Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Buzzword #10 - Philanthropy 2.0

After all the hoopla about embedded giving (including this story that ran on the front page of Sunday's Washington Post) I am tempted to hang up on the list of 10 buzzwords. I'm guessing that nothing else will compete with the buzz of that one.

Of course, since the point of this list of buzzwords is to point out some silly ideas, flag some valuable ones, remind myself and you that the jargon and hype grows faster and with more flourish than meaningful change, and, really, just to have a little fun, I figured I'd better finish off the list.

In the spirit of New Year's Eve countdowns, everywhere, here then is the full list of 2007 philanthropy buzzwords.

10. Philanthropy 2.0

This is the newest one to the list so here's an explanation. Philanthropy 2.0 (or giving 2.0, charity 2.0, etc.) is a riff on Web 2.0 and refers to any of the zillion efforts or applications out there that are trying to make philanthropy more interactive and user-generated. Examples include the spread of charity badges and widgets, community giving sites such as or the much hyped causes application for Facebook,, etc. etc.

Being named a buzzword doesn't mean that the ideas matter. It also doesn't mean that an idea is nothing but fluff. This list is deliberately a mix of both fluff and matter.

I believe that some of these ideas matter in profound and meaningful ways - whether or not the actual buzzword is the term that sticks. Notably, the ideas, purposes, and mechanics behind B Corporations, Social Stock Exchanges, Aligned Investing, and Endorsement Philanthropy have the potential to make lasting and significant change in the business of giving. Microfranchising also stands to change how aid and development efforts are organized. The concepts that underpin open philanthropy are critical to a more transparent, accountable, and leveraged set of giving practices - let's hope they take hold.

If I'm right, these buzzwords will go far beyond buzz to actual impact and acceptance. That would make for a good 2008. Regardless, starting January 1, I'll be on the lookout for the next ten buzzwords.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Washington Post on kids and giving

The front page of Sunday's Washington Post featured this story on kids and philanthropy. The reporter looks into embedded giving as well as the enormous change in scale of fundraising by kids these days.

Compare the ten or so dollars per Halloween that my siblings and I used to raise for UNICEF to the tens of thousands of dollars raised by kids today. In addition to those examples in the WaPo story, check out what a few teens in the East Bay have done through FundaField to build soccer fields in Africa.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

NYT editorial on embedded giving

The New York Times ran an editorial today (Saturday, December 22) about embedded giving. Here is the link.

I can't run the whole editorial, but here's the closing paragraph, which is in line with comments I've made in this space, in the Times, on NPR and to ABC News.

"Rooting out philanthropic hawkers is going to be tough, especially in the age of Internet retailing. A host of profit-seeking sites have sprung up online, with names like (slogan: I Shop. Therefore I Give.) and, offering to satisfy the giving spirit.

For now, the old-fashioned, direct, tried and true route to charity seems best."

Another interview with me is set to run on NPR's program Day to Day on Tuesday, December 25. The other buzzwords will never live up to this one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A diversity of measures

(Reposted from Alliance Magazine)

What do public benefit, performance metrics and evolution all have in common? No, it is not just the tendency of some to dismiss them all as ‘merely theories’. It is that they all rely on diversity to thrive. Whether you are looking at the provision of social services in Britain, the arts community in Berlin, or affordable housing in Boston, you will find a mix of non-profit organizations, government agencies and private companies providing the benefits. With regard to performance metrics and measures of impact, we have seen an explosion of indices for corporate social responsibility, social return on investment, and double bottom line accounting. And, of course, evolution is inherently linked to biological diversity, which is itself a lynchpin of a healthy region, ecosystem, and, ultimately, planet.

It is ironic, then, that one of the most consistent challenges to developing meaningful outcome or performance measures in the social sector is the old canard that ‘there are too many definitions of success’. In other words, success is too diverse to be measured by any common standards. Critics of measurement efforts will argue that some of the social sector is focused on school choice programmes, while others are trying to expand public investment in public schools. These entities are working at cross-purposes – how can there be one definition of success?

The answer is simple: the search for measures, indices, metrics and standards need not be monolithic. They will be useful when they are as diverse as the sector(s) that they measure. This is why the Alliance/Keystone survey and analysis of the state of impact measures in civil society is so important – we must know what we already know in order to improve.

And the survey findings are illustrative if not scientifically testable or comprehensive. Donors and civil society organizations agree on the value of collecting data across several domains, from activity level, participant reach and productivity to direct and indirect change. There is widespread agreement that evaluation is under-resourced.

There is, not surprisingly, some difference of opinion – for example, about the utility of various evaluation processes, and the degree to which evaluative processes are under-funded – and there are differences in how each side views the other in terms of follow-up. What does all this tell us about impact evaluation in civil society?

There are several findings that could advance the sector as a whole, if they are applied with an eye towards improvement and not obstruction. First, we have some way to go in developing broadly useful practices and distributing them widely. Second, when we shift our gaze from individual organizations to the sectors as a whole, we find workable test groups, each developing suites or clusters of measures and processes that make sense in certain situations. Third, it is this level of analysis that may hold the most promise for developing comparable, widely applicable measures.

The Keystone/Alliance survey doesn’t answer our question – how do we measure success, but it is an important step forward in categorizing the stakeholders involved, and their perceptions of what works and what doesn’t, and identifying future directions for action. It is true, we may not be able to boil everything down to a single measure that allows for universal comparison of food security programmes in Ghana with cultural preservation efforts in Grenada or immigrant rights programmes in Greenwich. But wait a minute – we don’t have a single standard in any other sector, either.

This kind of diversity of measures also characterizes commercial activity and politics. We pretend that there are standard measures that cut universally across commercial activity or political action, such as market share, stock price or electoral victories. But this is not really the case. Some stock analysts rely on price/earnings ratios, others pay them no mind. Some investors develop super computer-powered formulae. Others, Warren Buffett famously among them, only buy companies that make products that the investor actually understands and uses.

Similarly, while electoral victories are one measure of success in democratic politics, there are many others. Some put more weight on the long-term development of ideological strongholds, others pursue political ends through the court system, and others put their focus on local issues over national politics, based on their beliefs about control and the avenues of change. In both markets and politics there are many measures of success, and many applications thereof. It is likely that such is true in the civil sector as well.

