Monday, April 30, 2007

Mistakes were made

What’s the point of conferences? Schmoozing? Check. Information? Sometimes. Networking? Check. Hallway meetings? Check.

The 2007 Council on Foundations Conference made some significant changes to its structure, but its pretty much “inside-the-beltway” kind of stuff, probably not of much interest to those outside the conference. Content tracks, focused on themes, more music and culture, that kind of thing. It matters to those here (maybe) but not to blog readers.

But I have seen a few things of potential interest on a broader scale. I have about 12 COF Annual conferences under my belt, so I have some perspective on this. Here’s a list of changes and some thoughts on whether or not they matter. Add to it if you think of something, challenge me, and let the Council know:

• Bloggers are here, opening the doors (a wee bit) on these treasured, closed door sessions (You’d think it was the U.N or something)
o Does this really matter? You tell me – did you learn anything from reading about the conference that you would not have otherwise known? Did speakers change the way they spoke? (Arianna Huffington scooped herself, knowing there are bloggers here)
o I had tried to get COF to have a presence in SecondLife, to open sessions up to email questions and several other ways of opening the doors. Baby steps.
• More foundation CEOs are here than usual
• A wider range of political expression in sessions (President Bush’s Assistant Secretary of Human Services and Bill Schambra of the Hudson Institute)
• I’ve heard the term “we make mistakes” from several speakers and panelists, including Melinda Gates.
• Judging by the exhibitor hall, vendors to foundations may be proliferating even faster than foundations.

Having been to many conferences, I've also discovered a new spectrum for expected outcomes:

o Council on Foundations – networking within foundations
o Global Philanthropy Forum – networking across philanthropy and social enterprise (interested in deal making)
o Skoll World Social Forum – networking across social enterprise and academia
o Clinton Global Initiative – deal making and commitments

What have you learned from or about philanthropy from the 2007 COF conference? Let me know.

COF - lots on poverty, little on law

Good coverage of the COF sessions on poverty over on SSIR. Check it out.

Another point of view on the lack of technical legal sessions, can be found here.

What’s faith got to do with it?

Most of my writing about philanthropy looks at it in the context of markets, public sector responsibility and citizen action. I appreciate it when I get to consider the spiritual and elemental nature of philanthropy while I'm at work, and not just in my own religious practice. Ambassador James Joseph reported on a studio conversation about faith and philanthropy – this is a session worth finding online and on video.

The speakers, who represented a number of religious traditions, agreed on many things – critical ideas that actually show that we - a very divided people - stand on common ground.

I boil down his comments to this. We share several moral imperatives. Some of these are:
• Working to alleviate poverty
• Stewarding our land
• Caring for the sick
• Responding to crises

These moral imperatives are addressed in the Quran, the Bible, Buddhist teachings, and the Torah. They are discussed in mosques, synagogues, churches, meetings, with dance, drums, fire, or meditation in every part of the world. They are our shared moral imperatives and our shared public values. As such, they certainly inform us as philanthropists facing major challenges.

Four short plays, four big ideas

The Council on Foundations conference this year is organized around four major challenges of our times. This is in preparation for a year of discussion and ongoing conversations, all geared to a 2008 convention that hopes to draw the presumptive presidential nominees.

The four themes: poverty, global health, climate change, and disaster relief. As they are largely being presented at the conference in separate tracks, the connections between these four themes are not immediately obvious. Ironically, it takes art to make the connections clear to many. This is happening in part through four short plays that were commissioned for the conference and that are being performed before each plenary session.

I see the connections quite clearly. While I don’t draw very well, this picture up top is how I see them in relationship to each other. There are not really one-directional arrows, however one set of relationships that has come clear in the conversations in Seattle is the degree to which climate change is going to have immediate effects on poorer communities either through the impact of weather-related natural disasters or on environmentally-driven health issues. Not surprisingly, in other words, the poor suffer more than others - regardless of whether its health, disaster-related, or climate change.

Even in this oversimplified drawing, the connections are important. The conference structure lets participants look more deeply into each issue, and a few attempts between sessions to connect them are also helpful. But, in the end, the challenge here is for the conference not to mimic the silos within foundations – understanding issues deeply can no longer be defined as “going deep” inside a subject – it must also involve understanding the deep connections across issues. Ironic – or not – that it takes art (usually another foundation program silo) to make that visible.

The philanthropic fault line

Why do foundations and nonprofits struggle with each other so much? Who is more dishonest with whom – foundations who raise unrealistic expectations about funding or nonprofits who promise unachieveable goals to get grants?

As the revenue markets for the social sector change, will some of these behaviors change? Social entrepreneurs, sustainability models, fees-for-service, corporate social responsibility and other forces are increasingly bringing market forces to bear on the social sector. But much of what the social sector works on is that which either markets have created or for which there is no commercial return. Markets, as George Soros has noted, are great for developing efficiencies. They bring feedback loops to bear. And, as Soros has also said, if you think markets can solve social problems, than you don’t understand markets.

Another key challenge to rationalizing the social sector is the degree to which it is passion driven. Givers give to what they care about. NGOs are started – often without regard to existing actors – by passionate leaders catalyzed by a cause. Market efficiencies go only so far in a world defined more by individual interests than by measurable outcomes.

