Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge

The DonorsChoose Bloggers Challenge will end in a few hours. With the help of my seven year old, I calculate the running totals so far as:
  • >$365,000 raised
  • From more than 3000 donors
  • Benefiting more than 71,000 school kids
Average gift per donor: $100+

I'm sure DonorsChoose will announce final numbers tomorrow. In the meantime, consider this:
  • The organization is now on the radar screen of at least 3000 more people than it was just one month ago
  • The cost of each of those 3000 gifts was minimal - the bloggers did all the work
  • One blogger raised more than $100,000 for DonorsChoose.
My bet: we'll see plenty more of this kind of fundraising in the next few months. And then we won't.

Goblins and giving

This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post

What's the link between Halloween and philanthropy? Well, there is the obvious fact that unlike any other day of the year tonight is the one night that you can knock on your neighbor's door, ask for something for nothing, and expect to get it. There also is (used to be?) the connection between Halloween trick-or-treating and UNICEF - a tradition I grew up on and one I was thrilled to see reborn when my son brought home from school one of those familiar orange penny boxes to carry around with him this evening.

Philanthropy has grown far away from this basic human need - to give when asked. Let me say that again - the basic human need is to give when asked; its not the need to ask. When we think about philanthropy, charity, foundations, the $300bb a year Americans give and the billions more that move from person to person, community to community around the globe, we quickly forget that all that money is the result of innumerable acts of basic humanity.

This year, as we take our kids (or ourselves) from door to door, maybe we can remember the power that comes with giving. Even if it is just a candy bar given to a goblin. Or a penny to UNICEF.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Foundations and poverty

Philanthropy has taken a bit of heat lately for not doing enough about poverty. First came the Google report that only a small percentage of philanthropic giving goes to poverty alleviation, either domestically or internationally.

Then comes a rejuvenated public discussion (I'd call it a debate but I don't think its happening broadly enough yet) about tax breaks for charitable giving and whether or not they should be aligned in some way with broad public priorities or more generous for poverty and human welfare than for, say, education or the arts.

And I am just ending 3 days in Santa Monica spent at the Professional Leaders Project ThinkTank3, where a select slice of American Jewry is discussing and modeling and creating leadership opportunities for young adults (20 somethings). In this context the discussion of philanthropy and community priorities came up over and over again.

Coincidentally, a few large American foundations (Annie E Casey, EOS) also chose today to launch a new Spotlight on poverty that will attempt to bring the issue to the forefront of the 2008 Presidential campaign. This is a somewhat similar goal to the Strong American Schools campaign funded by the Gates and Broad Foundations to bring education to greater prominence in the discussion.

Check out the Spotlight on Poverty website for a one-stop resource with links to community data, local and national poverty fighting efforts, political viewpoints and platforms as expressed by candidates of both major political parties. Perhaps this effort will join forces with 10Questions, CurrentTV, ThinkMTV, MySpace, and the YouTube debates and actually demand political action.

You can submit information on local efforts, access databases and resources, and follow the discussion as it progresses through the campaign. I hope to get some video footage to post over at the Giving Channel - and look forward to seeing the conversation and discussion provoke engaged, effective action.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Facebook-ing philanthropy

This Newsweek article claims Facebook is on the cutting edge of changing philanthropy. It then points out that its not about raising huge amounts of money. Using Facebook Causes applications, users (donors) have already set up 27,000 campaigns for more than 11,000 organizations.

The changes that matter, according to Newsweek, are 1) that donors' interests are shared immediately with their network of friends, 2) greater accountability and transparency, as Facebook Causes let you direct your donation quite specifically, and 3) the donors do the work, not the nonprofits.

All of these claims have been challenged. Discussions are raging on nonprofit tech listservs about the fact that anyone can set up anything as a cause, link to Guidestar, and off you go. Sometimes the "named cause" and the recipient organization don't match. Sometimes nonprofits have to set up FB causes to avoid having someone (maliciously inclined) do it "for" them - remember domain name squatters, now we have Facebook Cause squatters. And most point out that most of the causes have raised $0. See more here on Care2's blog and in this report on wired fundraising.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Moving the conversation to xchangexchange

The Green Skeptic responded to my post about environmental blogs and the need for cross-sectoral solutions with this post. Here's the basic gist of the discussion:

My claim:
"...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."

The Green Skeptic offered up these thoughts, with some quotes from Susan Raymond:

"[Raymond] rightly points out that the biggest advantage of philanthropic capital is its "ability to take significant risk, to seed a promising idea and recognize that all promising ideas can be failures."

So risk tolerance or tolerance for failure, playing on the field of ideas and at at the edge of problems "where the probabilities of success are unknown, is the key playing field for philanthropy."

For many ideas, perhaps chief among them those addressing environmental issues, it may be time for other types of capital to be brought to bear. I'm particularly interested in what Raymond describes as "a multiplicity of approaches to organizational finance in the nonprofit sector...for self-reliance, sustainability, and (yes) profit" to come to the stage."
So here now, is my next question.

