Thursday, February 28, 2008

That was fast...was it any good? Can we do that?

Those are just some of the questions we should all be asking 72 hours from now, when the Kluster experiment comes to an end. Set your watch for 8 am, Pacific time, March 1.

What is Kluster? Crowdsourced product development. Huh? Kluster is a design process that uses input from lots of people to design things, fast. It was just introduced at the TED conference this afternoon, you can check it out here, and, of course, there is a $15,000 prize being offered as incentive to participate.

Rapid change, broad participation, new ideas - philanthropy and the social sector should watch, learn, adapt.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How we give

Last month, the Wall Street Journal ran this story predicting how technology will change the way we shop, entertain ourselves, get our news and several other things (specifically, how we search, how we make and maintain our friendships, and how we protect our privacy).

In making its (somewhat hesitant) predictions, the WSJ pointed to a consistent set of changes in technology that would drive the other social shifts - namely, near universal adoption of mobile gadgets, gps, social networking sites and data, and pressure to make public that which was once private.

So apply these drivers to philanthropy and see what you come up with. Here is my starter list -
  • Mobile phone enabled Kivas, (one of the recent winners of the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Competition, Always With You, may have done this by now)
  • Foundation program officers who make grants in the field and immediately transfer funds to recipient accounts;
  • Tag clouds of community-generated projects for urban renewal that are "widgeted" onto websites, blogs, and social networks; linked to by friends and others and funded through tiny payments affixed to credit card transactions;
  • Mutual aid societies that use P2P loans and community collateral, and also link instantly to other parts of the capital market for social good;
  • Real-time data on giving trends, aggregated from multiple online marketplaces, community funds, and even IRS submissions through APIs that protect individual identity but aggregate revenue flow. (OK this is such a pipe dream that I have to throw in a gratuitous link to this Onion post about Diebold voting machines)
  • Mashups of community assets, community needs, public revenue flow and philanthropic giving that make Maplight look like child's play.
  • Online searchable maps of social enterprises, community groups, neighborhood associations, and nonprofit organizations that let community residents shop for services according to their own preferences, e.g. accessibility, community knowledge and representation, cost, long-term commitment, etc...
  • Social networks built specifically as "mutual aid" societies - with permeable geographic boundaries and based on time dollars or other alternative currencies. Tool swaps, barn raising, loans for small businesses, rides to the doctor - think of it as Craigslist meets FreeCycle for Good, layerable and sortable and searchable and customizable by geography, age, race, timeframe, etc..
  • Charitable Reward Accounts that make our frequent flier status pale in comparison - since we now earn points on every single transaction we ever conduct, as embedded giving has expanded universally.
  • Taxes on our charitable reward accounts.
  • Millions of people left out of all of these things because they never learned how to use a computer, broadband access is too expensive, or their mobile phone service won't "credit" them into these systems....
Your thoughts?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Special report on philanthropy...and its not even Giving Season

The Nightly Business Report on PBS begins a special three-part report on philanthropy this evening, February 25. Part One looks at how people decide how much to give - online at a GuidetoGiving part one.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Social Capital Index Launches

The Social Capital Index launched on February 22. Check out the announcement here. See it here.
You'll be able to see Social Capital Deals, investments, and a fund matrix. Congratulations to the folks over at xigi for making this happen.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

From 1000 entries...

....come 17 winners.

The MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning inaugural competition (conducted in partnership with HASTAC) announced its first 17 winners today. The full announcement and list are here.

And mark your calendars for March 17 when HopeLab announces the winners of the Ruckus Nation contest.

DISCLOSURE: I work with MacArthur on its DML Initiative and was thrilled to be a judge on one panel of the Ruckus Nation contest.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Match the speaker to the quote

1. "The goal is to integrate public policy and charitable giving."
2. "Why do people benefit in inverse proportion to their need? Well, market incentives make that happen."

3. "“He’ll do something that will have political impact. He’s not going to
just hide in the back room and dole out the money with a shade over his
head.” (In this case you have to match the quote to its subject - the "He" - to get points. Double credit if you ID the speaker)

4. "We take a lot of cues from the business world. We have very entrepreneurial people and a very entrepreneurial process. We identify a problem, we analyze it, and we move."