A Studio Conversation on these issues, moderated by Diana Aviv of Independent Sector, was recorded at Seattle’s public broadcasting station, KCTS. It will be available as streaming video and on DVD (and, yes, I’ll try to get it on FORA.TV). The issues get addressed in many venues (see for example ,GEO listservs, Independent Sector conferences, and in response to Center for Effective Philanthropy publications)

But more important, this is not a one-conversation issue. People talk about these issues all the time, usually behind closed doors and only when they are sure that they are among like minded thinkers. That behavior has not changed the dynamic one bit, some say it has only worsened. Can we facilitate the discussion, informed by thoughtful provocation, open to anyone with an opinion, and moderated over time toward actual strategies for change? We’re not making any progress in the old manner of small, closed conversations that devolve into kvetching. Perhaps we can enhance the thought and practice by bringing video, blogs, written materials, comments, panel discussions and specific proposals for change to these issues – and shining some light on these closed door, “same old, same old” topics.

What's Murdoch's payout rate?

Was it $5 Million? or $30MM that some claim?

How much did American Idol Gives Back really raise to fight hunger and poverty and how much will it actually give?

Those are the questions wisely asked by Todd Cohen about the American Idol Gives Back episodes to raise funds. Murdoch-owned News Corp, which owns FOX and American Idol. Much more was possible, say Cohen.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Blogs break political media news

My colleague Sean Stannard Stockton got this to the world a few minutes before I did - so you can note his scoop here - The Huffington Post has hired Tom Edsall from Washington Post to serve as political editor. This is heading into the 2008 Presidential campaign, which HuffPo will staff with 100 citizen reporters. This announcement becomes official on Tuesday; Arianna Huffington gleefully gave the scoop to the blogs in the room.

Here's the media model:
Professional editor. Citizen reporters. Huffington's strategy - better reach, more feet on the ground to get the story - none of which will be held back by business costs or preferences of the advertising side of the media house. Professional editor brings experience, an eye for a story, and the ability to pull disparate stories and perspectives into compelling news.

But what is the philanthropy model?
As exciting as it is to say this news broke on the blogs (and it is pretty cool), lets not forget this is a conference about philanthropy. Turn the tables around and ask - what do the changes in media mean for philanthropy?

The first-pass answers to these questions, and the ones that dominated this morning's discussion, focused on foundations needing to partner with MTV or start blogging or watching what young people do. That's low hanging fruit.

Foundations need to go deeper and look at the behaviors and assumptions that have come to generational fruition with these new media tools. A short list of these would be:
  • rapid fire access to information,
  • always on, carry-anywhere access to information, friends, and media
  • new values about credibility and privacy
  • new ways of organizing to get something done
  • a great focus on the goal to be accomplished that don't assume certain bounds around certain sectors - blended sectoral solutions are a natural, not an exception
  • global reach means different structures for community building
  • fluid concerns about privacy and accessibility
If you take these assumptions as forces driving new media, you have to also ask yourself the harder questions about philanthropy. How will those steeped in these ways of thinking, these values think about organizing financial, community, and intellectual resources for social good?

Put it another way - when those whose core assumptions are shaped by the abilities of new media start to organize their philanthropy and voluntary action what will that action look like? Its not merely tinkering around the "Lincoln Logs" of existing organizations. Its building whole new connective materials and structures. When those of us who lead the current institutions think about whats coming we tend to assume its about improving what we've got - turning Lincoln Logs into LEGOs, for a metaphor. But for those who are building from what they know, its not about tinkering with the existing structures, its about new materials science and the creation of Magz.

Citizen journalism and citizen sector

Session COF: Foundations and the Morphing Media

Arianna Huffington:
Will the new media with its citizen journalists direct more giving to smaller nonprofit groups? She contends the old mass media helped inform philanthropy to the degree that it helped large prestigious organizations.

Blogs are obsessive (suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder) as opposed to old media's attention deficit disorder (what is happening in Kosovo? Anybody heard about Elian Gonzalez lately?). This kind of ongoing coverage could be more informative for philanthropy.

A great possibility. And something for the philanthropic industry to jump on now and begin to track.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Huffington's Heroes

I had the chance to interview Arianna Huffington, eponymous media mogul of The Huffington Post, prior to her upcoming special panel discussion on new media and philanthropy at the Council on Foundations conference.

The Huffington Post, which started publishing on May 9, 2005 is a compelling example of new media - regular reporters, syndicated columnists, an impressive list of blogs, lots of reader interaction, all online and only online. One of the top 500 most read sites in the US, and in top 3000 globally, Huffington's paper shows how quickly media is changing, the power of a brand, and the rate of new "institutional" development - the site is not yet two years old.

I asked Ms. Huffington why she chose to address the Council and what she thinks new media have to do with philanthropy?

"My heroes are the men and women working up-close and personal -- sometime wrenchingly so -- to turn lives around. They are the role models I’ve exposed my daughters to. ... I think the changing media landscape provides tremendous opportunities to philanthropic foundations. The Internet is an unbelievably powerful tool that can help charities attract volunteers, raise money, and create a greater connection between foundations and potential donors."

The power of brand and the rate of change are critical components for any new venture. As Huffington noted, "... today you can build a brand in 1 year -- which is what happened with us. New philanthropic ventures can harness the power of the Internet to establish themselves and begin to quickly make an impact."

Individual donors or foundations need to understand how personal these brands are and the how personal is the communication on the Internet. They should be creative about using these tools, she suggests:

"...blogging, which is very intimate, very raw, very passionate, and very immediate. Foundations can make great use of this intimacy to personalize the charitable experience, to put flesh-and-blood to the raw data. To give us stories to go along with the statistics."

Even with these new tools, however, foundations have a unique role to play, vis-a-vis global crises and in partnership with the public and commercial sectors. As far as addressing crises such as global warming, Huffington recommends foundations stick with their knitting and not rush out to "begin funding the building of arks. [Global warming] is a major crisis, for sure, but it shouldn’t cause us to take our eye off the tens of million who are in need, both around the world and right here at home."

