Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Embedded Giving...2.0

Embedded giving - in which a charitable transaction becomes part of any other financial transaction, such as checking out of the grocery store and making a donation to diabetes care - has gone web 2.0.

Now, SocialVibe lets you, the customer, promote the brands you like and they will donate money to charitable causes of your choice. Here is how it works: Pick a brand you like. Post a widget advertisement from that company (Apple. Adobe, PowerBar) and post it on your blog, Facebook page, whereever. The advertiser offers you (the new advertising hosting mogul) certain perks to pick their brand. You earn points for hosting the ads. These points get turned into dollars and the dollars go to charity. SocialVibe's proof of concept has donated more than $100K to charities so far.

Why be just a consumer when you can be an advertiser also? Why wear a t-shirt with logo when you can cross-promote your favorite brands and your favorite causes? Why give money at the cash register when you can turn your MySpace page into the cash register?

Why, why, why? (I'll be honest, I don't know whether to laugh or cry about this). Certainly adds to the "cross-platform" argument I was making a week or so ago. Also advances the "innovation in social capital" markets observation. Complicates the data discussion - how will we track any of this?

Aw, heck, now I need to come up with a new buzzword...embedded advertising? adgifts? hostedgiving? promogiving? charitable advertising? Forget it, I'm going back to work...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Product innovation in Social Capital Markets

Last week I wrote about a new philanthropic mutual fund. Today, SocialEdge, is discussing a new blended option for investing in social enterprises. The model draws lessons from microfinance and social networks, and is explained on the Entrepreneur Commons site. Here is the one sentence description:

"A not-for-profit social network of entrepreneurs providing financing for early stage company through debt guaranteed by a mutual guarantee fund. The financial risk is mitigated by the mutual guarantee fund."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pandora, pop culture and philanthropy

Is there such a thing as a philanthropic phenotype?

I've been listening to Pandora a lot lately. This is a service, based on the Music Genome Project, that recommends music you might like based on the artists you choose. So far, it has worked pretty well for me - most of what it has recommended has been appealing, if not mind-blowing. However, a friend of mine insists it does not work for her. She says it recommends stuff she hates and she has to spend her time "responding to its requests for up/down votes on the recommended stuff. Who wants to do that, I just want to listen to music."

I've also been to more movies in the last week than I usually get to see. Here's what I saw over the course of 7 evenings - "Sex in the City," "Mamma Mia!," and "Roman de Gare." The first two are simply plotless. The last had more plot twists than I could count or follow even with the subtitles. I enjoyed all three. I've linked to Anthony Lane's New Yorker reviews of each of the three movies, even though I steadfastly refused to read his insights into either "Sex" or "Mamma Mia!" before seeing the movies - do you really need to consult a film critic about a TV show or Meryl Streep singing ABBA? Each night's selection was chosen by me and some close friends. I'm not a marketing expert, but why we chose what we chose and why we enjoyed what we saw would be tough to plot against phenotypes.

All of which leads to me to wonder about philanthropy, recommendations/advisors, and where we get the information that guides our choices. I know, even as I write this, that someone out there is either building or thinking about building an "Amazon-style" recommendation service that draws from the Guidestar database - "People who gave to the Red Cross also gave to WritersCorps." How do I know this? First, it is a patently (joke intended) obvious idea. Second, two different organizations have told me they are thinking about it.

As my made-up example is intended to imply, giving to the Red Cross and giving to WritersCorp could easily emerge from any algorithmic approach to recommendations - but what would such a recommendation mean? Do you base such algorithms on where money goes (the Amazon approach)? Or would you, as Pandora does, attempt to deconstruct nonprofit organizations into types and characteristics and then make recommendations on patterns and similarities? Or is the whole idea absurd, given that giving is both passion-driven and rational in ways that music, movies, and pop culture are simply not? Can you tell something about someone by where they give their money? Can you predict where someone will give by mining data on where they live, what they read, what kind of ice cream they buy, and whether or not they vote? (This kind of thinking seems to be what drives much of the direct mail marketing that charities do.)

