Sunday, November 30, 2008

And the list goes on.....

Two more organizations to add to the list:
And here's the rest of the list, so far:
It is definitely time to try to wrap some categories and distinctions around these organizations. I'll port this list over to Think Social Impact, where we had a mapping effort underway some months ago (in the old google group). Maybe we can all chip in and make some collective sense of what we have, what is under development, who uses what, what we might still need, etc.

Give fast

Epic Change raised over $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom in Tanzania.

Beth Kanter raised more than $2500 in 90 minutes for an organization for which she has long volunteered.

Here are a list of reflections about how to do this - most cites lead to blogs. There is a lot being written and posted on Facebook as well.

What is my take on all this? I see it AT LEAST as one more example of something that might seem marginal moving into the middle. Think about the expectations that this kind of fundraising raises -
  • Video, blogging, twitter, online payments, viral marketing, instant thank yous, etc as the minimal expected organization infrastructure;
  • Community building (you can identify other donors, everyone blogs about it), instant infrastructure (giving managed by chip-in, Paypal enables the back office);
  • Quick commitment - set a goal, reach it, move on;
  • Little gifts - and lots of them - are the holy grail;
  • Creativity matters - next year you'll need a new twist;
  • Anyone at an organization might be the leader of your next campaign;
And then some other questions that just pop to mind?
  • How do we understand this kind of giving in relationship to discussions about metrics and leverage and impact?
  • What about privacy concerns - are there any?
  • Is there any tracking of giving campaigns? Are data available from Twitter? Chipin? Paypal? And are these the new data sources for tracking giving?
  • Do these kinds of campaigns signal anything to larger donors, the way GoogleFlu may signal pandemic outbreaks? Do they highlight new organizations to consider? New kinds of organizational capacity metrics to care about (how many twitter donors do you have? what kind of micro-philanthropy programs do you run?) Are they useful sources of news - beyond what they've already been shown to do in tragedies?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Social Capital index

I just got updated news that and GoodCapital, the two social capital organizations that gave us SoCap08 have moved the Social Capital Index to its own site with its own team. You can find it here. As the site managers point out:
"Another constant theme [of SoCap08] was the need for more tracking of the space, its funds and enterprises, and their social impact and blended returns. In short, the need for the Social Capital Index was quite clear, and we were very pleased by how our initiative was received."
The index joins my growing list of enterprises/products/services that track/measure/quantify/index social value. The blog post on Information Markets is generating some good discussion, part of which I'll post below so you can jump in with your perspective.

Before I do that, however, let me paste in the list with some important additions. Here's the latest list, now numbering over 30 efforts (please add in those I'm missing):

Newest additions:
And here are some points pulled out from the comments section on the original post:

"...I agree when you wrote that there isn't shortage of metrics, but there is a lack of comprehensive ones; it seems as though many non-profits are not seeing the value in long-term measurement of effectiveness. How do you suggest a standard of consistency is made in metrics among non-profits? Your list is up to 31 players now, how does a regular donor weigh importance of the information they are provided (good v. bad non-profit based on the evaluator’s definition of effectiveness) among all these groups without spending hours searching on each page?"

"...This is a helpful chronicle of what is out there. It is still pretty messy and will be until someone--or a group of institutions and individuals--hit on a sit of metrics that helps inform real decision making, whether that it is allocation of capital within an organization or funding across organizations. ...I personally don't lament the duplication, redundancy, divergence, etc as I think that is the sign of a healthy and creative time during which new ideas will hopefully improve on their predecessors."

"... I agree with your point about duplication, in fact I'd go beyond not lamenting it to modify it as follows - in any industry, in any product, in any field the "... duplication, redundancy, divergence, etc..." is [a] sign of a healthy and creative time during which new ideas will hopefully improve on their predecessors."

There is, however, the difference between serving the needs of individual organizations that make funding decisions and serving the needs of donors and others trying to make funding decisions. In philanthropy - where sharing ideas about what works is crucial to 1) influencing where dollars go and 2) addressing any of the social concerns we care about on a scale that can be meaningful, the investments in measures/data/indices etc are almost the "backbone" of a more informed and effective capital system.