How do the above thoughts on the role of philanthropic capital fit with the reality?

Recent research on philanthropy and poverty have focused on the amount of giving which actually tracks to major mainstream cultural institutions and alma maters. There have been serious discussions about proposals to change the tax code to favor giving for poverty-related efforts and away from well-endowed organizations.

We also have to factor in the rising role that commercial capital is playing on some, previously philanthropic, issues - e.g. cleantech and microfinance. Is this the capital we are referring to in calls for "social capital markets to take over?" Let us not forget that these are socially-oriented, bottom-line driven, commercial ROI-based capital sources.

So, if we're really asking questions about the role of philanthropic funds within a social capital stream, we had best at least start with a sense of what dollars go where, what dollars come from where, and how we value, access, count, and use these dollars. In other words, we're back to my previous question about what mix of revenue (philanthropic, social investment, commercial investment, fair trade, social venture funds, etc) is actually funding public goods/services.

This is, I believe, still the key question, and one which is being taken up by some very thoughtful folks running the xchangexchange - which has the intellectual horsepower to become a hub of thinking about the changing capital markets. I'm going to move my conversation, questions, and the insights I received about the value of various elements of the blended value map over to the xchangexchange conversation - join me over there.

Philanthropy and the law

Lots of news on the legal front for nonprofits and philanthropy. Namely, three rather big moves in the courts and an interesting new nonprofit development.

1) Robertson V Princeton case moves to court - big win for donors.
1a) Note that this last month also saw the launch of a new nonprofit that is essentially designed to help donors avoid having to nitpick with those fussy professionals looking out for the best interests of the universities they represent. The organization, The Center for Excellence in Higher Education, will do the matchmaking and negotiating for donors - taking a slice of the $28 billion given to U.S. Universities each year. An interesting twist - essentially outsourced, unaffiliated, donor-oriented, university development professionals.

2) Holyland Foundation case - mistrial declared. Some heated discussion here shows the degree to which the public interest in this case was linked to broad sweeps of power fueled by those who equate Muslims with terrorists. Governments pursuing organizations and shutting them down without evidence of misdeeds. Odd, I thought that was 1) unconstitutional and 2) something independent sector organizations help protect against.

3) United Way ruled as liable for debt of dead subsidiary Pipevine - $4.7+ million owed to Network for Good. The case will be appealed, but this decision should remind everyone that nonprofit or not, its still corporate law that underpins the system.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Prizes on The Giving Channel

What does it mean when first an economist and then an environmentalist each win a major prize for peace?

For that matter, what is it with philanthropy and prizes these days? While some prizes have been around for ages, new ones are popping up everywhere. Taken all together, they spark the following questions for me:
  • Truly inspirational (and cost-effective) catalysts to new ideas? Are the prizes an effort to spark a new innovation marketplace?
  • An end-run around patent law?
  • A means to creating market solutions for social problems?
  • Recognition of lifetime achievements?
  • Egalitarian strategies to acknowledge the contributions of individuals and not just organizations?
  • Vainglorious philanthropic endeavors that celebrate the name on the prize as much as the prize winners?
  • Do prizes change lives? Fields of study?
  • Critical components of strategic change efforts?
  • Cheap ways to get innovators to invest in the upfront work, in pursuit of a moment of fame?
  • Grants - pay someone for inputs. Prizes - pay someone for outputs (Tyler Cowen, Future Pundit)
We examined some of these possibilities in a paper called "Catalyzing Creativity through Competition: Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning." The paper can be downloaded here.

I invite you to consider these questions with me. Over on the Giving Channel we're honoring October, the month in which the granddaddy of all philanthropic awards, the Nobel Prizes, are announced. I've selected several videos of prize ceremonies, acceptance speeches and interviews with winners of the Nobel Prize, arts and writers awards, celebrated actors and play writers at work, and thought leaders talking about what prizes do and don't do. Watch the videos, read the papers, and join me in the forum discussion about prizes, philanthropy and innovation.

Featured videos and links reveal the quality and diversity of prize winning efforts, look into the roles that prizes play regarding innovation and markets, and point you to some of the newer prize competitions now underway.

There are many sides to prizes. This year's Nobel Prize winner for literature, Doris Lessing, may have set a new standard for caustic reactions, when she responded to a Reuter's reporter about the news:

"Look I have won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one. I'm delighted to win them all, okay?" she responded testily.

As an afterthought she turned around and mumbled:

"It's a royal flush."

If your organization gives prizes, why? And if you have digital video of the award ceremonies or the winners at work, send it to me for the Giving Channel.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Nutrition label for charities - and giving season

Trent Stamp of Charity Navigator posted this Daily Show episode and is featured in it.

No disrespect, Trent, but my favorite moment is the nutrition label for nonprofit organizations, which comes along at 3:37 into the video...