What do you need to know about someone in order to help her/him make better giving decisions? What do you need to know about the organizations to which s/he might give? Here's an observation - it is now more important than ever before that donors understand how these recommendations or advisors work. Why? Because the marketplace of organizations offering a 'view' into that database of nonprofits just keeps growing. From one massive list of organizations (1.5 million plus in the USA) a donor can find recommendations and advice and giving opportunities sliced up several ways - the GiveWell way, the NetworkForGood way, the community foundation way, the Federation way, the Charity Navigator way, the GuideStar way, and, of course, the United Way....and so on.* How do those choices get made? What criteria get used? What do the recommenders know about you, the donor? What do they know about the organizations? How do they generate their recommendations - is it algorithmic? Phenotopic? Personal? And what should they know, about the donors, the organizations, the goals and the resources? The philanthropic marketplace, as evidenced by the continuing growth of sites like GlobalGiving and Kiva, the interest in conversations about market data, and the creation of new discussion venues and conference sites, continues to grow. Very soon, I think, we will be rating the raters and recommending the recommenders.

*Disclosure: I used to be on staff at a community foundation and still work with as many of them as I can. I am on the Board of GiveWell. I know the founders of GlobalGiving and I am one of two moderators of the discussion on data and social capital markets. I have subscribed to The New Yorker since 1985 (and read my parents' copies before that), but I am always at least three months behind in reading it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Green cross-platforms

I read about William Easterly's new edited book, Reinventing Foreign Aid, over on Mari Kuraishi's blog - and went right out and bought a copy. I know less about international philanthropy than I'd like to.

Ironically, from my perspective, one of the great aspects of foreign aid is that it is well-documented and increasingly well-evaluated. This is ironic because Easterly and his co-authors clearly think the sector's state of knowledge gathering and use is pathetic. He may be right, but it still may be better than any other sector within philanthropy. This is because of the very large role that national governments and multi-lateral organizations (Asian Development Bank, World Bank) play in providing aid.

Anyway...I started with the chapter written by Mari and Dennis Whittle (co-founders of Global Giving). Their work and interests focus on ways that market forces and disciplines may improve the giving of aid. This perspective informs the creation and implementation of GlobalGiving.

I emailed Mari to tell her about some of my early observations on the book and chapter and she wrote back with this very exciting news - GlobalGiving has launched a green sub-platform. This nicely fits in with my request for examples of environment-focused online giving sites back here in this post. The news is confirmed in today's New York Times.

One element of great interest to me in the way GlobalGiving is launching this green site is it inherent "cross-platform"-ness in recognizing that environmental issues and economic development are intertwined issues. Solutions come from many places, capital for public good is inherently 'blended' and GlobalGiving Green reminds us that our very definition of problems and solutions cross typical categories.

PS: I am now committed to reading both of the books I picked up this week - Reinventing Foreign Aid, noted above and sparked by Mari and Dennis' contribution and Acts of Faith, by Eboo Patel, which I learned about at Momentum. So much for light fiction in the summer.

Full disclosure: I have met and had many very informative discussions with both co-founders of GlobalGiving.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Philanthropic mutual fund

In 1991 Fidelity investments introduced the charitable gift fund. There are now billions of dollars in assets under management at mutual fund company donor advised funds.

In 2008 the Davlin Philanthropic Fund launched the first no-load mutual fund in which investment fees are donated to charity and mutual fund returns remain in the hands of investor. The funds are managed by The Davlin Funds, which donates a portion of overall fees to the Davlin Foundation (a 501 c 3 private foundation) which then distributes resources to charitable organizations:

"The Davlin Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit, private foundation, is the philanthropic arm of the Davlin Philanthropic Funds and is directed by an independent Board of Trustees whose purpose is to fulfill the chartable recommendations of the Davlin Fund investors. Based upon the guidance from investors, the Foundation disburses the donations it receives from the Davlin Fund to the eligible 501(c)3 philanthropic charities on the Davlin Foundation approved list. In addition, the Trustees review recommendations for additions to the approved charities list. Finally, the Davlin Foundation focuses on donor education by promoting sustainable giving or increased, strategic and cost-effective charitable giving over an extended period of time."

The Board of Trustees of The Davlin Foundation:

William E. B. Davlin – President, The Davlin Foundation.

Lawrence K. DeLamarter – Owner & Creative Director, DeLamarter Advertising Services.

James F. Dwinell III – (Chairman) Retired President & CEO, Cambridge Trust Company.

G. Keith Funston Jr. – Owner, Funston Antiques.

George E. McCully – President & CEO, Catalogue for Philanthropy.