What I think is possible here is something between independent "creativity and exploration" and "top down" directives - but that will allow for multiple meaningful measures to be developed AND for the world of potential users of those metrics to see that menu as it develops, choose from among its many items, and in fact, inform the development and application of new measures/metrics/data systems/indices. Getting the "crowd" involved is critical - as informants, decision makers, users. And right now, the only systems we have that reach any kind of crowd are Guidestar and Charity Navigator, both of which have proven there are millions of people who want better information and will use it, and neither of which have yet been able to offer the first slice of such information. So we have better information, being developed and tested in small batches (effectively in secret from the market of potential users) and delivery systems that do reach the broader market but are not yet delivering the best possible thinking on the subject of measuring social impact. What an incredible opportunity for the field!"

Thanks for reading. Please jump into the comment thread here or on this post, help us build a comprehensive list, join the discussion on the Information Markets paper. And take a minute to give thanks for something. (if you want to be socially media thankful, check out tweetsgiving - it may not be the most strategic giving, but it might make you smile.) Happy Thanksgiving.

Events of interest

Here are "items of interest" to me, and, perhaps, to you:

A discussion on activism and momentum
December 2, 12:30 - 2:00 pm EST
Turning Voters into Activists

Experts and activists chosen as Prime Mover fellows of the Hunt Alternatives Fund will offer ideas for how citizens, grassroots activists, funders, and the media can capitalize on the momentum of voter participation in the 2008 campaign and election to reinvigorate Americans’ engagement in civic life.

The discussion will be facilitated by Ambassador Swanee Hunt, chair of Hunt Alternatives, and Jim Wallis, executive director of Sojourners and a leader of the progressive evangelical movement. They will be joined by Majora Carter, Jennifer Chrisler, Giovanna Negretti, Paul Rieckhoff, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, and nine others.

To join via Web conference, register at

A book on sustainable capitalism
December 2, 12:00 pm
The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
Discussion with author Gus Speth, 220 Fifth Avenue, 5th Floor New York New York. RSVP here.

An ongoing discussion on social finance
Jump into the Capital Ideas conversation about social finance and social enterprise at SocialEdge. Anytime, anywhere.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lisa Goldberg Fellowships at NYU

Two fellowships at The Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service have been established to honor Lisa Goldberg. These are graduate level fellowships for leaders in philanthropy or Jewish leadership. Application info is here.

$10,000, 48 Hours, One Classroom - ready, set, tweet

Tweetsgiving - a 48 hour attempt to raise $10,000 to build a classroom in Tanzania - is off and running - they've raised $3300 in first 8.5 hours, been covered by Tom Watson, and are filling up my twitter feed. Great day to launch - following the Chronicle of Philanthropy's live discussion of the power of these tools - online here.

And, since Tweetsgiving encroaches on my favorite subject of buzzword creation, I'll just segue over there for a minute. I learned a new buzzword today - cyberchondria - which may take a prize for "best-built buzzword" - onomatopoeic, self-evident, and fun to say!

I'll use this transition to ask which do you prefer - "good gifting" or "thriftanthropy" for the buzzword which has caught a lot of buzz - thanks to everyone who've read it, passed it on, and kept the Huffington Post blog about "good gifting" riding high on the living/giving page for two days in a row.

Futures of Community Foundations

The Financial Times has a story today (free, but annoying, registration required) on the future of community foundations and the role of philanthropic advisers. The story references On The Brink of New Promise: The Future of U.S. Community Foundations, a 2006 report I co-authored. All materials from that project, including the 2008 Future Matters series are available at

Hat tip to Sean Stannard Stockton, author of the FT story.

Headlines of a downturn

On Sunday The New York Times ran stories on philanthropy under the following headlines:

Charities Fear Cuts Will Wound the Needy

In Downturn, Charities Face Needs of Their Own

Nonprofits Say Needs Are Great, Cash Is Short

Charities Struggling With Their Own Needs

Billionaire Offers Arts Bailout in Los Angele
This is not a methodologically sound attempt at content or media analysis. But it did make me wonder about something that ties into the "debate" about wither philanthropic giving this year. Some data show that recessions don't affect giving all that much and pundits are expecting giving to remain flat or even go up in 2008 (as compared to 2007).

I've been the harbinger of doom, because that possibility just doesn't make sense to me - as I've written here, here, here, and here. So it occurred to e to ask about the data sources as a whole - and here's what I'm noticing..

