Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Final Buzzword List - 2009.8, 9, and 10

With less than 48 hours left in 2009 it is time to post up the final three buzzwords of the year. Here they are, in reverse order, as well as numbers 1 -7.

Numbers 8, 9, and 10 were officially announced on Marketplace:

Buzzword 2009.10 Impact Investing
Partly a term of art, partly a new form of putting money to work for social good, and all in all the most well-orchestrated, capitalize-on-a-moment and drive it ahead movement in philanthropy/social investing. Pay attention- Impact Investing is here to stay.

Buzzword 2009.9 B Corporations
I've written plenty about B Corporations in the past. The numbers are still relatively small - several hundred with a combined market cap of $1 billion - but the trend really matters. New corporate forms for accomplishing social good will be a big force in the years to come. B Corporations are also the only buzzword to be nominated twice - also showing up as number 9 in 2007.

Buzzword 2009.8 Mergers
We haven't seen these yet in the numbers that were predicted at the end of 2008. But the sector talked about about them, considered them, funded them, and started to make them happen in 2009. The low numbers may be more an artifact of the reporting cycle than the activity. And we'll see plenty in 2010.

Buzzword 2009.7 Taxonomy
This might have been my personal favorite buzzword of the year - as it was definitely the wonkiest. For those of you who don't traffic in test-prep vocabulary, a taxonomy is "the practice and science of classification," or, as I like to think of it, a taxonomy is a way of organizing stuff. Some taxonomies we use all the time and don't think about them. Without taxonomies, none of the other big ideas - measuring, aggregating, timing, ranking, diversifying, collaborating - that might improve social action and philanthropy are possible.

Buzzword 2009.6 Maps
This year saw maps everywhere - Philanthropy Insight, Kiva, Changemakers - you name it, if there were data involved there were maps involved.

Buzzword 2009.5 Charity Challenge

This year the buzz is all about charity challenges. Think Chase Community Giving, America's Giving Challenge, and the upcoming Pepsi events. These challenges tend to be some form of matching grant - based fundraising opportunity that uses blogs, twitter, widgets, online video and every other possible web-based communications tool.

Buzzword 2009.4 Leverage
In philanthropy the idea of leverage is about using dollars from Pot A to access dollars from Pot B. If a donor puts in $1 and, in so doing, attracts another $1 to the issue or organization, that is a good thing. Leverage is at the root of matching grants, NPR pledge drives, giving circles, pooled grant making funds, social venture philanthropy, affinity groups, and lots of other things that are now common concepts for both donors and foundations.

Buzzword 2009.3 Pipeline
There are two pipelines drawing buzz these days - one is seemingly void of people and the other is seemingly void of funding. The pipeline for new leaders and the pipeline of new funding opportunities are both the topic of great discussion.

Buzzword 2009.2 Sidecar Fund
2009 was the year private foundations officially went into the business of managing "sidecar funds." In the angel investing or venture capital worlds sidecar funds are those that "ride along side" major investments. The idea is to leverage (another buzzword) the due diligence, investment and monitoring that has gone into a primary investment.

For donors these options might be very enticing - high quality expertise on both the investment and grantmaking side at lower cost than other vendors in the market. For the foundations, this offers one way to "leverage other people's money" directly - manage it and give it away.

Buzzword 2009.1 - "move the needle"
The first buzzword of 2009 came in via twitter, from the #cof09 conference. To quote @QuixoteTilts: "Move the needle," official cliché of #cof09. Replaces "sea change" after a record-breaking run." Need I say anything more? Except to note that a shift from sea change to needle moving might be read as the downsizing of expectations....or at least hyperbole.

My next post will be a review of my 2009 predictions. And since the "in" thing to do this new year is not just ring out 2009 but ring out the whole decade of the 00s, I'll also look back at some trends I discussed in 1999. I had the great privilege of writing a paper in 1999 called Foundations for the Future that was published by USC. I also got a chance in 2006 to look back at the paper several years on. I was invited to do so again in January 2010 at a USC event but I can't make it because of calendar commitments. So I'll offer up my thoughts here on the blog and pass them on to the USC folks that way. Stay tuned and have a happy and healthy 2010!

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Research on Online Giving Marketplaces

I am delighted to share some new research - including a spreadsheet of data and an analytic memo - on online giving markets. The research was done by David Koken, a Coro fellow, while he was working at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Let's get the caveats out of the way right up front, as the report and database state:
“This report was researched and written by David Koken, a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, as a project for the Hewlett Foundation’s Philanthropy department. This work was discussed and overseen by the Hewlett Foundation; however, the final product does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation or its staff.”
The research looks at 55 websites that provide users with information and/or transactional capacity (gift making) for charitable activity. All of the information in the report was gleaned from public pages on the sites and an email survey (14 of 50 respondents).

Here is the Report on Scribd:

Nonprofit Marketplace Report (D Koken)

Here is the report on Google Docs:

The 55 sites are divided into three categories: information, investments, and donations.

The first type (10 sites) provides information only - transactions are not facilitated through the site. The second type (7 sites) allows for investments seeking both financial and social/environmental returns and the third type (50 sites) facilitate charitable donations only. The sites were categorized by primary and secondary functions (explaining the double categorization) since most of the investment and donation sites also provide information.