And this work, Huffington states assuredly, needs:

"...a concerted effort on the part of both government and philanthropic foundations to deal with the ongoing problems facing our society -- especially the need to care for the least among us. At one time, I thought that the private sector -- especially conservative multibillionaires who want less government -- would rise to the occasion and provide the funding needed to replicate the programs that work, sustain them, and bring them to market. But I came to realize that the task of overcoming problems such as poverty, disparities in education, and worldwide health and medical crises were too monumental to be achieved without the raw power of government. At the same time, I fervently believe that government dollars will never mend broken lives without charitable and citizen engagement."

Where do philanthropy and new media meet? Based on these initial ideas from Huffington, those of us heading into the COF conference this year can be looking for the best combinations of getting out fast and then staying in it for the long haul. in other interviews, in her blog and in the comments page on HuffPo, Huffington has been a leader in admitting mistakes, fixing them and moving on. She is well-known for changing her political perspectives and beliefs with time and circumstances, and standing by those changes.

As someone who goes to a lot of conferences, and always approaches them with a little bit of "show me" skepticism, here's what I take from all this. In the political realm, learning from mistakes and changing one's mind is dismissed as "flip-flopping." In economic circles, its known as "entrepreneurial initiative." In the media world, its become an imperative - mistakes can and should be fixed more quickly as we've seen with the rise of wikipedia or blogging. Bringing experiences in all three sectors together and remaining open to the opportunities brought by change strike me as valuable institutional lessons as philanthropists come together to consider the Four Major Challenges that provide the thematic structure for this conference (poverty, environmental issues, health, and disaster recovery).

I'll ask her more on Sunday morning.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Products I'd like to see

I've worked for years to develop knowledge products that inform philanthropy and leverage financial resources toward solutions. I outlined the possibility of these products in Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets. We provide such products through Blueprint Research & Design now and are developing more.

So its great to see this announcement from the Pioneer blog of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

"Pioneer made a grant to FasterCures last year to establish a new program, the Philanthropic Advisory Service, that provides the equivalent of investment-grade analyses for nonprofit medical disease research groups. The idea is taking flight -- FasterCures announced last week that they received a $35 million grant from the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation, in addition to the $1.4 million they'd received the week before from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

...independent analyses of disease research efforts and impacts will “inform and guide philanthropic support of such research” both in the U.S. and globally. Ultimately, the aim is to leverage increased philanthropic funding toward innovative work that may speed the time from discovery to treatment to cure."
This is what we need more of - foundations sharing their research, in easy-to-use, appropriate ways to leverage "other people's money" toward solutions. Very exciting stuff. I'd love to see samples of the reports, learn how much they cost to create, who the target audience is, how they'll be distributed, etc..

See you in Seattle

Or in cyberspace - here's the "blogger's banquet" page to check in with bloggers at COF.

From individuals to systems

This comes from Mark Bolgiano, former chief information officer for the Council on Foundations, in response to the Netsquared Innovation Fund process:

"So what if this turns out to be a scale model of something bigger that turns philanthropy inside out? What if we could do this with a just ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT of foundation grants next year? That's at least $20 million. What if we involved folks outside our motivated/activist/subversive tribe, say only a million of the people who would love to weigh in on these proposals? Best of all, what if this new way of doing things convinced a lot of new people with good ideas to go for it...?

I'm serious. It really could happen. And you were here when it started."

Movement to open up philanthropy and help it take into account the wisdom of those who do the work is a good thing. The Packard Foundation's experiment with wiki-informed decision making is another example of movement in this direction.

But more voices and greater input is only part of the change that's needed. We also need to make sure that philanthropy - at an individual, organizational, and industry-wide level, brings a systems-level understanding to what it is doing.

What systems, you ask? I've long argued for the need to consider the roles of the public sector, individual action, and commercial enterprise when developing philanthropic strategy. Recent announcements by the Gates and Broad Foundations to put $60 million into promoting education as an issue in the 2008 American Presidential campaign is one (huge) example of why donors need to consider where they fit in the systems in which they are funding. Same goes for the work that has happened over the last few years - with efforts by the Clinton Global Initiative, Bono, Rockefeller Foundations, Gates Foundation and scores of others - to change how pharmaceutical markets work.

Not every donor will be in the position to change markets or politics. But every donor's decisions - no matter the cause or the size - are shaped by the interaction between these vast systems. Involving a greater number of people in philanthropic decision making will bring new perspectives to the table, and, by extension, bring some broader systems issues to the fore.

However, effectively connecting individual knowledge with systems leverage should not be assumed. Rather, it should be a design feature of the structures for philanthropic decision making.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Milken Institute Conference

I'm on jury duty here in San Francisco so wasn't able to get to L.A. to blog the Milken Institute Global Conference. I was glad to find these stories about it in the L.A. Times, the Hollywood Reporter, and the Chicago Tribune. (The Tribune's is the same story as in L.A. Times - media consolidation, y'know).

Here's the link to the philanthropy track. Other tracks include

And the full program is here.

While the site promises video, so far its a transcript/summary only offering for 2007. Of course, this being the think tank created by a financial services professional, you can buy DVDs of this year's event as well as past conferences.

Blogging COF

Here's the list of bloggers for the Council on Foundation's Annual Conference:

Philanthropy 2173 (

Worldchanging (

TacticalPhilanthropy (

The Huffington Post (

With (

PhilanthroMedia (

Stanford Social Innovation Review (

The Council is also hosting a "bloggers banquet" - this will be part of the home page for the Council site that conference attendees (and others?) will see when they log on to the public access computers in Resource Central. It will explain what the blogs are, show how to comment, and encourage folks to do so.