Monday, November 24, 2008

Information markets in philanthropy

Tim O'Reilly notes the following great examples of innovators around "transparency in government" and recommends they consider joining the incoming Presidential administration.
"I'm thinking of folks behind initiatives like the Sunlight Foundation, or Everyblock, or Heck, I'd even reach out to the geniuses behind in the UK."
Is there a parallel list of philanthropic accountability, nonprofit innovators? Months ago I posted these "maps" to show some of what was out there in the information market:

This paper* from the Hewlett Foundation takes a different look at the marketplace for information in the sector. This story in Monday's Washington Post looks at a nascent discussion on need for metrics and transparency - although I have to say I think the story is a wrong on almost every important issue - from the purpose of the group to the problem in the field. There is no shortage of metrics, there is a shortage of comprehensive ones. The problem is a lack of consistency or comparative understanding of which measures matter - which measure do I use if I care about program effectiveness? What about leadership quality or sustainability? Is there a way to find out about "customer satisfaction?"

We have measures and measurers - here's an incomplete list I've been keeping of measures or measurers (feel free to add to this):
This is like throwing the Dow, the VIX and the Russell 2000 at a new investor and saying "here you go, use this!" Now that we can see a whole market of providers, the question becomes "Who does what well?" What measures are there? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What should I use and when?

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I participated in the Alliance for Social Investing meeting discussed in the Washington Post story. I am no longer on the board of GiveWell. I am an advisor to The Nonprofit Reporter. I am a member of the group Think Social Impact. I know people at and have worked with many of the other organizations listed above. My company and my work are mentioned in the Hewlett report.

Good Gifting and Charitable Gift Cards Buzzwords 2008.6 and 2008.7

Two new buzzwords move us toward our annual ten-count - number six is "Good Gifting" and at number seven we get "Charitable gift cards."

Buzzword 2008.6 Good Gifting - We all know what re-gifting is -- passing on a gift that was given to you. Think of all those unwrapped secret Santa presents, sweaters that don't fit, baby gear, and fruitcakes. "Good gifting" is the feel good equivalent of re-gifting. It involves giving a philanthropic gift in someone else's name or giving them the choice of a charitable donation instead of giving them more "stuff."

This idea has been around for awhile. Hints of it appeared last year around this time, but the new hipness of frugality may be the catalyst this kind of behavior needs. Consider The Dalio Family Foundation's promotion of "Redefine Christmas." As the site notes:

"Consider that the amount of money spent on candy alone during the holiday season is greater than the annual budgets of the American Cancer Society, The American Heart Association and Habitat for Humanity combined."

As everyone seems to be watching pennies this holiday season it follows that we might see a swing away from giving "stuff" to giving something more meaningful.We've already got radio series devoted to frugal tricks for the holidays, websites devoted to making frugal chic (Frugalista is a 2008 word of the year!), and consumer columns that are now focusing on giving in non-consumer oriented ways. Here's a Good Gift gift guide from OneWorld

Coming in number 7 on the buzzword list is "charitable gift cards" - which just barely missed the buzz list last year but are definitely proving that a useful idea will find its time. The biggest decision you'll have to make - do you give a GlobalGiving biodegradable gift card? A cow or goat from OxFam Unwrapped? A charitable gift certificate? These cards will jump in use this year largely because of the interest in Good Gifting.

One thing to beware of - USA Today estimates that folks are holding more than $75 million in worthless gift cards from companies that have gone bankrupt - from Linens 'N Things to Sharper Image. The good news with charitable gift cards is you won't be left holding the bag (er, plastic card), but you should still make sure that you are giving your loved one a card he/she can use on a cause he/she cares about.

And, yes, I am fully aware that both of these phenomena takes embedded giving (queen of the 2007 buzzword list) another step down the road to a total remix of commerce and philanthropy. As the president of one charitable gift card supplier noted last year, "“Philanthropy and commercial products are converging with each other...We’re offering a charity gift card as basically a commercial product.”

Of course, economic fear is driving a good part of the attention to both of these concepts, but those who care about these ideas are to be commended for being ready when the tide turned in their direction. Retail sales numbers for this coming Black Friday and Cyber Monday will reveal much about the general consumer mood, but I'm willing to bet that Good Gifting (which I also considered tagging as "frugal philanthropy." How about "thrift-anthropy?") and Charitable Gift Cards will definitely be the buzz for this giving season. Is there a Black Friday/Cyber Monday equivalent for Good Gifting? If one emerges, we'll note it here on the 2009 Buzzword list!