This categorization alone is useful and confirms our claim in the Disrupting Philanthropy paper that these markets are - individually and in the aggregate - important new information features in the giving ecosystem. SocialActions knows this best - working collaboratively to pull data from some of these sites (and others) to create a cloud of mixable actions.

While 55 sites were studied, 10 of the sites accounted for 80% of the traffic. These ten are compared according to several characteristics, ranging from the type of data they provide, to site functionality (user comments, social networking) to geographic/issue specificity.

The database is also available. Here you can find out more about each of the platforms, including the type of listings they offer (project, cause, organization), the geographic focus, and what types of data are provided for each listing. I'm including two links to the database because the spreadsheet formatting got a little funky.

Here is the database on Scribd:

The Online Giving Platform Database (D Koken)

Here is the database on Google Docs.

So have a look at the database and the report. You may find something in the data that is more interesting than any of the tidbits I pulled out - if so, please let me know. (Comment below or twitter @p2173 or to The Hewlett Foundation @Hewlett_Found). If you tweet me I may repost your tweet as a comment. You may disagree with some of the findings, or wish that they'd collected different information, or have other input on the database - please let us know.

What do you think about the proliferation of these sites? I wish the database included year of founding so we could look for rates of formation (and, eventually, rates of closure). What other data about the identified sites are missing? Do you agree with the "comprehensive" quotient that aggregates the features counted? Is there a better way to think about rating these sites? Given the number of sites, how does a user know which one to use?

Do you think 55 sites is too few or too many? Are there important sites that were overlooked? (I know there are sites missing from the database because if you sit still for 10 minutes new sites pop up and it took me 10 minutes to write this post). Will this research encourage new site developers to do something else, do something different, do something better? How many of the 55 sites can sustain themselves?

Do geographies or issues benefit from having their own sites or are general sites appropriate? What is key to distinguishing these sites from each other? Does the fragmentation that 55 sites represents speak to possibilities for cross-platform data analysis as we predict in Disrupting Philanthropy?

At another level, what do you think of a foundation sharing its raw data collection in this way? What are some uses for the data and report? Will existing sites use it? Those who are thinking of creating new sites? Innovators looking for the next opportunity on the information landscape? Other funders? What other examples are you aware of where foundations have commissioned something like this and then put it out into public domain for general use? What about doing it through a 3rd party (me, in this case)?

Here's my read on all of the above: this experience - being asked by Hewlett to share the data, reading the research and reflecting on it, and thinking about the role of this blog in the philanthropy information ecosystem.

1) Hats off to Hewlett for sharing this information - doing so fits with their well-publicized talk about improving philanthropy; their increasing openness on their own web site, sharing logic models, grant applications and the like; and their recognition that the data they collect for their own purposes may well be useful to others (After all, knowledge is a philanthropic resource too).

2) The data we collect reflect the questions we were asking. So you may well have other questions about the market of online giving marketplaces that these data don't answer. But now you have a starting place from which to move ahead. For all of those folks who've approached me over the last several months and years with their idea for the "next great" online marketplace for donors, I really hope you will use these data as baseline market research.

3) This may prompt other data sharing. There is other research on these markets - some of which is public, some of which has not been shared.

4) What does sharing this info through philanthropy2173 mean? I was honored to be offered the chance and saw it as fitting right in with what I use this blog for - sharing information, asking questions, playing with ideas, getting feedback, and making sense of (or at least tracking) data points, patterns, and trends. But what do you think it means, if anything?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Innovations in Embedded Giving...and an Idea about Ideas

Once upon a time I thought my writing about #embeddedgiving would come to an end. Ah, youth. So long as its proponents keep on pushing it, I guess I'll keep being asked about it.

The most recent inquiries, however, have actually led to some really interesting conversations. For example, this post on "unbundling embedded giving" was prompted by two efforts to disconnect shopping from charitable contributions. To literally promote the latter at the expense of the former. A story also ran on Sunday in The New York Times on the WhatIDidNotBuy site. In response to the NYT story, I received the following email (I don't know the sender):

"Ms. Bernholz,
I read your name in an article on the New York Times web site which discussed the site: This article plus another article about gift cards and the millions of unspent dollars left in partially used cards gave me the idea that charities ought to be able to tap that source of money. If gift cards came with an option to allow the holders to send the left-overs to a charity, I think lots of people would take that option rather than give the money back to the retailer.

According to Ron Lieber's article in the NYT, nearly five billion dollars of gift card money will go unspent this year. That money reverts to the retailers. When someone gets a card worth $100 and uses it to purchase an item worth $95 dollars, then the left-over money most likely will languish for a time then eventually revert to the retailer or the issuer of the card. If there were a quick and easy way to donate the left-over money, then card users might do that rather than give it to the store. I know I would gladly do that. I currently have a gift card from The North Face. I used a portion of the value to purchase a jacket. What to do with the remaining amount of money (15 to 20 dollars) is hard to imagine as there is nothing in the North Face store at that price. So I would love to see that money go to a good cause.

I'm sure the retailers and banks would strenuously resist such a change but I'll bet there would be lots of support from other quarters.