J. Rodman Wright – Senior Vice President, Head of Value Team & Portfolio Manager, Pioneer Investment Management, Inc.

According to the press release:

"...the Davlin Funds will donate at least one third of the Fund’s fees to a non-profit foundation that will then distribute the money to a charity with the guidance of the investors. In addition to these donations, the investment advisor, Davlin Fund Advisors, has agreed to forgo any management fee that could be deemed as a profit to the advisor. These forgone management fees will augment the donations already committed."
Buzzword generated by the idea: "Sustainable giving" - see if it sticks. The mutual fund industry had $12.292 TRILLION in assets under management as of June, 2008 - so even a small percentage of the fees on those assets are significant. We'll see if the model takes off.

Note, as of this posting Guidestar did not yet have a 990-PF for the Davlin Foundation. The Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator had no filings. Here is the SEC's info.

Disclosure: I have no affiliation with the Davlin Funds - all of the information above came from a press release and internet searches. I have attended conferences with one of the board members listed. This post is informational only and not a solicitation or recommendation of any sort.

War is not good for philanthropy

Sadly this slogan from my childhood is still on t-shirts today, during my child's childhood. It is also the headline I would have used for this report:

“Collateral Damage: How the War on Terror Hurts Charities, Foundations, and the People They Serve,”

The paper is described as a discussion of "how short term undemocratic policies are constraining the critical activities of the charitable and philanthropic sectors. In addition, the paper states that such policies inadvertently stifle free speech and slows down terrorism-fighting efforts. According to OMB Watch and Grantmakers Without Borders, “the current U.S. counterterrorism framework is not working well when it comes to U.S. nonprofits. Rather than recognizing the sector as a valuable ally in the war on ter ror, government unfairly characterizes nonprofits as conduits for terrorist funding and a breeding ground for aggressive dissent.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Success and failure

I'm on the run today, here are some quick observations, thoughts, blah blah blah:

1. I've blogged about failure as a precondition for success. Was thrilled to learn that one of my posts on said topic was picked up as "suggested reading" by a funding organization for which I have due respect. Here's their list for their staff seminar (thanks to my source!):
I love that this blog is used in this way - and am always thrilled to hear from readers who are recommending posts for any purpose. Do let me know!

2. In similar vein, my preoccupation with prizes and open sourcing was fed by today's NYT story on InnoCentive, which I've blogged about in the past. Was a wee bit disappointed that the story focused on commercial problems and solutions - let us hope InnoCentive's goal of 10,000 solutions includes a whole lot of public good solutions as well.

3. I was delighted to receive information from a scholar of prizes - here's what he had to say and his incredible website - including lab experiments on prizes....
"... it occurs to me that you might like to see a new paper I just finished on the history and use of prize incentives for R&D. I think results quite consistent with your earlier “Catalyzing Creativity through Competition” paper. The main novelty is that now we have a vastly larger database of historical competitions which we can link to technological breakthroughs in various fields, and I think a nice set of guidelines for what history tells us about which kind of prize works best, under various circumstances.

After this, my current big project on this is laboratory experimental on how people respond to different kinds of contests, especially to compare prizes that are proportional to success with traditional winner-take-all contests. So far we have pilot results from last Spring semester, getting ready for full-scale experiments when students return in the Fall. Amazing stuff, could be of much real-world value to philanthropists who are interested in market-like incentives."
Dr. William Masters, Purdue University
Thanks, Dr. Masters - this information is fabulous.

4. What do Everywhere Magazine, SocialMarkets, Facebook, Ning, and the self-organized Jewish family Sunday school my family participates in all have in common? I'm working on a post about "platforms" - the next idea that I'm pondering about in terms of philanthropy....If you have thoughts on platforms and philanthropy, ping me. Otherwise, stay tuned.

5. I've contacted Eboo Patel to get the source for his quote, "Religious extremism is built on philanthropy." Will let you know when I track it down. I've also ordered his book, Acts of Faith, and can not wait to read it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Keep the Momentum

I attend a lot of conferences (too many). Philanthropy, technology, education, nonprofit, finance, entrepreneurship, community change, media, publishing - a lot of interests and a lot of conferences. So, with my credentials established, I want to put it out there that this afternoon I may have been to the most interesting plenary session I've ever attended.

What made it so interesting? Well, it certainly wasn't the title ("money"). Or even the deadpan delivery of the session moderator. And from the written agenda; well, let us just say I was hoping to learn something.

