Sunday, September 28, 2008

What’s online got to do with it?

On October 8, the Stanford Social Innovation Review will host a conference on online giving marketplaces. I’m thrilled to see these platforms are finally getting the attention they are due (and also delighted to be moderating one of the panel discussions). Over the years I’ve paid a lot of attention to these sites – which include GlobalGiving, Kiva, NetworkForGood, GiveIndia, HelpArgentina, DonorsChoose, GiveMeaning, and GreaterGood South Africa – and dozens of others, check out socialactions for a mashup of 30+ platforms.

But why do these sites matter? Is it is just giving as we’ve always known it, but faster, more global, and with multi-media interactivity? Or is there something else, something more transformative, going on here? Why are these sites proliferating and what differentiates them from each other?

Here are a few ways these platforms are important beyond just their speed and glitz factors.

  1. These sites enable small gifts to be aggregated – by the donors – and let donors manage portfolios of their giving. This is a baseline for ultimately getting to more strategic giving.
  2. Online giving platforms provide a potential source of data about giving trends and patters, in something approximating real time.
  3. They could provide a common backbone for donation transactions.
  4. They are positioned to gather real feedback and input from people within funded institutions, as well as beneficiaries of them (see GreatNonprofits for more on this possibility).
  5. They might serve as “early warning signals” about issues or giving patterns.
  6. There are already emerging connections between “online giving platforms” and “social investors” and “social stock exchanges” – it only makes sense that new metrics systems, reporting tools, and portfolio assessment tools will come next.
  7. These sites are specifically set up as marketplaces – with buyers and sellers connected by interests – a framework distinct from the way nonprofits and donors usually talk of themselves, and one that has both advantages and disadvantages.
  8. We have not yet seen real interconnectivity between online giving platforms and “offline” donor services – is this next and what might the results of such partnerships look like?
The speakers at Stanford, a list which includes founding executives and board members of several of the sites named above, will surely have more ideas to add to the list above. The conference has been moved to a larger venue as the original site sold out. Information on logistics is here. If you can’t attend, but have key questions you’d like to ask send them to me at lucy (at) blueprintrd (dot) com and I’ll do my best to get them asked, answered, and reported out via blog post.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Portfolio Data Management System

The social sector made a big jump forward yesterday with the announcement of the Portfolio Data Management System (PDMS). This set of software tools, powered by Acumen Fund, the Aspen Institute Network of Development Entreprenuers, Skoll Foundation, Foundation, and about a dozen other organizations announced they were making available the PDMS to nonprofits. The cost? Free.

What does it do? As Claire Cain Miller put it in the BITS blog:

"Unlike tools currently on the market for foundations to use internally, Acumen’s tool will allow foundations to see data from other grant makers. That will help them assess how a potential grantee shapes up and compare nonprofit performance across business models or sectors, like health investments in Africa or inner-city education in the United States. PricewaterhouseCoopers is developing the data aggregation system, which is scheduled to be live in 18 months."

The platform was unveiled at the Clinton Global Initiative. Details are here, press coverage in BusinessWeek is here, Bits Blog post is here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Architecture, operating systems, codes

1) The September issue of Alliance has a a must-read article calling for a new architecture for philanthropy ("A New Architecture is Needed, Olivier Kayser). Among other ideas, the author looks at the changing market of intermediaries and the role that competitive incentives might play in how foundations operate. As he notes, in a business where the barriers to entry are low and the costs of failure are nil, the pressures to excel are few. I agree with this, noting that since it is almost impossible to put a foundation out of business also means there are no systemic incentives for them to accomplish anything.

2) There is a meeting in NY in October, which I regret being unable to attend, to discuss a new operating system for philanthropy. I like this metaphor, as it alludes to a lot of the open/open source elements of philanthropy I've written about.

3) I first became a fan of Larry Lessig's work because I saw a parallel between his discussion of the changes created by digital technology and the need for a new code to protect creativity, and kinds of thinking that could identify a similarly catalytic change in philanthropy. This led me to think about a new code for philanthropy and heavily influenced my writing and work about the role of data and knowledge in driving philanthropic capital markets. I think new systems of knowledge sharing are key to a new code for philanthropy.