Sincerely yours,

Tom Ormond"

This is an interesting idea. Theoretically, the leftover amount on the cards could be tracked and added up - which would possibly address one of my biggest issues with embedded giving - that we don't know how much money goes to charity. As Tom notes, the idea will surely have its detractors. OK - let's here from them - and from those of you who like the idea and can push it a little bit further, refine it, improve it and point out other ways it might work. (Please comment below, tweet about it to @p2173 or email me). Tom's idea reminds me of an effort in the Bay Area, where leftover BART tickets each with a nickel or dime left on them ("Tiny Tickets") can be donated through the East Bay Community Foundation to nonprofits in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. An example of seeing treasure in trash.

I love that Tom saw an opportunity for innovation by thinking across two domains. I appreciate that he shared the idea with me and then gave me the go-ahead to post the idea here for all of you to consider. I am proud of the fact that several ideas first floated on this blog are now moving ahead: including the Project on Policy in the Social Economy, the Peer-Review for Nonprofits,* and the Impact Investing Index. Each one of those was a half-baked idea that received a certain amount of interest or direct expressions of support or collaboration and are now moving forward in one way or another. Without intending it to do so, this blog has begun to serve like a Kickstarter for philanthropic ideas (without offering any money - smile).

I am even more excited to present Tom's suggestion here, since it wasn't my idea. Wouldn't it be cool if there was a place we could share, vet, improve, and co-develop ideas for improving giving and nonprofits right out in the open? An Innocentive-esque site or wiki or whatever? Sort of like an ongoing Great American Hack-a-Thon for Good. With real innovation brainstorming meetings happening every now and then. Now that would be "working wikily." So there you have it - another idea to consider. Or make happen....

*Listen in on San Francisco public radio KALW 91.7 at 7 pm Monday Dec 14 or streaming at CityVisions Radio for a discussion with Stacy Palmer of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Rob Reich of Stanford (Author of "Anything Goes: Approval of Nonprofit Status by the IRS") and me, talking about the number of nonprofits, the peer-review proposal, and other issues in philanthropy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Unbundling embedded giving

(Photo by z287marc, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Just today I learned of the newest riff on embedded giving - call it "unbundled." Here are the two examples, brought to my attention by two different reporters.

BRAC USA introduces What I Did Not Buy which allows you to enter in the price of some thing you might have bought (shoes, music, clothing, a sports car) and find out what the same amount of money, donated to BRAC, would pay for. It's clever, though the little text boxes next to the heartwarming pictures of "what it would buy" are very web1.0 for such a 2010 concept site.

The second example comes from AmeriCares and is - playfully - called Send Your Mother In Law To Darfur. Same basic concept as What I Did Not Buy, with a snarkier name but more boring website. It is one big web form.

What I like about these sites is their clarity of purpose*: they are very clearly fundraising sites for the two organizations, BRAC USA and AmeriCares. The shopping references are schtick - they are not trying to hide anything, fool anyone, or slip a gift into a pair of socks or add it onto your bar bill. Its a donation, clear and simple. And worth it.

On Twitter earlier today I referred to this evolution in Hollywood-ese, as follows:
Love Child of "Buy Less Crap" + "Redefine Christmas" = What I Did Not Buy"
For those who haven't been drowning in this discussion for as long as I have, Buy Less Crap was an Anti-RED campaign website from a year or so back, pointing out to folks that buying is not the same as giving. Redefine Christmas was an ad campaign funded by a foundation in Connecticut that encouraged people to focus on the non-materialistic elements of the season. It is now a website collaboration between JustGive and Changing the Present where you can ask for a charitable gift instead of a necktie or ugly sweater.

These new sites play on our market-driven cultural assumptions that link shopping to giving and then ask you to "unbundle" them. They are in some ways an antidote to embedded giving. In their explicit reminders of the "one pocket" from which most of us do our shopping/giving/saving/investing they also provide a retail view of the same concepts driving Impact Investing and the social capital markets - the message is this, "I've got one small pile of cash, I want to use to further my values, I can do that in how I shop, what I give, and how I invest."

*I was about to call this clarity of purpose "honesty" when I realize they are playing similar games with the "donor illusion" concept that Kiva, Heifer International, etc are dealing with. They don't claim your $50 will go to a particular kid or cow, however, they make it very clear they are dealing in dollar amount equivalents. At least it is clear to me, but then I also knew how Kiva worked....

Related note - please read the discussion (and follow up and comments) on @Bill_easterly's blog about the RED Campaign. FINALLY, some research and real discussion of the complicated relationships between concepts such as sustainable social enterprises, transparency, and accountability.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook launches Foundation. Or not.

On the same day that it unleashed new default privacy settings on its hundreds of millions of users I learned that Facebook has also launched a foundation to address online privacy issues. Ironically (or not) the foundation results from a lawsuit against the company about...wait for it...privacy issues.

Ethan Zuckerman's blog points out several additional layers of irony about the situation. These include the decreased level of privacy the company seems to be offering in its new suggested privacy settings. Also in the irony column - you have to opt out of the class in the class action lawsuit (which was about opting out versus opting in).