Its The Daily Show. Remember to turn down the volume if you are still at work.

Giving Season starts now

We must be getting near to "Giving Season." Formerly confined to the weeks between American Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, giving season is starting earlier and earlier in the year.

Proof: Retailers are offering Christmas shopping specials even as you procrastinate on your Halloween costume. And the second major philanthropy celebration of giving season 2007 (CGI was first) the Slate 60, starts on Monday.

By November, major newspapers and magazines will fill with special sections on charity and giving, the ad pages fill with heart-warming cross generational images urging you to attend to your family's estate planning needs (call your lawyer, community foundation, or money manager now), and your mail box (real and electronic) will fill with direct solicitations to give, give, give.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On philanthropy and environmental change

(This post started as a response to The Green Skeptic's comment on this post).

In his comment, the Skeptic notes his shift to ASHOKA and social enterprise after years in nonprofit work - in his words:

"Why? In part because of my frustration (stemming from my previous experience with The Nature Conservancy) with the slow progress and impact philanthropy has had in the face of massive environmental issues.

The amount of philanthropic capital going into the environment isn't commensurate to the challenges. And I started to wonder if it ever would be. The slice given to the environment has remained stagnant at 3-4 percent even in the wake of green becoming the new black."

His experience is important for us all to consider. Does philanthropy have enough heft (influence, intellectual capital, and financial) to make change on major issues? Will social enterprise?

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
I recently read a comment that foundations should invest in market-based solutions because none of our social problems were created by a lack of grant dollars. While I agree with the recommendation (in considered moderation), this logic is faulty. Of course, the problems were not caused by lack of grant funds. It is much more likely that they were caused by market failures, in which case investing in market solutions is tautologically ridiculous. We should think across sectors and not be limited by archaic expectations of roles - however, we also 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

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Environmental Blogs

October 15 was Blog Action Day - and blogger highlighted these environmental blogs.

  • Cleantech Blog - Commentary on technologies, news, and issues relating to next generation energy and the environment.
  • The Conscious Earth - Earth-centered news for the health of air, water, habitat and the fight against global warming.
  • Earth Meanders - Earth essays placing environmental sustainability within the context of other contemporary issues.
  • Environmental Action Blog - Current environmental issues and green energy news.
  • The Future is Green - Thoughts on the coming of a society that is in balance with nature.
  • The Green Skeptic - Devoted to challenging assumptions about how we live on the earth and protect our environment.
  • Haute*Nature - Ecologically based creative ideas, art & green products for your children, home and lifestyle, blending style with sustainability.
  • The Lazy Environmentalist - Sustainable living made easy.
  • Lights Out America - A grassroots community group organizing nationwide energy savings events.
  • The Nature Writers of Texas - The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State.
  • Rachel Carson Centennial Book Club - Considering the legacy of Rachel Carson's literary and scientific contributions with a different book each month.
  • Sustainablog - News, information and personal meanderings related to environmental and economic sustainability, green and sustainable business, and environmental politics.
  • These Come From Trees - An experiment in environmentalism, viral marketing, and user interface design with the goal of reducing consumer waste paper.
Read/WriteWeb named these as the top 35 environmental blogs:
  • TreeHugger - TreeHugger is the mother of all environmental blogs, ranking #17 on Technorati's top blogs list (which makes it at least one of the most referenced enviroblogs). It covers general environmental news, events and products.
  • EcoGeek - Geek chic environmental is a good way to describe EcoGeek, which writes about gadgets that are earth friendly.
  • Environmental Law Prof Blog - From the always-good Law Professor Blog Network, this one deals with pressing concerns surrounding the issue of environmental law.
  • New Scientist Environment Blog - Excellent environmental commentary and analysis from New Scientist magazine.
  • AutoblogGreen - A spin-off from Weblogs Inc.'s popular Autoblog, the green version deals with cars and the environment -- think hybrids, gas consumption, alternative fuels, etc.
  • Eco-worrier - Musings on the environment from a columnist at the Times of London.
  • Grist Mill - Daily environmental news delivered in blog form from Grist magazine (which is also about the environment).
  • Green Car Congress - Another environmentally focused automobile blog, focusing on technology, news, and politics relating to the green mobility industry.
  • Inhabitat - Generally about living a greener lifestyle, this blog often deals with subjects around green building and sustainable living.
  • Ecomoto - A two year old blog/magazine examining environmental trends.
  • The Lazy Environmentalist - The blog for a nationally syndicated (US) talk radio show about easy green living.
  • Alternative Consumer - Environmentally friendly products: you want 'em and Alternative Consumer has you covered.
  • Teensy Green - Got kids? Then give Teensy Green a read. A blog for the environmentally aware parent.
  • Haute*Nature - In their own words: "Ecologically based creative ideas, art & green products for your children, home and lifestyle... blending style with sustainability."
  • Hippy Shopper - From the Shiny Media blog network, Hippy Shopper is about all the eco-friendly stuff you covet.
  • Sustainable Style - You can have your cake and eat it too, or in the case of Sustainable Style look good and do well for the environment.
  • Green Options - A great general enviroblog and community based out of Berkley, California.
  • No Impact Man - The chronicle of a man living in New York City as he attempts to go completely zero impact (i.e., ride a bicycle everywhere, recycle everything, eat locally produced food, and so on).