I will be "live" (wifi permitting) most of Sunday April 29 and Monday April 30 - feel free to jump in on the comments section or email me questions and I'll do my best to get you into the conversation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The Goldman Environmental Prizes are truly inspirational. Now in their 18th year, more than 110 people from around the globe have been recognized for their individual contributions to making the world a better place. The prize ceremony last night in San Francisco included a jam-packed theater of young and old, greens in blue jeans, givers in suits, doers dressed however, and more than 500 school kids who hooted, hollered, and received the attention and direct commendations of each of the six prize winners.

"You are the morning," said one prize winner to the hundreds of students cheering in the balcony. "We are in the evening of our lives and our work," but you are just beginning. It is truly lovely to attend an award ceremony where those on stage thank and commend those in the balcony, for what they have done and what they will do.

Each of the individuals honored is amazing. Whether it be fighting for the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon forests, working to save a river in Mongolia (and seeing one's work pay off - the river actually died and came back), going to jail to stop Shell Oil from ramming a pipeline through your village, or using native knowledge and fancy new mapping tools to protect 2 million acres of boreal forest, these folks have accomplished miracles. And the sense that they are "just ordinary people" (a mantra of the ceremony) is real, even with the beautiful video narrated by Robert Redford, dancers suspended from the ceiling, and 1000s of cheering people - the actual prize winners are inspirational because of what they've done.

After 18 years, the Goldman Prize has recognized a lot of amazing people. Some of them have used their prize money to fund other prizes and continue the motivational work. The network effect of these folks and their work is exciting to think about - check out the website to see who they are, where they work, and how to reach them.

This year's prize winners seemed to embody the "new green" - where business meets environmental awareness. Its not clear whether or not this was deliberate on the part of the jury or nominators. It was clear - at least to this observer - that this confluence pleased Mr. Richard Goldman, paterfamilias of the Foundation and prize jury, and on stage presenter of each award. In his remarks he spoke of the awards themselves only for a moment, directing most of his comments to the failures of the current Presidential administration, the hope inspired by the new American Congress, and the need for market incentives to change corporate behavior.

Many of the prize winners over the years have been recognized for their work against corporate polluters - this year alone, 3 of the winners were honored for taking on mining, petroleum, or logging companies. Two others were directly involved in what President Clinton calls "market organizing," in this case one for redirecting African poachers to sustainable agriculture and one for buying out large fisheries who were devastating the Atlantic salmon population.

Its inspiring to me - what these people do and the degree to which their individual actions directly address markets and global public policy. A hopeful example for us, the kids in the balcony, and philanthropy.

The Goldman Prize website has video footage from past years - and I assume they will soon post this year's. I'm hopeful I can convince them to share said video with Stay tuned.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Next innovation in charitable products

Lots of nonprofits and foundations (and their associations) are concerned about what will happen to donor advised funds in the coming months. This story from the WSJ about proposed changes to these very popular giving products has resonated all over the place. The hullabaloo started with a pending IRS investigation called for in the 2006 Pension Protection Act. Here's how the Journal reports it:

"Recently, charities have deluged the IRS with requests for a study the agency was ordered to do by the Pension Protection Act, passed last August, which tightened the rules in a bid to make personal use of the funds harder. The agency is looking into the funds' pros and cons compared to private foundations and other charitable tools."

Here's what drives me crazy about these kinds of stories. There's no sense of making things better, just a mad dash to "hold off the IRS" or "get rid of DAFs, they're all bad." Regulatory change can be a huge opportunity for innovation - think alternative fuels, stem cell research, the creation of 401K plans, even discount brokerages came about as a result of changes in SEC rulings.

So - why doesn't the philanthropy industry - seem to respond this way? What a great opportunity to invent the next best-selling mechanism to manage philanthropic assets ...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How do you know....

My cousin sent me a link to Greendimes. For a $36 per year membership fee ("a dime a day"), these folks will:

1) remove you from junk mail lists so that the 702 catalogues you get every month that go directly from your mailbox to your recycling bin will stop coming to your house, and 2) plant one tree per month in your name.

So. Is it a nonprofit or a commercial endeavor?

This is what greendimes says about itself:

"For a dime-a-day, GreenDimes will reduce the marketing at your home, help you maintain your privacy and plant a bunch of trees on your behalf.

GreenDimes is the first service from Tonic, the socially responsible lifestyle company that finds uplifting ways to invigorate and strengthen people's lives and the planet. Tonic is good for you and good for the planet."

Does that make you
a) more interested,
b) less interested,
c) more trusting of them and how they will deal with your personal information,
d) less trusting of them and how they will deal with your personal information, or
e) none of the above
f) all of the above.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Old structures support new structures

The Council on Foundations has announced its 2007 legislative agenda, Philanthropic Partnerships. In addition to clarification of regulations on donor advised funds and supporting organizations, the Council will be encouraging federal legislation to allow foundations to make program-related investments in L3Cs.

What is an L3C, you ask? It is a Low-Profit Limited Liability Company, which is described as an enterprise with a charitable purpose that generates a modest profit. I first heard about them last year in an article in Worth Magazine. You can request a white paper on the concept by writing to The Mannweiler Foundation, L3C, P.O. Box 361, Cross River, NY 10518.

The concept has been introduced in the North Carolina legislature as part of State Senate Bill 91 seeking to create economic incentives for "endangered manufacturers," AKA the furniture manufacturing industry.