For those of you keeping score, here's the 2008 Buzzword list so far:
1) Mobile Giving,
2) Labs,
3) Outsourced Program Advising,
4) Design,
5) Micro -,
6) Good gifting and
7) Charitable gift cards.

Buzzwords 2008.8, 9 and 10 coming soon.....

Friday, November 21, 2008

Over in tech land, they're calling it the Econaclypse

In philanthropy, we seem to be still hoping and insisting that the current economic situation will not decrease giving.

In the land of tech geeks and business folks, however, some are now referring to this moment as the "econaclypse."

In the land of Nobel prize winning economists, Paul Krugman writes in today's New York Times
"At minimum, the next two months will inflict serious pain on hundreds of thousands of Americans, who will lose their jobs, their homes, or both. What’s really troubling, however, is the possibility that some of the damage being done right now will be irreversible....But nothing is happening on the policy front that is remotely commensurate with the scale of the economic crisis. And it’s scary to think how much more can go wrong before Inauguration Day."
Sadly, in San Francisco at least, the debate is over - giving is off here as reported in the local Business Times.

Seems like a bad time to ask a question I first wondered about last year - given the contraction in the newspaper business, won't we also experience a decrease in newspaper driven "Season of Sharing" giving?

I'm not enjoying banging the drum of gloom here, but I just don't see how we can look at the job losses, foreclosures, continuing credit contraction, a nationwide 25% increase in demand at food banks, and losses in the stock market and think that our charitable pockets are still jingling with cash.

I hope I am wrong. I don't think I will be.

The medium makes the matter matter

Two follow ups from earlier posts this week:

1) Yesterday I wrote this post on the Harvard Business Review article by Bradach, Tierney, and Stone, "Delivering on the Promise of Nonprofits," HBR, December 2008, pp 88 - 97. I've been deluged with emails saying that
  1. the points about overhead are obvious and have been made by many,
  2. people wishing they'd written the story,
  3. people asking how to get copy of it (um, buy the magazine?),
  4. people reinvigorating the debate about nonprofit overhead,
  5. people reinvigorating the argument about rating nonprofits, and so on.
This is great - though I wish these folks would post these as comments so you could join the discussion. (hint, hint :))

Here's my point - the medium (the HBR) matters in delivering this message. Witness previous HBR articles on venture philanthropy and foundation value - this magazine has an impressive role in elevating topics within this sector. So whether or not you agree with the authors, think their point is well known and obvious, or spurious and wrong - MY Point is that the story is in the HBR and the HBR matters.

2) Earlier in the week I posted this:
"The Alliance for Social Investing met on Tuesday. Here are some of my thoughts. 1) industry benchmarking data actually works to change institutional behavior - the Center For Effective Philanthropy and ICMA are proof of that. 2) There are a lot of efforts to measure performance and conduct due diligence in the philanthropic space. Some of them are really good, all of them could be better. Some ways that better might happen - industry leadership, open source experimentation, financial incentives, sharing ideas. Here are some of the measures, measurers, or intermediaries in this area, if anyone is building a list (and, please, someone, build and share the list or geologic table or evolutionary tree): New Philanthropy Capital, GiveWell,* Urban Institute, SocialMarkets, MissionMarkets, Venture Philanthropy Partners, Midot, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, SocialSolutions, Acumen Fund, Nonprofit Finance Fund, REDF, Center for What Works, and others. Look for an important paper on the philanthropic information markets coming on November 24 from the Hewlett Foundation."
The Alliance is only one effort looking at this - it has no formal home or position, may or may not continue, and recognizes it is part of a broader landscape of efforts, which I tried to note in the post. My list in the post includes many of the others out there, and, of course because list making off the top of my head is dangerous, I forgot some - like Keystone, Great Nonprofits and a whole bunch of others (Many of which I had noted in this July post on how hard it is to even list all these groups - ah the irony!) Not all those listed above were at the meeting, not all those at the meeting were listed - MY Point in the post was that there are a LOT of these efforts and at the very least we need
"... a list (and, please, someone, build and share the list or geologic table or evolutionary tree)".

I was immediately encouraged that we need more than a list - we need to assess the assessors, rate the raters, compare the comparers. I could not agree more - I wrote about this same need in July. And one more thing, The Hewlett Foundation paper, which is set for launch on Monday, is making the rounds big time already. Though I did not post it on Tuesday I'll post it here: I hope I don't lose credibility for "leaking this" ahead of schedule.