  • Great Green Baby - Another site for the green parent, Great Green Baby reviews eco-friendly baby products.
  • EcoFriend - EcoFriend is a blog about all those sexy, environmentally aware products you want but can't afford.
  • ecoFabulous - Reviews of great green stuff for the house, home, and body.
  • Ecorazzi - Celebrity gossip meets environmentalism. Did you hear that Leonardo DiCaprio is building a 'green hotel' on his 104-acre private island off the coast of Belize with the owners of the Four Seasons Resort chain? No? Then read Ecorazzi.
  • EcoStreet - A well-written and actively updated general evironmental news and commentary blog.
  • Green As Thistle - Green As Thistle chronicles the progress of Vanessa, a Canadian journalist, as she tries to "spend each day, for an entire calendar year, doing one thing that betters the environment." She's on day 229 and still kicking.
  • The Green Guy - The Green Guy writes about "ethical living" and about how to go green without making drastic, life-altering changes to your routine. I just wish he'd update more (by the way, the Adam Vaughn, who writes The Green Guy, also founded another blog on our list, Hippy Shopper).
  • Mindful Momma - There are a lot of blogs out there about green parenting -- it's an entire niche unto itself -- and Mindful Momma is one of the best.
  • Got2BeGreen - A blog focused on all sorts a cool green technology (a recent post deals with how to power your laptop with the sun, for example).
  • Triple Pundit - An intersection of the evironment and politics delivered in an interesting voice with useful commentary.

  • Celsias - A great general blog about the environment, politics, sustainability, and green living.
  • Enviroblog - Eviroblog talks about public health in the context of environmental policy.
  • Get With Green - If you're remodeling your home or building a new one, subscribe to Get With Green to learn about all the ways you can make your living space environmentally friendly.
  • Green Thinkers - Green Thinkers is, in its own words, "an informal forum for ideas and thoughts on how to live a more green life."
  • Green Wombat - From Business 2.0, Green Wombat was a blog about business, technology, and the environment. With the closing of the magazine this month, however, its future is likely grim. Read the archives online while you still can.
  • Lighter Footstep - Lighter Footsteps is all about sustainable living and leaving less of an imprint by making greener living choices.
  • Life Goggles - Another great general green living blog, with a slight focus on TV and movies as they relate to the environment.

"Bonus site: If you crave environment news from multiple sources, check out Hugg, which is like digg, but for eco-centric stories."

The author of the Green Skeptic works for ASHOKA. From my skim through both lists, the majority are essentially about how to shop with less guilt - with a few scattered voices about community activism, science, and literature. Amazingly spare philanthropic voice or presence in these blogs, so far as I can tell. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pro Publica - philanthropy, media and market failures

Here's an important new experiment in philanthropy and media - the launch of Pro Publica.

Funded by Herbert and Marion Sandler and led by former WSJ editor Paul Steiger, Pro Publica will focus on investigative journalism - the stuff that newspapers continue to cut as profits drop. A team of independent journalists will pitch stories to major papers and pursue the kinds of "misdeeds in government, business and organizations" that only long-term (read: expensive) investigations can fully explicate.

Why should you care? Market pressures are killing investigative journalism. This philanthropic initiative is trying to craft a new mechanism for bringing it back. Let's face it without independent investigative journalism Nixon would have finished his second term, Rumsfeld would still be at DoD, and Monica Lewinsky would have never made the news.

It is not called the "Fourth Estate" for nothing - without an independent media, democracy doesn't work.

These are (just two) of my favorite things

(Chart is of odds of Al Gore winning 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, for 7 days prior to announcement)

What two things? Prediction markets and prizes. By now, Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize win is old news. What you may not know is that he was the hands down favorite prior to the announcement from Oslo on Friday. But - you can still check the prediction markets (and bet) on the Nobel in economics or on the likely winner of the Google Lunar X Prize.

If betting on the winner of prizes isn't enough action for you, you can also bet2give - at the site of the same name.

The preponderance of prediction markets that now include information such as philanthropic prize winners, or conquering certain social challenges, is an interesting thing to note in consideration of the "marketization" of giving and innovation. Prize economies offer an alternative to traditional philanthropic grant economies. They raise some similar issues to efforts such as creative commons and other intellectual property regimes regarding the role of innovation in markets.

Markets, wisdom of crowds, prizes, philanthropy and the chaotic and unpredictable ways that things we know intersect with each other as well as with things we don't know or expect. Apologies to Julie Andrews, this is a post about many more than just "a few of my favorite things."

