. And as the year starts to wind down (today was the last day of school for my kid so it feels like the end of the year) I find that this site has remarkably raised my spirits about what we might accomplish next year.

In tech parlance, NewsTrust is a social network site that ranks news stories based on quality journalism. In "mom speak' (as in, how do I explain this to my mom) it is a place where we get to tell each other what we think of different news stories. In their own words, here's what NewsTrust is:

"NewsTrust is a citizen news service that helps people find good journalism online. ... NewsTrust members rate news stories based on journalistic quality, not just popularity....NewsTrust encourages both media literacy and civic engagement. NewsTrust review tools guide members through careful news evaluations, based on key journalistic principles such as fairness, balance, evidence, context and importance. Independent research studies show that citizen reviewers using these review tools can evaluate news quality reliably - and as effectively as experienced journalists....
NewsTrust is non-profit, non-partisan and member-driven."

OK, but here's what I think:
It is cool because it will help me find things I might not otherwise find. It is cool because it might help improve the quality of journalism. It is cool because it is a worthwhile application of the power of social media, not a silly application thereof.

So what for philanthropy? NewsTrust shows how we can put the power of the crowds to work as editors. Philanthropy (foundation philanthropy, that is) suffers from an information problem - there is too much and no one wants to be impolite and say, "Sorry, that report/analysis/initiative is garbage." Even though they think it is.

Following the model of NewsTrust, philanthropy could use the kind of "rise to the top" ranking, done by peers, that would allow us to know who thinks what research/analysis/initiative is strong/helpful/exemplary and why. No one needs be impolite,* the quality and filtering happen by bringing the good stuff to the top. No one ever has to look down at the bottom.

Check out NewsTrust. See if it is helpful to you. (Its a nonprofit - if its helpful to you, support it). And then lets see if we can't make something like this happen with philanthropic research.

*Impolite, which is usually a non-issue among foundation folks, is actually a problem in some of these social media. Witness David Pogue's recent column and the nastiness with which people slam each other on Digg.

Every blogger a fundraiser

Network for Good and Yahoo! are helping bloggers raise funds for nonprofits. Bloggers (or anyone with a website) can create a badge* for the nonprofit they want to support. Readers can click on the badge and make a gift to the cause. Yahoo and NFG will make a matching gift of up to $50K to the charity whose badge gets the most individual gifts (of any amount)

Thanks to the good folks at GlobalGiving for bringing this to my attention.

*A badge is one of those little icons you see, usually running up the right or left hand column of a website, that have a logo or a "click here" button)

Talk about re-gifting

Changingthepresent is an online giving site (thank goodness, another one). Its particular spin - rather than spending money on gifts that the recipient a) won't like, b) won't use, c) already has, d) doesn't need or e) some combination of the above, the giver (you) should spend that money on a charitable donation to a worthy nonprofit.

Not much new there. The site throws in every known internet bell and whistle - there will be social networking, there will be celebrities, there is searching by issue and place and name, there is credibility. It looks a little like the folks behind this one read all the back issues of Business 2.0, mixed together every element of online technology fanciness they could (it even runs on open source software), cooked it ALL up one site, and now....we'll see.

I do give them credit for their "Stupid Gift Hall of Shame," which adds an appreciated bit of humor to the whole thing.

Matchmaking and competition for social ventures

The Global Social Ventures Competition is a business-plan contest for social enterprises. The sponsors also seek to help match make between ventures and venturers - see their blog for more details.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sometimes individuals are smarter than crowds

Once again, Steven Johnson has made me re-think my thinking. His post, Digital Maoism, which was originally in the New York Times annual "Year of Ideas" Issue (subs. req'd) and which I found on Edge, reminds us that while the collective is powerful, it is not necessarily original. This speaks to some of my earlier thoughts on crowdsourcing and user-generated content.

The good news: singular ideas and smart crowds are by no means mutually exclusive. Certainly not when it comes to philanthropy.

If you give without giving, do you get anything?

My previous post was on Peter Singer's article about the value of a human life and the implications for philanthropy. Singer's article in the New York Times Magazine (upcoming, December 17, subsc. req'd) provides a concise overview of several western philosopher's thoughts on philanthropy (Hobbes, Kant, Pogge, Liam Murphy, Kwame Anthony Appiah).

Turns out this injection of philosophy was just in time for me, ever the pragmatist. I came across this Inc. Magazine slide show, called Giving without Giving which highlights all the ways you can shop for yourself and have some of the costs go to good works.

