Friday, January 30, 2009

Global Social Investment Exchange

I'm excited to be playing a small part in the brainstorming, pre-planning, possible launching of a Global Social Investment Exchange. (GSIX).

Some incredibly creative and accomplished people in online giving marketplaces, social enterprise, poverty alleviation, nonprofit finance, financial exchanges, and technology are coming together to consider the possibilities of a global exchange, modeled on national exchanges like SASIX or BOVESPA.*

Here's the basic description of the meeting:

"With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation’s new initiative on "Harnessing the Power of Impact Investing”, GreaterGood South Africa's Social investment Exchange is proud to bring together a small group of thought leaders from finance, philanthropy, policy, research and nonprofit/social enterprise practice for four days of serious, creative and visionary debate around the nature of, and potential for, a Global Social Investment Exchange infrastructure. The meeting's aims are:

To develop a framework and underpinning philosophy for the Global Social Investment Exchange and an understanding of the requirements for the creation of a global platform for facilitating effective and responsible social investment.

To make a contribution to the debate around the nature and characteristics of social investment and to understand more about emerging trends in different regions.

To clarify some of the issues that will need to be addressed in the areas of risk/return and impact analysis, accountability and governance."

If you are not familiar with the concept and practices of social investment exchanges, here are some resources. First, check out a few of them - South Africa's SASIX, BOVESPA Environmental and Social Exchange, and some inaugural work toward a social exchange in the UK. You can find additional resources on the concept, including discussion on socialedge, slideshows and video can be found online, and this blog xchangexchange hosts a fair bit of information, much of which is moving on to and the social capital index. In the interest of "fairness and balance," some skepticism about the whole concept can be found here.

I'll try to blog and twitter from the meeting(#gsix), but may have my hands full while I'm there. All in all it should be quite a learning experience as well as a meeting that could very lead to action (!) This builds on the my sense that we're in a period of fascinating implementation - as I watch the ChangeTheWeb initiative, see efforts like Drishtipat go from vision to reality, and now get to participate with others in asking the BIGGER questions - such as "not just what kind of pieces would be better than what we have, but what kind of full puzzle can we design to do what we really need?"

Personally, it is quite exciting to see some of the key concepts about philanthropic capital markets continue to come into action, even as the discussion about those concepts continues to expand and diversify. I've been thinking quite a bit about how ideas move quickly with new technologies, but also how ideas that might have been "before their time" can come around again,** courtesy of the global, permanent archive that is the web and the networks of people that it facilitates. This may well be an example of that. I'm honored and excited to participate. Stay tuned.

*And, let's face it, if you have to go back to work, which I do, going back to work in Bellagio, Italy is not exactly... um, how shall I say... roughing it. And, yes, I'm thankful to have a job to go back to, even if it didn't have this "alpine icing" on top of it.
**Thanks to Beth Kanter (@kanter) for discussing this theme with me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Crisis and response

Way back in 2008 Bernard Madoff managed to wipe out several foundations. The theft he (allegedly) committed reduced several foundations' asset sheets to zero, left a lot of nonprofits with unfulfilled pledges from donors or unpaid grants on their books, and caused a lot of people a lot of hurt. He also caused a lot of people to look more closely at their own behavior, some to demand more regulation of nonprofits, a few to wonder "where were the regulators?" some to point fingers, others to "pick themselves up, dust themselves off" and start again. I've written on the Madoff-ripoff, its effects and responses at some length here, here, here, here, and here. Twitter feeds for Madoff are here.

Yesterday, The Jewish Funders Network announced a $5 million loan fund for organizations in crisis. In addition to the JFN effort, MoveOn, OSI, and Atlantic Philanthropies raised money for organizations hit by Madoff, as did a purely volunteer effort called TheyNeedUsNow.

Nicholas Kristof wrote about Madoff today - and published this list of 147 foundations who lost money in the scheme - in many cases, they lost ALL their money .