In fact, it took me a Muni ride home to realize just how informative it had been. Here's what I realized as I tried not to put my bag on any body else's foot while also keeping other people's elbows out of my ear (rush hour public transit):
  • Two professional "money men" decried the financial industry. One of them decried government's deference to financial services as a major cause of our current economic woes;
  • A representative of organized labor recognized its failures, and told hopeful stories of its work with the emergent labor movement, centered around worker centers, interfaith groups, and community organizations. He rightly noted the similarities between today's day laborers and the building trades workers of the late 19th century (you know me, cite some history and you’ve got me);
  • Building assets is a key to ending poverty (not just jobs and not just income). Existing and potential market and regulatory solutions to making this happen for poor people and people of color were discussed – and we needed more time to learn more;
  • Kiva’s discussion of micro-lending was the only philanthropic player on the panel – and the talk was all about lending, re-using capital, and transnational and intranational entrepreneurism (not giving). Ninety percent of money lent through Kiva get loaned again. Kiva recognizes the data market it is building and the potential uses for it down the road;
  • No one touted – or even mentioned – philanthropic efforts* as an initiative, a solution, a program, the silver bullet, (or a panacea);
  • The subsidies that help asset holders build wealth were laid out next to the subsidies that “theoretically” help poor people climb out of poverty. No surprise, the first ones work and are rarely talked about as subsidies (they have fancy names like tax incentives) and the second ones don’t (and are routinely decried as public benefits). One exception – the earned income tax credit.
  • The top contributors to Obama’s campaign were listed, and then show next to a list of the top contributors to McCain’s campaign. If you weren’t in favor of public financing before these lists should make you a believer. Same thing if you wondered about politics, the economy, and our current financial state - on both lists are Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs.
  • Free market orthodoxy was denounced as a misapplication of Newtonian physics. By a money guy.
So, why did I like the session so much? Let me count the ways:
  1. When was the last time you attended a session at a philanthropically-sponsored conference and actually wondered if there was a role for philanthropy in the solutions?
  2. The speakers all made it clear that there are structural problems built into both our political and economic systems that are a) human created, b) manipulable, c) inherently and overtly biased, and d) fixable.
  3. Complexity can be explained quickly. These speakers proved it.
  4. Have you ever left a philanthropy conference session wondering if there were any philanthropic examples?
  5. Alternative credit scores, alternative post secondary options, and the idea of new capitalism.
  6. I now have a slightly better understanding of the relationship between the credit crisis, mortgage collapse, gasoline prices, bailouts of Bear Stearns and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac.
  7. This kind of discussion is ALL about the relationships between public and private, collective and individual, big and small, black and white, rich and poor, here and there.
  8. Jennifer Johns.
If I got this much out of every conference session I attended, my head would explode. When I checked my email after the session I had received an announcement of a new Changemakers competition (sponsored by Citi and ASHOKA). This time they are looking for financial solutions that promote social change. My suggestion - talk to these panelists.

*Seriously, the only time foundations were mentioned was one comment about the Gates and Kellogg Foundations' work to develop alternative post-secondary credentials.

** Full disclosure: Momentum is sponsored by Tides. My company has consulted to Tides, several of the senior executives at Tides are friends and mentors of mine, and I am friends with and have worked with their PR consultant. I even have a frequent coffee-drinker card for the ACRE Cafe which is located in their building. That said, I had no role in organizing Momentum, paid the full freight to attend the conference, and am blogging on my own time and for my own reasons.

Momentum is underway

Here's what I've learned about liveblogging conferences - others are better at it than I am. Here are some thoughts and "10-minute-old" reflections on the Democracy Session at the Momentum Conference:

Most important concept I heard:

Transparent Democracy - and a new web site - (still in beta, may need invitation or pw)

What I like about the many site features that were demo'd is the idea that people have a set of values and they want to act on them. The resource helps voters find out what organizations are supporting what initiatives or ballot issues. It helps a user find out what the groups they already support are rallying behind. In addition to the state and national election issues covered the site will also bring light to corporate shareholder ballots. You can find out how proxies are being voted. The site brings politics together with shareholder activism - another step in recognizing that many people want to act consistently on their values - from the polling place to the stock exchange to their giving choices.

Most provocative thing I heard:

Eboo Patel: Religious extremism was built on philanthropy. (From a report by Carnegie Institute - I need to get citation....) And, with an eleventh minute of reflection, this is also the most patently self-evident thing I heard. Of course, it is.

Most hopeful thing I heard:

Eboo Patel: There are 3 billion young people in the world, and leaders of religious pluralism movements (Gandhi, Tutu, King, Jr..etc. ) have historically been young. (He did counter balance this with the observation that most murderous religious extremists are also young).