Huh? Why does the COF care about the furniture industry? Me thinks there is more here than meets the eye. The COF states (see their text below) that this change would actually only require regulatory action by the IRS, but given the "newness" of the L3C concept, congressional legislation would facilitate such action from the IRS.

  • Perhaps this is an effort to get the Council members more involved in social enterprise and hybrid organizations?
  • Perhaps it is simply about encouraging 1) more PRIs and/or 2) philanthropy for economic development?
  • Perhaps it is the former colonist's response to Mother England's Community Interest Companies (CICs)?
  • Perhaps it is simple recognition of the blending of public, philanthropic and commercial practice?
  • Or perhaps it is something else altogether.

Anyway you slice it, its quite interesting.

Here is text from The Council:

Proposal: Support federal legislation that would recognize the Low-profit Limited Liability Company (L3C). The L3C is proposed to be a limited liability company, created under state law to generate modest profit while carrying on a business that has a charitable purpose.

Position: The Council supports federal legislation that would allow foundations to make program-related investments to Low-profit Limited Liability Companies (L3C's).

Rationale: The L3C is designed to facilitate the flow of philanthropic capital to economic development activities such as creating jobs in economically depressed areas. It does this by simplifying the complex analysis required before private foundations can undertake program-related investments. The proposed legislation would benefit community foundations and other public charities engaged in economic development by allowing them to contribute to a business that is structured primarily to accomplish a charitable purpose.

The L3C would be limited to business activities that significantly further a charitable or educational purpose and that do not have a significant goal of producing income or capital appreciation. Therefore, foundations should be able to invest in or make grants and loans to L3C's and have the payment count towards the foundation's payout. Further, they should be able to do so without the need for the analysis that currently supports program-related investment decisions.

Current Legislation: State legislation to create the L3C has been introduced in North Carolina. The bill language closely tracks the requirements for a private foundation to make a program-related investment. The IRS could recognize L3C's through the regulatory process. However, due to the novelty of the concept, the IRS is unlikely to do so without congressional approval in the form of legislative recognition of the L3C. Working with outside counsel, the Council is determining which elements to recommend including in federal legislation to ensure that the L3C provides the intended benefits without creating a significant new opportunity for abuse.

Community foundations...are we there yet?

According to Todd Cohen at InsidePhilanthropy, community foundations are "making markets." Cohen writes:

"...a growing number of community foundations also are playing an increasingly vital role in raising public awareness about local needs and issues, convening local citizens and groups to talk about addressing those issues, and connecting donors with causes they care about.

If they can operate effectively and openly, and engage nonprofits and donors in an inclusive and responsive marketplace for the exchange of philanthropic resources, community foundations can serve as a hub for civic engagement and charitable giving to address critical local needs.

They also can play an increasingly vital leadership role in a society that is crying for leadership in the face of escalating social problems."

As one of the authors of On The Brink of New Promise: The Future of U.S. Community Foundations, I find Cohen's claim fascinating for two reasons. First, here's what we recommended at the end of On the Brink of New Promise:


For most of their history, community foundations have helped their towns, cities, and regions by giving money for a variety of purposes, often those designated by donors. The obvious question is whether this will be a successful strategy in an era
characterized by competition for donor dollars and growing community needs.

Each community foundation must ask itself: What is the problem to which this institution is the solution? The answer will vary from place to place, but
we believe that in the future, the answer will increasingly be this: mobilizing a community and its resources to recognize the community’s collective
aspirations, engage its own toughest challenges, and embrace its most inspiring opportunities."

I absolutely agree with Cohen that community leadership is the role community foundations have to play. But are they? And, if they are now, more than they were when we wrote that in 2005, how is that leadership "making markets."

Don't get me wrong. I want this to be happening. I just want to make sure I'm not being the choir to my own preaching, or, more likely, missing something.

Insights from two really smart people

Howard Gardner, professor at Harvard, and Steven Berlin Johnson, are two very smart guys. I have no idea if they read each other's work, know each other, or what they might think of each other. But I recently read some thoughts from each of them and found them quite amazing. Here they are:

On Johnson's blog he has a post about the relationship between the size of cities and their resource use. Essentially, the bigger the city, the more resource-efficient it is. In addition, the bigger the city, the faster its rate of creative production grows. Read his post, and its links, here.

Over on the MacArthur Foundation's spotlight blog (focused on the foundation's work in Digital Media and Learning), Gardner is pondering the implications for us as people in a digital world. He takes on such issues as time, space, objects, identities, and ethics. He claims there are life-altering changes underway and notes that there will be a time when we look back and say "the new digital media have changed everything."

Both Johnson and Gardner turn to history as they ponder the meanings of these insights for the future (maybe that's why I think they're so smart). Johnson's book (The Ghost Map) on cholera, epidemiology, and the rise of modern cities should probably be categorized as "history-for-those-who-think-about-the-future." Gardner quotes Frederick Jackson Turner and Alexis de Tocqueville.

My question is: how do the two observations fit together? - will big cities continue to be resource-efficient and creative if the new digital media changes everything (specifically time, space, objects, and identity)? Will one change the other? Which ones? Which directions? And, given the American/British focus of these two writers and the historians they turn to (and the stories they tell) for whom will these changes come? Who might have a very different future history?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New (to me) blog on changing the world

The blog is called SharingWitness and its got some important thinkers writing for it. I love the combination of voices, and the look (newspaper-esque). The categories cut across many of my interests. Its copyright date is 2006, so my apologies for not finding it sooner.