So, I hope this post clarifies my earlier posts. It is November 21 and I will never meet my NaNoWriMo goal. Especially if I have to have re-write for clarity the few words I am getting written this month. But, I'm getting a lot of reading done and taking comfort in posts like this about bad writing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Invest in good overhead"

"Invest in good overhead."

That is a direct quote from a Harvard Business Review article on "Delivering on the Promise of Nonprofits" that just arrived in my mailbox - the December 2008 issue, p 96. Available now in paper, not yet online.

Here are a few other key insights from the article:
"Realize that everything takes longer and costs more....Instead of placing appropriately sized bets on well-defined strategies, donors often spread too little money among too many recipients."

"....Philanthropy exists in a world without marketplace pressures....Nor do foundations go out of out of business because they miss their numbers...quite the contrary...mediocrity is easily perpetuated."
These insights are neither new nor groundbreaking. The debate over overhead costs has raged for years. Some may argue that market pressures are exactly what are needed and that they do exist, at least for some elements of philanthropy. What matters here is that these ideas are being featured in a leading piece in Harvard Business Review - which will matter to how they are perceived, how they are picked up by donors, and the heft they may begin to carry as ideas in the field.

"Delivering on the Promise of Nonprofits," Jeffrey Bradach, Thomas Tierney and Nan Stone, HBR, December 2008, pp 88 - 97.

Ohio's fast philanthropy

The Columbus Foundation launched PowerPhilanthropy in March of 2008 and moved hundreds of thousands of dollars in under an hour (I wrote about them in this Future Matters 2008.1). This week they beat their own record - on November 18 they used up their entire match fund in 34 minutes, processed 650 gifts in the first 17 minutes alone and 1,000 gifts in 40 minutes.

Their aim was to move $1 million to area nonprofits in 48 hours and they did so in less than 25 hours – to hundreds of nonprofits. One of their donors was a class of kindergarteners - the teacher called one the foundation once the challenge was launched, the foundation staff person walked them through the giving process on the phone and when the gift (to the Nature Conservancy) got through the system and was matched, the entire group of kindergartners cheered!

So now we know what the kids will do, what will you do?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Networks, metrics, levers, buzzwords

I'm nearing the end of my second to last multi-week road trip of 2008. Way too much travel... Need to go home... Can not think, let alone write, anymore... What follows are notes.
  • Way back in May I wrote about a paper on Working Wikily from the Packard Foundation. To their credit, they've built out a website (a wiki, duh) to continue the conversation. Check it out here. They've got some more to add to the ongoing discussion of Presidential campaigns and social networking; which, of course, some thinkers have already moved beyond.
  • If you need still more to get your social media/social change fix then take the Social Citizens Quiz - in the manner of good ole' prize philanthropy you can win some prizes by doing so.
  • The Alliance for Social Investing met on Tuesday. Here are some of my thoughts. 1) industry benchmarking data actually works to change institutional behavior - the Center For Effective Philanthropy and ICMA are proof of that. 2) There are a lot of efforts to measure performance and conduct due diligence in the philanthropic space. Some of them are really good, all of them could be better. Some ways that better might happen - industry leadership, open source experimentation, financial incentives, sharing ideas. Here are some of the measures, measurers, or intermediaries in this area, if anyone is building a list (and, please, someone, build and share the list or geologic table or evolutionary tree): New Philanthropy Capital, GiveWell,* Urban Institute, SocialMarkets, MissionMarkets, Venture Philanthropy Partners, Midot, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, SocialSolutions, Acumen Fund, Nonprofit Finance Fund, REDF, Center for What Works, and others. Look for an important paper on the philanthropic information markets coming on November 24 from the Hewlett Foundation.
  • A group of folks from the SoCap08 meeting have created a new Google group on social capital data - it is is called Think Social Impact and you can join it here. I would like to merge the group at Social Capital Data over to Think Social Impact - so please join the new group or move yourself from Soc-cap-data to Think Social Impact!
  • The Nonprofit Assistance Fund blog has a good collection of links and writing on nonprofits in down economic times. Find it here. Two invitation-only discussions of these issues will be happening soon, one in NY on Wednesday November 19 and the second in DC in December. I hope something will be made available to the public from these discussions.
  • Videos of the October SocialActions meeting are available here.
And now, some more pleas for help and a few "heads up" items:
  • I'm working on a paper on Giving Portfolios - if you have thoughts or resources to share with me, please do: Email me lucy [at] blueprintrd [dot] com or comment below.
  • It is past mid-November and I've only listed five buzzwords so far. They are 1) Mobile Giving, 2) Labs, 3) Outsourced Program Advising, 4) Design, and 5) Micro -. I'm holding onto numbers 9 and 10 until December - but help me out - what are buzzwords 2008.6, 2008.7 and 2008.8 going to be? Email me lucy [at] blueprintrd [dot] com or comment below. Please, don't make me offer a prize to get suggestions. And, no, Peter, "open philanthropic web" is not a buzzword for 2008. If Change the Web works, it might be in 2009...
*Full Disclosure: I participated in the Alliance meeting as an invited member. I stepped down from the GiveWell Board, effective October 2008. I know the authors and funders of the Working Wikily paper. I know executives at most of the organizations listed in the bullet about the Alliance.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wire your cause