As a child of parents, I was raised to believe that the "joy is in the giving." As a parent, I try to help my six-year old value giving as much as he enjoys getting. I'm afraid that the message of "buy for yourself and call it giving" just doesn't work for me.

Here's a basic message about giving that resonates fully (for me):

At synagogue last week, our Rabbi told a wonderful story about a young man in an airport lounge who thought that the old guy sitting next to him was helping himself to the young guy's bag of cookies. Relieved to finally be ready for his trip, the young man chose to ignore the odd behavior. Even when the old guy reached in, grabbed the last cookie, smiled at the young guy, broke the cookie and handed him a half, and got up and walked away - the young guy just thought "how odd." When they called his seating area to board, he stood up, grabbed his bags and, in doing so, dropped his unopened bag of cookies. It turns out he had been helping himself to the old guy's cookies all along. The moral (according to our Rabbi) "who is the giver and who is the getter? is not always clear." The story came my way in synagogue, but I ran it by friends who could have easily heard it in Church, in a Mosque or in a Friends Meeting House - it rang true to them as well. It also struck me as the western, modern life version of the stories told in The Poor Philanthropist.

We seem to have gotten so advanced in our ability to tie charitable donations to other activities that we have convinced ourselves that we can give without sacrifice. Its very George Bushian in my mind, after all, he tried (sadly, successfully) to sell Americans on fighting a war without sacrifice - better yet, Bush is fighting a war backed by tax cuts!

This mind set just doesn't work for me. Part of giving something is that it should have an effect on you. Sacrifice maybe, but at the very least enough of an impact to make you think about your place in the world, those who give to you, those to whom you give, and the ways and means of our interdependence.

Here's the greatest irony. What does the giver get from giving without giving? Nothing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On the value of human lives, goals, and excuses

Peter Singer, a notably challenging philosopher (he has been described as the world's most "controversial ethicist"), takes on the question of the value of a human life in assessing the philanthropy of the world's wealthiest individuals. The article is in the upcoming NY Times Sunday Magazine (subscription required)

The article shows several things. First, that philosophers can write so that lay people can understand them (I put myself in that latter category, I made it all the way through the argument and followed along just fine - hats off to the editors at the Times). Second, he nicely encapsulates several major Western philosophical analyses for giving - handy and all in one place.

Third, and the most important, Singer goes beyond a clean explication of philosophical questions about philanthropy and does some basic math. The focus of his arithmetic speaks directly to issues of relative wealth and poverty - how much do the planet's wealthiest citizens owe to its poorest? The results (to Singer's own surprise):

"[not until] I calculated how much America’s Top 10 percent of income earners actually make [did] I fully understood how easy it would be for the world’s rich to eliminate, or virtually eliminate, global poverty....I found the result astonishing. I double-checked the figures and asked a research assistant to check them as well. But they were right. Measured against our capacity, the Millennium Development Goals are indecently, shockingly modest. If we fail to achieve them — as on present indications we well might — we have no excuses. The target we should be setting for ourselves is not halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and without enough to eat, but ensuring that no one, or virtually no one, needs to live in such degrading conditions. That is a worthy goal, and it is well within our reach."

My next post will be about "giving without giving" - something which Singer's review of the philosophy of philanthropy also addresses.

Media, Flickr, JPG (or new, newer, newest)

A new online magazine takes the photo sharing of Flickr one step farther. 8020 Publishing has launched JPG, a hybrid online photo magazine that seeks photos from anyone, anywhere. Halsey Minor, founder of C/NET is behind the venture.

So what for philanthropy?
The principle at work here is "user-generated content" or "crowd sourcing." Its a step beyond the wisdom of crowds because its a way of getting the world to do your work for you. This is a principle embodied by Tom Sawyer and the painting of his picket fence and now 'scaled' to new heights through everything from YouTube to OhMyNews to wikipedia.

The technologies may not matter to philanthropy (though I think they should) but the principles do. The folks 'out there' know what matters. They know what they like and what they need. Given the right tools, they will share that information in ways expected and unexpected, and ways that are potentially quite powerful. How powerful? One need only point to some of the political action in Korea fomented by OhMyNews, the photos from the London subway bombing taken by cellphone cameras and posted to blogs, and the success of bloggers in keeping the heat on political miscreants like Trent Lott and others.