Funniest bumper sticker shown:

"Prevent unwanted presidencies: Make vote counting a hand job," shown by Deborah Bowen, CA Secretary of State

Most hopeful and, I fear, Utopian thing I heard:

"Ideas will trump money."

More data

Here's an email I received in response to the "Data, Data Everywhere" post. Notes another resource to the ever growing list and begs a question from me - what is the right "level" at which to try to gather/clean/present/analyze NGO data? The Minnesota example below suggests a statewide approach - does this work?

Here is the email:

... I would like it you could add our own web site,, to your list. We are a 60 year old organization that changed our services so that we could provide more information better by launching a new web site and the Accountability Wizard. The Accountability Wizard is a mostly on-line voluntary review available to any nonprofits registered to fundraise in Minnesota. Here are the standards we use. The biggest shift in our approach is that we will provide a little time and basic technical assistance in order to meet our standards. Basically we allow about two months after the review to make changes. In doing this we have moved from a more standard watchdog to more like a mentor. We have reviewed about 350 organizations with another 50 in various stages of the review. The review is meant to educate the nonprofit participants and to help them to check in on their own accountability and transparency.

We are also in the very early stages of setting up a process to revise our standards. There are many reasons for updating them but one area that both donors and nonprofit professionals have pointed out is that our current reports show very little in the way of activities, results, outcomes, impact, etc. We may be able to make a big difference in building trust in nonprofits with the current changes and others in the works. In my own market scans I have noticed that small to medium sized nonprofits are not well represented. There is much more I could discuss about this issue. We are learning a lot here that could add to the discussion.

While I wrote this as an email rather than a comment (I thought it was too long.), please feel free to share it with anyone.

Check out the Wizard Blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on cross-platform philanthropy

OK, I may be beating this into the ground, but two more items caught my attention that furthered my thinking on cross-platform philanthropy.

  1. As if my ponderings on public media and cross-platform content weren't topical enough, yesterday I read that the NPR staple, "Car Talk" has migrated to tv. As the daughter of an MIT alum/car nut, Car Talk has been background chatter for my entire life - and now it is an animated television show. If this were April I would have checked the date on the story, but I think it is for real - Click and Clack have found their way to toon land.
  2. Just before going on this rant about the cross-platform nature of philanthropy I had been re-visiting the issue of conversion foundations. Yesterday's paper/blogs brings the news that Online Privacy Nonprofits - namely TRUSTe - are the latest to convert from nonprofit to commercial status. Venture capital infusion, needed for growth, is driver of this change - but one more data point in the accumulating scatter graph of public goods with many sources of finance and from many types of organizations. There was no mention in the news about whether or not the organization will spin off some philanthropic entity in return for its 11 year life as a tax exempt entity - stay tuned.
Ever more proof- public goods are being provided by all kinds of organizations (nonprofit, public, commercial and hybrids) and the financing for those goods is a similar mix. In thinking through the implications of this kind of cross-platform philanthropy I posted a couple of key questions for funders and doers. Here is the original list of questions again, and some new ones added to the bottom:
  1. What is the mix that affects the work you are doing, either as service provider or funder?
  2. What is the best (most efficient? most effective? most sustainable?) mix for your services?
  3. What does best mean in your situation (see number #2 above)
  4. Where do you fit in the mix?
  5. Who else is in the mix that you care about? How do you work with them? How does your success link to theirs?
New Ones:
  1. Cross-platform also means the obvious - how does your funding or doing strategy take into account real life involvement or financing, virtual worlds, and online giving, social networking, information sharing?
  2. Can you build your organization, funding strategy, or services in effective, efficient ways that can succeed across different platforms (profit generating and not-for-profit)? Should you stick to one platform or financing type?
  3. What do different scenarios look like if you consider all the potential platforms for your work, whether it be advocacy, direct services, research or funding?
  4. What expertise does your organization need to understand these different platforms or markets?

John Edwards, Social Justice and Momentum

Sunday night, July 20, John Edwards will be speaking with David Brancaccio of PBS NOW, as part of the opening event for the 3rd Momentum conference in San Francisco.

6:30 pm. W Hotel, 181 3rd Street, San Francisco

Tickets to hear Edwards are available here.