cross posted from justmeans

In addition to bringing change to the White House, the Obama Presidential Campaign brought social media to the forefront of community activism. If you weren’t already a believer in the power of grassroots online community organizing before November 4th, you should be now.

Of course, Obama was running for President, so what do his formidable fundraising and community-building efforts mean for the rest of nonprofits or philanthropy? Well, in a word, everything. This post builds off a discussion about political campaigns, social media, and community philanthropy that started while the campaigns were still underway. That said, neither President-elect Obama’s transition team, nor you and your nonprofit or community, should put away the tools or their products. The election was not the end of social media as change tools. President-elect Obama has launched, where you post ideas, read about transition and administration plans, and stay involved. And the web is alive with recommendations on how the President should keep using the tools and the community to govern.

Having unleashed $660 million in support from three million individual givers (as well as tens of millions of votes from tens of millions of voters), the campaign clearly demonstrated its ability to mobilize. Its podcasts, Flickr tools, facebook pages, organizing tools for house parties, text messages, 30 minute TV shows, twitter feeds, and daily email feeds set a standard that will be required of campaigns to come. Through all 20+ months of this, I personally only experienced a single technological snafu, when a neighborhood group organized for Obama accidentally sent an email with the “old reply all” function enabled. There was a flood of email outrage over about a 4 hr period, 100 or so erroneous and duplicative emails, and then it was over. “Delete Selected” took care of the problem on my end. Think about it– nearly two years of multi-platform daily contact reaching millions of people and only one email glitch – wow.

Tom Watson’s book, CauseWired, was released earlier this month. The book is a must read for nonprofits, community organizers, social entrepreneurs and advocates looking for motivation and examples of social media at work. The book reads much like Watson’s blog of the same name and he has pulled together a coherent narrative of the rapid rise of social media and social causes. My favorite part of the book is Watson’s take on the relationships between “old” and “new” philanthropy – an argument or title that usually sends me screaming from the room. But Watson gets it right – to put it simply, the TV didn’t kill radio, and these two forms – which are ever co-evolving – are interdependent and dynamically linked.

Now, I’m always a little skeptical of arguments that pin major change on a single event, and so I’m not going to totally buy into Watson’s chapters on how Hurricane Katrina was the birth of social media in the social space. The book also misses out on the role of games as tools for social change and comes up short on the mobile revolution we are in the midst of right now. True testament to how useful and relevant CauseWired really is? The book is just now out and its already time for CauseWired 2.0. It’s a good thing Watson has a blog.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Read these winning stories about Encore careers - these are people who changed their careers and are changing lives. Worth a read. These folks really raise the bar on questions of giving more or less - they're giving their all.

I'm in the midst of Mark Freedman's book "Encore" and will have a review soon.

Change The Web 2009

Here I was, thinking about my 2008 end of year predictions and the last few buzzwords for the year when I get a tweet from Peter Deitz and - the next thing I know - its January 2009. Well not really, but it is in Peter's world. The new SocialActions website is live and the "change the web" challenge will be announced in January.