I'll stick to philanthropy ironies - this one pointed out by a digital media lawyer (David D. Johnson who blogs at Digital Media Lawyer Blog:
"Rather, this sum is to be used to help "Facebook . . . form and establish" a non-profit "Privacy Foundation", to fund projects that promote the cause of online privacy, safety and security. While the foundation is to be a separate entity, Facebook gets to nominate one and gets equal say on the nomination of the second of the three members on the foundation board of directors....
What a deal! Facebook is already required by law to promote the online privacy, safety and security of its users' information.
So Facebook effectively gets most of its money back to fund projects that it is already has an obligation to perform. [emphasis added]"
Another irony - while the lawsuit was settled in September 2009 I can't find any sign on the Internet that the foundation yet exists. Lots of legal blogs explain what the Foundation is court-ordered to do, but I don't find data trails that it has been established yet. So Internet time may apply to product launches, but doesn't seem to apply to creating Internet-fueled, legally mandated foundations. (If I'm wrong about this, the foundation does exist, and I just failed to find it online, please let me know). I won't even get into the irony of setting up a new foundation focused on Internet privacy rather than directing the money to any one or a combination of the existing nonprofits that already do that work. Bah humbug.

This sum to the foundation, by the way, is a little more than $6 million, not the full $9.5 million that was ordered to settle the case. The missing $3.5 million goes to the lawyers, the claim administrators and a small sum (really small, $46,000 divided by 19) goes to the plaintiffs.

Probably because the dollar amount is relatively small, this philanthropic buyout has not stirred as much animosity as some other recent donations. But I wonder if we may be entering a phase of philanthropic backlash.....?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Disrupting Philanthropy

Finally - the "technology paper" I've been working on all year is ready to go live! (Draft 2.0, that is) Thanks for your patience. Those of you who requested copies should have received them via email over the weekend.

Anyone else who is interested can read the document (and download and print it) here and below. If you tweet about it please use hashtag #DisruptPhil (I forgot to add this at first, oops!)

For those of you just tuning in, the paper is about the following:
  • The point: data are the new platform for change. They will continue to fundamentally alter how philanthropic capital flows.
  • The changes are not about the digital technologies that allow access, or about the data themselves. They are about the expectations and behaviors they unleash.*
  • These changes, coupled with changes in the public and private sectors, are pushing a transition to a "social economy" made up of interdependent public, private and philanthropic capital and creators of social goods.
  • All of these changes are not an end of a story, they are simply the beginning.
  • Philanthropy is an industry of passion and volunteerism in which collusion should be encouraged. It may not change in the same way, at the same speed, or driven by the same forces as the newspaper or music industries or the public sector.
Blog posts about it can be found (in order) here, here and here.

We'll be hosting an invitation-only seminar about the document in February and then revising and publishing a final(ish)* version. We don't have the budget to invite you all to the meeting, so my colleagues from Duke and I hope you will download, read, share, and comment on the paper.

Please do so in the comments below, via email to lucy [at] blueprintrd [dot] com, or on twitter at @p2173. All of the input is valued - those of you who read early, early drafts will notice (I hope) the depth and impact of your insights in this new version.

If you tweet about it please use hashtag #DisruptPhil (I forgot to add this at first, oops!)

*Does anything get finished anymore? In this age of crowdsourced rapid prototyping of ideas, it feels like writing has become a series of conversations - draft - conversation - draft. But we'll call the post - February version final. Ideas and improvements and iterations after that will have to take on a new name.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Philanthropy with an attitude

Spotted the sweatshirt below on Dan at the Stanford Coffee House. Apparently this event, Charity Fashion Show, (VIDEO - turn down the volume or turn the monitor away before clicking if you are in an uptight office or a place with children) was started by an undergrad at Stanford last year and has proven rather successful. Or at least that is what Dan told me.

It is attention grabbing.

I've got nothing more to say about it other than Thanks, Dan, for letting me interrupt your lunch and grab the photo.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A little bit on a lot of things

I've been at the FasterCures PartneringForCures* meeting since Tuesday (with a side trip to DC) and even with free inflight wifi I can't keep up. So this blog post is going to romp across several things that have crossed my mind in the last few days.

First - FasterCures' PartneringForCures conference - this is a first ever meeting of all of the financial players that influence medical disease research - individual donors, foundations, nonprofits, several government agencies from a few countries, universities, researchers, biotech, pharmaceutical companies. It was a matchmaking-fest, an idea-mosh pit and the biggest complaint I heard was "not enough time." What I think is important about these organizations is that no one fits in one box - the foundation may well be seeking to invest funds from its endowment in the biotech company, the company may be looking for academic researchers with the next big idea, and the individuals are being pitched by everyone - foundations, nonprofits, VC firms, you name it. It's money chasing ideas chasing money chasing results. Chaotic yes, but also full of great information, current events (health care reform anyone? OK how about breaking news on cancer screening recommendations?) and scrappy startups talking to eminence grise docs and researchers.

I've been involved with FasterCures for several years now and have learned an extraordinary amount from the medical disease foundations. The primary sense I pick up whenever I am around these folks is their sense of urgency - their work does focus on life or death issues, even as they engage in funding risky research that could be 20 years from "academic bench to pharmacy shelf." The cross-sector deliberations here, the hallways meetings, the partnering opportunities, the pitch sessions, the mix of capital providers and idea people - this was a conference with an energy rush that wasn't coming from the bottomless coffee pots but from the participants and the panelists. It may be a formula for other sectors to try.

Second - My role at PartneringForCures was to speak on a panel about return on philanthropy. Lucky me, I got to do this the day the the conversation about high hanging metrics finally changed. As GiveWell, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, GreatNonprofits and Philanthropedia urged the public to forego their reliance on the low hanging and "meaningless" overhead cost ratio, Philanthropy Action summed up the opportunity to be smarter about charitable choices.

