Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Co -" the buzzword that keeps on buzzing


Early last week I declared "Co-" philanthropy buzz -prefix #6 for 2010. This refers to Co - as in co-housing, co-working, co-creativity. I referrred in that post to the book, What's Mine is Yours,(WMIY)  as the manual for this buzzword. Then Lisa Gansky's The Mesh came out and I added another manual to the list. Then a report on co-creativity came out and I added that to the list.

Today's New York Times picks up on this trend and notes that Yochai Benkler, one of the most important thinkers I've run across on all things networked has a new book coming out (January 2011) called The Penguin and the Leviathan, in which he will "focus on the explosion of cooperative endeavors, both online and offline." Given that Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks was one of the most thought provoking and helpful books I've read on the commons and what really matters in an "information economy," I've put The Penguin and the Leviathan on the top of my watch list.

The header over today's NYT article by J. David Goodman is "Conspicuous Cooperation," a play on the "Co - " alliteration of collaborative consumption.

What will all this mean for philanthropy? I'm noodling on this but here are some early thoughts:
  • Most of the stories being told are about cars/bikes and neighborly exchanges for middle class folks with credit cards. But the business model basics underneath all this reminds me of what Muhammad Yunus had learned in setting up the Grameen Bank - Trust = collateral." What kind of infrastructure for "renting not owning" is being built by or invested in for the very poor?
  • If communities and businesses built on sharing - mutual aid - can really regain traction (These are not new phenomena, they are as old as humans and have never stopped thriving in many cultures) - What will this mean for organized, outside philanthropy as we know it?
  • What can we learn about new enterprise forms for community from these models? 
  • How can organized philanthropy find the networks and collaborative consumption efforts that do exist among populations that they care about?
  • Given that many of the examples in WMIY and The Mesh are commercial enterprises, is this one more sign of the blending of business with social goods? If so, will social investors follow?

If Benkler or Gansky or their publicists are reading this, I'm happy to review both The Mesh and The Penguin and the Leviathan in this space, just send me copies. So far "Co - " is showing the most buzz of the 2010 list.

#benkler, #themesh, #collcons, #buzzword2010, #philanthropy, #sharing

Friday, September 24, 2010

More on collaborative consumption, business as sharing

I posted a review of What's Mine is Yours a few days ago, and used it to substantiate my declaration of "Co-" as buzzword number 6 for the year. Then along comes an email from a friend saying this:

 "This sounds a lot like the book you just blogged about, no?  What’s going on here?" and referring to Seth Godin's post about a new book called Mesh. Here's what Seth had to say:

"The Mesh is here (don't miss it)

My friend Lisa Gansky has a new book out today. ....

I hope you'll buy a copy right now. It's that important and that valuable.

Gansky has written the most insightful book about new economy business models since The Long Tail, and if you're not facile in understanding and working with the key concept behind this book, it's going to cost you time and trouble.

In short, the Mesh outlines how sharing resources and information creates an entirely new class of commerce. When you travel to another city, you don't buy a house. You stay in a hotel. A hotel, because it allows hundreds of people a year to share a single room, is a mesh business.

The thing is, the web has created thousands (probably more) of these businesses in areas you have never thought about. Zipcar, sure, and Netflix. But in all sorts of nooks and crannies as well. Lisa's online directory already lists thousands of these companies. Existing companies need to know about this, job seekers should be attracted to it, and for entrepreneurs, it really is a new frontier."
I haven't read The Mesh (though I will if the author/publisher sends me a review copy).

As to my friend's question - well, what can I say - you know I'm right about a buzz concept when not just one, but two books, come out about the idea within a week of each other.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Three random philanthropy in the media bits

Last week Science Friday featured Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) talking about prizes, prize philanthropy, and government challenges. Hear it here: science friday (HT @pbftwit)

Doonesbury takes on the Giving Pledge: (Pictures may not render in email subscriptions - see blog on the web here. )

And Non Sequitur takes on Collaborative Consumption, which I wrote about yesterday:


Since yesterday's blog about What's Mine is Yours I've spent a lot of time thinking about libraries - which seem to me to be the quintessential example of community-based, publicly supported, material sharing. Museums and parks - especially those that are free to the public - also come to mind. Others?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buzzword 2010.6 - actually just a prefix: Co-


This is the first Buzz prefix in quite awhile - I think the last one was micro, way back in 2007. Buzzword 2010.6 is Co- as in co-housing, co-working, co-ops.

"Co-" is also the second buzzword this year to come with its own manual (Can you name the first? Do so and win a prize)** I've just finished reading What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. It's a field guide to several trends that have been unfolding over time, somewhat unnoticed. The authors have gone the business book route - putting new names on familiar behaviors and handily providing lists of key principles. While the style of the book is tired, the ideas are important.