Its important to note that Halsey Minor of C/NET is behind JPG. C/NET - Minor's first big hit - is a perfect example of the way traditional publishing moved into the internet - it is an edited, paid reporter type news source that operates on the web and in print through syndication. In creating JPG, Minor shows that he can move to new structures - JPG seeks content from the public outside, not from professionals on the payroll. It offers a way for that public to publish photos and make a few dollars. It directly involves the users of the final product in creating that product, and gives them a stake in its success.

All principles worth considering when it comes to philanthropy.

Pointing you to others

Two other blogs with some philanthropy tools and links you might find thought-inspiring:

First, the Case Foundation (Steve Case of AOL fame) has a spotlight section on their site that looks at the issues the foundation funds. Today (this week?) the Spotlight page will take you to some good links on giving, including research, tips and tricks, and holiday shopping possibilities.

Second, the GlobalGivingIndex on SocialEdge - its not perfect, but my hats off to GlobalGiving for recognizing the value of their data and sharing it in a new, useful way. Anyone using the index or data for research, analysis, comparison shopping? Ping me, I'd love to know.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Media and the moment

I am a big fan of David Pogue's columns, newsletters, podcasts, blogs, books and - soon - his new TV show, "Its All Geek to Me." This week his Circuits email took on "The Dilemma over Future Storage Formats," a spine-tingling subject for sure.

What's the issue, you ask? Flash drives, DVDs, and every other device we use to store our every-expanding personal media warehouses are time-limited. By the time our kids want to watch our movies of them, neither the storage media or the hardware to read it will still be around. This week, Pogue shares some of the wisdom of those who write to him, including this nugget:

"* “An engineer friend of mine once remarked that if he really cared enough to do so, he would buy up perhaps 30 of every popular storage technology today: CD burners/players, DVD burners/players, new VHS machines (which are becoming scarcer already), and so on. He would warehouse them for 30 years.

“At the end of that time, there would be a very large market for many, many millions of people who had old media in their houses, attics and garages with no clue as to how to rescue them. He postulated this as a can’t-miss get-rich idea for his children and grandchildren.”

So What For Philanthropy?
Foundations bask in their perpetuity. But, as soon as they finish moving all their old paper files into some new fancy digital format, they too will face the "Dilemma Over Future Storage Formats." So, are any of them interested in solving it - not just for themselves but for the rest of us? A lot of philanthropic resources are addressing related questions around media access and media policy (and more resources are needed!). For example, the Mellon Foundation has made huge contributions to open access academic journals, MacArthur to the Creative Commons movement, and Ford to electronic media policy. But what about a millenial media format - using some of the principles of the LongNow Foundation but focused on the practical - to address this media storage issue for all foundations, all archives, all media users and all media creators. In other words, for all of us.

(Full disclosure: My company worked/works with both Ford and MacArthur on parts of their digital media strategies.)

Historical predecessors to open-source software

WE love to focus on the new and forget about the old. Seth Robert's blog at Huffington Post reminds us that books were the first open-source software.

Sustainability as reality TV

The BBC ran an 8 part series called “No Waste Like Home,” which focused on unsustainable practices in regular homes.

Along those lines, I’ve often wondered how many of these disposable coffee cups get thrown away each day. I didn’t find the answer to that question, but E Magazine (Nov/Dec 05) reports that a daily cup tossed into the trash amounts to 23 pounds of garbage per year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Worldwide wealth...and lack thereof

Philanthropists don't like to talk about this issue and certainly we don't seem to be doing much about it. Looking at the enormous gaps in wealth around the world, however, seems to me to be a starting point from which to think about the role of philanthropy in our societies. Great philanthropy, has, after all, been a result of the very forces that also create the disparity.

On December 6th the Financial Times reported that 2% of the world's population owns 50% of the wealth. The poorest 50% of the world's population owns 1% of assets.

To put this in perspective for Americans, in order to be in the world's top 1% of wealth owners an individual must have a net worth of $500,000 or more. That figure, unattainable by most of the world, is less than the median home price in San Francisco and about equal to the average value increase in San Francisco home values since 2000. The average American has a net worth of about $144,000, whereas, globally, an adult with $2,300 worth of assets would be in the top half of the charts.

The data come from a new report released by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University.