Meanwhile, my panel of foundation executives, venture capitalists, and donors talked about the current wave in metrics. Has anyone else noticed that we've shifted dramatically from a conversation about "should we measure" to "how to measure" to "which portfolio of metrics matters most in our case?" Whether its Acumen Fund's BACO ratio, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy's Cost per Impact, REDF's SROI, Keystone's Constituency Voice tools, or J-PAL's economic studies or any of the tools and methods now listed in the Foundation Center's TRASI database - the tools are out there. The shift away from overhead cost is made possible because we reached beyond it - to more nuanced metrics - developed by nonprofits and funders - that measure multiple meaningful actions. It may still be a challenge to make them widely known, expand their use, and move toward common frameworks or benchmarks - but it is no longer a case of "should we measure and, if so, how?"

Third - it is not a coincidence that we've moved toward these higher order tools as large data sets have moved online and into public access spaces, as technology and info graphics have made data geeks of us all, and as market-based investing moves ever more dramatically into financing the production and distribution of social goods. My December 1 Marketplace interview highlighted 3 philanthropy buzzwords of 2009 - impact investing, B Corporations, and mergers. All of which reveal the breadth of market thinking in philanthropic circles.

That we've reached this place where we are having fundamentally different conversations about metrics than we were just a few years ago shows how iterative these forces are - technology lets us store and access more data. Market innovation calls for more data. Transparency advocates call for more data. More data lets us ask harder questions of the data and deploy more technological solutions (data visualization anyone?) of the data we have, which in turn begets more calls for more data. Many months ago I was convinced that data are the new platform for change. I'm even more convinced now.

Fourth - thanks to everyone who has commented on the crowdsourcing idea I offered up for gathering community input into the nonprofit approval process. The comments are well worth the read, and the conversation was continued on at least one other blog, The Artful Manager. What I love about the discussion is the real feedback - some argue with the idea, some have extended it much further than I had originally, and others offered up existing analogs from the Phillippines and Belgium. I'm still most interested in thinking about if, and how, crowdsourcing expertise about community needs could be used at the front end of the nonprofit approval process. Could panels of human service providers from the west coast provide comment on a "needs statement" amendment to the 501c3 application from a proposed new organization on the east coast? Could local donors, foundations, community foundations, and government funders share their databases of local organizations with nonprofit-to-be startups in some useful way? Could community needs "reviews" be one factor among several that would be considered necessary for proposing a new organization, extending the IRS's reach to include community voice and support somehow? I've learned lots from all the commenters and twitterers - thanks for jumping in!

Finally, the above "idea" - or at least the problem and its possible solutions - is one of many things I plan to be thinking through at length in both of my new very exciting gigs. I'll be working at Stanford University as a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, hoping to make the idea for a global policy network into reality. I'm also working on a new book (one of two) as part of my fellowship with the New America Foundation.

The book feeds the policy project in terms of illuminating some of the complexity of how this now happens and the policy project will feed the book. My continued work at Blueprint and your feedback on ideas on this blog feed all of it. With New America and Stanford we will plan several events/salons/discussions/mashups of these ideas as they progress - so please send me ideas, forums where it might help to include this work, or resources that might be useful to this kind of thinking. I'll make sure to announce the public discussions on the blog so you can join us if you are in the area (Bay Area or DC, most likely) and interested.

*I serve on the organizational review board for FasterCures Philanthropy Advisory Service.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Making list of lists on futures of social sector

("Lost Horizon," Photo by tipiro, Flickr, Creative Commons)

It is definitely list time again. Here is a list of lists on the future of the social sector:

On the Foreign Policy blog, Michele Fugiel writes about philanthropy in the year 2048:
"History and culture affect how philanthropy is done and conceived of in different countries. What is interesting is watching the rise of social enterprise in areas where western philanthropy isn’t already entrenched. Like the leapfrog of mobile phone technology over dial-up, we are starting to see how new social innovation practices leapfrog over traditional philanthropy in developing countries."
For an article coming out in December, The Chronicle of Philanthropy used twitter to collect these insights at #nonprofit2010:
"Many more startups in 2010"

"people moving away from big charities, finding smaller charities that live online with better fdbk & giving 2 them instead"
Back in September I had asked twitter/email/blog folks about the most important single issue facing the sector in 2010 and you all generated a list that included:
"Economic recovery will take longer to reach the hardest hit, lowest income folks, and their continued (perhaps even rising) needs for basic services and urgent assistance in 2010 will force the field to innovate new ways to fulfill our persistent role of relieving immediate suffering. New ideas for doing so will spread, like the special "safety net funds" that community foundations have started this year."
Nonprofit local has a list of 20+ predictions, including this from the comments:
"Growth in merger talk and progression: The opportunities seem ever more real and necessary. Linked to this is an uptick in outsourcing or at least the initial steps of combining back office efforts."
Enjoy! And if you know of more lists of predictions, ideas, thoughts, insights on the future of nonprofits, the social sector, philanthropy, social innovation - please add them in the comments and we'll make the list of all lists.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Media coverage of Philanthropy2173

Just released video from SoCap 2009:

Heads up - the 2009 Marketplace Philanthropy Buzzwords will air on December 1, 2009.