The New York Times
also ran a story yesterday about how the "ebbing economic tide" is revealing many other mini-Madoffs, something I remarked upon back in one of my early posts on this - Madoff may be big, but he's not alone. The Times also had a story on the proposed sell-off of the Rose Art Museum collection as a means to raise funds for Brandeis University, which - like peer universities has seen its endowment plummet in recent months - and may also have suffered from Madoff exposure.

It may still be too early to tell what all this adds up to - not just in terms of dollars, organizations, and good work lost, but in other important ways. Some areas worth watching over time include:
  • What is the longer-term damage to the "network" or "infrastructure" of organizations that do work on women's issues, progressive causes, and within the Jewish world? - three sometimes overlapping but usually distinct sub-sectors particularly hard hit by Madoff. Can these networks recreate themselves in stronger ways?
  • How are/will/should investment decision protocols and processes change at nonprofit organizations (including endowed foundations)? Will these change by virtue of "lessons learned" or will it take regulation?
  • How will donors react to this event in the longer-term? Will they ask different questions, seek more specific information from nonprofits, be scared away from giving, or reach more deeply into their pockets to help organizations hurt by others' crimes?
  • MoveOn took on a new role in working with Atlantic and OSI - will it expand this kind of work? What about online social networks in general - twitter, blogs, and facebook all sprouted #Madoff related sites - what might this event show us in terms of news, nonprofits, scandal and social media?
With all the bad economic news over the past months, the Madoff scandal might seem like long-ago history to some (sort of like Lehman Brothers, remember them?). To whole communities however - communities of donors, of nonprofits, and of individual activists or issues - Madoff's impact is still present and ongoing. As in natural disasters, there are both short-term and long-term needs and responses. The Madoff ripoff, a truly man-made disaster, will require the same kind of timeline and attention.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A call for abstracts


CanadaHelps is seeking workshop abstracts for oral presentations at the MyCharityConnects Conference, June 8-9, 2009 in Toronto. The conference is geared toward small and medium sized organizations. The focus - best practices for various online tools that enable increased fundraising and awareness.

They are looking for speakers on a variety of topics including, but not limited to: social media, website basics, e-newsletters, on-line communities, story-telling, budgeting and planning and engaging younger demographics.

Deadline for Abstracts is February 20, 2009; presenters will be notified by no later than March 20, 2009.

Preference will be given to presentations by charities, and those submissions that use case studies and/or best practices with clear ROI indicators for attendees. Submissions should include: Presenter(s) name, title, organization, phone and email; proposed title of session, topics covered, description (max: 200 words), target audience, and “take aways”; and any materials or AV equipment requirements. Please also include previous workshops conducted. Abstracts should be sent to:

For-profit companies interested in participating in MyCharityConnects should contact Zenia Wadhwani at for a list of sponsorship opportunities.

Life in 140 bit bits

I've been not blogging for the last month. For most of that time, I've been not working, not writing, not doing much of the stuff for which I'm known in my professional community.*

On the rare moments during which I've tuned into my work/professional/writing life, I've done so through Twitter. I've followed several really interesting conversations about social media and social change. Watched Lend4Health go from personal passion to viable social enterprise. I've learned about efforts to launch a micro venture funding model in Canada, and become insanely envious of those who get to hang out at MaRS in Toronto (yes, even in January). I've been invited to comment on people's books, slide shows, and discussions, been offered condolences by people I've never met, had poems sent to me from friends in other countries, songs recommended to me, and conferences brought to my attention. I've been asked to participate in a radio program and a speakers bureau, invited to judge a business plan competition, and discovered that communicating with direct messages in twitter beats email hands-down for some conversations. I've also found that folks too hesitant about their writing to comment on blogs will opine away in twitter - being confined to 140 characters puts the Ralph Ellisons among us on the same footing as those who find pain in writing grocery lists. Because twitter feeds into my facebook page I've also reconnected with three friends from high school.