If hearing John Edwards speak about social justice is not your thing, you can see what the two major party presidential candidates have to say on issues of interest to philanthropy here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cross-platform philanthropy

Yesterday I pondered the relationships between philanthropy and public broadcasting. I got on a mental roll after I'd posted the post and wound up going back to edit - those of you who read this in email or a reader may not got the fully-edited version. Below is the final paragraph of that edited version:

"Just as a radio program or tv show must now be developed with an eye toward its other media platforms and outlets, our public/philanthropic financing of these ventures need to be considered within these "cross sector" financing opportunities. We need to think of philanthropic funding strategies - and the public goods they support - as cross-platform. Public goods are now provided by private firms, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises. They are funded by public dollars, charitable donations, fees for service, corporate sponsorship, licenses, social investments, sales, and search engine/ad revenue. Oh, I like this metaphor - I'm gonna have to expand on it --- next post."

So here is the completion (for now) of this metaphor. Just as media content is now developed with an eye toward all of the many platforms (tv, radio, internet, video, podcast, videogame) that might be used to distribute it, we should recognize that this same dynamic applies to the delivery and financing of public goods.

Some public goods are still very much the purview of the public sector - public transportation systems and fire departments come to mind. I don't have to look any further than out my window to recognize that these public systems are augmented by private or volunteer systems - in my neighborhood, there are carshare organizations (both nonprofit and commercial) to help you get where you want to go, in Paris and elsewhere you can bikeshare, there is still a jitney service that parallels the Market Street to Caltrain Muni service, and all San Franciscans have learned to deal with the parallel bus systems that Google, Genentech, Charles Schwab and other companies run through our neighborhoods and past our offices. Speaking of public transit - San Francisco outsourced its 511 service (public transit info) to Google recently. There is also widespread, self-organized carpooling or ridesharing (known in DC as slugging).

To continue my highly-localized examples here, many fire departments also rely on volunteers - some communities only have volunteer fire departments, and during this out-of-control fire season many California communities have depended on volunteers supplementing the professionals.

And some public goods no longer resemble anything like a public system resource - we have become accustomed to private providers of public goods - everything from prison management to k-12 education to military personnel can be bought somewhere. Throw in some nonprofits and some social enterprises and I think you'll agree - these services - schooling, fire protection, transit, security (and so on) are cross-platform. And so is their financing - taxes, fees for services, purchase, license, charitable donations, investment capital - you name it, I'll bet it has a cross-platform mix of financing.

So how should we be thinking about this? If public goods can be delivered by any platform, and all of these platforms have multiple sources of funding, that gives us lots of variable to sort through. Just for starters:
  1. What is the mix that affects the work you are doing, either as service provider or funder?
  2. What is the best (most efficient? most effective? most sustainable?) mix for your services?
  3. What does best mean in your situation (see number #2 above)
  4. Where do you fit in the mix?
  5. Who else is in the mix that you care about? How do you work with them? How does your success link to theirs?
And I thought developing a radio show, blog, website, podcast and twitter feed, and financing it with public broadcasting funds was tough. Turns out, this is how we do everything now...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The challenge of making lists. And an invitation.

Here's one problem with lists - we expect them to be comprehensive. Yesterday I banged out a post about data providers/organizers/analysts - those individuals and entities seeking to address the need for comparable, independent, credible, meaningful data about nonprofits and philanthropic investments. Well, I forgot a few. So here are some more:

And here is the list from July 14: ( or scroll down two posts....

Of course, existing data providers such as Guidestar, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Charity Navigator, GiveWell, Charity Scorecard, the IRS, Attorneys General, Better Business Bureau, etc. form a core component of this expanding marketplace of data.
And here is the invitation - a new colleague of mine, Steve Goldberg, and I want to build out this list as comprehensively as possible and then see if the minds behind these efforts will join us in thinking about what this all means, where it all may be going, what else might be needed. How can you get involved:
  1. Comment on this blog list and add the missing organizations or efforts
  2. Email me ( and let me know if you want to be added to an email group -the first step in organizing conversation.

Corporation for public media

Philanthropy and public broadcasting go hand in hand, back to the very origins of PBS. Two recent stories (and one personal experience) related to public broadcasting and digital media made me think about where these relationships might be going as all media seem to become cross-platform.*

1. Driving the rental car back to FL airport yesterday I had an opportunity to listen in live to The Bryant Park Project on Satellite Radio. I'm a fan of The BPP - which I usually listen to on the internet or podcast. (We have satellite radio in our car, but I take the bus to work. It is amazing to me that our local public radio in SF doesn't carry BPP.) The BPP is the only place on public radio I can find voices of people my age or younger. As it happened, the show that I got to listen to live was the first broadcast following NPR's announcement that they are canceling the show, the podcast, the blog and everything else. Listen in to The BPP before July 25 to hear what you missed.