Botsman and Rogers present a business case for sharing. Actually, they present several business cases and dozens of examples. From car sharing to couch surfing, co-working to peer-to-per rental they've got the statistics and the examples to convince you that the key concept we learn in Kindergarten is now establishing itself as a business model. Here are some of the stats:
  • Established companies that focus on "rent not own" are making millions of dollars. Netflix comes in at $359 Million, ZipCar at $130 million (2009 figures)
  • The Peer-to-peer lending (Zopa and Prosper) is expected to grow to $5 billion by end of 2013.
  • Carsharing is predicted to be $12.5 billion industry.
They attribute the rise in these behaviors to a few key trends - planetary angst (my term, not theirs), the need to save money, and a desire to meet like minded people. The authors do a good job of assigning technology a supportive, but not central, role in these changes.

They divide the space into three types - Product Service Systems, Redistribution Markets and, Collaborative ifestyles. In my mind these three trace the arc from making things differently to buying/selling things differently to using things differently. Examples of each:
  • Product Service Systems - this is the switch from buying to renting, which also often changes the product into a service. Think bike sharing. Instead of buying a bike, you pay a service fee to join and use the bikes as you need them. Carsharing. Netflix.
  • Redistribution Markets - say good bye to "buy once and replace." These markets - from Freecycle to Craigslist, eBay to Share Some Sugar) let you borrow, barter, re-sell, re-use. And also meet your neighbors.
  • Collaborative lifestyles - this is everything shared office space (co-working), garden lots (LandShare), Skills (SkillShare), time banks and parking spaces (ParkAtMyHouse). It also includes travel communities such as those on Couchsurfing or AirBnB.
The book offers up several key principles that underlie all of these business models and practices - including a revitalization of the Commons and the role of trust. They name the entire phenomenon Collaborative Consumption. As a business book WMIY provide human faces to the various activities, gives enough examples and numbers to make the reader believe that something significant is happening, and provides a chapter on implications for brands and consumers and manufacturers. The website offers some useful timelines of the evolution of different sectors.

I, of course, am interested in how this all relates to philanthropy and the public good. Many of the companies and efforts highlighted in the book are clearly contributing to a community and/or keeping a lot of junk out of landfills. I am (literally) a keyfob-carrying member of at least one of these communities. As a long-time member of San Francisco's nonprofit car sharing service I can attest to the cost-savings, feel good element of this system. I also am a member of the card-carrying community of public bus riders in San Francisco. I need both. I have far more human interaction (not all of it pleasant, nor all of it bad) with my fellow bus riders.I almost never interact with anyone else in the car sharing community. When it comes time to vote, I vote with the bus riders not with the car folks.

Collaborative consumption tools, systems and service producers give us options for how we consume things - and this is a good thing. Botsman and Rogers' book succeeds as a business book and the trends, opportunities, and implications for business are important. If you are not familiar with any of these services you should read this book. If you are familiar with only one (I'd bet it would be NetFlix) then you should read this book to see how much more is out there. I admire the problem solving nature of the AirBnB founders and have had great conversations over the years with Couchsurfing's founder about community.

And I think we really need to consider these developments in the larger contexts of public policy, mass consumption, and the still-prevalent throwaway culture in which we live. I first learned about WMIY through the online magazine There you will find some rich discussion of the kinds of companies and consumption featured in WMIY, as well as some deeper looks at what this movement (if it is one) might mean from a public sector, philanthropic and community perspectives.

The elements of this book that resonated most strongly with me in terms of public goods and community building are those sections that touch on community farmers' markets, underground food sellers, the Tenderloin National Forest, and community-based art projects that deliberately cross cultures, economic class, language groups and geography.

Oops, wait a minute, most of those examples weren't in this book. They are in my city - in every city I've ever been in (and every rural community too, for that matter). They look like DIY Urbanism and Brooklyn FEAST and Boston Skillshare. These are similar efforts to those in WMIY - but they focus not on consumption patterns but on living better together, mutual aid, and mutual beautification or cultural creation.

Collaborative consumption - especially that really produces more sustainable patterns, uses fewer nonrenewable resources, and saves money is a good thing. These companies and organization are not necessarily going to produce community, cross racial or economic lines, ease religious differences, or build public goods that benefit all. I'd like to see the community builders, public agencies (and yes, the companies) that prioritize these public goals adopt some of what these new companies have learned. Botsman and Rogers' book can help that happen.

From all of this, we get Co- as a buzzword. To a large degree, it's a key part already of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector - be it community or cooperative or collective or collaborative. If, as Botsman and Rogers claim, Co- becomes more and more of the consumer and commercial world, we may all be better off. Certainly, we need to understand how and why those shifts are happening and what they mean for the production, financing and distribution of public goods.

** It seems fitting to offer up my review copy of What's Mine is Yours to the first person to correctly identify the first buzzword of this year that came with its own manual. Do so by submitting the buzzword AND the name of its manual in the comments below. Be sure to give me a way to contact you so I can mail you the book. Then we can track it through BookTracker - check this out!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jonathan Franzen writes about philanthropy


Unless you've been under a rock lately you've heard about Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom. In fact, you could have been under a rock. However, if that rock happened to be in an airport you still would have heard about the book - not just because of the cover of TIME (pictured above) but because Franzen is featured in this month's copy of United's Hemispheres magazine. Oprah just picked the book as her monthly Book Club selection, which is causing a big stir in the literary world (she and he had a fight a while back). There's also been a Twitter-bate about whether or not male authors who write about family get awards and women authors who write about family get...not much. But I'm not here to discuss the book's literary merits or the gender politics of the publishing industry.