I've also watched as Twestivals took over the "airwaves." What is a twestival? It is a gathering of people, most of whom have met through twitter, to have fun and raise money for a charitable organization (charity:water). What is different about twestivals from every other fundraiser? How about the fact that more than 100 such gatherings are being planned, in 100+ cities around the world, all for one organization, all through the power of twitter. All the work is done by volunteers, all the money goes to charity:water projects. You can participate in person or online. You can donate, publicize, organize, attend or all of the above.

Why is this noteworthy? Maybe it isn't. Early adopters of twitter** won't find any path breaking insights in this post. But I've found twitter to be a remarkable source of self-selected, customized-to-me news. My twitter feed is like my very own stock ticker. The conversations are useful, archivable, inclusive, and funny. They also serve as sort of a weft to other media and conversations - pointing to interesting blogs, flagging people and thinkers with ideas worth considering, indicating interesting ideas as certain tags and content wax or wane in attention.

What will it mean for philanthropy? Twestival shows how quickly adopters will push to a new horizon for fundraising. The twitter model offers a new way to organize activists, donors, supporters, protesters. The very idea of transparency takes on a degree of new meaning - every conversation you have may be "tweeted" with or without your knowledge - how will you handle that? What does it mean for your organization, your foundation, your communications department, your message?

What does it mean for me? I don't know yet, but I do know this, For the last year or so I've been thinking about shutting down this blog. Why? I feel like my blogging is taking away from "long-form" writing - the articles and books I want to write. This is ironic, since I set up the blog to advance that work. Conceptually, blogging should complement the longer form - in reality, given the limits of time - it distracts from it. So, what about twitter? If blogging made book writing seem long form, twittering can make it seem like an insurmountable endurance effort.

My challenge - find how these tools strengthen, deepen, refine my thinking and pull me toward book and article writing. This is, in some ways, the same question any communicator or institution needs to ask itself about how it uses different media - press releases, radio, blogs, annual reports. It a similar question to ones discussed on a recent panel on film, philanthropy and social change, sponsored by Give2Asia in conjunction with a showing of Tongzhi in Love. It has implications similar to those experienced by the Oscar-award winning director of The Blood of Yingzhou District, whose movie wasn't officially shown in China but was available in bootleg DVD on the streets of Beijing, was widely discussed on the internet and which led to a public meeting between the Chinese Premier and the children from the film. You couldn't see the movie in China, but once it achieved success abroad the Chinese couldn't escape its message.

All of which seems to boil down to this - different media forms feed each other, they are ears to the ground or tools for spreading ideas in ways that overlap, complement, fill gaps, loop back onto, and ooze into many different conversations. The more tools that are used, the more feedback and ideas an idea searcher or sharer can find, and the more noise one will have to filter. We can't accurately predict (I don't think) which tool will work best for which idea at which time to which audience. We also can't necessarily predict which give you the "best ear to the ground" - it depends on what you want to listen for, what you want to say, and how and with whom you want to discuss the ideas. Some of these tools are low cost, but, to be useful, none of them are "low time." Fitting them in to one's writing, thinking, communicating, learning, activating, doing takes both planning and the willingness to take chances. Metrics to assess idea sharing, attitude influence or (gasp) behavior change will need to be attuned to the many pathways by which ideas now move.

Sounds like fun. Time to write.

* Thanks to everyone for your support during this past month. Thanks for reading, for waiting, and for encouraging me to come back to the blog.
**(I was not an early adopter, in fact, I was a bit of an early skeptic. I owe my twitter conversion to SoCap08, @abenamer @socialactions, and @kanter)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gates Foundation paper on measuring social return, now available

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Robert Sharpe is best source of Great Depression Giving Data - pay attention to his trends for 2009 fundraising

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Influentials in nonprofit tech

Beth Kanter was named one of the most influential activists by Fast Company Magazine as part of a recent feature on women and web 2.0. Beth expanded on the list and added several categories of potential interest to readers here, including: Nonprofit Technology, Social Change Activists, Big Picture Thinkers, Nonprofit Social Media Strategists, and Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising. I'm honored to be among them.