A. Bill Clinton
B. Michael Bloomberg
C. Peter Peterson
D. Bill Gates

And, yes, I am aware that all of the choices are white American men over 50 years old. I didn't say anything (yet) about what the collection of quotes or speakers might indicate. I simply pulled them together from my notes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

More on Giving Change, Changing Giving

OK I started this conversation on Giving Change, Changing Giving, really just put in a placeholder, but I have been on airlines/in meetings ever since. I will get to it in more depth - but wanted to jot a note that connects it, surprisingly, to one of the more familiar philanthropic discussions - read Charles McGrath's piece in Sunday's Times about our annual bout of "don't let the President kill PBS." McGrath argues that NPR has become more innovative, and more necessary, as PBS has become less of both. Or as McGrath put it,

"At its best public television adds a little grace note to our lives, but public radio fills a void."

What, pray tell, do PBS/NPR, federal politics, and budget cuts have to do with online giving marketplaces? Well, I'll get to it - soon - but in the meantime, check out this new report from Keystone, called Online Philanthropy Markets: From Feel Good to Effective Social Investing. (pdf available). What distinguishes these marketplaces even now, in their relative infancy (GlobalGiving is 6 or 7 years old; Kiva is all of 2)? Innovation. In the authors' words:

"The study finds that online philanthropy markets are relentless innovators."

So, there is possibly a connection between innovation, relevance and even longevity. I believe Jim Collins has much to say on this. Longevity may not yet be on the minds of the marketplaces (and their critics keep downplaying them for not being big enough to matter yet - at 6? or 2?) - but I know from my own conversations with the founders of two of these marketplaces that relevance, unmet needs, transparency, and - yes, constant iteration and innovation - are very much on their front burners.

The other line of thought, when I actually get 20 minutes to pursue a line of thinking, has to do with the relationship(s), if any, between online giving and civic engagement. A few days ago I had a chance to ask an academic who studies online civic engagement this question. Her answer - "we don't know about online/offline yet, but the research on offline (giving) and offline (civic engagement) shows them to be parallel activities, not linked (my words not hers)." Much to think about - if only I had 20 minutes and some decent research to examine. Please send me the research if you've got it. And if you can send me 20 minutes, I'll take those also.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Giving Change, Changing Giving

Have been on airplanes and in nonstop meetings, most without wifi, hence lack of posts.

Am working on thoughts about relationships between online giving marketplaces (DonorsChoose, GlobalGiving, Kiva) and how (if) they are changing giving. Also pondering (and pursuing research leads) on links between charitable giving and civic engagement...(e.g. activism, participation, etc.) post will come...

In meantime, there is a new online journal to watch for - Blue Avocado. Check it out here

Monday, February 11, 2008

Investing for Change

There is a (wee) bit of a movement afoot in philanthropy - small, but growing. It is the movement toward using endowed assets as part of a foundation's change strategies - I've written about it before as "aligned investing." (posts here, here, here, here, and here)

Just last week the PRI Makers Network (PRI stands for Program Related Investments) met in New Orleans. Video footage of the Network meetings is now available on The Giving Channel.*

What signs point to a movement? Several - growth in the PRI Makers Network. A peer-to-peer challenge, called the 2% Challenge to get foundations to invest in ways that advance their social missions. Socially responsible investing is itself the fastest growing segment of managed assets. (source, Social Investment Forum). Growth in clean tech and green tech investment vehicles, many of which are backed by endowment assets. Third party resources on the subject. - OK, I said, it is a small movement now. We'll be watching to see if it grows. You can watch those who are already a part of the action over at the Giving Channel (and suggest resources, join in the Forum discussion, and suggest other topics for similar coverage).

*I am executive producer of The Giving Channel.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Notes on nonprofit networks

Enough of my noodling about networks, I decided to take my questions, "What do nonprofit networks look like, how do they work, and what does this mean for philanthropy?" to the experts. So I asked these questions of the folks over at FAS.Research - who do very important work mapping networks.