2. Today's NYT has a story on the soon-to-be launched new and improved The new site - with zillions of cool features - goes live on August 11. According to the NYT interview, the makers of show and site hope that the site will become the core platform for program going forward.
"We view this as really the future of the workshop, as becoming the primary channel of distribution down the line," Gary E. Knell, president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop, said in a telephone interview.
3. A friend of mine recently borrowed my four-set DVD collection of The Electric Company. This mainstay of 1970s television is still as entertaining today as it was 35 years ago. My friends and I will gleefully sing along with Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman ("Hey, You Guys!!!!" - we knew you when). My pals and I are all definitely "powered by Children's Television Workshop." My friend's 5 year old is loving the program and her reading and writing are improving.

Now, I don't know why (beyond money) NPR is canceling The BPP. And I confess, I love Morning Edition (even without Bob Edwards - who is now on satellite radio). It would be a tough choice to pick between the two. But podcasts, internet and satellite radio mean that I don't have to make that choice.

How come the children's learning arm of PBS can figure out sustainable ways to develop media content that not only thrive in their original format but go on to be fabulous in others (tv to dvd, 35 years later)? Can the adult news makers just not make this work? Should The BPP have been blog/podcast-focused and then, if successful, ported over to radio? Is it them or us, the producers, the audience, the content or all/none of the above?

Ah, and what about the funding system itself? Public broadcasting is funded through a mix of public, philanthropic, licensing and advertising (ok, ok corporate sponsorship). They also sell show-driven products - dvds, coffee cups, t-shirts, cds, etc - I guess that revenue stream is called quasi-museum-store. One of the most reliable email form letters is the semi-annual "Save NPR" petition - it comes around almost as frequently as on-air member drives.**

People much smarter than I am are working hard at figuring out ways to finance public radio/TV programming and to make sure independent,*** grassroots and local media thrive. Philanthropy is a key part of the solution, but that is just the point - it is a part, not a whole.

Just as a radio program or tv show must now be developed with an eye toward its other media platforms and outlets, our public/philanthropic financing of these ventures need to be considered within these "cross sector" financing opportunities. We need to think of philanthropic funding strategies - and the public goods they support - as cross-platform. Public goods are now provided by private firms, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises. They are funded by public dollars, charitable donations, fees for service, corporate sponsorship, licenses, social investments, sales, and search engine/ad revenue. Oh, I like this metaphor - I'm gonna have to expand on it --- next post.

*Geek speak for being able to get stuff on TV, radio, web, satellite radio, ipod, pda, cell phone, etc. etc.

** I am a many-year, auto-renew member of two NPR stations, KPFA and KQED. I also support KUSP, KCRW, and WNYC. I am also a member of FreePress and Electronic Frontier Foundation, both linked above.

*** Today's NYT also has a story on bloggers, subpoenas, free speech, and the law. These issues are related, but too much to combine into a single blog post.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Data, data everywhere and not a drop to drink*

Ever noticed that we seem to be simultaneously drowning in information but can't find what we need when we need it? We've got data everywhere, but not what we need, when we need it, and how we can use it.

Several efforts at addressing information in social capital markets make recommendations to address the availability, accessibility, comparability, and value of performance, outcome, indicators data. These efforts are focused on the need for emerging philanthropic capital markets to be able to track, compare, and discuss social outcomes in comparable, meaningful ways. Here are some of the data efforts that I know of:
Of course, existing data providers such as Guidestar, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Charity Navigator, GiveWell, Charity Scorecard, the IRS, Attorneys General, Better Business Bureau, etc. form a core component of this expanding marketplace of data.

These efforts are exciting, and, be necessity, duplicative. Why is this duplication necessary? Because we don't know what data matter, to whom, and for what purposes. This is a period of experimentation and market sizing, and many of the organizations above are seeking ways to price their products, entice potential customers, massage business plans, and source their data.

Several factors will drive what happens to these various providers. Some of these forces are fairly obvious - donor motivation, economic trends, demographics of donors, growing reliance on the internet for information, and continuing shifts in the marketplace of financial products for donors. Other forces, such as regulation of nonprofits, new hybrid organizations such as L3Cs and B Corporations, and changes in the capital markets themselves, will matter.