We have confused the need to measure our impact with the need to develop single common metrics. The Alliance/Keystone survey is valuable for several reasons, including its contribution to debunking this myth. The universe of organizations that contribute to public benefit and social good is expanding and morphing and hybridizing. The types and interests and wishes of donors are doing the same. We need to measure how we are doing, but we need to do so in ways that are useful and flexible, not simply available and comparable. I have written at length about the costs of settling for less – for using measures simply because they exist and can be gathered, even when they don’t actually tell us what we want to know – see It is time to move beyond metrics of convenience to those that can help us make better investments, provide better programmes, and make a difference that matters.

This survey gives us hope that we can move towards complex and useful metrics by bringing forward new ways of looking at this age-old problem. We need to look at areas of work, not necessarily organizational structure. We need to look beyond that which is easy to count to that which may be meaningful. And we can get further than we’ve ever been before if we are willing to consider the diversity in the sector – its structures, actions and outcomes – as a potential source for the answer rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

GiveWell...and move fast

Monday night at close to midnight EST the Board of Directors of GiveWell and The Clear Fund wrapped up our second meeting. It was only 9:00 p.m. my time, but we'd been in the meeting since 3 and I was wrecked - it was a long meeting, with some process bumps, good decisions, some missed targets, and several tough calls.

On Tuesday the first grants were made. Today, the founders of the organization are all over the press - in the Times, the WSJ and on CNBC. You can also find the audio of the first Board meeting online, and the record from Monday's meeting will be up soon. We did not get everything done that we had set for ourselves; we've made adjustments in our budgets, our timeline and the criteria we use for the work, and we've set real deadlines for getting done what was left hanging on Monday night.

We're still working on how to measure ourselves - what metrics matter for this new entity - quality of the research? dollars leveraged? users of the research? change in other funders? change in public discussion? And how we will track and report on these indicators?

Giving away money well is not easy. But The Clear Fund and GiveWell show that a lot of what stands for "business as usual" need not be - the work can be done quickly, informed decisions made and acted on, and information shared publicly. We need to hold ourselves to the same standards for cost effectiveness, impact, and transparency that we deign to ask for from those we fund. These are important elements of grant making, and many established funders are making real efforts to move in these directions.

Some of this is much easier to do when you've started fresh and have no institutional weight to carry. Some some of the problems and challenges that this a startup needs to deal with won't burden more established organizations. Listening and informing and debating across the bounds of "old" and "new" may be the best conversation we can all have.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Remittance data

Here is something for the data wonk in all of us - the Migration Policy Institute - a resource we all need to know about, has new maps that show the 280 Billion USD that flow globally each year (that 280 bb is the 2006 number).

Play with the maps, download the data analyses by country, and ask yourself - why can't we see this same kind of information for foundation grants, public sector investments, multilateral organizations, or other revenue sources?

I apologize if I am repeating myself. I have a feeling a post something very similar to this every year when I find myself checking out MPI's work. On the other hand, no apologies. Why do we go year to year to year without this kind of information on philanthropy?

Embedded giving on ABC News

Embedded giving is the buzzword with the most buzz. After reports on NPR and in the NY Times, here is last night's story from ABC World News with Charles Gibson (video and more). Today, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey is set to introduce legislation on the issue - let's hope the proposed regulation isn't worse than the buzzword itself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making change happen

This is from an earlier post, which had the uninspired title of On philanthropy and environmental change. I also want to highlight the comments to the points from The Green Skeptic.

My belief, as has been stated on this blog repeatedly, is that we can only solve social challenges through the combined contributions and creativity of all sectors. There is no reason we should expect any single sector to ever solve our social/environmental problems - simply because these problems are a result of the dynamic failures of all of the sectors. In other words, business, government and independent action created our social ills, they will all have a role to play in solving them.

That said, vision and creativity are clearly important elements of philanthropy/social enterprise making an impact - and being part of tri-sector solutions.

Here's an interesting provocation about how this all might play out - the Futurist Magazine (published by World Futures Society) has this idea in its Outlook 2008 section (Nov/Dec 07 issue):
"Socially responsible investing may get a boost from venture capitalists. Investment in green or clean technologies such as such as alternative fuel development is gaining momentum. This new interest by venture capitalists follows a trends led by individual investors and mutual funds to weigh social values alongside financial reports."
Here's a link to free abstract - full article is available for purchase.

So - back to some of this blog's favorite themes:
  • Solutions will require that each sector make its best contributions in relationship with those of the other sectors;
  • Aligned investing is on the rise;
  • Advocacy as a tool is better understood by more and more funders and nonprofits;
  • Alternatives and new methods are evolving from established approaches - learning from the past and deploying new mechanisms will move us forward
It is insufficient to say that philanthropy hasn't ended hunger, fixed public education, slowed global warming, or eradicated poverty, and therefore we need a new philanthropy. It is incumbent on us to look to the contributions to our problems from all sectors, and then consider how each sector independently - and in concert - can instead work to solve them. We should think across sectors and not be limited by archaic expectations of roles. We should be strategic about issues in which one sector might be promoting one set of options, while others work at cross-purposes. And, most important, we should not throw logic out the window nor assume any single strategy is the path to solution.

That said, if we look to the dynamic interactions between public/commercial/independent action that resulted in our environmental challenges, our human rights failings, our educational failures, our health care challenges, etc. than we can craft potential investments and solutions to these challenges by:
  • Using resources from each sector in new ways;
  • Jointly designing solutions with input from each sector;
  • Considering the limitations of each sector, mapping how these interact with those of the other sectors, and investing knowledge and resources in ways that directly counter those aggregated failures;
  • Considering "the grey area" - sometimes called the fourth sector - as a new blend of the first three, not a silver bullet replacement;
  • Using new tools to understand complex problems - tools such as social network analysis or the kinds of complex problem solving highlighted here
Here are some comments from the Green Skeptic that build on these points. Change matters - what else do you think we need to make it happen?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Buzzword 9 - B Corporation

B Corporations are more than a buzzword - they may be a game changer. New organizational structures, new corporate code, and new ways to organize social good - B corporations are the real deal. This is one buzzword that is more than just buzz. Not only will this idea stick into 2008 and beyond, it may very well prove me wrong in my prediction that there will be no meaningful regulatory/legal changes in 2008. Let us hope so.