What's the point? Making it easy to take action. Putting action wherever the people are. Letting you be a "click away" from volunteering, giving, petitioning, or any other kind of social action whenever you are online, on your mobile phone, or just about anywhere. Making the web into the philanthropic web. Now that gives another meaning to cross-platform philanthropy. All this "easy" may just help people give.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From donor to user

I am on the road so watching more TV than usual. The ad campaign for The Salvation Army is eerie, spectral, and moving. The concern expressed by SA leaders that the current economic times may be turning some donors to the organization into users of its services is sad, but in line with my sense of things and with what some food banks in the Bay Area are also noting.

Mobile Blogging from here.

What will you do?

Beth Kanter has a great post about MatchDay, The Columbus Foundation's great use of social media to inspire giving. Beth also asks the key question, (and I paraphrase) "Ask not what your community can do for you, ask what you can do for community."

She notes several examples of individuals digging deeper to give more this giving season. I'm all for it. I hope it happens. I'm doing my best, are you?

But what I want to happen and what I hear is happening are two different things. Since this post and this coverage in the NY Times I've been veritably deluged with emails, tweets, phone calls and hallway conversations with folks who say "my giving is down."

Yesterday, in an all day meeting with three dozen public foundation representatives, the universal sense was that giving was going down from at least one key source of support - individual donors. Layoffs at the Komen Foundation and two other smaller organizations as a result of smaller budgets were the sotto voce topic in the hallways between sessions.

I was hoping to find some real-time data on nonprofit employment statistics to get a closer sense of this. I'm guessing that most nonprofit jobs are classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics within "service providing," possibly within the subcategory "education and health services." The bigger category dropped only a 108 jobs from September to October and the narrower category actually added 21 jobs - see preliminary data below from BLS. (p = preliminary data)
| | | | | |
Nonfarm employment.......| 137,699|p137,371| 137,423|p137,139|p136,899| p-240
Goods-producing (1)....| 21,565| p21,363| 21,367| p21,284| p21,152| p-132
Construction ........| 7,242| p7,148| 7,153| p7,118| p7,069| p-49
Manufacturing .......| 13,563| p13,428| 13,426| p13,370| p13,280| p-90
Service-providing (1)..| 116,134|p116,008| 116,056|p115,855|p115,747| p-108
Retail trade (2)...| 15,337| p15,269| 15,275| p15,230| p15,192| p-38
Professional and | | | | | |
business services .| 17,980| p17,858| 17,854| p17,815| p17,770| p-45
Education and health | | | | | |
services ..........| 18,823| p18,971| 18,997| p18,981| p19,002| p21
Leisure and | | | | | |
hospitality .......| 13,683| p13,637| 13,639| p13,618| p13,602| p-16
Government ..........| 22,439| p22,496| 22,514| p22,473| p22,496| p23
I'm using common sense here, which may be wrong. Please let me know if 1) my analysis above is flawed and 2) if there is a better, readily available source of employment data in the nonprofit/philanthropic space - and we can add employment in the sector to the growing list of key indicators we need to track. Even if my approach above is accurate, it won't give us a lens on social enterprise, public agency, or CSR jobs.

But what I really want to point out is a fine distinction that we need to consider when we look at philanthropic giving. Is the money coming from "already committed" philanthropic sources or is it "charitable choice giving?" I'd qualify "already committed" philanthropy as the following - gifts from foundations, even at increased payout rates, gifts from donor advised funds, gifts from trusts, etc. The trade-off being made on these dollars is growth for the future or giving now. That's a tough trade-off for sure, and its why you see some foundations projecting lower grant budgets for 2009 and others saying they'll be growing or spending more. We may even see a bump in giving from donor advised funds - donors may well look around and say "today's needs matter more than growing this pool." That is wonderful - but remember the tradeoff doesn't hurt the donor, he or she has already given that money.

The other category, "charitable choice giving" contains money that is either going to go to charity or its going to pay for food, heat, gas, rent, savings, entertainment, or other daily expenses. The trade off here is keenly felt by the actual donor - to give the money, he or she may have to give up something else. Now, we don't have data on this distinction (or do we?) and will no doubt need to rely on surveys and interviews and anecdotes. Beth's post, and this survey from PayPal, are encouraging -- lots of folks are definitely "choosing charity." And this is a choice we each make and can encourage others to as well.

But, it isn't what I'm hearing in the hallways.

Predicting pandemics with search engines

Google has realized that it might be able to predict flu outbreaks by monitoring search patterns. To see what they see check out Google Flu Trends.

