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.

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