Here's some of what they told me:

"It's a large and diverse universe. Nonprofits have many different network structures and properties depending on the function they serve. It's the classic case of form follows function. A local direct service nonprofit like Glide Memorial Church will have a different network structure than a global movement-based nonprofit like ForestEthics. And if we think in terms of nonprofit production cycle, a research nonprofit like the Institute for Politics and Democracy on the Internet (IPDI) is going to have a different network than an advocacy organization like NRDC that might use IPDI's findings to sharpen it's online advocacy work.

The one thing that I would say in general is that because it is a large and diverse universe, and one where nonprofits are fairly evenly distributed geographically, that the links within and between sectors are limited in their number (low link density) and in their function (low multiplexity). This leads to higher search and collaboration costs. This makes it tough for players to see what is being done elsewhere in the sector and find collaborators. This leads to low innovation, duplication of effort, and stranded local innovation, among other things.

I think this is partly to be expected given that the dramatic growth of the sector since the 1950s. In the United States alone, we have gone from tens of thousands of nonprofits to around 1.5 millions in about 50 years. We need to think of the nonprofit sector in terms of an evolutionary lifecycle. We may still be in the primordial soup. My sense is that the larger, more complex, collaborative structures are yet emerge.

This, however, begs the question, "what can we do to speed up the sector's development?" Our world needs a powerful social sector right now. Do we need more connections? Not necessarily. A large number of indiscriminate new connections can lead to network congestion. That means things slow down. You have to be strategic about how you link resources.

Our work in researching technology clusters is instructive. Tech clusters like Silicon Valley create tremendous value because they optimally link diverse resources in pursuit of a shared goal. And this is key, participants in this ecosystem are…drum roll…clustered! They're close to each other both geographically and socially. And equally, if not more importantly, they're also linked in the right pattern. The research, development, production, and distribution functions of the system are distinct and robust, but optimally linked to create and spread technology innovation. The universities, VCs, entrepreneurs, and professional services in Silicon Valley are linked in what can be described as an autocatalytic set - a technical name for a virtuous circle. This means that the outputs of each entity are a useful inputs for other entities and that as a set, they catalyze their own production. They have other properties too. Like a rainforest, they tend to cycle energy with increasing rapidity through the system as the system evolves creating increasing numbers of niches and innovation. Think of the rapid escalation in VC investment and the increasing diversity of tech investments available. In other words, the system scales. And once one is set in motion, it can be difficult to stop since each participant gets increasing rewards for being part of the set. Think of the incredible personal wealth that has been created in Silicon Valley.

Another way to look at it is that participants experience self-sustaining growth through collaboration with other dissimilar entities. OK, there must be something to this because it sounds like a paradox!

From my experience, there's no structures even remotely like tech clusters in the nonprofit world. One mistake I see over and over is that when folks organize nonprofit networking events with an eye to strengthen a specific sector, they make the mistake of mainly inviting nonprofits. ... What does this suggest about how foundations work in the sector and what they could do differently?"

So, first of all, thanks to Neal and Doris and Harald at FAS. Their work is very interesting, you can see some of it on the site and more of it on their own site.

My thoughts on what these observations might mean for philanthropy, and foundation funding in particular:
  • Thinking about networks isn't enough - funders need to know what kinds of networks are good for what purposes, what kinds of networks exist in the geographies and issue areas they care about, and what kind of lever or inflection point exists and what can it be shifted to accelerate, transmit, redirect, or expand
  • Networks exist of many things, and across many things - people, institutions, ideas, materials, money -
  • And, of course, networks of funders exist - of relationships, grantees, board and staff, founding families, vendors - what do these look like and what do they do?
  • How do funder networks and organizational networks compare?
  • What types of actors beyond nonprofits matter when thinking about social change or public good - and how, if at all, are these actors connected or isolated from existing networks?
Here's a thought, one I mentioned to the folks at FAS. What if we could map regions of actors by their funders - all the environmental groups and activists in the San Francisco Bay Area or all youth programs in Detroit. What would you expect to see? What if you didn't see what you expected? What about mapping the same groups (Bay Area environment or Detroit youth groups) by networks of board members? Of individual donors? Corporate contributors? Isn't it likely that the same organizations have very different types of networks depending on what types of connections are being mapped? And doesn't that matter when we think about where to put more money, more people, more capacity (or, conversely, less money, people and capacity)?