As a tech aside, I discovered this news through twitter. Slow as I was to get on twitter, I was faster than my tech guru David Pogue. I actually now rely on twitter for news - its like my own custom-fit stock ticker - all the news I want, there when I want it. Not only that - its a two-way ticker - I ask questions and get answers. Recently, when I "hinted" that there should be a twitter site to follow philanthropy prize announcements the "hint" was picked up within minutes by the good folks at socialactions and changetheweb and, lo and behold, a twitter feed for social action prizes was created (#saprizes). Time from idea to implementation - about 15 minutes. Follow me here.

HT @christineegger

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New administrations, nonprofits, and philanthropy

I've heard (and provided) a lot of commentary on the impact of the financial crisis on nonprofits and philanthropy.

Here's a different question - what are the implications of an Obama administration - or more accurately - a Democratic Administration and Congress, on left-leaning/progressive/social justice-oriented funders and nonprofits? I've been thinking about a few:
  • Leadership transitions at NPO/foundations as folks move into public sector positions;
  • Revelations and inquiries into donors and supporters for the NPOs/foundations - see both Clinton nomination and former NPO leader appointed to HHS;
  • Need to assess financing needs in light of new public budgets/priorities;
  • Need for new advocacy messages as relationship shifts from oppositional to ... ?
  • New capacity to win and manage public funds;
  • New emphasis on social innovation and/or enterprise and/or service;
  • Possible additional emphasis on outcomes and performance;
  • Others?
Please suggest others that you are experiencing or think might happen. I'm also interested in any recommendations of research or commentary about this phenomenon in past transitions (conservative orgs and Bush II in 2001, or progressives and Clinton in 1993). Thanks.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Great Depression Giving - Data Sources part two

Thanks to Jeff Stern who posted this very informative comment on my post about the oft-asserted, but rarely citation-supported, claim that giving rose during the Great Depression:
"From what I could find with a quick online search, those who cited a source for this assertion are referring to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that shows charitable giving by religious organizations to have risen during the Great Depression (

I also found a more comprehensive report from the Sharpe Group in 1992 entitled "Philanthropy in Uncertain Times." It indicates overall giving dropped and then rose during the Great Depression, and it seems to be much more thoroughly researched. It relies on two main sources: the 1950 study by F. Emerson Andrews "Philanthropic Giving" and reports from pioneer fundraising consultant John Price Jones whose reports began in 1931.

The combined data show that from 1931-1933 there was a significant drop in giving, followed by a slow but steady increase from 1934-1941 (thereafter followed by a sharp increase from 1941-1948).

The final conclusion is that "Overall, giving trended erratically upward during the Depression..." due to in large part to planned giving as "their deferred income rose at a faster rate than current giving declined."

This (pretty fascinating) second report is available online at"
Now I haven't had time to read these reports myself. The data from Sharpe were shown in this graphic in the New York Times back in November, as was pointed out to me by my friend David Carrington, who also pointed me to this piece from the UK.

Robert Sharpe also followed up, and his comment can be found attached to this post, but I'll also paste it here:
"To add to Jeff's comment, when people were talking "depression" in 1991-92, I undertook to research giving during the Great Depression and subsequently published "Philanthropy in Uncertain Times" as a white paper for our clients.

We have recently published two updates to the 1992 report and they may be accessed at Click on home page "Giving During Depression" link.

According to a landmark work published by F. Emerson Andrews in 1950 that examined giving during the Depression, overall giving adjusted for inflation actually went up from 1929 to 1931 and then dropped about 24% over the next two years, bottoming out in 1933.

Giving then more than doubled between 1933 and 1941, reaching and surpassing pre-depression levels by 1937. The rate of growth for the 8 years between 1933and 1941 has seldom been equalled during any other 8 year period.