And then there is a circle of influences another level removed which also matter - decisions about who owns and can resell certain data. The Guardian Newspaper company in the UK is experimenting with some ideas in this regard that may hold lessons for purveyors above. Legislation and regulation about net neutrality, data access and ownership currently in play in the US also will matter. The future of newspapers matters to these efforts - they have been trusted sources of information for decision makers for years - but what does the future hold?

From my perspective this is all exciting, predictable, and represents a moment when we can truly see how philanthropy operates within many of the same forces of creativity, maturity, and disruption that mark other industry cycles. Is the answer to the "data problem" in philanthropy contained somewhere in the list above? Possibly - but it probably has roots and tendrils in several of the efforts/organizations above and the next few years will be a process of teasing out the key pieces and re-organizing this cycle of providers into a sustainable set of credible and independent sources.

A good portion of what will determine success for any of these ventures is the degree to which they can develop their products and services with a keen eye on the needs, wants, and willingness of their final customer. Who is that customer? What does s/he need? What does s/he want? And what will s/he pay for? Sadly, most of the reports, papers and proposals that I have read are woefully thin on real answers to these questions. Without those answers, these "supply side" proposals and business plans can get us only so far in building new markets for information. We may be at the point where all of these "information suppliers" should turn their attention to really understanding what thirsts the "info users" really have, will really use, and will really pay for.

*Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Ancient Mariner

**Disclosure: I have or have had board, advisory board, or some kind of professional working relationships with several of the individuals/organizations in this list, including, but not limited to, GiveWell, Nonprofit Reporter, SmartLink, Keystone, Aspen Institute, Center for Effective Philanthropy, and Jed Emerson.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tidbits from poolside

When I moved from NYC to California 20 years ago I probably dreamed that one day I'd spend my workdays lounging poolside, making phone calls while sipping cool drinks. Of course, clueless New Yorker that I was, I moved to San Francisco, where I have never once sat by a pool.

Anyway, it is a summer Friday, and I am, in fact, sitting by a pool. However, I happen to be in Florida, where it so hot and muggy that being immersed in water seems to be the only way to survive. I'm here visiting my parents, and all I'll say is this - side of pool beats side of hospital bed, any day, anywhere.

So, some blog tidbits....

How to be a billionaire....or at least how to write about them...

Now online at The Century Foundation...with more than 1100 billionaires around the world its time the rest of us learned a bit about them and their impact...TCF is hosting a series of conversations for journalists and then posting the videos, called Billionaires and their Impact. What kind of impact? Philanthropic? Tax paying? Job creating? Polluting? You'll have to watch to find out. The sessions were part of a NYT journalism institute.

Sharing space, incubating philanthropy

Perhaps the time has come for this idea, which was tried in the SF Bay Area back around the first dot-com boom/bust. Check out this post on why shared space, shared ideas, shared philanthropy might make sense now, from the "doing giving differently" blog of the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

kiva + facebook = involver

Kiva has launched a video campaign on Facebook to get more people involved in loaning to micro-enterprises. The campaign is coordinated through Involver - with which you can get involved here.

Now if we just put all this into Google's new virtual world, Lively, where we can mashup maps, view our picasa photos, use online docs (when the site is working), and so on - we will be approaching online social change/social media singularity.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Conversions, settlements and other odd routes to philanthropy

A decade or so back the big buzz in philanthropy was "health care conversion" philanthropy - new foundations born from the conversion of not-for-profit hospitals or HMOs to commercial structures. In lay language, the resulting foundation was meant to represent some portion of the value of the tax exemption that the non-profit structure had enjoyed. By endowing a foundation with these assets, a tax benefit is retained for the public rather than being given to the new commercial owners.

After a nationwide sweep of health care conversions we've experienced a spate of student loan conversion foundations (Lumina, Melmac, College Access Foundation)

There are also foundations created from mergers and buyouts and from legal settlements.

Here's what I'm looking for - a complete list of all the ways that foundations get created and numbers of the different kinds. I'm too busy right now to filter through data from the IRS or Attorneys General offices - does anyone know any short cuts to this information?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Conversations on "----capitalism"

I'm back from a great vacation and thrilled to see that there are two blog-based conversations about capitalism that may be of interest to philanthropists.

The Global Philanthropy Forum has a blog discussion underway on "Philanthrocapitalism."

Several economists are discussing Bill Gates' "Creative Capitalism" as part of writing a forthcoming book.

Nice to see blogs being used to foster, archive, and support broad(er) based discussions in philanthropy.