Not enough buzz for a buzzword

We're getting down to the wire on the top ten philanthropic buzzwords of 2007. Here's one that won't make the list - charitable gift cards. You can read about them here.

Why don't they qualify? Partly because there is no buzz to the buzz - gift cards are old news, gift cards for charity are just a riff on an old idea. But more important, they are not a buzzword because they were SO predictable. If you didn't see these coming down the proverbial pike, well, I guess you just weren't looking.

They may work fine, some of the key questions behind them (what happens if the gift recipient doesn't redeem them? Who gets the tax benefit, the buyer or the receiver?) may have been answered by now, and they may even raise some money for charity, but they just strike me as much ado about nothing.

Let me ask you this, if you don't care enough to pick out an actual gift for someone and you don't care enough about them them to find out what causes they care about and make a gift in their name and you don't care enough to make a gift to something you care about in their name, why are you giving them a gift in the first place?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Embedded giving and the law

The New York Times reported an increased interest on behalf of lawmakers regarding embedded giving - the story is here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Buzzwords everywhere - and here is Buzzword # 8 Endorsement Philanthropy

Embedded Giving is Philanthropy buzzword # 6 for the year 2007.

Here is this week's Marketplace story on embedded giving

Here is today's New York Times story on the topic

And today I'm pleased to announce Buzzword #8 - endorsement philanthropy, which gets a big boost today from The Case Foundation. Here's one story on it. In this latest challenge, the Case Foundation, Parade Magazine, Facebook and others are helping individual donors endorse the causes they support - lending their trust and credibility to the organizations that they care about.

What is endorsement philanthropy? As I introduced this concept in my book in 2004, endorsement philanthropy is when institutions, such as foundations, make a deliberate effort to promote and stand behind the organizations that they have selected to fund. They do this - wisely - for several reasons:
  1. The foundations have done the research and due diligence, by sharing their recommendations they can drive more support to organizations they believe in;
  2. Its one way for foundations to influence "other people's money" - a good thing since no foundation has enough to solve the problems they seek to solve
  3. It saves time for the little giver - who wants to trust where they give, but can't afford the time or resources to do the due diligence themselves
Endorsement philanthropy isn't new - think of all those names on the wall of the museum, the lists of donors in the playbill, and the back pages of almost every nonprofit annual report. But it is taking on some new forms - as in the 21/64 Slingshot Fund, the Case Foundation Challenge and its Guide for Good Giving, New Progressive Coalition's Mutual Funds, Calvert Giving Folios, or GlobalGiving, which presents a donor with several organizations that have all been vetted by the trusted GG brand.

This is a way for donors - big and small - to share the nuances, details, and credibility of quality due diligence. Regular readers know how I feel about the application of free, abundant, easy and USELESS measures such as administrative ratios to guide decision making about charitable choice.

Endorsement philanthropy, wherein a trusted entity shares both its process for decision making and its own decisions, gets some real information to those who can use it. This is an area of great excitement - new developments, such as FasterCures Philanthropy Advisory Service, the Nonprofit Reporter demonstration project, the Hewlett Foundation's focus on sharing information - this is all good. After all, philanthropic financial resources are finite - but real philanthropic knowledge, about what works and how to make a difference - is only valuable if it is used. And the more it is used, the more we will be able to determine what is real knowledge and information, and what is...not.

Endorsement philanthropy, buzzword #8 for 2007.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Where does the money go?

Today's Wall Street Journal asks this question, in this article by Sally Beatty (subscription required). I sit on the advisory board of the Nonprofit Reporter, one of the organizations interviewed and mentioned in the story.

Today Marketplace, NPR's daily business program, begins a week long series on philanthropy. The opening segment looks at embedded giving, and Kai Ryssdal and I ask the eternal question, "where does the money go?" Find out when the show airs in your area here, or listen from the Internet later today here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stay tuned, there is more to come in 2007

My previous post was so badly written as to confuse many of you. It was not my last blog post for 2007, just my last post to SSIR for the year. Still to come between now and December 31, 2007....
  • Buzzwords number 8, 9, and, (drumroll, please) of course, 10
  • The recap on my 2006 predictions about 2007 - how did I do?
  • Links to my interview with Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace, which will kick off the show's special week-long feature on philanthropy. It is set to air on December 10. Also links to other stories to which I contributed that are expected to run in major papers between now and end-of-year.
  • And continuing thoughts here and on HuffingtonPost and on xchangexchange.
C'mon now, it is only December 6th. You didn't really expect me to be done with the year so soon, did you?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What matters and some bold predictions

(This is cross-posted from SSIR.)

This is my last SSIR post of 2007 - so it is time to ask some big questions – two of them, actually (though each has many subsections).

First, what really matters for philanthropy? I’ll list six big issues for the sector – opportunities, trends, and challenges that we’ll face in the next year. My hope is that this will spark discussion (and perhaps even leadership) to move the whole sector forward.

Second, what will happen in 2008? Here are five predictions about philanthropy in the next 12 months, and hope you call me back this time next year to see how I did.

What matters to philanthropy in 2008?

1.The economy matters.

Almost all economic predictions for 2008 point to much slower growth, and even recession, in the US economy, which would matter domestically and globally. How do recessions, or even periods of slowed growth, matter to philanthropy? Lets start with the big money – recessions matter to endowment growth and investment practices. There is a budding movement to foster greater use of foundation endowments for program or mission related investments, will this be stopped before it starts if the economy tanks? Or will larger investment losses actually catalyze more creative applications of foundation financial resources? Second, what about philanthropic spending rates? Warren Buffet recently took the stand calling for greater payout by large endowments – certainly funders interested in fair housing, lending practices, poverty alleviation, job creation, economic development should be getting ready now for the effects of a slowing (or receding) economy.