It seems to me that we know that networks are out there. But we don't know enough about them, how they work, and what they can/cannot do to make knowledge of their existence useful. This, of course, is not limited to philanthropy - network theorists themselves don't all agree on how networks work - here's an article about one theory-publicizer, Duncan Watts, taking on another, Malcolm Gladwell.

Still, really looking at how networks work, what is connected to whom and whom to what, and what might be accomplished through certain kinds of networks - this all seems worthwhile when making choices about limited resources. Legend has it that mapping efforts such as these are what led to the Democracy Alliance - what might similar efforts accomplish on social and philanthropic issues?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Customized Google-powered foundation searching

This custom Google search was created by folks at eDemocracy. This comes via the NTEN
listserve. Here's what its creator says about it:
"To assist E-Democracy.Org's grant prospecting efforts I put together a
little (big actually) Google Custom Search covering foundations, some
government funding sites, and sites with fund raising advice for

Why not share it with the world?

Try it out from:

Google Custom Search has a nifty option where you can say search all of
the sites or partial sites to which a certain pages links. The main area
where the search can be improved is by adding pages with links to
smaller community foundations. I've opened up the search engine to
volunteer contributions."
Here's that link again:

I remember several years ago being asked by a 20-something nonprofit executive why anyone would need the Foundation Center. "Can't I just Google everything I need to know?" he asked. The question, and the search engine above, reveal a lot about how things have changed. There is such experienced-based assurance among Internet users that they can find what they need to know, by themselves. There is good reason to believe that many relevant funders can be found on the Web - though I don't know if anyone has counted foundation websites (which would be found by Google) and compared it to the 10,000 foundation database maintained by the Foundation Center or the larger universe of grants and funders catalogued by FoundationSearch. Savvy users of any search engine must always wonder what they are not finding, but so should users of industry sources such as the Foundation Center.

This wasn't the post I was planning (am working on more posts on networks and philanthropy) but this caught my eye - it speaks to the power of networks and a spirit of cooperation in the sector, even with the very competitive domain of funding.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Noodling about networks

What do politics, the Super Bowl, and philanthropy have to do with each other? Besides the fact that they are all on my mind, that is.

They may have nothing else in common so I'll stick with why all of them are on my mind. One word. Networks.

I'll get the easy one out of the way - networks and the Super Bowl. I come from a long line of NY Giants fans. For as long as I can remember, people I care about deeply have cared deeply about the Giants. I cared about the Super Bowl mostly because the networks of people who matter most to me root loud and long for, and have suffered long and hard because of, the Giants.

Second, networks and politics. Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. Today the New York Times ran a story about family strife caused by "strange political bedfellows." The Kennedy family has returned to our collective consciousness because its many members are split between the two leading Democrats (and one Republican - Shwarzenegger/McCain). After a year of primary campaigning lots of well-educated, committed Americans are finding themselves making decisions about who to vote for based on endorsements. Who vouches for whom? Who is connected to whom? In other words, networks.

Finally, philanthropy. There is lots of talk about networks in philanthropy. I've been doing some research about networks for a couple of years now - some of it for clients, some of it to inform my thinking about innovation and change, and some of it to make sense of things I don't understand. We've been working with experts in network theory and network analysis (some of whom may show up in this space soon as guest columnists), bringing them in to client projects, reading the research and the journalism. I used to write about associations in philanthropy. Now I write about networks. Are they different? How? Does it matter? Why?

I'm noodling - lots of questions, not so many answers. Except, of course, about the Giants. And, maybe by end of day tomorrow, about American politics. But I'll be thinking about philanthropy and networks for some time.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Bowl Philanthropy

Today's Super Bowl features the first big time U.S. advertisement for text donations. Watch for the United Way ad. Viewers will have an opportunity to text FIT to 864833 to support youth fitness programs in local communities. Brought to you by Mobile Accord.

Texting votes to American Idol is old hat - will it work for giving?