Here's the 2008 Marketplace piece


here's the 2007 Marketplace piece.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Peer review nonprofits - a proposal

How often have you heard the complaint "There are too many nonprofits?" This is one of those issues - like politics and religion - that can be so divisive that you don't want to talk about it with certain relatives at certain holiday meals.

Is it true? Those who think it is say things like this, "In 1975 there were 220,000 organizations filing 990 forms with the IRS; in 1995 there were more than 1.2 million; and in 2005 there were more than 1.8 million." Ironically, the creation of new nonprofits is one place where growth in numbers is often met with derision, whereas growth in other enterprises is touted as a sign of progress and societal health.

But how are those numbers calculated, how many of those organizations are functioning past their filing, how do those numbers compare to populations and needs? How would we know if more is too many? Isn't it really a question of "Do we have an adequate set of supports, service providers, and enterprises producing and distributing social, environmental, and cultural goods to meet the needs?" This is a question which has meaning mostly at local levels - it doesn't help if we have "enough" museums or "enough" shelters for abused children if they're located in places that can't be reached by those who need them. In other words, the question of "too many" also needs to consider "to do what and for whom?"

Nonprofitmapping is one initiative that is trying to get better information on the number and distribution of nonprofit organizations. I've heard some folks talk excitedly about the possibility that the economic crisis will winnow the number of nonprofits, though the assumptions of efficient markets, accurate data on impact, and rational donor behavior that drive these expectations are tenuous at best, in my opinion.

For me, the question that really matters is a combination of the above:
"Do we have the right number of nonprofits to provide and distribute the social, environmental and public goods we need to those who need them?"**
This more complicated question gives us an opportunity to think about how we decide how many we need.
Which gives us the opportunity to focus our attention on how we get nonprofits. I know there is some research underway - soon to be public - about the approval rates of 501c3 applications. When this research is released - regardless of its findings - it will no doubt further fuel the discussion about "too many."

I want to take this moment to look not at the outcome of the process for approving nonprofits - that just drives us back to the "enough or too many" question. I want us to look at the how part of the equation. If we presume, for the sake of argument, that we need nonprofits to produce and distribute public goods that are not adequately provided by markets or government, shouldn't the public have some say in how we allocate this tax privileged organizational status? Right now, the tax exempt status that 501c3 approval designates is decided by professionals within the IRS. They rule on regulatory fit, not community need. There has not been, to-date, a viable way for these professionals to consider community need.

These IRS professionals have a federal government employee peer group with a similar problem, patent officers. The US Patent Office is also charged with ruling on the adequacy of public applications for a federally granted privilege - patent protection. In 2009 the US Patent Office began an experiment - peer to patent. This experiment uses 21st century crowdsourcing technologies to bring the public interest into work with the expertise of the patent office. Community reviewers - who both know and have a vested interest in the areas of invention - provide insight and information to the patent office, vastly increasing the breadth of the officer's expertise. There are checks and balances built in to maximize the wisdom of the crowd and the specificity of a patent officer's expertise.

Would something like Peer-to-Patent make sense for the 501c3 approval process? Could it provide a means of factoring in community need and existing community resources to approval decisions? Where would it be subject to abuse and where do the pitfalls lie? What expertise and data would be needed to strengthen a system that might match regulatory reviewers with community-based practitioners?

I'm thinking out loud and in public. You may well hate this idea. Go ahead - please tell me why (but no need to be nasty about it). What problems, if any, might it solve? What problems would it cause? What vested interests does it threaten? What benefits might it provide, and at what increased (decreased?) cost?

**For simplicity's sake in this blog post I am deliberately leaving out the discussion of other enterprise forms that can provide and distribute social, environmental and public goods we need to those who need them. These include social enterprises, social businesses, public agencies and informal networks. This oversimplification is itself, I realize, problematic.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Experimenting around expertise

(photo by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr, Creative Commons)

All the experimentation about crowdsourcing is, in my mind, really a discussion about how to organize around expertise.

Time was, an organization needed to have certain skills and knowledge in-house to get things done. So, for example, John D. Rockefeller built a foundation in 1913 and hired the people he thought had the expertise to guide his giving. Those folks, in turn, used the foundation's resources to support the work of other organizations where other experts could further the goals of public health access. Large institutional philanthropy has continued in this pattern since last century - hire expertise in organizations and fund expertise in organizations.

Now, with all kinds of blurring boundaries, communications practices and tools, and changing career paths we really can think differently about how to access the information we need when we need it. Sometimes, the "expertise needed" question is really a "rent or buy" question. Neither the funding organization nor the enterprise doing the work may need to have certain expertise on hand at all times.

A new initiative, launched yesterday at the Web 2.0 Expo (#w2e), is geared toward accessing expertise as needed to build technology solutions that policy makers need and communities value. This effort, ExpertLabs, has some impressive credentials behind it. Anil Dash (@anildash) was an early blog platform innovator. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Omidyar Network, Sunlight Labs, The MacArthur Foundation, The Knight News Challenge and Craig Newmark are all noted as "friends" of the effort.

Here's how ExpertLabs describes its work:

"Expert Labs is a new independent initiative to help policy makers in our government take advantage of the expertise of their fellow citizens. How does it work? Simple:

  1. We ask policy makers what questions they need answered to make better decisions.
  2. We help the technology community create the tools that will get those answers.
  3. We prompt the scientific & research communities to provide the answers that will make our country run better.