How can we hold these figures in our heads when we think about philanthropy? What do the forces that create these gaps mean for the limitations of philanthropy? How can we incorporate this reality into the conversations about markets, philanthropy, and the public sector?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tax law for "for-profit charities"

Avid readers of the New York Times will note today's article about for-profit philanthropy. The story is here (login req'd). To save you some clicking, here is the abstract of the article the Times' references by University of Chicago professors Eric Posner and Anup Malani.

Games and creative tech solutions

Readers responded to both my posts on games and on tech solutions to social problems. Check out comments to what's trickling in and - PLEASE - feel free to join in the discussion.

To flag some of the new thoughts:

*) Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Games for Health have a competition underway to spark creative thinking about games and health care - check that out here.

*) Folks over at RWJF's Pioneer portfolio are out there blogging on innovative ideas that have the potential to trigger breakthrough improvements in health and health care.

*) A wiki and a blog on games to learn and teach about social enterprise. This must be a sign of convergence.

*) A cool "pot-in-pot" refrigerator was brought to my attention under the post "Tech solutions to social problems."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Videogame advocacy

Ian Bogost looks at the use of videogames for politics, advocacy, and activism in a wonderful essay on First Monday. There is a whole movement out there, called Serious Games, that is trying to foster "non-entertainment" games. And they're not just for kids anymore! Games for Change is the go-to place for more information on the positive use of this omnipresent media.

The MacArthur Foundation is putting tens of millions of dollars into digital media and learning, including games. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a big supporter of Games for Health. Any other foundations out there funding serious games or using them as tools for outreach, advocacy, engagement, learning, etc....? Curious minds want to know - please send me info.

A generational shift to social justice philanthropy?

Resource Generation and NCRP are set to publish "Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy: The Next Generation" by Alison Goldberg and Karen Pittleman. The book argues that the next generation of philanthropists needs to address social inequity, if only for their own sake. Pre-release materials claim the book will show them how to do it. Guess we just need to wait and see if they read it.

Use web 2.0 to fix education

At least that is part of John Seely Brown's message from a conference at MIT on iCampus.

Tools are good. Free tools (may be) better.

The folks at are working on a toolbox for nonprofits. They're in the prototyping stage so click here and go help them out.

Global Ideas Bank

logo is from University of Alaska, Anchorage Idea Bank

Here is a resource for all philanthropists thinking about how to rapidly generate a lot of ideas - the Global:Ideas:Bank. This is an existing, free, user-generated storehouse of social-minded ideas. You can search to see what folks have already "thunk up," add your two cents, or use it as fodder to jumpstart a brainstorming session with colleagues. The related blog for the main site is here.

Tech solutions to social problems

Here's a list of cool technologies that address real social problems. Its inspired by a list in Fortune, December 11, 2006, called "Tools for better living." Your additions are most welcome.

1) Must be a device that meets a need for a large number of poor people
2) Must be affordable by those people
3) Must function in the environment in which the people who need it actually live

Fortune lists about seven, of which I was most impressed with these two:
The Lifestraw is a cheap, re-usable water filter that allows the safe drinking of even the dirtiest water.

The Start Syringe is a syringe with a plunger that breaks internally after one use, prohibiting its reuse and potential for sharing dirty needles.

Another that I like is the Solar Cooker a fast, hot oven that uses solar power instead of wood for fuel, making it relevant to people in deforested areas.

What have you seen out there that you think is cool, that solves a problem, and that is prices right, culturally appropriate, and could make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people? Send me your entries through the comment function or via email and I'll keep expanding the list.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Microlending. Good for them but not for us.

Wednesday's WSJ ran a story titled, "Silicon Valley Moguls Support Microlenders, Just not in the US," in which the profitability of social good ventures is highlighted as the central question. Because of higher costs and legally-required lower interest rates, US-based microlending programs can do a lot of good, but they can't do it at a profit. In other parts of the world, where double-digit interests rates are a bargain for borrowers (instead of the usury they would be here) and operating costs are so low, these services not only provide capital to those who need it but they turn a small profit in doing so.

The story highlights Eric Weaver of San Jose, CA-based Lenders for Community Development. "People tell Mr. Weaver that microlending doesn't work in the US. Says Mr. Weaver, ?What they mean is that itÂ?s not profitable here.?

?For many of the super-rich of the dot-com era, profitability has become a philanthropic litmus test.

Another take on metrics

In Michigan, according to this article on the Metrics of Giving, its all about jobs.