One thing occurred to me as I read through several posts. The authors are a robust mix of nonprofit professionals, social enterprise leaders, philanthropic executives, consultants, individual donors, foundation board members, and corporate givers. They are from several countries. Their posts are categorized under five broad areas:

And, of course, everything is tagged so you can think about these issues anyway you want.

This, to me, is a perfect representation of how we are thinking about ourselves in new ways, today. Maybe its because of digital media, maybe because of globalization, maybe its a new generation, maybe all of the above and other reasons as well.

Consider this: in a world where foundations have their own association, nonprofits have theirs, small foundations have theirs, corporate givers theirs, American, Canadians and Europeans each have their own, and social entrepreneurs have dozens - where did this cross-sector, cross-country, cross-issue, cross-role group come from?

And which kind of group - heterogeneous, online, global or homogeneous, face-to-face, nationally bounded - will we see more of going forward?

Yeah, Yeah, I know. You'll say both. But think about it.

Clinton Global Initiative

The folks over at OnPhilanthropy are liveblogging the Clinton Global Initiative's Spring update. Check it out here. There is no video but you can see some nice slides here and the video archive is here.

Social investing...with live cultures!

Danone (makers of Dannon Yogurt) and the Grameen Bank are partnering to launch a mutual fund that will invest in factories and jobs for people in some of the poorest countries.

"Danone said it hopes to raise $135-million through the fund, which expects an annual return of around 4 percent, comparable to a standard money-market account. The proceeds will help construct plants in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Madagascar that will produce fortified yogurt, which would be distributed among the rural poor."

(Um, I think the word "distributed" in that last sentence probably means "sold." Just to be clear.)

This reminds me of Bobby Shriver's discussion at GPF of how the cardboard boxes used to sell the (RED) phone were sourced from a plant in Africa. Its not that the idea is so new - actually providing jobs where they are needed - but Shriver pointed out that it is a way to "get into the cash that is tied up in companies' cost of doing business."

That, my friends, is a lot of cash that is already being spent that could be re-purposed for social benefit. Seems like a good stream of money to get good works into.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Netsquared selects 21 proposals

Twenty-one of the 150 proposals to the Netsquared Innovation Fund will be moving on to the conference. You can read all about them here.

The Featured Projects will be going on to the NetSquared Conference

Here's the list:

1. 100 Innovators - the world's most important story has started to unfold

2. A Global Neighbour Network:

3. A Light on Money and Politics:

4. Addressing Africa’s Problems Through Social Networking Sites

5. An Anti-Genocide Community: Building the Political Will to End Genocide

6. Aspiration Social Source Commons

7. Big Brothers Big Sisters Agency Information Management (AIM) System


9. Farmer 2 Farmer Learning


11. Global Women's Leadership Network

12. Toolbox

13. HELP International Telemedicine Humanitarian Emergency Mobile Medical Clinic Network

14. Kabissa 2.0: Strengthening the Social Web in Africa

15. Maps 2.0 – Geospatial Tools for Nonprofits and Humanitarian Relief

16. Open Source, Open Standards Video

17. Social Web Tools for Developing Countries:

18. Stop Family Violence


20. WiserEarth

21. YouthAssets - Connecting the World's Most Vulnerable Youth

How to completely abrogate public responsibility

I have not, by any means, given up on our collective responsibility for our fellow humans (despite some accusations to the contrary) even though I write about the potential contributions of the private sector and individuals to a better world.

If you want to see the thinking of one who has, simply follow the advice quoted here (though I will note that the post was laced with irony). Jeffrey Sachs noted that the 3.5 trillion USD net worth of the world's 950 billionaires spins of $175 billion annually at the 5% payout rate practiced by most US foundations.

“... $175bn per year – that would do it. Then we don’t need the G8 but 950 people on the Forbes list,” said Mr Sachs. “Maybe private philanthropists will champion solutions to individual problems rather than the G8,” he said.
The Panelist, who brought the quote to my attention, noted that $175 bn would also fund the US/Iraq war and perhaps the billionaires would like to pick up that tab.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 - curating ideas

I've posted before on the value of putting conference videos online. Today, The New York Times picked up the story on the new TED site under the headline "Giving away information, but increasing revenue."

Bruno Guissani at LunchoverIP went even deeper on the topic, looking at several conferences that have made uploaded video a critical part of their membership, learning, and community building strategies. Guissani's post includes links to great resources including TED, Pop!Tech, LIFT and D:AllThingsDigital, which launches today. He ends his post with this observation:

"This burgeoning of conference podcasting worldwide suggests a few thoughts:

  • One: great ideas and knowledge are now shared freely as never before, available for people to use and share: I've heard of teachers using talks as part of their syllabus; corporate managers burning them on CDs and giving them to their staff or using them during team retreats; etc.
  • Two: all of those conferences seem to be doing it for the same reason: TED believes "in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world"; Pop!Tech's Zolli (quote above) talks about "harnessing the power of visionary ideas" to "build a better world"; LIFT's goal is to "connect people (...) and propel their conversations into the broader world to improve life and work".
  • Three: the multiplication of conference videos may open a niche for a meta-curator role, picking the best of the best."

Which is where comes in - it is a curated broadcaster of idea-centric videos.

