Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What kind of Apps would your foundation build?

I admit it - I tossed the question out onto Twitter in a bit of a lark. I was preparing for a presentation to 50+ of America's largest community foundations and I've been thinking about Apps quite a bit (not only because of the new Apple Tablet due out tomorrow) because I was about to declare Apps as Buzzword 2010.1.

Most of what I will talk about has to do with ways that certain technologies (and the expectations/behavior they allow) are shifting philanthropy, the shifting sands of social businesses, policy opportunities, intersections with the public sector, new ways of organizing for change, Nonprofit Data Scorecards - the stuff I write about here.

As my plane landed I sent out this Tweet "What could a community foundation App do?

Whoa. The smarties of Twitter responded. A flood of ideas came along - tweeted, DM'd and on and on. Here are some of them:
  • Maps of local grantees so I could give or volunteer when I was near them
  • Outcome reporting
  • App to manage my donor advised fund
  • Create a "we have, we need" for donor advised funds
  • Mix data on community needs with opportunities for me to take action
  • Push out notices of funds available and deadline reminders
  • Match grantees needs with volunteers - a community "Craigslist"
  • Algorithmic review of the chances my proposal will meet the guidelines
  • Find the nearest program officer
  • Accept and immediately respond to micro proposals
  • Map projects in community (not grantees) and allow grants to them
  • Crowdsourced needs assessments and focus groups
Thanks to all of you who sent in ideas - I'll call you all out by name in next post. So, clearly I touched a nerve. Is anyone already doing this? Does The Extraordinaries want to set up a line of business building Apps for community foundations? (hint, hint). Can Community Foundations launch projects through The Extraordinaries? As usual, Beth Kanter has a great write up of "do good" apps and Britt Bravo provides another list.

I can't help but notice how many of the ideas suggested above use "place" as a key piece of data - leading me to believe that claims about "location" as the new platform, and apps like FourSquare as the new big thing - might be real. What Beth Kanter calls "Foot Traffic Philanthropy" - certainly

So - what kind of apps would (will) your foundation build? What kind of apps would (will) your foundation use? And, enjoy, the first new buzzword of the new decade, Buzzword 2010.1 - Apps.

Please keep the ideas coming - comments or twitter (@p2173). By the time you read this post I will have shared the ones above with the foundations already. I'll check back in here to let you know how they responded.


Michael A. B. Lewkowitz said...

Lucy, you've been on fire as usual! This really touched a nerve with me as it's something I'm exactly working towards with ChangeMedium. We're just getting setup but would love to chat about where you think we could most help!

Elizabeth said...

An app to match grantees with overlapping research interests and potential for collaborative work would be great! Like "eHarmony," but for grantees. It could suggest people you might have a lot in common with/a lot to learn from and really make a grantee network more transitive.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the hint hint wink wink.

The thing is -- ANYONE -- nonprofits, foundations, scientists, and more can signup and use our mapping tools TODAY! We're live and rockin'.

Check it out: http://app.beextra.org/create/microapp/name/mapper

Thanks for sharing!

Jacob Colker
Co-Founder and CEO
The Extraordinaries
Twitter: @extraordinaries

Jeff Mowatt said...

I'd begin with setting out an argument for using information as the vehicle to deliver social capitalism.


Jeff Mowatt

David Geilhufe said...

The technology first question is always a fun one, but for technology to really generate social change I would start with a different question.

What is it really hard for community foundations to do? For example, is the site visit application needed because it is hard to find grantees? (as a program officer I visited about 100 sites and didn't find it that hard) Or is the application interesting because foundations don't visit enough sites? Or don't visit them in a spontaneous and informal fashion.

And finally, tech is all about adoption. I wonder which of these ideas is the killer app that inspires foundations to use technology in a different way?

That would be a great question to ask your audience at the end of your presentation.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for all the ideas and comments. First, let me address the issue of starting with the technology first. I'm no techie. I don't know from app building. I approach this whole thing as being about expectations and information. And - in the last five years or so - due to technology - our collective expectations about information have changed. Drastically.

Whether I am a mobile phone equipped coffee farmer in a rural village or Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter or a laptop + mobile carrying road warrior waiting to get my hands on a tablet or a working mom or a public transit riding middle schooler - I have different expectations about information than would have been possible 5 years ago. I may chose not to, and I may be cut off from access because of price, but if I want and if I can - information about almost anything is available to me in my pocket. Through the web, email, twitter, text I am myself part of the news spreading machine. I can take action, find things, refer friends, research possibilities, move money, share my opinion and watch over issues, organizations, legislation, regulation, public and nonprofit agencies.

Those are the expectations that the never ending cycle of technological innovation have unleashed. And while organizations and donors, activists and public agencies, can make decide whether or not to jump in and be part, they are making a choice against those growing expectations. Ten years ago, organizations built static websites, against their wishes, because someone told them they had to. You had to be on the internet to be "on the community or donors' screens." It is the same choice today. Orgs can opt out of the wireless, increasingly mobile, increasingly App-facilitated exchanges of news, action, research and opinion that exist. But they are making a choice to "not be on that screen" - a screen that is in the pocket of their community members, donors, staff, public and private partners.

It is not about leading with technology. It is about recognizing how we - collectively and individually - behave and make assumptions about information. And then choosing to be part of the information exchange or not.

I believe that the text-donation response to Haiti just marked an important turning point. As a disaster response the outpouring of funds was unique. But its not the amount of money that was raised that interests me anyway. Its the public's awareness of - and expectations about - text donations that matter. In a matter of days text donations went from cutting edge to commonplace. Tens of millions of football-game watchers not only learned that they could make gifts from their mobile, they were implored to do so by Mrs. Obama. In that weekend text donations went from cool and new to being like the "donate now" button five years ago. Nothing changed about the technology - text donating has been around for years (I declared it a buzzword several years ago). What changed were the awareness and expectations of tens of millions of people.

I think several of the ideas suggested about community foundation apps reveal quite clearly what is hard for them to do and what their nonprofit partners would like to see.


Unknown said...

One of the balances to be considered is providing useful information with flooding people with too much... It needs to be personalized. I'd like to see engines built that users can customize, so they receive information of particular interest (i.e., not all deadlines and RFPs come through).

I also like the collaborative/participatory approach. Sort of combining reddit with opengov (http://opengov.ideascale.com/). For example, holding aside a certain amount of funds for the general citizenry to distribute. Guidelines could be created (size of grant; matching the mission of the foundation) and then submissions could be taken, with anyone having the ability to comment and/or support the idea to be selected.

Amy Kincaid said...

Cool post, and it made me wonder the same question about "apps" for local arts & humanities councils. I was at an open space community meeting last night for the one in my town and forwarded the link to your post to the organizers first thing. Thanks, Lucy!