2. Health care finance will start down the same slope as sub prime mortgages

Hospitals that serve lots of uninsured patients have discovered how they can use the capital markets to collect their fees. The hospitals package up outstanding debt and sell it off to financial service firms. The good news – these hospitals get paid. The bad news? The finance companies impose double-digit interest rates and hire very aggressive collection firms to chase the poor people who couldn’t afford to pay for insurance, let alone usurious charges on top of the hospital bill. If this sounds familiar, it is because it’s the health care equivalent of mortgage-backed securities. Only when these loans fail, I guess the banks will have to take back the kidney that was transplanted or stop your diabetes treatment. Health focused philanthropy could make a major contribution to the well being of our entire nation of it began to deploy some of the “market organizing” savvy that Clinton and Gates and others have tested in developing countries to the dismal state of health access in the U.S.

3. Metrics matter – and the sector will finally make some real progress in developing them.

Check out the December issue of Alliance Magazine to see where we are now, and where we’re going. Institutional philanthropy – foundations, multi-family offices, donor advised fund purveyors – need to lead and inform, and – perhaps, set realistic boundaries around - these developments.

4. Markets matter

The lines between social entrepreneurship, double-bottom line businesses, nonprofits, and privatized public service providers are going to become ever more blended. Some of the many emergent social capital market mechanisms (social stock exchanges, equity products, indices) will take hold, and the discussion about revenue for public benefit work, and the awareness, acceptance and applications of organizational structures such as B Corporations and L3Cs, will expand significantly.

5. Bill Gates goes full time.

Given all that he has done as a part-timer, this ought to be very interesting. It is also somewhat unprecedented – to my knowledge, no other founder of a major foundation (Bertelsmann, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, Kellogg, Packard, Hewlett, Sage, etc. ) ever devoted themselves exclusively – or even primarily – to their philanthropy.

6. Race and age matter

If Tom Friedman is right and the world is flat, than geography matters but in very different ways than it used to. Given the 24/7 nature of communications access, PDAs, Slingbox and Tivo and YouTube, we know that time matters in new ways. What we have not figured out yet (and probably won’t in 2008, but they still matter) is how the diversity of experience, culture, and age that mark our society can and will shape our institutions, expectations, and leadership roles. Next year will bring us some new, important lessons on this front, if only because we get one year closer to major institutions being created and led by anyone other than a white baby boomer.

What will happen in 2008? Five predictions about philanthropy for the next year

(I am not going to bother with easy ones, like a big scandal in the nonprofit sector or the jaw-dropping endowment that will be established for somebody’s dog).

1. One of the many philanthropic prizes launched in 2007 will succeed in motivating the solution it seeks. My bet – it will be one of the Gates Foundation– funded Global Health Challenges.

2. At least one-third, and maybe as many as one-half of the world’s top ten largest gifts in 2008 will be made by non-Americans to non-American institutions.

3. The lines between giving, giving, and giving will continue to blur.
We will give gifts to family and friends that are charitable gifts in their names. We will make political contributions with a laser-like focus on supporting those in politics who care about the same social issues we support with our philanthropy. We will give more “embedded gifts,” and may even experience donor fatigue as the percentage of our basic financial transactions that include a “little bit extra” for charity become pervasive.

4. Half of the glossy magazines dedicated to giving that launched in 2006 or 2007 will fold in 2008.

5. Nothing significant will happen to the regulatory structure that shapes philanthropy in 2008 – there will be no new governance requirements, no new reporting requirements, no changes in tax deductions or exemptions. Even in the face of the big scandal that will occur, probably involving fraudulent use of online giving technologies or identity theft.

There you have it. Please be sure to let me know what you think matters, and feel free to add your predictions to the list. Just be ready to come back and defend your choices in December 2008.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Solving complex problems

(Photo: Design by Suzana Lisanti)

Solving complex problems is what some foundations claim to be doing. Many more wish they had the guts to stake this claim, but are perhaps more realistic about what they can do.

I've written a lot about crowd sourcing as a possible strategy for philanthropic ideas and insights - now we can all benefit from the brainiacs at MIT (I'm an alumni child so I am allowed to make jokes about pocket protectors) who take courses in "Solving Complex Problems" as freshman. They are then required to share their work live and online (December 4th, 7 pm EST). Check it out here.

In this class the Techies are working on "The Future of Fish."

If I were philanthropy queen I'd find a way to take advantage of these applications of methodology and creativity from smart people that are going on all the time all over the place. I'd bring in thinkers (students and faculty) from the social and natural sciences, arts, design, humanities, business, policy, and religion to co-craft possible solutions to poverty, hunger, sickness, cultural isolation, etc - as part of their own work. Then I'd develop critiques and review processes that were led by those living the conditions so that only applicable, reality-based strategies would survive the process.

Why is this valuable? The group work, methodological approach, intense presentation, and charrette style discussions are bound to produce better and more ideas than any single program officer or committee. Its not necessarily the answer - but it sure brings to bear a lot of intellectual horsepower that's already out there. Add in a good mix of lived experience from the community and then dedicate people to coordinating networks of thinkers and actors, finding implementation partners, and keeping feedback loops robust between funded work, thinkers, and critics. The whole process would be public so that those we hadn't yet found who had something to contribute could find it, use it, improve it - and it would feed a marketplace of ideas for the public good.

That's how I'd do it - and I'd call it open source charrette philanthropy. How would you do it?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Philanthropy advertising

I took a quick look around to see what I could see in terms of developments in end-of-year philanthropy advertising.
"The quotes/italics are my interpretations of the ads"
[The brackets indicate where I saw the ad]

