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.

The 2009 Embedded Giving Challenge

(Photo by Roland. Flickr, Creative Commons)

It's that time of year again - giving season. Time to play: What is your favorite embedded giving experience of 2009?!*

While being asked to donate a dollar for [name your cause here] has become a year-round experience for anyone who a) shops at a store b) searches online or c) leaves their house, the "opportunity" to round up your bill for a good cause should present itself even more frequently in the mad dash to Christmas shopping that is the next 8 weeks. And shoppers this holiday season will no doubt have endless opportunities to choose between "Sweater A" and "Sweater B - the one that will save the polar bears."

After all, the $1.55 billion that companies are expected to spend on cause marketing (a 2% increase over 2008) is one of the few areas of charity-related spending that will show any increase in 2009.** NOTE: that is what will get spent on the marketing, not the amount that will go to good causes. It is notable that one can find very detailed predictions of the value of companies' spending on embedded giving but almost no data on how much money charities raised through these promotions.

So, let's get those stories rolling. Got a story about how many times you were asked to give in one shopping trip? Ever asked the cashier where the money really goes and gotten a particularly mind-boggling answer that you'd like to share? Or have you found a really odd partnership (pet food store and homeless person shelter? Electronic gadget and global warming prevention?) that made you scratch your head? Please send them in via the comments section, twitter (@p2173) or via email [lucy at blueprintrd dot com]. In true crowdsource fashion I'll collect them, post them, and let you - the readers - vote on them. Heck - I'll even let you the readers choose the categories for the voting - Most absurd? Biggest ripoff? Most asks in one day? You name it - I'll track it here in the first ever Embedded Giving challenge.

*Just to be clear: I think embedded giving is a ripoff. It puts far too many steps between donor and recipient, we have terribly lax reporting standards on what money is raised and where it actually goes, and the one true effect of this kind of giving is for an individual donor to give away their tax deduction to a company. I've been involved in the debate about embedded giving for years - you can read most of my blog posts on it here. I'll say it outright - I'm not promoting embedded giving as an effective donation practice. Still, if this post is like any of its predecessors I will get bombarded with emails from embedded giving platforms asking me to promote their version/product/tool.

**Source: IEG (, reported on MediaPost, August 18, 2009.