Each community provides its own unique expertise. And the end result is a government that uses the web not just to talk to citizens, but to listen to them."

There are several characteristics to this effort that drew it to my attention, especially as we try to link experts in capital allocation with program experts as part of the "What Capital When?" conversation. I think these characteristics are important to consider in developing change strategies:

  1. It is cross-sector by design
  2. It is a network of different expertise, focused on problem solving.
  3. It is not a "collaboration" of different organizations, but a networked, problem-focused partnership
  4. Expertise is intended to stay where it is, but work together as needed
  5. Crowdsourcing principles are in place, so a variety of "expertise" can be accessed.
In December ExpertLabs and several partners will be promoting Sunlight Labs' "Great American Hackathon" - a two day, all out buildfest. Or in Sunlight's own words,
"...The goal is to solve as many open government problems as we can with as many hackathons across the country as possible. We've teamed up with Mozilla, Google, Redhat and Fedora, who will all be working with their developers to make things happen, and we've teamed up with Open Source for America and Code for America —there are opportunities for everyone to make a difference."
You needn't be a developer, you can help organize in your community, identify the community needs to which technology might be addressed, or just help publicize the event. If you're a funder, you might also just keep an eye on how these efforts work, what they accomplish, who gets involved, who gets left out, and what, if any, organizational or strategic analogs they inspire as you think about your area of expertise.

"What Capital When" An online conversation about social capital

My colleagues and I at Blueprint Research & Design are launching a new experiment (for us) - a blog hosted conversation about what types of philanthropic/social capital make sense and when. This is not new territory - there are lots of experts, lots of experience, lots of resources, and some great advice out there. We hope they and you will engage in this discussion. What else are we hoping to accomplish and why are we trying it this way? A few things:

First, much of the expertise around capital allocation is held by financial professionals at foundations and the financial intermediaries with whom they work. Blueprint works largely with general management and program executives at foundations. We'd like to help bring these two sets of expertise together.

Second, we've had some very informative discussions with other consulting firms and foundations about many elements of our work with MacArthur around field building, but those have been limited to people in the SF Bay Area who could join us for lunch or coffee at a local foundation. This way we can get more people involved. If real face-to-face conversations emerge from this online discussion, that would be great.

Third, people use information when they need it. They may not need it when it first becomes available, they may not know the network to tap into to find what they need, and what may be old news to some is brand new information to others. So this is also an attempt to have a discussion out in public, that will link to resources and the experts out there, and that may be "bookmarkable" so that it ultimately helps people find what they need when they need it.
So, the conversation is starting. Join us over at "What Capital When?" with your ideas, questions and resources on the many choices we have when it comes to financing social goods. If you're on twitter, we'll use the hashtag #wcwhen to link useful tweets and resources as well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Top 2010 trend? Using twitter to ask what the top 2010 trend will be

(photo by pdsphil, Creative Commons, Flickr)

I think the trend of crowdsourcing trends has just jumped the shark.

OK - that's it. I'm done asking others to identify trends for me. Now that we have a wiki to identify fundraising scenarios for 2020, a twitter hashtag on 2010 nonprofit trends, and my own September contribution about 2010 trends - I'm done. Clearly the most pervasive trend is using these tools to ask about trends. As we approach December and the list making frenzy of "top 10s" that marks that month, let us all take a deep breath and perhaps even do some of our our own thinking.

As we are now 40-something days away from the second decade of the 21st century this New York Times article asked "what will we name the decade" from 2000-2010? Experts offer up suggestions like the age of overshooting, age of disruption, and Bob. I don't know about the decade, but certainly the year 2009 needs to be named "tweet."


OK it is 30 minutes later and I'm feeling slightly less snarky than I was when I wrote the above. Chances are, I will continue to ask folks for input using twitter and the blog. And those who know where the cafes really are and which streets are one way should continue to edit and add that information into online maps. And open organizations are good. And FutureLab was a great effort. And crowdsourcing ideas and information and expertise is vital to the future of how work gets done, change gets made, and organizations function (or not). However, we also need to realize the degrees to which we can begin to talk to ourselves with these media and the sometimes limited nature of the conversation (just because the tools make it possible for lots of new voices to participate doesn't mean they do). I'm not going to riff on how and when social media work well and when they don't, there are much smarter people than I am already having that discussion. More lists of trends, more reports on the same trends, more groups of trends - enough already. It is definitely not enough to just throw together another list and call it data or insight. Time for some analysis.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More data platforms for philanthropy

(Photo by Andrew Roddewig, New Clarion Media,

Data are getting their moment in the sun. Data visualization (also known as infographics) like this unemployment map from The New York Times, may be part of the reason reading newspapers on the web can be so much more fun than reading them on paper. It may also be part of the business model solution for news sites, as people might just pay to see these data.
This CNN slide show offers some beautiful examples of how data can be the basis of art as well as science.

Two new data sources for philanthropy and public decision-making launched today - the beta test site for TRASI (Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact) and KidsData.