Whether the metaphor in use is architectural, infrastructure, or software system-based it is interesting to note the (admittedly small, but growing) chorus of voices looking for fundamental shifts in philanthropy. Whether or not these voices are all seeking to solve the same problem set is one question, regardless of what method or metaphor gets used.

Another key possibility of these inquiries is that they will serve not to answer the question - but to attract other, better, newer thinkers to the table and potential answers. This would be similar to the role that the Dow Jones Index plays in the financial market - as a tool in and of itself it is widely understood to be terribly flawed. Ironically, then, its value comes not so much from its own role as market measure but from the fact that its ubiquity forces us to seek stories that can explain its shifts (a good example of why we need both qualitative and quantitative measures). Second, its flaws makes room for other, better indices to come into being - thus improving our overall tool set of measures. I wrote about these unintended effects of the Dow over on JustMeans/All Things Reconsidered.

So it is worth (re)considering that perhaps none of these architectural/operating system/code discussions will provide the answer - but they might make room for lots of other inquiries - the sum of which might be actual improvement.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ideas to snack on

A conference to note - Social Innovation Conference in NY - The Feast
(h/t Allan B)

And something to read - this SSIR blog post on "pooled giving" - or lending teams, at Kiva. This takes donor collaboratives, pooled funding, etc. to the internet. It also may breathe new life into a 2007 buzzword - endorsement philanthropy - in which those who have done the research, strategy and due diligence on a giving opportunity share it to leverage other people's interest and resources.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Be The Change

OK, so here's a twist on university alumni relations - the San Francisco chapter of my college alumni association was the source of information on this grassroots community service day - October 4 - be the change day.

Here is some info on this event, which is sponsored by SAALT - South Asian Americans Leading Together.

"Be the Change, formerly known as National Gandhi Day of Service, has been coordinated by SAALT for the past six years. Be the Change is an annual national day of service to inspire and foster civic engagement through volunteerism and community service. Every year, hundreds of participants nationwide collectively contribute thousands of hours of community service in the spirit of Gandhi’s most famous quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In 2008, the theme of Be the Change is “Solidarity in Service”- which reflects the way in which public service can build coalitions, deepen relationships, and bring about solidarity among people of different backgrounds.

Be the Change 2008 will be an opportunity for people around the United States to engage in collective public service activities that will lead to further collaboration, civic engagement, and unity.

when and where?
October 4, 2008 at local organizations in San Francisco, Milpitas and all around the Bay Area"

The timing of this was uncanny, as I had spent some time yesterday speaking with a New England community foundation. Of course, university fundraising/donor services came up as part of the discussion about the evolving philanthropy marketplace and the competitive landscape. We were talking university development offices in terms of their size and reach, their ability to offer broad ranges of philanthropic products and fabulous rates of return on investments, the regular habit many alums have of disclosing key information on their wherabouts/interests/family and professional life to their alma maters (the kind of info most donor services folks would LOVE to have)...and so on.

Until today, however, my alma mater, its development department, alumni association or local alumni club had never been a source of information on philanthropy in my back yard. (Keep in mind I live 3000 miles away from my college town).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tech Roundup 2008.2

I'm on day 2 of a 14 day East Coast/European business trip so my posting schedule may be a bit jet lagged. That said, I just found this post over at SocialActions and realized I could skip ahead on an entire tech roundup simply by linking to Peter's notes on platforms.

The SocialActions post notes several new online giving platforms that launched in the last weeks. These include CauseCast, which was kicked off in San Francisco at the Tech50 conference - as a platform that uses celebrities' fan networks to raise money for causes this site can only juice my prediction that celebrity philanthropy will be the embedded giving of 2008. The post also highlights Akoha, Zazengo, and Givvy. It also notes new sites providing information on environmental impact of certain consumer products and choices, including GoodGuide and OpenTrace.

I only have question about all this: How many more online giving platforms can launch between now and the official opening of Giving Season 2008 (which I usually mark with the publication of the NYT Giving Section, the Sunday closest to the 11th of November)? Cancel that - here is another question - perhaps we should start dating Giving Season to early September, to coincide with the timing of TechCrunch50 and DEMO (the 2 big tech conferences - deliberately scheduled at same time) - that launched these sites? In fact, the number of online giving platforms/widgets/technologies that launch at TechCrunch and DEMO might just become another one of our key new trend indicators for the field.....hmm....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Timing matters

Some headlines from the past few days:
Go back a few months to this:
  • Fed guarantees $236 million in financing for JP Morgan to buy Bear Stearns (March 17)
Now pop up again to the present, what is known in America's southeast as "Hurr'cane season"
Talk about bad timing.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A more meaningful prediction

I posted some short term prognostications early this morning. I then talked with someone who immediately confirmed my sense that my call about celebrity giving as this Giving Season's big buzz was correct. I also got a comment from Beth Kanter alerting me to her social media predictions, and I know Beth's work well enough to know its a good one.