"But wait, I wanted a toaster...."
  • Wells Fargo's new "Wrap it Up" campaign notes that the bank will make a donation to local schools, the Red Cross or Save the Bay for each new customer account opened between now and December 31. A new version of embedded giving. [SF Magazine, Dec 07]
"Let your partners speak on your behalf..."
  • Ads for the San Francisco Foundation feature local attorneys, speaking about how they trust the Foundation to do right by their clients. (everyone wins) [SF Magazine, Dec 07]
"Play to their egos. And hint at John D Rockefeller"
  • Fidelity asks, "You know how to make money. But do you know how to give it away?" [The New Yorker, Nov 26, 2007]
"Just manage the money"
  • I noticed an odd trend in [The Atlantic, December 2007]. There were lots of financial advisers advertising (2 ads totaling 3 full pages, including inside cover, from US Trust/Bank of America, 1 page for Fisher Investments, 2 page spread for Morgan Stanley, and 1 page for the (worth reading) Public Affairs book, Encore by Marc Freedman). Maybe Atlantic readers are all newly and unexpectedly wealthy for whom philanthropy is a secondary consideration? Philanthropy is a part of the services offered by all these advertisers, but it is definitely not the focus of these ads.
"Only if you are going to give to us..."
  • Two alumni magazines have lots of ads for wealth management, but again the only clear mention of philanthropy is a full page (inside back cover) ad to "invest with Stanford's endowment." I would imagine charitable gift funds, wealth advisers, philanthropy advisers, etc would like to reach the Ivy+ audience - is it possible that these magazines don't take these ads? [Yale Alumni Magazine, Nov/Dec 2007; Stanford, November/December 2007] On another subject altogether, these magazines are chock full of ads for assisted living facilities - the selling point of which seem to be the high number of alums and faculty who live there - summer camp for smarties as we grow older and frail(er)...
"We're all about making money. Oh I suppose you might want to give some of it away."
  • In [Fortune, Nov 26 2007] I saw no mention of giving or philanthropy in any of the advertising. [The Economist, November 24 2007] had one Wells Fargo ad for private banking services that included a sentence on "...a scholarship for your Alma Mater." [Business Week December 3, 2007] came up empty. Portfolio has an ad for NetJets featuring Tiger Woods (a play to young wealth) and lots of financial firms pitching their tax advantaged offerings; WIRED has several "green" gadgets and cars, but no direct philanthropic pitches, and Fast Company just sent me an invitation to their 2008 Social Capitalist Awards in January - but I don't know what ads they're running this month.
"Give for good. Don't just give stuff."
  • Page A13, National Edition, [New York Times], November 27 is a full page ad to charity rather than giving stuff. According to the ad:
"Let's redefine Christmas. By putting more Thanksgiving in it. ...

Give people donations to their favorite charities. And request that they give donations to your favorite charities....

The sole purpose of this message is to facilitate charitable giving. Please pass it on."
The only note about who paid for the ad is a small print sidebar noting that "The Dalio Family Foundation does not solicit donations from the public." The Dalio Family Foundation is a $25 mm+ independent foundation, based in CT and founded by the head of Bridgewater Associates, one of the nation's largest hedge ($20 bb+ in assets under management). Interesting to note that the founder of The Clear Fund and - one of the cooler experiments* underway in philanthropy right now - is a former member of the company's staff.

This "Giving" ad is notable for several reasons, 1) it is pitching philanthropy for the sake of philanthropy, 2) It is not underwritten by a financial firm, a philanthropy advisory service or a fundraising nonprofit, 3) It is "issue agnostic" - give where you want to, says the ad (OK, OK I know there are those who are getting ready to blast me that the mention of Christmas disqualifies the ad as agnostic, but I think its more about the giving season madness than the holiday), 4) It makes me smile to see a foundation get the point that they have a vested interest in the rest of the philanthropic capital market - a subject near and dear to my heart, 5) based on comparable data, the ad probably cost about $65,000 - which would make the expenditure qualify as a pretty significant grant for most foundations, 6) The New York Times has a lot of readers. There may be lots of impact from this ad. And, as far as I can tell, there isn't any way for the funder to know what kind of impact the ad is just a message, in a respected medium, at a certain time of year...

Without a doubt, the New York Times "giving" ad is the most interesting to me. My thoughts on the others, for those readers who seem to have lost their sense of irony or their ability to realize when my tongue is firmly in cheek, should be seen as little more than my musings on a market, at this particular time of year. And, I'll keep looking - I've got other hard source to check - Sunday's Times Magazine, the WSJ, Harpers, Inc., Vanity Fair, Forbes, Technology Review, Traveler, etc. etc.

As soon as I turn of the Ad Blocker on my browser I'll search for online philanthropy ads. Facebook supposedly had 100,000 ads launch within hours of allowing advertising to run on the platform. Wait a minute, on second thought, I'm going to keep my ad blocker settings as is, and let you tell me what you notice in online advertising for charitable giving....go ahead, email or comment and let me know.

*I am on the board of The Clear Fund.

Bad day for charities

Just heard this on the radio - Mark Everson, formerly of the IRS, has been ousted as CEO of the Red Cross after just six months - after having a "relationship with a subordinate."

That makes five leaders in six years at The Red Cross - time enough to have dealt with 9/11, Katrina, Rita, Southern California Fires, several Midwest floods...

And then there is the mess at the Smithsonian. And the Astor family accusations.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Making a list, checking it twice..."

Yes, its that time of year - list making time.

  1. I'm working on my top ten philanthropy buzzwords of 2007.
  2. I'm also getting ready to check back in on my 2006 list of "PhilanthropyHype" to see what stuck, what mattered and what was, after all, nothing more than hype. But you have to wait till New Years Eve (or thereabouts for that good stuff).
  3. The New Jew has a list of "Jewish Billionaire Heiresses," adapted a list compiled by Forbes', which is multi-religious.
  4. And Geneva Global and Barron's just published a list of Ten Wise Givers. Hats off to Geneva Global/Barron's - its deliberately not just "big guys" AND they share their methodology. (Full disclosure - we helped. A wee bit.)

I'd make a list of lists, but frankly, that is sooo 2006.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Buzzword 7 - Social stock exchanges

Some of this year's buzzwords are pure blather. (Here are links to the previous buzzwords for 2007)

Others describe ideas that I think are at the leading edge of change in philanthropy. This one - Number Seven - Social Stock Exchanges - is just such a buzzword. For more about this phenomenon - opportunities to invest in equities in social enterprises - here are some key resources:

Sample Social Stock Exchanges

Information on Social Stock Exchanges
Other perspectives on Social Stock Exchanges
There are several reasons I think these exchanges will stick around and cause some significant changes in how we think about social enterprise - most of which have to do with the relationships between markets and transparency and consistency. More thoughts on this are here and here.

Social Stock Exchange - number seven on the buzzword list, but definitely one that's more than just a phrase.