TRASI is the product of a partnership by McKinsey & Co's Social Sector Office and The Foundation Center. The database provides information on 150 different tools (questionnaires, interview protocols, scorecards, audits, surveys, certification protocols) for assessing impact. It can be searched and sorted in a variety of ways and users can suggest new tools. Each tool is classified by the organization that provided it, the costs of using it, what it assesses, and its intended purpose. The hosts welcome your feedback - go to TRASI now (tell them Lucy sent you), search it, share it, and help improve it. This is truly a public resource.

The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health launched the KidsData site with information on children in all cities, school districts, and counties of the state. Currently, the site contains data on childrens' physical health, demographics, and family economics. More data will be added through 2010, including information on child safety, disabilities, emotional and behavioral health, education and child care. I'll admit, my first response to seeing the site was "How does it compare to KidsCount?" (KidsCount is perhaps the grandmother of all foundation-funded data sources for policy makers, nonprofits and funders. KidsCount is now in its 20th year of support from the Annie E Casey Foundation).

So how do they compare? Top level - KidsCount provides national data, KidsData is California specific. KidsCount, however, also allows you to search within counties and cities in a state, and for California it provides data on 17 indicators just within California - including data on foster care, dental care, children living in poverty, reading scores, obesity, tv watching, access to childcare, and health insurance access). Both sites make the data easy to understand and provide back up links to the original data sources.

KidsCount would provide a great case study of foundations, data, policy making, and infographics. What started as a printed book twenty years ago is now online and exportable, linkable, widgetable and interactive in almost every way the web lets us interact. Soon, we'll no doubt see mashups of KidsData, KidsCount and Google Maps (probably already exists), or subway map overlays like this one.

I just read about California Data Camp (which I wished I'd known about it in time to attend). This one-day event included folks from, MAPLight, SF Muni, and DataSF. Some of them came to make applications that use the SF data streams. Examples include EcoFinder, Routesy (which I use daily to find out if a bus will ever come), and MomMaps. Others came to share ideas for using data in journalism and other fields. The blog from includes a nice round up of tools to visualize data, excerpted here:

Development Seed

Twistory - combine your Twitter history with your calendar

IBM’s ManyEyes

Trendalyzer, a software for animation of statistics developed by a Swede, then acquired by Google


Finally, a reminder to keep your eyes on - which I've written about before and which is getting closer to releasing their nonprofit data scorecard. I become ever more convinced of the roles data will play as platforms for change.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Open organizations

(Photo from Boboroshi, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Thanks to an email from Martin Kaminer I just read about PresenTense's open source efforts over at Community Organizer 2.0. According to the post, PresenTense, an organization focused on building the Jewish community's next generation of pioneers and innovators, open sources much of its programming and advisory roles. Community Organizer 2.0 quotes PresenTense's founder @ArielBeery as saying:
"The PresenTense Group calls itself an “open source organization." Co-founder Ariel Beery defines an Open Source Organization as one that “enables all members to add to it, change it, modify it and improve it. Everyone benefits from the intellectual property of the organization’s members. The whole point is to make it as collaborative and idea-generated as possible.”
PresenTense also posts quarterly reports (annual reports are so web 1.0). The example of PresenTense dovetails nicely with the dashboard examples @Kanter shares in this post, including the work of the Indianapolis Art Museum. Christine Egger (@cdegger) has done a nice job of tracking several related conversations about data, transparency, and open organizations in this post on the SocialActions blog. From comments across these links I get the strong sense that both SocialActions and NTEN are thinking hard about these issues - in terms of developing actual standards, developing tools for best practice, and for prompting real thought about the roles of nonprofit organizations in helping make sense of all the data we can now access.

This is exciting. We may have moved past rhetoric and hypothesis to real examples we can discuss and learn from. We can also ask some big questions about the future, like those on this must-read post from Scott Hartley on SSIR. I'm sure that someone is tracking examples of nonprofits and foundations sharing data in new and interesting ways (right? someone?) - I'd love to see that slide show. Here are some contributions to the list:
Those noted above: PresenTense, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Those I've mentioned before: Peery Foundation open source strategic planning, Lumina Foundation sharing of strategic plans and objectives.

Stories of crowdsourced giving from ModernGiving's list: Knight News Challenge,
Phil Bucheit's crowdsourcing of ideas for donor advised giving.

Others....? Send 'em in [in comments or email lucy at blueprintrd dot com]. We'll track them here if no one else is already keeping the list. If you know where the list is being kept, please let us know.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mixing data with your values

I've written a lot about how data can transform giving. The November 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review includes a compelling feature story about how this is true at some of the country's biggest foundations. Written by staff from The Bridgespan Group, "Galvanizing Philanthropy" looks at the relationships between data, timing, strategy, and external feedback. The article provides several examples and points out the common mistakes of relying on "evidence too early" or "values and beliefs too late."

The importance of this insight is even bigger than the HBR piece emphasizes, in my opinion. By focusing on the relationship between data and values, and looking at when and how they are best used, the article reminds us that there is much about philanthropy that is neither rational nor data-driven. While foundations are making progress in terms of sharing information, using data, and even seeking external feedback, there are limits to how rational and empirical (and strategic) these enterprises will ever be. It is easy to lose sight of this, given the current zeitgeist about market forces, the power of technology, new measurement systems, and so on.

"Galvanizing Philanthropy" is well worth a read. HBR subscribers will find it in their November issues. Others can request a free reprint directly from Bridgespan by emailing Chris.Lindquist [at] bridgespan[dot] org. Tell him Lucy sent you.