Organized by channels (politics, art, philanthropy, etc); linked to thoughtful documents and blogs, connected to "Think Tanks," and edited to be searchable by text, immediately embeddable in any site, swappable with other distribution channels (YouTube, etc.), and emailable. Fora has content partnerships with major content and conference producers such as the World Affairs Council, Commonwealth Club and Global Philanthropy Forum. It also partners with think tanks and independent bookstores. Other potential partnerships include NGOs, foundations, foundation affinity groups, nonprofit associations, libraries, speaker networks, and on and on. Check out and see for yourself.

eBay buys microfinance

No, I'm not talking about Kiva or Prosper. According to Symbiotics, a Geneva-based professional services firm for microfinance investors and fund managers, eBay has purchased MicroPlace, a microfinance marketplace that will let individuals invest in microfinance institutions. The article raises some important questions about a deal like this:

"MicroPlace will soon launch an eBay style online marketplace where individuals will be able to make microfinance investments, most likely in the form of notes offered by microbanks. The transaction will be hosted by eBay working through an intermediary like the US Calvert Foundation in order for such investments to clear regulatory hurdles.

How “great a thing for the global community” it remains to be seen. ... in a ‘global community’ who are the customers? If the customers are those people in advanced economies...then MicroPlace is likely to be ... successful.... However, for the microbanks and the micro-borrowers involved there is the additional risk of foreign currency exchange. If this risk is not properly managed then the burden will fall heavily upon those who we all seek to help. Can a giant like eBay responsibly off load this clear and present risk onto microbanks and micro-borrowers?"

The announcement was made as part of an eBay executive's response to the question, "What is eBay doing to help promote saving the planet," which makes it all the more interesting. In addition to the questions raised in the quote above, the purchase also seems to me to be a data point for the following trends:
  • the continued melding of big (eBay) and small players (MicroPlace) in an industry;
  • how payment systems (PayPal) that didn't exist a decade ago are moving into all communities;
  • a blending of commercial and NGO financial actors;
  • the digitization of commerce
  • the aggregation of lots of small into something big (small loans from individuals add up to big companies)
  • the need to expand our universe of institutions when we try to quantify things like remittances and diaspora philanthropy

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ya gotta wonder

The Nonprofiteer doesn't:
  1. understand irony
  2. read very closely
  3. follow logic across posts
  4. like me
  5. all of the above
  6. none of the above
Here's the post on the Nonprofiteer.

And, here is my, post lunch, blood sugar-affected cranky response:

"Glad to know what my stock in trade is. I would have thought it was my ability to see patterns where others don't, to apply historiographical and other methodologies to understanding the world around us, and to provoke creative thinking by pointing out the things around us that we are so used to seeing we don't see them anymore. I no more celebrate the inability of my local public library to stock its shelves with out my emptying mine than I do think that NGOs as they always have will, can, or should solely try to feed the hungry or clothe the poor. My point is this - we all created these problems, all three sectors must be accountable and engaged in solving them. No single sector approach, or holier than thou attitude is going to accomplish diddly, IMHO."

Here's the thing about writing/reading blogs. Some of us try to maintain a train of thought over time, as well as use the technology to 'jot down' things we notice. Before blogging, I kept all this stuff in my head and in 000s of little notebooks. So I knew when I was being snide, ironic, gaping in wonder at the stupidity of the world around me, making an emphatic point, or simply 'jotting things down.' I guess my intent isn't always perceptible to readers. I'll try harder (would emoticons help?) Sometimes. Maybe.

aint too proud to gloat, or at least bask in praise

Admittedly, I deserve less than little praise, but as a board member of CompuMentor (TechSoup and NetSquared by extension), this post by Phil Cubeta over at Gifthub was really nice to read.

The NetSquared Conference and community is a fabulous application of media tools to citizen action. Its a great honor to even know these folks, let alone be a Board member.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Last words from President Clinton - GPF Apr 13

President Clinton closed his remarks at the Global Philanthropy Forum with this thought about who needs to be involved in changing the world and why:

"You do. After all, you don't have anything better to do."

As he had spoken of the "unequal, unstable and unsustainable" nature of our world and exhorted us to consider the powerful potential contributions all of us can make toward building "integrated communities with empowered people," his final words rang clear. Anyone with children, anyone who likes trees, anyone who prefers peace, anyone who cares to eat on a regular basis - we don't have anything better to do than work for these change.

Collaborate on Packard Funding Strategy

This comes from Denise Caruso of Hybrid Vigor - an exciting experiment by the Packard Foundation in using the 'wisdom of crowds' (and the joys of wikis) in developing a new grant strategy. Wow - can't wait to hear how this works out.


The David and Lucile Packard Foundation invites you to be part of an online collaboration to create strategies for reducing nitrogen pollution. Please join at

An increasingly dangerous threat to our environment and human health, nitrogen pollution is degrading water quality and coastal ecosystems, contributing to climate change and posing a variety of health risks. Despite its rapid growth and harmful consequences, the problem of nitrogen pollution has received relatively little attention, except in areas suffering the consequences. In response to this gap, the Packard Foundation is exploring opportunities for philanthropic investments to make a significant contribution to solutions.

Since the most robust strategies for addressing a problem as complex as nitrogen pollution can not be developed by Packard alone, the Foundation has launched a public forum for collaboration. Everyone with an interest in reducing nitrogen pollution is invited to join and work together to create effective strategies for addressing this pressing problem.

The forum will be live and open to public participation through May 10th.

Packard will make the full product of this forum available to the Foundation's Trustees at its June Board meeting and the Foundation staff will use the product of the site in developing a recommended strategy for the Trustees to consider. Once the forum closes, the outcomes of this work will be available to the public, archived online and protected under a Creative Commons License.

Thank you in advance for participating in this important collaboration.


