Friday, May 25, 2007

Network effects, nonprofits, and crossing lines

LinkedIn is bringing its network platform to the nonprofit world - you can learn about nonprofit organizations and donate directly from the new nonprofit pages on LinkedIn For Good. Here's what they say about it:

"In addition, you can add a badge to your own LinkedIn profile to show your support and raise awareness for the causes you care about. When another member of LinkedIn views your profile and clicks on the badge, they’ll be taken to the nonprofit page where they can donate or add the badge to their profile, resulting in a virtuous cycle!

We’re also pleased to announce that LinkedIn is giving away free job postings to registered nonprofit organizations to support their hiring needs. If you’re looking for work in the nonprofit sector, search for jobs here. If you’re a hiring manager at a nonprofit organization, please contact us for more information by emailing"

I've been reading a lot about networks and community good, much of it the work of Pete Plastrik. His work, which has strong implications for philanthropy, can be found here. Plastrik is focused on community-based - not technologically-enhanced - networks, but many of the concepts are the same.

At the Investor's Circle breakout session on "The Evolution of Capital Markets" - Jay Coen Gilbert, founder of B Lab and Tim Freundlich of GoodCapital and Calvert Foundation handed out a slide showing a picture of the emerging capital market for public benefit. It was, they admitted, a work in progress. The Y axis was marked "infrastructure;" the X axis "Capital." Various investment possibilities ranging from philanthropic grants on the left end to social angels, PRI Debt and, finally, public markets all the way to the right end of the X axis. Up the Y axis were supporting actions such as "landscape definition," Standards/certification, up to transactional supports. Freundlich made the comment that a mature market place would have every inch of the graph covered, with multiple providers of each service/investment. At the moment, there is a fair amount of white space showing, though tools such as serve to both build the network and display it.

The challenge for folks in this public benefit space is doing the work and trying to map it at the same time. The human networks are clearly strong in this space, and I was curious to ask repeat attendees of the Investors Circle conference what they've noticed in terms of change in the participants over the years. Its certainly grown, and some had the sense that this might even be the last time it was a "small group." As the ties within these networks grow stronger, they are also reaching further afield. In the online space whats happening is perhaps akin to the meeting of xigi and LinkedIn.

In the real world, making these connections requires individuals who cross between conferences, sectors, discussions, and expertise looking for common themes. Having transitioned immediately from Berlin and a foundation-focused and sponsored event about transparency into the Investors Circle discussions about developing public benefit capital markets I can say that these conversations are circling around the same sets of issues. As we increasingly look for and expect to find hybrid solutions to complex social problems - or perhaps as the B Corporation takes off - we will no doubt see these disparate communities come together as well.

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