A new perspective on the ordinary

This video shows just one of the many reasons we all need to take public transportation. If you can't walk across Brooklyn and Queens to see what is all around you, try this guy's approach to BART. Note the responses - or lack thereof - of his fellow passengers. Its worth pondering this for 2 minutes. How can you claim to understand your community without experiencing a little bit of this?

Lotus on the Ceiling

Walking to New York...From Kennedy

Wednesday's Times ran a great story about British author Will Self who, upon visiting New York, chose to walk into Manhattan from JFK. I loved this story. Particularly these insights...

"What recommended it was that it would take him through parts of the city that most people never notice while driving in a car: an experience that Mr. Self, a student of psycho-geography, believes has imposed a ?windscreen-based virtuality? on travel, cutting us off from experiencing our own topography.

?People don?t know where they are anymore, ? he said, adding: ?In the post-industrial age, this is the only form of real exploration left. Anyone can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many people have walked all the way from the airport to the city??

This insight ties in so nicely to my reflections on ground-level philanthropy. We need to see where we are. We need to listen to people. We need to know when we are assuming we know what others are experiencing or even what they are saying.

As Mr. Self notes, when he asked a local resident for directions about how to get to NYC the fellow insisted he needed to get in a car and join in the traffic on the Van Wyck. As Self noted, ?It wasn?t that he didn?t know where we are,? Mr. Self said. ?It?s that he couldn?t conceptually grasp the idea of walking to New York. I love that.?

If those in communities cannot "conceptually grasp the idea" that philanthropists are bringing in, it stands to reason that the well-meaning philanthropists can't conceptually grasp the idea of the local community. It takes time. It takes work. It takes listening.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Internship at Craigslist Foundation

Craigslist has helped us all find apartments, roommates, cars, furniture, dates, just about anything you could ask for. Now's your chance to give back as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

We are hiring a CTC VISTA, responsible for the development of online resources and technology infrastructure.

Please visit for a complete job description.

Stipend of roughly $11K/yr, paid every two weeks + $1200 end-of-service bonus or $4725 Education Award (Includes Health Insurance).

To apply for this position, please send your cover letter and resume to Liza Schlang (

Public Service Announcements

I'm in Chicago at a really interesting meeting on the future of learning, schools, libraries and other institutions. While I collect my thoughts on those topics, here is is a select group of competitions, job announcements and other stuff (see post below on internship at Craigslist) that came my way and may be of interest to you:

Join the 8th Changemakers Collaborative Competition - "Entrepreneuring Peace: innovation in managing group conflict." Participating now offers you the opportunity to gain access to investors, a community of innovators, and wealth of new ideas. Twelve finalists will attend the "2007 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, England in March 2007. Three winners will receive each $5,000. Enter the competition before January 10, 2007 at

Executive Director of Social Venture Partners Portland (SVPP) a 501(c)3 non-profit organization comprised of engaged citizens committed to achieving measurable social change in the four-county area surrounding Portland, Oregon. Our partner teams give time, money, and expertise to strengthen innovative non-profit organizations and develop strategic solutions to community problems. We are a volunteer organization; the Executive Director is our primary staff position, although we may add a clerical position in the future to support the activities of the Executive Director based on need. Contact for full job description and application process: Applicants should submit resume and cover letter via email to or by regular mail to the following address no later than December 31, 2006.

Executive Director

Cultural Tourism DC in Washington, DC, has retained Slesinger Management Services to recruit an Executive Director. Information available at

Free NPO Website monitoring during giving season

AlertSite Helps Deliver Holiday Cheer to Charitable Organizations

AlertSite, a leading provider of web performance measurement, systems monitoring and security vulnerability scanning services, today announced CharityWorks, a program designed to provide six months of free web site monitoring for charitable organizations.
Effective immediately, and through December 31, non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3)* status involved in raising funds or collecting goods such as food, clothes, toys, books, etc., can contact AlertSite at to request free monitoring for one URL of their choice over a six-month period. As part of this service, organizations will receive e-mail notifications if the site experiences any outages. CharityWorks is a free program and, since it does not require any software installation, monitoring can begin almost immediately.

Yaks, Kids, SecondLife

Philanthropists and nonprofits are slowly moving into web 2.0 and even SecondLife. As this blog seems to be en route to becoming the "go to" place for information on philanthropy and SecondLife (now, that is a niche) I am grateful to Steve Bridger of NFP 2.0 for his post about how Save the Children is using 2L to raise money to buy yaks for Tibetan families.