UPDATE ON Q4 Giving - Fact or Fiction - check out the comments on my question regarding Q4 Giving - and thanks to those who wrote in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A sector-wide logic lapse (collapse?)

Have you ever really thought about how anomalous is our obsession with nonprofit overhead ratios?

Think about it this way - in what other area of your life do you deliberately seek out the product, service, location, or experience that is being made available in the cheapest possible fashion? We don't pick restaurants because they forgo cleanliness, we don't buy clothes we think will fall apart, we don't choose schools for our kids because the administration is keeping costs down and not supporting teachers, and we don't make travel arrangements because we know the airline we've selected skimps on maintenance.

As far as I can tell - only in choosing nonprofits is there an active illogical pursuit of "less is better." Is it because we are so crass as humans that we (donors) don't care about the quality of the services that nonprofits provide to their clients - who are only in some cases the same people as donors?

It makes no sense to me and never has. I think the tools that have been developed to help donors understand administrative and operating ratios have done a disservice by emphasizing these "facts" without asking larger questions, providing some context, and actually clarifying the limitations on their utility.

Not only are these ratios not useful data, taken out of context or without consideration for other issues they are misleading. They happen to be computed and made widely available because they are easily computed AND somewhat comparable. That's it. That's like using street addresses to compare universities or fax numbers to compare vendors - you can get the information, but so what?

If the money and energy and time that has gone into computing these ratios had been put to use in developing even remotely legitimate metrics of impact, performance, or even activity we'd all be a lot better off. This December, Alliance Magazine, the must-read journal about the global social sector, will publish an issue dedicated to the state of impact evaluation. This interview with Fay Twersky, Director of Impact Planning and Improvement for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is worth reading.

Lets move the conversation forward and not settle for measuring what we can, but look for ways to measure and analyze what matters.

(This post is an expanded version of a comment I left on the SVP Seattle blog in response to their very useful list of "10 things we'd like to tell every new philanthropist")

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving in Q4 - fact or fiction?


Go ahead, ask anyone who gets snail mail. Or anyone in fundraising. Or anyone in estate planning, wealth management, or tax advising. They'll tell you, "The fourth quarter is the busiest time for charitable giving." Geez, if you'd asked me I would have told you this also. Just as we "know" that retailers turn profitable for the year on "Black Friday," we all know that most giving happens in the fourth quarter, during Giving Season, right? Well, wrong. Or, rather, maybe we don't know what we think we know.

I went looking for the stats. I wanted to compare Q4 giving in the US to Q4 retail spending ($474 bb, National Retail Federation) or Q3 airline profits ($1.6 b net income for the top 10 US airlines, Dallas Morning News) or the cumulative value of 2007 mortgage write-offs for major banks ($60-70 bb, Financial Times).

So I have all kinds of things to compare the Q4 giving number to, but, alas, I have no number. I've checked AFP, Foundation Center, Giving USA, CoF, and made some calls - I can't find a quarterly breakdown of giving.

I suppose I could create my own index and start computing a representative number...or I could divide the $300bb in 2006 by 4 ($75 b) (but that assumes giving is equal across all quarters) so I'd have something to compare to the numbers above.

Help me out folks - are there numbers, over time, to document whether Q4 is the busiest time for giving?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mutual Funds for the progressive philanthropist

New Progressive Coalition will open its mutual funds to the public tomorrow. These are the exemplary product demonstrating several of the key themes of this blog:
  1. Donors lead with their values, and they want their financial portfolio (investments, charitable giving, and political contributions) to reflect those values;
  2. The philanthropic industry has two kinds of products - financial and knowledge products, and a diverse and growing set of institutions that sell them;
  3. Advisory services are on the rise;
The mutual funds are cause-specific - health care, environment - and strategy inclusive - meaning they hold a mix of charitable organizations and political advocacy groups. The goal - get the job done using whatever tool is effective - which is another theme of this blog.

Friday, November 16, 2007

GlobalGiving Guaranteed

What if you are a donor adviser, and one of your clients follows your advice, make a gift, and is then unsatisfied with the outcomes? If you are GlobalGiving, you give that donor his/her money back. Its called GlobalGiving Guaranteed.

I love this idea. Its simple. It requires quality, consistency, and an ability to define success (otherwise you can't define failure). I also like that the way it came into being, which you can read about on Dennis Whittle's blog.

Thanks Dennis, for trying out this idea. This kind of experimentation is what we need to get from where we are to a new kind of philanthropy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Really, its for a good cause. Sucker!

Free Rice purports to be a vocabulary test masking as a fundraiser for the UN. Sad thing is, its actually a vocabulary test masking as an ad server, while the rice you donate does seem to go to the UN World Food Program. The real money is in the ad clicks - companies support the site, you click on their ads, they pay the website for the click. That fee is no doubt more than the cost of the 420 grains of rice you'll earn before you realize you've wasted another 10 minutes of your day.

Beware - embedded giving is not always what it seems. Particularly in the case of iGive - a site that lets you designate "your favorite cause" as the recipient of funds donated by merchants when you make purchases. Most of the causes run along the line of "my trip to Hawaii," or "Mama needs a new pair of shoes." The site explicitly states "Any cause in the U.S. or Canada qualifies - and 501(c)3 nonprofit status is not required." So go ahead, shop on. Just don't consider it charity. And don't try to write it off.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Embedded Giving - actually, we have NO idea about numbers

My sincere thanks to Lindsey Siegel of CECP who corrected my inaccurate assumptions about how and where embedded giving gets aggregated and counted. Turns out corporations are not factoring it in to their contributions - at least not those who participate in the CECP surveys.

Thanks Lindsey. The money is not in that pool, so its not part of the $191+ million.

I am glad to have been corrected on this. I still have two questions, however:
  1. Where does this money get counted? (the dollars and nickels donated by customers who bring their own grocery bag, add $1 to their drug store bill for juvenile diabetes, or send $1 through their ATM to a disaster relief agency, etc. etc.)
  2. How much money is given away this way and is it increasing (as everybody I've asked seems to think it is)
Please let me know, if you know. And send me your examples of embedded giving - I'll catalogue as many as I get and celebrate the most unusual ones in a later post.