Preview: Given the interest in prizes that my posts have generated since early 2007, I'll continue exploring the intersections between philanthropy, markets and prizes in more depth - and in video - as the October theme over on the Giving Channel. New content will be posted by October 21 - and we'll remind you here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ethics and the listserv

A fascinating exchange took place on a listserv for nonprofits recently. Someone asked about the propriety of a consultant making a gift to a nonprofit for whom she/he had done contract work. Within a few posts, the discussion shifted to whether or not it was OK for a consultant to make (and a nonprofit to accept) a donation when the contract was still out for bid (sounds a bit like money in politics, eh?)

This led to a heated discussion - as a reader it became clear that the medium (listserv) was allowing dozens (and no doubt many more, including lurkers like me) to comment on something that they had never before had a venue to discuss. Clearly it was an issue that had many had faced. Lots of folks expressed dismay over the obvious conflict of interest in a consultant making a gift while also bidding on a project - and most of those commenting on this subject clearly had not had a chance to do so before. There were outright expressions of "Thank God, now I can talk about this with someone."

Others wrote in and pointed out some other sides to the coin, such as the fact that they (nonprofits) actively solicit former consultants for donations. They then look to those consultants for future work when it comes along - how to handle this relationship?

All of this strikes me in the following ways:
  • The value of communications technology in opening up important discussions
  • The importance of remembering what the original question was
  • The need for peer discussion that the internet enables
  • The slipperiness of old behaviors in a new world - for example, if a nonprofit actively employs social media to build an online community, and is looking for input, donations, and support from all possible constituents, how will it screen out conflicts of interest from potential vendors or slander from competitors?
What do you think? Have listservs, blogs, social networks, changed the way you get questions answered? Have they changed the nature of your professional network? Have they changed your ethics or conflict of interest policies?

Note: I don't know that its my place to "out" the discussants, or even the discussion forum, that I am discussing. Hence, I have chosen not to do so. What are the ethics of this?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Green and black

I'm on my way to a discussion with Majora Carter, creator of Sustainable South Bronx and the woman who taught my seven year old how to take action against environmental racism. Here's a clip of Carter speaking at the New School:

I also just found this essay by Marcellus Andrews, an economist, on being Black and Green.
The comment that really caught my eye was this -

"As you can see, I am struggling with the uneasy relationship between sustainability and equality in a market and technology driven world economy, where economic and social innovation must now redesign capitalism to make it cleaner and ecologically viable, yet where the mechanisms of social/racial inheritance threaten to reinforce bio-political and social power in unacceptable ways."
It is the essence of thinking across systems that raises both the inherent incompatabilities between environmentalism and economic justice, and the opportunities for bringing them together that Carter demonstrates.

There is also a noteworthy piece in the October issue of Scientific American on this topic - Conservation for the People (Subscription req'd)

I believe that working on sustainability without including economic justice issues will damn the movement to the same short-sighted, resource extractive/destructive fate that our historical environmental/energy/economic systems are destined to meet. It is reductionist and short-termism to do so. Sustainable resources and justice are inextricable. To address them separately, or focus on one without the other - environment and not people, sustainable jobs and not inequality, poverty but not renewability - is to design an effort for failure.

Charity Bloggers

A month or so back I was asked to participate in the Bloggers Challenge to raise funds for DonorsChoose. Abiding by my own ethics (as well as those emerging in the blog-world), I opted not to do this. Because I write about philanthropy and nonprofits and technology I don't want to opt in to raise funds for some and not for all. But I will bring the whole thing to your attention, as it is an example of the kind of fundraising and use of technology for giving going on all around organized philanthropy - and rarely - if ever- touching foundations.

First - DonorsChoose (DC) lets individual donors and individual classroom teachers connect to make certain charitable projects happen. Teachers post their wish lists, donors pick the ones they want to fund, donorschoose vets and handles funds transfers, teachers report back, donors go away happey (and - hopefully) donors come back.

Here is how the bloggers challenge works: DC reached out to bloggers with several challenges. Bloggers who encouraged, cajoled, begged, arm-twisted, or otherwise convinced their readers to make charitable donations through DC would be entered into one of several competitions and those who were most successful would be duly rewarded. There is a Google Award for the blogger who sparks the most donations (dollar value); the Yahoo! Award, which includes lunch with CEO Jerry Yang as a prize, for the blogger who gets the most donors involved, the Six Apart Award for the blogger whose activism unleashes help that reaches the greatest number of students, and the Federated Media Award for the "most creative incentive" offered by a blogger.

By my count, as of October 9, there were 102 blogs that had launched challenges to their readers. These include the blogs of several candidates for President (Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert!?), many tech writers and venture capitalists (Scobleizer, TechCrunch, Fred Wilson), a variety of science and math education supporters (Thus Spake Zuska, Evolgen), several local school supporters (El Paso, San Francisco) and at least one bellydancer.