The NFP 2.0 blog has lots of good information on using the web for nonprofit media and advocacy.

Flattening the world - from Singapore to San Francisco

Blogging is one way to see how the world is flattening (thanks, Tom Friedman). I got an email from a Singaporean who had just attended a speech by the Bay Area's own Cole Wilbur, former head of The Packard Foundation. Interesting to learn what she learned that is relevant in Singapore from someone who has had a strong influence on philanthropy in California and across the US.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

TED Talks

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) always has speakers worth hearing. Since its way too late to register for the next conference, check out these streams from philanthropists past and be sure to bookmark TED for future speeches.

Jacqueline Novogratz -- the founder of Acumen Fund, a non-profit that
takes a business-like approach to improving the lives of the poor can be heard here.

Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen phone can be heard here.

Thanks to the good folks at TED for sending these my way - keep 'em comin!

Carbon trading

Lots of news about carbon trading. You can minimize your guilt about the carbon you use by buying carbon credits and supporting renewable resources. Here are some places to look into it for yourself

Carbon Fund lets you offset the pollution you create by driving for a simple annual fee.

Offsetters lets you offset the pollution you create at home.

TerraPass started the trend with stickers you could post on your SUV.

Need help picking your carbon trader? Public Radio International's The World ran a program on the subject on November 22, 2006 that can teach you more.

I actually think Jimmy Carter had it right. So before investigating these trading options, go bundle up in a cardigan sweater, turn down the thermostat, walk to the store. This is a case where less is more - the less you have to trade away the more you are doing to help.

Back to Microfinance...and SecondLife

A while back I questioned whether or not microfinance efforts were actually pulling people out of poverty or simply making them less poor. Seems like Forbes is now asking the same thing. This story in Easy Money by Claire Cain Miller notes that often the loans are used to pay off old debts, not create new enterprises.

I can't seem to get out of SecondLife. Thinking about microfinance reminded me of something I saw in my SL tour - money trees. You buy one of these trees, post your own Linden dollars on it, and people who come through your SL property can just "pick" the dollars off the tree. Why do people buy the trees? To attract others to their land - its the virtual "eyeball" issue - you've got to get found in SL to matter.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Warren Buffett does it, you should too

Trent Stamp at "Trent Stamp's Take" read the fine print in the stories about spending down the Gates Foundation. In doing so he noted that the world's biggest foundation is also opening its doors to anyone who, like Warren Buffett, might want to give the Gates' a few billion dollars.

There is much to recommend this - more efficient infrastructure, better use of knowledge, sharing resources for greater impact. And we've seen it before - Rockefeller Brothers, Pew siblings, and Charles Culpeper and family have all pooled their foundations at some point in the past.

Frankly, if philanthropists spend less n their own infrastructure their might be more money available for grants. The good news is that there are lots of ways to support your philanthropy with knowledgeable advisors, effective systems, plentiful partners, and real access to community problem solvers.

Some of these joint opportunities do include "buying another foundation's staff expertise," as in the case with Buffett and Gates. Others include pooling funds in giving circles such as Social Venture Partners, the Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle or hometown associations.

Alternatively, community foundations can boast about their access to community knowledge and the informed, representative nature of their boards. Companies like Foundation Source may have an easier sell for their low-cost technologically-accelerated management offerings.

I don't think the Gates Foundation needs a whole lot more money. However, the more they are willing to share what they know and the resources that they have, the more organized philanthropy may move toward an overall smarter and more efficient system.

Lists of lists

You know the end of the year is coming when we can only think in lists. This site, The Tyee, which bills itself as "The Feisty One" from British Columbia has a great list of lists to save me from making more lists.

As for me, I am working on some lists for you...Three of them. But you'll have to come back closer to the end of December for these:

"The Five Most Hyped Philanthropic Stories of 2006,"
"The [x number of] Trends That Might Actually Matter to Philanthropy in 2007 & Beyond," and
"Lucy's List of [x number of] Interesting Philanthropic Stories that Didn't Get the Hype they Deserve."

In the meantime, here are the three books we most frequently referred to clients or used ourselves in 2006:

More on SecondLife

Reality TV comes to SecondLife - Big Brother SecondLife is active now. Philanthropy can't be too far behind -- the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is already holding project launches and grantee meetings "in world."

See below for comments about the "only limitations we face are those of creativity."