You know you've become an issue geek when... regret not being able to attend a law school conference on "Taxing Philanthropy." Conference was held at Columbia U on Nov 9 and included the following key topics:
  • Subsidizing Charitable Contributions: Incentives, Information and the Private Pursuit of Public Goals,
  • Is Income Tax Exemption for Charities Special? The Issue is Investment Income,
  • Taxing Philanthropy
I'm not a lawyer, not a big fan of taxes, and go to far too many conferences already. This discussion intrigues me for several reasons:
  1. I've long maintained that tax codes and regulatory structures are the true levers of change on philanthropy;
  2. I've been following the discussion about variable tax structures for different giving choices rather closely;
  3. I've proposed a few far -fetched tax and other structural schemes myself, mostly in hopes of sparking a useful discussion;
  4. I'm thinking a lot these days about what grant making philanthropic organizations could look and act like, if they were less shaped by institutional isomorphism and more strongly influenced by the missions, opportunities, strategies, and technologies of today's diverse, global, connected, digital world.
You can download the agenda for the Columbia conference. If anyone who went cares to point me to blog coverage, public notes, key takeaways, or even - gasp - video coverage - please do.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Devolution to nonprofits and the markets

Photo Credit: Center For Environmental Health Photo, via

Devolution - the shifting of responsibilities once met by the federal government to state or municipalities - is nothing new. Nor is devolution to nonprofits anything really new. Devolution to market entities also isn't new, its just called "privatization." So, this post isn't new, its just an update on some amazing examples of where this is happening and how it relates to a constant theme of this blog - the blurring of sectors, the shifting roles of public, private and independent.

The American federal government gave up its responsiblity for risk assessment years ago when it defunded the Office of Technology Assessment. Denise Caruso wrote an entire (must-read) book on methods and alternatives that have developed in academic and nonprofits to fill that gap.

More recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked Congress NOT to give it any more money or staff, (please let us be defunded) even as lead painted toys and poison-spiked dog food spread across the country. A California nonprofit, the Center for Environmental Health, has (literally) taken mattes into their own hands, measuring lead in toys and lunch boxes and negotiating with retailers to pull these items from their shelves.

And then there is the outsourcing of libraries. Library Systems and Services, a privately held Maryland company is now running "public" libraries for communities in Texas, California and Tennessee.

I'll say it again, the revenue stream and markets of providers for public goods is not what you think it is.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Designing new foundations

Quick, name an organizational type that has barely changed since 1913? Publishing companies? Wrong. Hospitals? Wrong. Museums? Wrong. Internet search companies? Huh?

The correct answer is philanthropic foundations. The organizational chart for the original Rockefeller Foundation is remarkably similar to the org charts of most (not all) staffed foundations today. At the top you have a board of directors, and then a CEO/President/E.D. (assuming a corporate, not trust, structure). Then you have a person or department that manages investment decisions, a person/department that manages grantmaking/programs, and a person/department that runs the organization/finances/communication. Nowadays, you might have a chief technology officer as well – wasn’t all that necessary back in JDR’s day.

So imagine the task that falls to today’s chief technologists at philanthropic foundations. The world around them is all about open source, interactivity, social networks, and the wisdom of crowds. They face the daunting tasks of trying to integrate the principles of this networked, open, collaborative, user-as-technologist world into organizations where decision-making processes are tightly guarded and almost entirely internal. Some approach this challenge by helping their program or other colleagues put web 2.0 tools into use in practical ways – using delicious tags to save news clippings of common interest to a single account, where all on staff can access them. The nice thing about an experiment like that is it comes at almost no cost, allowing the foundation technologist to follow Google’s lead and “experiment often, fail fast.” Some foundations that focus on youth programming have recognized the choice to avoid building expensive standalone networks, and are launching groups on Facebook so that the young people can share ideas there. Age sensitivity is tricky here; I recently heard a 24 year old bemoan that fact that “we don’t use Facebook the way college kids do today.”

CTOs at other foundations focus on the principles that underlie hyper-sexy, omni-accessible free tools like blogging, wikis, or mashups, and not on the tools themselves. These leaders are supporting their program peers who fund open access research to “walk their talk,” and post funded proposals to the web where others can learn from them. Others use internal blogs to facilitate discussion across program areas or function departments, inviting in expertise from the finance office to a discussion of affordable housing strategies, for example. *

Either way, the real challenge is trying to fit new tools into old cultures. This is never easy; even when the skills of those you are bringing in seem to be good fits. In a recent Newsweek (November 12, 2007) article on Google’s Associate Program Manager recruiting style, the CEO noted "“Earlier attempts to hire veterans from firms like Microsoft had awful results. "Google is so different that it was almost impossible to reprogram them into this culture.”" Google’s approach – recruit for those with “no experience” and launch them into leadership positions inside Google culture.

So what’s my point? Rather than trying to fit people or technology into old cultures, its time to completely re-imagine the structure of grantmaking organizations. Here are a few suggestions for how the grantmaking entity of the 21st century might be built, by first looking around at what we know about work, resources, and change.

1. Crowds make better decisions than individuals; diverse crowds make even better decisions. Ethnic, racial, gender, class and experiential diversity should be built into decision making teams that are seeking to understand a challenge, imagine new solutions, and seek out financial leverage. Imagine you sought to establish a grantmaking organization that centered around this principle of diverse groups – today’s typical foundation is not what would come to mind.

2. Foundations have investment staff that identify and find specific investment managers by certain types of expertise. They then “outsource” the managing of a certain chunk of endowment assets to that manager, review progress toward goals on at least a quarterly basis, and actively seek a mix of managers according to the foundation’s agreed upon portfolio strategy. Program decisions should be made the same way. Program staff should articulate strategy and set criteria for selection, then look for expert partners who would make the direct grants, manage partner relations, and report on metrics. One advantage of this approach – the expertise of these expert partners (read: investment manager) can be easily leveraged – lots of foundations can bet their “education” strategy on the same explicit set of metrics and goals. The cost of foundation work would go down, the aggregation of resources would go up, and the use of shared metrics and concrete goals would increase. The market would function to make sure there was both a range of partners, and that they succeeded as promised – those that wouldn’t, would go out of business. The range of entities that might play this outsourced program investment role is wide and diverse – nonprofits, consulting firms, commercial media outlets, public agencies – an attribute that should lead to competitive creation of identifiable niches, markers of success, and more standardized metrics.