Here are a couple tips for getting registered and contributing to
  • To register or sign in for, click the "Sign In" link in the upper right corner of the screen. From the registration screen, enter your username and password or click register to register a new username
  • Before you begin participating, introduce yourself to the community by clicking on the "Introduce Yourself" link on the left hand column of the home page. Once on the introductions page, click on the edit button in the upper right hand corner, and then add your introduction to the list.
  • Now you're ready to participate! The items in the left-hand column of the home page are the different ways you can participate on the site. For instance, you can choose to edit the nitrogen/agriculture strategy by clicking on the wiki link, or you can discuss the strategies by clicking on the discussion link
  • We recommend you start by going to the wiki and reading through the strategies. Then go to the strategy that aligns with your own work, go to the bottom of that strategy, and add a paragraph describing the work that you already have underway under "Projects, Programs, and Organizations."
  • Even more valuable, of course, would be for you to start revising the possible outcomes or strategies or for you to add an entirely new strategy that you think would be effective.
  • Finally, please contribute your thoughts to the discussion section, rate the impact and cost effectiveness of each strategy by taking the survey, and help expand and refine the stakeholder map.

If you experience any technical difficulties registering or using the site, please be sure to email or call Tech Support:; tel:1-650-917-7288.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Ask not what your country can do for you..." Elvis at the GPF April 13

Sorry for the lousy photo - it was taken with what serves as a pretty good phone.

Bill Clinton closed the GPF. As an unabashed liberal, I'll fess up to my bias right up front. I've missed having a President who can not only speak English, but do it well, think on his feet, and proudly admit that he's still learning. Again, my wireless dropped during the session so I am recreating this from notes. Check out for the video - next week some time.

He asked the audience the five questions he says he asks everyone. Here they are:
  1. What is the fundamental nature of the 21st century?
  2. Is this a good or a bad thing?
  3. What about it needs to change?
  4. What are the necessary steps to make those changes?
  5. Who needs to take those steps?
Then he answered them. Clinton thinks the fundamental nature of the 21st Century is interdependence - within and across communities, nations, religions, technologies, you name it.

Is this good or bad? Its both, he argued. Clearly, he said, pointing around to the Google campus, some have done extremely well in these times. But most have not benefited (he recited some extraordinary facts about global poverty, health insurance, hunger).

It is also bad because the current world is "unequal, unstable and unsustainable." On this last point he spoke not just of the threats of climate change but to a time where we will all live with the accumulated effects rapidly depleting resources matched with rapid population growth. Todays 6 billion humans will be 9 billion by 2050, yet we are depleting topsoil, forests, and other species at unprecedented rates. He quoted both pessimists and optimists on how much oil is left on the planet to be extracted, He averaged this toward the optimists, and noted that they put their best guess at about 100 years. Then he noted that the oldest city on earth, Jericho, is about 10,000 years old. So, he concluded, we have 1% of the full time of human civilization left to figure out how to live without oil.

What changes need to be made? Clinton described them as the need to create a set of integrated communities with empowered people. Every successful community shares three characteristics:
  1. Everyone in the community shares in the sense that they have full opportunity to participate to their fullest ability,
  2. everyone shares responsibility for the endeavor, and
  3. everyone has a genuine sense of belonging.
(Here, President Clinton sidetracked for a moment to recommend Amartya Sen's work on identity and violence, and I got the sense that what he would really enjoy would be leading a graduate seminar on the economist's work.)

He then went on to discuss the practical implications of the above framework, "In an integrated society it is impossible to kill, jail or occupy everyone who disagrees with you. You need to practice politics and build partnerships."

The good news, he said, answering his fourth question, is that we know how to do this - we know how to practice politics, use diplomacy, and build more partnerships. We know that government has a role. We know that humanitarian NGOs have a role. And - paean to the assembled crowd - that individuals and business and philanthropic leaders have a role. We know how to educate people, how to provide health care, how to farm and produce, and how to thrive and grow our economies without depleting our energy sources.

Who then, should do this work, asked the President. All of us. Private citizens have more power now than ever to make a difference. No one should wait for someone else to do it. Here, his call to action took a notable turn away from that of his oft-identified idol, President Kennedy. Kennedy has urged us to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," and galvanized a generation dedicated to public service, the creation of the peace corps, and other notable public citizen actions.

Clinton, on the other hand, emphasized the private citizen/organization's capacity to make change. He spoke of his own foundation's work organizing markets for public goods - helping to shift pharmaceutical prices and access, negotiating deals that shifted companies from "high margin, low volume, uncertain payment" to "low margin, high volume, and certain payment." This brought the price of drugs to fight HIV and AIDS down by factors of 5, 6 and 7 in various parts of the world. The challenge now - to organize the markets of other public goods, including limited carbon use, education, and food. Even when asked what he might do if he gets a "do-over" as America's first man, he promoted the role he would play in partnering with the private and independent sector.

I left President Clinton's speech, and the GPF, inspired and full of new information. The idea of organizing markets for public good, which I championed in my 2004 book; the role of business practices in philanthropy, the blending of sectors, and the rise of social entrepreneurs and more rational capital markets are critical ideas. The folks at this conference clearly believe them, are practicing them, and advancing our knowledge and thinking about how to solve real problems (using all available tools).

I have to admit, I wonder if we can go too far in this direction. President Clinton was exhorting this generation to ask a fundamentally different question than President Kennedy had; at this point in time it would have to framed as, "Ask not what the globe can do for you; ask what you can do for the globe."

But the answers we come up with can not only come from the private and independent sector, we must not expect that philanthropy and social enterprise will solve the problems that our governments have failed to solve. Yes, they must be grown, recognized, and actively involved. But we must develop those resources and engage our governments, our public agencies, and our elected representatives. All three sectors must be contribute -all three sectors must be part of our "integrated society." That is my answer to President Clinton's 5th question.