This is an example of the kind of disruptive innovation that becomes possible when you see new information or old information in new ways. Great potential for viewing philanthropic capital.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New York Times Giving Section

Today's New York Times features the annual giving section. The front page of the section (in the old paper version)* includes articles by David Cay Johnston, Joe Nocera and Stephanie Strom. Johnston and Nocera are two of my favorite current and former columnists. Strom takes on the unenviable task of trying to nail down the economy's impact on giving. Her story leads with quotes from yours truly.

Now you've all heard me say this before but it bears repeating - philanthropy will not cut it as a market, marketplace, industry, what-have-you as long as reporters like Strom, experts like those cited from IUPUI and analysts/pundits like me have to guess/estimate/postulate/suppose about real-time data on capital flow in the sector. Sure, we'll all get data from GivingUSA and The Foundation Center next June and then again in June 2010 that will actually tell us what is or is not happening now. Not good enough - we need to be able to track giving flow.

So how can we do this? Here are some ideas:
There are lots of other ways we can solve this problem. If you have some, please share them with me in the comments. Information and data matter. Giving flows are the "lifeblood" of philanthropy - we ought to be able to track them.

*I just got a Kindle and it changing how I read, where I read, when I read, and what I do with all the stuff I read. Here's what I need - a way to connect my Kindle highlights/notes to my twitter feed - stay tuned.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Donations and tax deductions

This photo is from a window in my neighborhood.

So here's my question about the RNC, Governor Palin and the $150,000 worth of clothes she says she "... never forced anybody to buy." When she donates them to charity, will she claim the tax deduction?

Friday, November 07, 2008

South and North of the US

(image from moveon - stickers available)

I was in Mexico just days before the US Presidential election. Everyone I met was concerned about the upcoming election and double-checked that I was planning to get home in time to vote (I was and I did).

Today I’m on en route to Montreal. I can’t wait to talk with Canadian and European colleagues about the election results.


Monday, November 03, 2008


One way of understanding philanthropy is to see it as a regulated industry - that is a basic premise of my writing, my work, my thinking, this blog. Regulation exists in the realm of policy, policy exists in the realm of politics, participation is a core piece of politics and policy (in a democracy). That is my justification for dedicating this post to encouraging you to vote. That and the fact that today is election day and because I can. According to certain economists, in some places voting "may be equivalent to giving $30,000 - $50,000 to others in expected value and as such is an extremely efficient form of charity."

I recently read in GOOD Magazine that some ridiculous percentage of college students said they would give up their right to vote for an Apple Ipod Touch. Ouch.

Then I received a newsletter from the Ford Foundation that included the incredible chart below (don't let the list length full you - the USA is number 139 in voter participation). Ouch.

On the other hand, we've seen incredible increases in voter registration in the US this year, unprecedented turnout in the primaries, and enduring interest in the longest Presidential campaign ever. So make the most of it. Get out and vote. Share your experiences and observations of the process via twitter - as part of the new and cool twittervotereport project. It is a right and a responsibility. Please vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Buckminister Fuller Award and Jury

One of the first famous people I ever heard about was Buckminster Fuller - my dad is a fan of his work. So the 2009 Buckminster Fuller Challenge seemed to rate a mention. You can get a sense of the challenge's goals just by reading about the jurors. They include:

ADAM BLY, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Seed magazine and Seed Media Group, winner of the 2006 Independent Press Award for Best Science and Technology Coverage;
JAMAIS CASCIO, Co-founder,; Scenario Design Lead for Superstruct, the “massively multiplayer forecasting game;”
EDIE FARWELL, Program Director of the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows Program of the Sustainability Institute, which aims to apply systems thinking and organizational learning t o economic, environmental and social challenges;
HELENA NORBERG-HODGE, Founder and director, International Society for Ecology and Culture; Co-founder, International Forum on Globalization;
JOHN AND NANCY JACK TODD (serving as a team), John Todd is a celebrated ecological designer and winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Nancy Jack Todd is an author and the editor of Annals of Earth.
GREG WATSON, founded the Dudley Street Initiative, served as Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture, and currently serves as senior advisor to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Two things I like about this challenge: one, you can read about past entries to spark your imagination. View these by visiting the Idea Index. Second, you can watch a movie about the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Entries to the challenge are due by midnight, EDT, on November 7, 2008.