See also this social edge conversation on/about SecondLife and the SocialSector

Also, Philip Rosedale's comments from his LongNow presentation have been summarized by Stewart Brand and a podcast will soon be available.

Brand's ENTIRE synthesis is below. Sign up at LongNow to get the podcast of Rosedale.

Today's Topics:

1. 2d Life takes off (Philip Rosedale talk) (Stewart Brand)


Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2006 13:26:58 -0800
From: Stewart Brand
Subject: [SALT] 2d Life takes off (Philip Rosedale talk)

What is real life coming to owe digital life?

After a couple years in the flat part of exponential growth, the
steep part is now arriving for the massive multi-player online world
construction kit called "Second Life." With 1.7 million accounts,
membership in "Second Life" is growing by 20,000 per day. The
current doubling rate of "residents" is 7 months, still shortening,
which means the growth is (for now) hyperexponential.

For this talk the founder and CEO of "Second Life," Philip Rosedale,
tried something new for him--- a simultaneous demo and talk. His
online avatar, "Philip Linden," was on the screen showing things
while the in-theater Philip Rosedale was conjecturing about what it
all means. "This is a game of 'Can I interest you more in what I'm
saying than what's going on on the screen?'"

He showed how new arrivals go through the "gateway" experience of
creating their own onscreen avatar, explaining that because intense
creativity is so cheap, easy, and experimental, the online personas
become strongly held. "You can have multiple avatars in 'Second
Life,' but the overall average is 1.25 avatars per person." The
median age of users is 31, and the oldest users spend the most time
in the world (over 80 hours per week for 10 percent of the
residents). Women are 43 percent of the customers.

The on-screen Philip Linden was carrying Rosedale's talk notes
(handwritten, scanned, and draped onto a board in the digital world).
Rosedale talked about the world while his avatar flew ("Everyone
flies--- why not?") to a music club in which a live song performance
was going on (the real singer crooning into her computer in real time
from somewhere.) The singer recognized Philip Linden in the
on-screen audience and greeted him from the on-screen stage.

"More is different," Rosedale explained. People think they want
total and solitary control of their world, but the result of that is
uninteresting. To get the emergent properties that make "Second
Life" so enthralling, it has to be one contiguous world with everyone
in it. At present it comprises about 100 square miles, mostly
mainland, with some 5,000 islands (all adding up to 35 terrabytes
running in 5,000 servers). Defying early predictions, the creativity
in "Second Life" has not plateaued but just keeps escalating.
Everybody is inspired to keep topping each other with ever cooler
things. There are tens of thousands of clothing designers. Unlike
the aesthetic uniformity of imagined digital worlds like in the movie
"The Matrix," "Second Life" is suffused with variety. It is "the sum
of our dreams."

The burgeoning token economy in "Second Life" is directly connected
to the real-world economy with an exchange rate of around 270 Linden
dollars to 1 US dollar. There are 7,000 businesses operating in
"Second Life," leading this month to its first real-world millionaire
(Metaverse real estate mogul Anshe Chung). At present "Second Life"
has annual economic activity of about $70 million US dollars, growing

As Jaron Lanier predicted in the early '90s, the only scarce resource
in virtual reality is creativity, and it becomes valued above
everything. Freed of the cost of goods and the plodding quality of
real-world time, Rosedale explained, people experiment fast and
strange, get feedback, and experiment again. They orgy on the things
they think they want, play them out, get bored, and move on. They
get "married," start businesses with strangers--- "There are
40-person businesses made of people who have never met in real life."
Real-world businesses hold meetings in "Second Life" because they're
more fun and encourage a higher degree of truth telling.

Pondering the future, Rosedale said that every aspect of the quality
of shared virtual life will keep improving as the technology
accelerates and the number of creators online keeps multiplying.
("Second Life" is now moving toward a deeper order of creativity by
releasing most of its world-building software into open source mode.)

Real-world artifacts like New York City could become regarded like
museums. "As the fastest moving, most creative stuff in our society
increasingly takes place in the virtual world, that will change how
we look at the real world," Rosedale concluded.

--Stewart Brand

Allison Fine on connected giving

Allison Fine, author of Momentum, is focusing her blog on giving for the next few weeks. Check it out here for leads on the latest in "connected giving."

BTW, if you're crossword obsessed like me, the link to a Mo Crossword on Fine's blog is too intriguing to ignore. I couldn't get it to download so I had to stick with the NYT puzzle. But I'll try again.