According to the Leaderboard and my very rough counting, the 100+ blogs have raised well north of $150,000 from somewhere around 1200 individual donors and the dollars will reach classrooms serving at least 20,000 public school children. The leading blog -Tomato Nation - has raised $75000 in ten days. And the challenges continue until October 31, 2007.

At least one foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, is participating - having just made a $30,000 grant to DonorsChoose to reach out to RI teachers.

Why should you care? Regardless of what you think of the DonorsChoose model of giving, the fund development strategy here is worth looking at:
  • The Bloggers Challenge shows how big and fast peer-to-peer fundraising (the oldest model we know) can grow with a push from the Internet;
  • The media attention of something like this is worth it, even if the money is one-time gifts and none of the donors ever return to DC - which is pretty unlikely;
  • DonorsChoose is doing very little to raise these funds - they've outsourced their fundraising to bloggers;
  • Its new (I think). It takes the ChipIn/DonateNow/Widget/Facebook fundraisers and accelerates them.
Has anyone seen this, or other big time blog fundraising efforts, before? Beth, do you know?

Friday, October 12, 2007

More on the blur - or follow the money part II

I'm at the Social Venture Network conference in San Diego. So far, fabulous. The creativity and energy of the individuals creating sustainable change is really interesting. Just this morning, I have spoken with bankers creating new bank structures, Native Americans creating and selling natural and native sourced energy bars that feed some of the income back to the community and some back to the native vendors in the supply chain, eco-affordable housing builders from Australia, and several locally and sustainably sourced manufacturers of clothing, cleaners, and community jobs.

All the more reason to understand that the capital markets for social good are not primarily philanthropic. Fixed income securities focused on clean water for inner cities, bonds for affordable housing, revenue from sales of energy bars and knit hats, fair trade revenue, screened mutual fund investments in solar energy and organic farming, and nonprofit investments in medical research - these are the revenue sources for change. We really must start to think about the spectrum of revenue sources on the same spectrum we consider investment options - instead of low risk/low return to high risk/high return the meaningful spectrum might be high social/low financial to low social/high financial returns. And then we plot all the different kinds of resources along the spectrum - from pure charitable giving to purely return-based investing.

Where the resources sit on such a spectrum may actually be more interesting/useful than the source behind them. As I've said for years about small unstaffed foundations - they are not really much different from the individual or family's direct giving. Same here - as individuals continue to expand the number of charitable vehicles they use for their giving (private foundations, donor advised funds, giving circles, volunteer time), and their investing (socially screened mutual funds, direct capital investments, loans) and their political contributions - we need ways for those people to see their whole financial commitment - mapped against their values and goals - in one place.

First a charitable giving portfolio. Then an investing portfolio. Then a political portfolio - and then the complete picture. At that time, the structures for managing the resources can be looked at -as they should be- as strategic means to an end. How am I advancing my environmental or social justice goals with my financial resources - charitable, invested, and political? That is the key question for savvy donors, as the realms of the possible continue to blur as do the expectations individuals have for their wealth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Deep Throat was right


I'm trying to figure out the cumulative value of investable resources available through social venture capital/private equity firms, socially responsible mutual funds, CSR initiatives, mission related investments, program related investments, Community Development Venture Funds, double bottom line investors, and clean tech investment funds.

One way of thinking about my question is "What was the dollar value of the Blended Value Map when it was first created (2003), what is it today, why is it changing, and in what sectors are the changes most pronounced?" Another twist is to ask, "New maps, such as those at xigi are being developed, but what is the value of that marketplace and others like it?"

Why? Because - as any American who was older than four or five in 1972 well knows - the key to understanding something is to "follow the money."

What am I trying to understand? I'm trying to understand what are the real sources of funds for public benefit and social good.

We tend to think that philanthropy funds public benefit action (even though we know that the greatest source of revenue for many nonprofits are government contracts). As the types of organizations that contribute to the public good expand beyond "pure form nonprofits," the markets they access, the capital they use, the numbers of people they employ, and their contribution to GDP are also expanding. We count foundation gifts, corporate contributions, individual giving, and bequests as philanthropy - and the numbers get a lot of coverage every year. But what if these aren't the real sources of revenue anymore?

Compare the $295 billion in overall giving in the US in 2006 (Giving USA) to the $2.29 trillion held in accounts managed in accordance with socially responsible practices. Hmm. Suddenly the first number doesn't seem so big anymore.

And the $2.29 trillion is only part of the story. And the value of fair trade. There is $180 million managed by community development venture funds. And $2 billion in foundation mission-related investments (which will grow to $12 billion, if the Meyer, Heron, and Casey Foundations are successful in their recent challenge). And carbon markets. And microfinance investments....

Another way to put the numbers in perspective is to imagine that 40 foundations made a half billion dollars worth of grants to the environment one year. That would be big news. Well, according to VentureOne/PWCMoneyTree, the total value of venture capital deals in Clean Tech (alternative energy, pollution and recycling, power supplies and conservation) was $451 million in Q2 2007. Nearly half a billion dollars in one quarter.