Beth also asks why I think widget giving will drop. Good question. First, let me reiterate - the list is about buzz and what's hot or not. It is NOT about what works, what should be used, what I like/dislike, or what matters.

So when it comes to widgets - we've been there, done that. Everyone needs a widget now. In internet time, that's not hot, that's akin to...oh, I don't generation on Facebook? Text giving is new, and the media will write about the campaigns, we'll see a flurry of five digit numbers everywhere, maybe even the Salvation Army will replace its red buckets with a red number. And then we'll move on, to the next thing. Hot or not is a buzz thing, nothing more and maybe nothing less.

I see this as confirming Beth's prediction. In her words:

"We're still in the early stages of social media as in the early days of the web and online fundraising, so, we are in the "it's hype, and not going to last" phase. We're still in transition and the transition will take many years, but I believe fundraising with social media tools will not just be a niche source of income or novelty."
This phase means we bounce from email fundraising letters to Donate Now! buttons to widgets to texting

We don't really know what works, individual organizations may need all tools (or fewer), what works for some may not for others....but you knew all that already.

Since I'm on the subject, in a cranky mood, and I just walked across SF's rather small financial district - here's another prediction. Even if Congress writes in perks for hedge fund giving, next year's Robin Hood Fund's fundraising bash will raise less money than this year's; the guys (mostly) walking out of the investment banks today with those hang dog looks are real people losing real jobs; and in June 2009 (!) we will learn that giving in 08 was down, not flat and not up.

Philanthropy Hot or Not?

It is September - time to make some predictions for Giving Season - otherwise known as November and December.

In the style of fashion (T), pop culture (Entertainment Weekly), movie ratings (thumbs up/down), and tech magazines (Wired) here is my list of what will be in and out for Giving Season 2008.

I am calling it Fund/Reject but just be clear - my opinion is on which way these things will trend (up = fund, down = reject) not whether I think they practices/concepts/trends themselves are good, bad, or indifferent.
Enjoy the season!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How are you using them?

I've received dozens of emails about the geologic and evolutionary timelines I posted a few days back.

Thanks to all who've written in and said "wow," or "thanks" or "you're wrong about X" or "too inside baseball" or just about anything.

Thanks also to those who've said they're citing the documents in their research papers, sharing with their board, putting them into staff orientation packages, developing glossaries from the graphs, or using them as market research for their new venture - please keep these emails or comments coming - ESPECIALLY the suggested improvements - I'm working on versions 1.1. With your help we might get to version 2.0 - you knew that was coming didn't you?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

When the blur fails....

Tony Pipa asks why are Obama and McCain fundraising for the American Red Cross instead of talking about the government's role in disaster prep and response?

Great questions, great post and comments. See some additional thoughts I posted on this over at All Things Reconsidered.

Monday, September 08, 2008

To bid or not to bid?

Just as eBay's WorldofGood site launches, allowing you to buy and sell "socially responsible" products along comes CharityBuzz, which is an auction site for charity. At WorldofGood you can buy handmade, environmentally sound crafts and other pro-social products. At CharityBuzz you can bid on celebrity events, television show walk-ons, and tickets to the Presidential inauguration - all in the name of charity.

WorldofGood launches with several buzzwords - trustology (the certifiers of product goodness) and goodprint (Markers of goodness type - environmental, animal friendly, pro-people or supports a cause).

CharityBuzz will help your nonprofit organize and get fabulous items for its auction, and publicize and manage the process, all for "No up front fees: we charge a percentage of revenue raised deducted from the amount we remit to the charity after the auction is closed." It may help if your charity or nonprofit was "...founded by the most famous names on the planet, including Bette Midler, Andre Agassi, Rosie O'Donnell, Eddie Vedder, Petra Nemcova, Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy and Denis Leary..." If not, don't worry: "While publicity efforts may logically focus on the big names, all charities — large and small — benefit from the increased traffic at our website generated by star power. Simply stated, great products partnered with celebrity causes creates "buzz" and generates sales and raises awareness for all our charity partners."