Bequests did, indeed, become a much larger percentage of giving during the Depression and accounted for much of the growth. According to IRS and other figures, the percentage of giving from estates was much higher than before or after the Depression.

My conclusion is that giving by the wealthy was most negatively impacted at the beginning of the Depression by declines in investment asset values. Giving by the masses was more influenced by the unemployment rate. The overall drop in giving of 24% pretty much matches the unemployment rate in 1933.

Evidence from contemporary reports in the New York Times based on annual surveys by the precursor of Giving USA is that between 1929 and 1933 major gifts by the wealthy dropped as much as 70%, roughly the same as the stock market decline during that period of time. Giving recovered with employment and the stock markets.

Observers at the time concluded that charitable giving and the demand for it were, in the vocabulary of economists, relatively inelastic. People consider their core giving to religion and other deeply held interests to be more like their utilities than a movie ticket and will cut other things before they reduce their giving. They do, however, tend to focus their giving in areas where the hearts and minds most tend to dwell and are less responsive to gimmicks, arm-twisting and other more aggressive types of fundraising that do not speak to their core beliefs and values.

Giving as a result does not go up in proportion to the level of boom or down in proportion to busts. There is a quote from a leading fundraiser of the time to that effect in one of the reports I reference above on our web site. "
I plan to read these reports, because the question interests me still. In particular, I am curious about Jeff's notes that it was religious giving that rose and that there was first a two-year "significant drop" and then a "slow but steady" rise over 7 years. The role of planned giving and unemployment are also interesting. The details within these broad trends might be useful to examine as we enter 2009. I have been re-reading some broader histories of the Great Depression (Kennedy, Shlaes, and like President-elect Obama, Alter. I'm skipping Kearns Goodwin for now.)* A big thanks to Jeff for pointing me to the research above, to Robert for conducting the research and for sharing it, and to David for pointing me to the additional resources. I welcome any other resources you may have or reading you might recommend.

* I am trained as an historian after all - forgive me if this isn't how you would choose to spend your month of mourning.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Podcast with Allison Fine

I was honored to record this podcast with Allison Fine and Katya Andresen of Network For Good back in December. The podcast has just gone live on the Chronicle of Philanthropy site - here is the link.

On a personal note, thanks to all of you have emailed with your condolences and support regarding the death of my mom. I very much appreciate hearing from you.

Bono to be NYT philanthropy columnist

U2 front man and anti-poverty activist Bono will publish his first philanthropy column tomorrow in Sunday's New York Times (1/11).

Bono to be NYT philanthropy columnist

U2 front man and anti-poverty activist Bono will publish his first column tomorrow in Sunday's New York Times (1/11).

Friday, January 09, 2009

Great Depression Giving - Where's the data?

The Economist is just the latest source to run a line about giving that goes something like this:
"During the Great Depression, giving rose. Over the past 40 years there have been several recessions, but just one year in which total giving has fallen in America: 1987, the year of the “Black Monday” stockmarket crash."
Here's what I want to know - what data show that giving rose during the Great Depression (1929-1942)? It certainly wasn't whatever data source is referenced in the second sentence above, since 'the past 40 years' takes us back to 1968. My sense is that the '40 year' data come from some combination of Giving USA, AAFRC, IUPUI, Foundation Center, and possibly IRS returns.*

But what is the source for the assertion that giving rose during the Great Depression? The Foundation Center didn't exist then (Founded in 1956). Giving USA goes back 50+ years, which still doesn't get us into the 1930s. Is there research, tax data, trend analysis - what is the source or sources for this claim? If you know, please let me know. Thanks.

*Of course, it would be nice if there were actually citations provided for this 40 year trend, but now I've gone and gotten all academic on you.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Blog Hiatus

Philanthropy2173 is on a reduced publishing schedule at least through January 2009 due to a death in my family. I'll be back when I can. I'm more likely to be posting short thoughts through twitter - follow me here. These also scroll and are archived along the lower right hand column of the blog.

Thanks for reading,