I could go on and on. I know that others are working to define the sectors (again, see the Blended Value work), ascertain their value, identify new players and sources, and plot the trends. I want to point out how badly we need such an index - it is absolutely key that we all be able to follow the money. It may not be all we need, but without it we can not know if sectors are really blurring, the sources of change are truly changing, if our regulations are really regulating, if our investments are really returning anything, or, quite simply, who is doing what.

We're heading into "Giving" season, otherwise known as the last months of the tax year. All kinds of stories will be aired and printed, numbers quoted, and products/services offered to help the charitably inclined. This is all good. But it may no longer be the real story of where good comes from, and who is paying for it.

By the way, I put the cumulative value question out to my linkedin network, sent out a few additional emails, and spoke with a few very knowledgeable folks about this - thanks to all who replied. If you have thoughts on how to track the cumulative value of resources for good, what should/should not be indexed, who might have more information, or what the baseline value of the blended value map was in 2003, please comment below or email me.

Posting transcripts, proposals and reports

As promised, the folks at Union Square Ventures have posted the transcript from their Hacking Philanthropy conversation - it is here. I haven't read it yet, just wanted to fulfill my promise of pointing you to it before I forgot.

While we're on the subject of posting things - the Hewlett Foundation has been posting the proposals it funds in its Open Educational Resources Program for two years now. Full access to proposals, literature reviews, opportunity statements - its a treasure trove of information about the open education movement (and a great model for other foundations). Check it out here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Random Tech Observations

Here are observations on technology/nonprofits/philanthropy since my last update in August.

Social networking:
  • Several foundation staff people have asked questions of their Linkedin networks.
  • A few foundation staff people have joined Facebook.
  • JustMeans has added lots of content and some users.
  • MySpace and PayPal teamed up to let nonprofits and political groups raise funds on the Impact Channel.
  • Facebook apps, including those for charity, continue to grow (in number, I said nothing about impact).
Video, etc:
  • The Giving Channel launched (blatant self promotion).
  • YouTube announced a nonprofit channel, which also provides nonprofits with the ability to raise money using Google checkout.
  • ThinkMTV launched.
Former presidents, and other random random.:
While I'm at it, here's a way foundations could use technology that I have not yet seen, but that I think is a good idea. It's based on the emerging practice of the popular tech blogs, which offer their readers a special code to use if they want to beta test a new application. This builds traffic for the blog and gets beta testers (known to be interested in technology) for the application companies. (I did this through TechCrunch and beta-tested Tripit. I made several suggestions during the beta period, some of which I saw implemented, some of which were not. I now rely on Tripit for managing my far-too frequent travel.)

So here's the idea - foundations reach out for 'beta testers' - either through their own sites or through other blogs that reach the particular communities of interest. This would work for a Foundation thinking about new issues, holding community forums or needs assessments, or looking for genuine input from 'stakeholders.' Packard tried this (sort of) with its Nitrogen Wiki. But the beta tester community is a way to get thousands of people, who care about what you're doing, to participate in designing your program for you. (Tom Sawyer comes to mind)

Of course, foundations rarely have trouble getting people to come to their input/listening post/community feedback sessions. But these are one-off focus groups, where the community members are always more polite and restrained than they really feel (even when foundation staff leave the room and the facilitator promises anonymity). Beta testers work with the ideas, over time, for free, because they care about and need the final product/program to work. There ought to be a way for foundations to use this kind of remote, anonymous (if you want to be), ongoing community engagement - whether in designing a program, making grants, reviewing community needs, monitoring progress, and helping gauge failure or success.

Any takers?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Gates gives 'cuz he's a geek

(photo from

Or at least that is what Clive Thompson claims in the September 2007 issue of Wired Magazine, (p. 62).

To be more accurate, being a geek is not just why Bill Gates (and, Melinda too, presumably) gave $25BB+ to philanthropy, but why they give the way they give. Thompson is basing his claim on a study done by Paul Slovic of Decision Research on how numeracy affects the way we make decisions.*

Thompson compares the Gates' focus on saving millions of lives - of millions of people they obviously don't know - to the average (non-geek) Joe's focus on helping those nearby and known. First things first, the numbers that matter here are not financial resources. Its not just that Gates saves millions of people because he can give millions (oops, billions) of dollars. Its because:
"...[the average non-geek is] very good at processing the plight of tiny groups of people but horrific at conceptualizing the suffering of large ones."
The study looked at examples of decision making about numbers. Asked to give an imaginary sum of money to save one child, study volunteers picked a generous amount. When the option was giving enough money to save two children, the amount per child dropped by 15%. When the group of children to be saved grew to eight, the average donation dropped to 50% of the first offer.