Some steps in this direction are already visible. Warren Buffet effectively outsourced his program staff needs to his expert partner, the Gates Foundation. The Milken Institute is making big bets to cure prostate cancer, and actively seeking partners that can shape the downstream funding sources through its work with the Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions and FasterCures. Outsourced, leveraged, competitively chosen program experts – not your father’s foundation staff.

3. We are experiencing a “bubble” in philanthropic prizes. Mission related investing is also getting a lot of attention these days. These might both good things, if used as part of a more comprehensive “funding change” framework. For example, many of the new prizes are being made available to do what prizes do best – engage a variety of entrants, including many who would not otherwise be known to the funder; leverage the entrants financial resources and ego – contestants in prize competitions foot the majority of the bill; and attract media attention and a spirit of sport to issues that might otherwise seem drearily sociological, such as increasing exercise options for young children or finding new financial innovations in the health care system. Rather than letting this phenomenon run the usual media attention cycle (Wired, Tired, Expired), foundations ought to be thinking about how the fundamental economic incentives between prizes and grants work within the issues (and issue lifecycles) they care about; and develop funding strategies that align to their goals and are inclusive of these funding tools (investments, loans, grants, prizes, technical support). Then, the organization should be structured to best support either the type of funding or the mix of funding being applied.

4. Think about where the information you need to achieve philanthropic progress lives. Think about how you can best access, share, and deploy that information to achieve your goals – through closed-door analysis? Open source idea generation? By using copyleft principles – that anything you create can and must be made available to be re-mixed by others? Perhaps the most fruitful point of leverage on the issue you care about is wider access to ideas or knowledge? You might benefit from considering the way the Public Patent Foundation works or the Clinton Foundation’s efforts to “organize markets for social good.” Open, collaborative information and the deliberate valuing of shared re-use. That would be different.

5. Think about your resources in light of broader trends and capital sources for the changes you seek. Where are the resources fueling the work you care about coming from? Other philanthropists? Government contracts or fee for services (the two largest sources)? Double bottom line investors or socially oriented funds such as the Pandemic Fund managed by the venture capital firm, Kleiner, Perkins? If you are a commercial medical research firm, nonprofit endowments might be the best source of growth capital for you, consider the role that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation plays in funding breakthrough research in that arena. There’s a different way of valuing your assets.

6. Finally, what if success really mattered to grant making philanthropies? Perhaps a set of industry practices that motivates and rewards success might work. We have several systemic ways of changing behavior for industries – regulation, tax code changes, investigative journalism, or the introduction of new market types. The foundation field has developed several efforts that hint at this, from market feedback loops such as the CEP effectiveness survey, to ethics and standards of practice, to rapidly growing “giving marketplaces” such as globalgiving or or donorschoose. Where’s the philanthropic structure that will do what eBay did to garage sales, craigslist did to classified ads, gasoline engines did to horse drawn buggies, or reality shows and YouTube are doing to television screenwriting?

As we begin another annual “giving season,” it would be wonderful if those who are about to make significant decisions about their charitable choices, as well as those who advise them, those who benefit from those choices, and those who already work in an organization in just this kind of moment would consider things with an eye to the present and future. Historically, these decisions have centered around a donor or family’s values regarding tax benefits, financial returns, family purposes and social goals they hope to address. In the best cases, these considerations informed the choices around structuring charitable gifts, using some well-known structural choices like a foundation or a supporting organization. Today’s donors ought to consider those same values, but remain wide-eyed and imaginative in terms of current and future organizational possibilities

Remember, problems change, solutions change, and the type of resources that are useful change. The organizations that fund this work should change also. Foundations have several kinds of portfolios that need to be managed – investment portfolios, program portfolios, intellectual property portfolios, and portfolios of financial supports. The most efficient and effective structure to assess, implement, and reassess the development and management of these portfolios in 2007 is unlikely to be static, it’s unlikely to be closed, and its unlikely that it was first built in 1913.

*These are real examples but I didn’t ask permission to name names. Those who are doing these things might jump in here and identify yourself. Feel free to share some other thoughts as well.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More on embedded giving

I just came back from running errands. At almost every store I was "offered" the opportunity to "give a little extra" for charity - this is what I call embedded giving. Charitable gift cards - which I predict will be a big hit this coming giving season - take this even further. I've been trying to figure out how much money gets raised this way. I'm not having a lot of luck, but I've had the chance to talk to some interesting people and read an interesting report. Here's what I'm learning:

According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, corporate giving comes in three forms: as direct cash from the company, as corporate foundation cash, and as non-cash (product or pro-bono donations). The 2006 breakdown for the 136 companies surveyed was as follows:
  • Total given (cash and product): $11.2 billion
  • Percentage direct cash: 44% ($490 mm)
  • Percentage Foundation cash: 36% ($403 mm)
  • Percentage non cash: 20% ($224 mm)
These data are drawn from a sample of companies. However, their $11.+ billion in giving is a large portion of the $12.7 billion total corporate giving reported by Giving USA.

In addition to the source of their giving (cash, foundation, in-kind) corporations self-identify whether their gifts are "charitable" or "strategic" (read: marketing). For each type of giving above, the following percents are identified as "charitable":
  • 39% of direct cash = $191 mm
  • 53% of corporate foundation cash = $213.5 mm
  • 56% non cash = $125.4 mm
I assume that my "embedded gifts" of pennies, nickels and dollars are added in to the corporations' giving in the "direct cash" category. And, for the sake of argument, I'll assume it is then counted in to the charitable portion of that giving.

So here's my question - what part of the $191 mm that corporations write off for charitable direct gifts is actually the accumulation of credit for my (and your) dollars, nickels, and pennies?

And here's another question for consideration - did you know that 47% of corporate foundation giving is explicitly considered marketing dollars?

I'm ever more convinced that we need to seriously rethink our definitions of "capital for social good." And absolutely sure that only a small portion of philanthropy will actually be counted in whatever we decide - because the rest is either marketing dollars or subsidized investment capital.