The scale, reach and branding power of these two sites might mean some tough competition in the "online shopping for good" niche of the philanthropy business - we'll have to wait and see how sites like shopthecause, maasaieducation, greatgreengoods, or maasaimarket.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Online Giving Marketplaces - Stanford October 8

I write about online marketplaces for giving all the time - now the Stanford Social Innovation Review is hosting a conference on the topic. (I'll be moderating one session)

The description and registration materials are online here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Geologic Eras of Philanthropy

The above is another view of the development of the philanthropic industry - you can compare it to this one. Please send improvements, suggestions, revisions, etc. to lucy (at) blueprintrd dot com. I'm happy to email you a copy of either graphic, on three conditions:
  1. You let me know what you think of it;
  2. You make suggestions on how to improve it;
  3. You let me know how you use it (and you note proper attribution to me if/when you use it)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Evolution of Philanthropy Markets

And we're off...I wrote several months ago about how recommendation engines might work in philanthropy - donation dashboard has made this real. The site comes out of the Center for New Media at UC Berkeley and is based on collaborative filtering (similar to the Pandora music service).

This represents a significant moment in the evolution of philanthropy markets. It is a move to the "higher hanging fruit" in the evolution of philanthropy markets. The low hanging fruit (e.g., the first and easiest to get - and most critical to making major innovation happen) was digitized 990 data, which came to us in the U.S courtesy of Guidestar back in the 1990s (also available in the U.K. and coming quickly to other parts of the world).

Then came donate now buttons and giving platforms, such as GlobalGiving and NetworkForGood. Kiva and DonorsChoose took these models, iterated on them, and exploded the possibilities of reaching new donors. The micro-philanthropy sites exploded, and Peter Dietz took the lead in making the next step happen - cross platform social action searching.

Right alongside this platform innovation is a burst of interest from research centers and industry sources, new conferences, performance measurement tools and discussions, and data wonks and even prize competitions - all acting as several small pieces of the evolution of philanthropy markets. Amazing.

More blur

I write about the blurring of the sectors often. And I appreciate it when others send me a 'heads up' on an example of this at work. Sean Stannard Stockton pointed me to - a new website where job seekers can find "social enterprise" opportunities in the public, private, independent and elected spheres. In the site's own words:

" is an environment where professionals can quickly find social enterprise opportunities which match their interests, skill sets, and time. We make it easier for you to do well while doing good. includes all positions with a positive social impact (for-profit & non-profit, paid & unpaid)."
JustMeans is a similar idea (without the elected official angle). Zoosa's site doesn't give much information on who is behind this (they're based in Cambridge, MA), but the site looks a lot like sites such as, though that may be nothing more than site design. Site says "they're not looking for funding now." They will be negotiating sponsorships, advertising, and partnerships. Found nothing useful about them at the WhoIs domain registration site.

By the way, Sean has been posting some great thought pieces on the "business of philanthropy," - a topic so near and dear to my heart it is the subtitle of this blog.

P.S. Thanks to all who have been sending in good wishes - I hope to be back to work and blogging with some regularity as family health situation stabilizes (and assuming Hanna, Ike and Josephine don't prevent me from getting home)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

New types of trend data

My colleague Jonathan Jaffray has a new blog, (great name!), and is out of the starting blocks with an important insight - he notes here that more than 100 domain names had been registered with the word "gustav" by September 1st. He rightly continues to note that donors should be wary of making donations through sites that they have not vetted.

His post made me realize that Jonathan had put his finger on a key new trend indicator for philanthropy - domain name registration. Here is how the indicator will be interesting:
  • How many sites get put up containing the name of the disaster-du-jour (sorry if that is crass) and how quickly they go up;
  • How many get used to fundraise - legitimately or otherwise;
  • How many pre-existing, legitimate donation sites grab on to the disaster-name to improve their search results;
  • How quickly Google sets up mini-sites for donations; and
  • The pace of giving on Google checkout.
Of course, moving at the pace of technology, this indicator may already be out of date as donations speed on over to mobile phones and text donations. Which means we will have to update the "domain name indicator" with the "text message code indicator."