Its not a matter of resources, its that "...geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers" says Thompson. They are trained "to think in powers of ten - mega, giga, tera, peta" - and so can expand their problem solving decisions appropriately.

Thompson seems to want to relegate empathy to the wastebasket and rely on numeracy as a prompt to philanthropy. Geeks can save millions of people, non-geeks can't get past eight.

Well, if nothing else, its a good excuse to invest in math and science education.

* Peters, E., Västfjäll, D., Slovic, P., Mertz, C. K., Mazzocco, K., & Dickert, S. (2006). Numeracy and decision making. Psychological Science, 17, 407-413.

Friday, October 05, 2007

You say tomato, I say tomah-to...

Names matter. What we call things matters. Ask George Lakoff. Or Karl Rove. Or Louis Armstrong.

There is growing agreement that "nonprofit sector" is the wrong name, so what is the right name? Paul Shoemaker, a careful reader of Alliance Magazine, points out these three possibilities, all posited in the October issue:
Those who wish to change the name - so that the sector is no longer defined by what it is not - should come up with one option, not three. Actually, there are more than three - independent sector and nongovernmental organizations come to mind. Bill Drayton is usually identified as a social entrepreneur - where does that fit into the discussion?

What term do you use? How would you go about getting agreement on - and widespread use of - a single new term?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Back to the future

Scrolling through the archives of this blog - which has been live since July 2002 - I found this post:

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Philanthropy and new capital markets

Organized philanthropy is profoundly unorganized. Those who fund start-ups don't work with those who fund established organizations.Individual donors, who provide the sustaining funds for most nonprofit enterprise (along with the public sector), are disaggregated, poorly organized, and rarely considered as strategic partners by institutional philanthropy.

The attached book outline is a work in progress, focused on how the disparate elements of the philanthropic resource pool - from foundations to individuals - could work together in more effective ways. The roles of knowledge sharing, network building, new infrastructure, and new mechanisms are all discussed. The possibility for deliberately evolving the philanthropic financial markets is emphasized. A new vision of coordinated philanthropic markets is presented for comment and disagreement. It may not be perfect, but it is a viable alternative to the current system and one that stands to better use the trillions of new dollars anticipated in the sector over the next decades.

Five years of blogging. At least two things happened - the book outline referred to above got published in 2004. And, second, the idea of philanthropic capital markets is now pretty well established - even Bill Clinton refers to the "under-organized" markets for charitable giving in his 2007 book Giving. Maybe we are getting somewhere.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Impact - commercial and public benefit

I have been watching, commenting on, and participating in the following two trends for years.
  1. Corporate social responsibility, its growth, spread across sectors, influence on double/triple bottom lines, and efforts to quantify and value socially beneficial corporate behaviors.
  2. Nonprofit, public benefit, nongovernmental uses of market-based strategies (earned income) to address sustainability, the growth of quantifiable measures for and about various sectors of NGOs, and the increase in frameworks/metrics/indicators for assessing nonprofit capacity and impact.
A few months ago, we reached an important point of congruence for these two separate, but similar, trends. This point was marked in part by the launch of B Corporations and is being marked again by a survey that simply focuses on impact, and not on the corporate or legal structure of the organization.

Alliance magazine is preparing a special issue on impact, due out in December, that takes these trends on straightaway. In a first of its kind, the magazine, working with Keystone, is surveying organizations and donors about impact - and deliberately reaching out to both commercial and non profit agencies. This is a step beyond using private sector measures on nonprofits or vice- versa, it simply assumes that both kinds of organizations are trying to make a positive contribution to public benefit and asks them to answer some questions about how they measure their impact, to whom they report it, and if and how the process is useful to them.

Why does it matter? These two trend clusters are big contributors to my belief that Americans are now living in a society which has structurally different assumptions and expectations for our public, private and independent sectors than those of even thirty or forty years ago. Forty percent of Americans have never known a White House without a Clinton or Bush occupant. - That 40% - some 100 million + Americans 20 years old and younger - do not draw lines between sectors the way that their parents and grandparents did. They have structurally different experiences about who runs schools, prisons and owns the media. They have different opinions and expectations about how to get health insurance or what to count on for retirement or where and how long they might work.

These experiential differences matter to how they choose careers, where they live, what schools they attend, what they expect for their retirement, where they turn for help, who pays for their health care, where they get their news and information, and - critically - how they vote and shop on all of these issues. It also matters for how they will direct their investments and their philanthropy, and how they think about where change comes from.

I've taken the survey for Blueprint Research & Design, Inc. (a commercial entity, a
founding B Corporation and member of Social Venture Network).

The very nature of the inquiry is intriguing - how do donors/investors and public benefit organizations (commercial or nonprofit) think about, measure and report impact? The nature of this question - a focus on impact rather than an exclusionary focus on organization structure - is a key indicator of how the two trends with which I opened this post are coming together.

For more information or to participate in the survey contact Alliance or Keystone. Results published in December issue of Alliance.