There are, to quote from Jon Stewart's new book Earth, 3000 quintillion reviews of Franzen's book. I've read the book, a few of the reviews, and heard the author interviewed. I'm here to tell you something that none of those reviews will tell you: philanthropy at its worst plays a part in the story. Corrupt corporate leaders happily hiding behind a guise of do-good environmental philanthropy - and the impact they have on their willingly self-deceived employees - are on full display.

The book is being hailed as "a masterpiece," the great American novel, the voice of post September 11 America, etc. etc...So I think Franzen's little background set on philanthropy, nonprofits, corporate greed, and political power is noteworthy.

Now you should not only read it, you can also write off the cost as a work expense. A tax dodge that the folks in the book would probably just love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What can we create if we reorganize the creating?


I know, I know, I've heard the old trope - "You've seen one foundation, you've seen one foundation." But that's not really true.
  • If you've seen one foundation with 3+ staff, chances are they have an executive director, a program officer, and an admin person.
  • If you've seen a foundation with more t10+ staff, they have an executive with an admin, 5 program people, 1 grants manager, and either 1 finance person and 1 communications person or 2 finance people.
  • If you've seen a foundation with 25+ staff, they have E.D. + asst+ 2 VPs (one of evaluation) + 1 asst; 5 program officers and 5 program assistants, 3 grant mgrs and assts, 3 finance and assts; 2 communications people; 2 IT people.
  • If you've seen a foundation with 50+ staff you've been in one of the few foundations at that number. Take the example above and add proportional VPs, assts, program officers. They'll have an HR department, too.
(If you are looking at community foundations in any of the above ranges please insert donor relations/donor advisors staff and ramp up the financial side of things)

As organizational structures go foundations aren't very creative - they actually look a lot alike. Which may be because, as someone once suggested to me, the model works. (Raise eyebrows here). I tend to think it has less to do with results than with institutional isomorphism. I find the inherent organizational similarities between foundations regardless of size, age, or mission to be odd.

Which is why I loved this post about orchestras. If ever there was a body that we would assume took a single form it is the classical music orchestra. X number of strings, Y number of woodwinds, Z for the percussion section. Arrange it in a seating hierarchy that hasn't changed much in 300 years. Put someone in tails, give 'em a baton, a score and a podium - voila!

Not anymore. In one of the examples, the Hamburg Philharmonic put its 100 players in 50 different locations around the city. Connected them with audio/visual monitors. And they played - conducted from atop the city's highest church.

In another example individual musicians from all over the world auditioned independently and online to be part of a YouTube symphony concert at Carnegie Hall.

Will these forms create great new music? Maybe. Maybe not.

But if ever there was a "scripted" form it is the classical orchestra.* So to be creative with that form is to really step outside the everyday and ask Why? Why do we play this way? Sit in this order? Select our colleagues in this way? And what if we tried it a different way? What might we learn? What might we do differently, how will the music sound?

To my mind, the experimenters in these orchestras were all asking "What can we create if we reorganize how we do the creating?" And that is a question worthy of philanthropic consideration.

*Hamburg even arranged its musicians around the city in the same "shape" that they would have been had they been in a hall - see the picture up top - an orchestra superimposed on a city.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Philanthropic leadership and the tensions of change

This is a 15 second time-lapse video of the aurora borealis from space. It's beautiful, fast, multi-dimensional, and both inexplicable and well understood.


I'm preparing a seminar on philanthropic leadership in our time. It is nowhere near as profound as the aurora, but the video struck me as an enticing lead-in anyway.
  • The changes that are underway across our global society are profound and numerous.
  • How we see these changes and forces depends on our viewing point and our time horizon.
  • Each of us is lucky if we can understand a few of them, let alone be smart about one or two.
  • No single force of change - demographic shifts, wealth disparities, religious and geopolitical tensions, technological prowess, data deluges, resource scarcities, planetary health - will be the defining shaper of our present our future. What always matters is the interactions between them.
So here is my proposed thought experiment for emerging leaders:

Several of the primary forces reshaping philanthropy are in real tension with each other. For example:
  • Technological advances are pushing to make data cheap. Commercial and business model priorities (mostly) want to make data expensive.
  • Philanthropy has tremendous freedom in what it funds and how it operates, yet most foundations and funders build remarkably similar looking organizations regardless of mission or reach. At the same time, interesting crowdsourced change efforts - such as Ushahidi and CrisisCommons - are starting outside the realm of traditional nonprofit structures and funding streams.
  • Transparency is important and there are many efforts underway to make philanthropic institutions more "see through." Increased transparency may also make people less willing to take risks, speak out against the majority, or "follow their gut."
  • Social goods have typically been seen as the purview of nonprofit organizations and public agencies. Now, more and more enterprises are producing social goods as well as financial returns.
Given this context, what would you do if you had a blank slate from which to create a philanthropic funding enterprise?

What might you say in the seminar? Share your thoughts in the comments and I'll share them with the seminar participants. With their permission I'll share their ideas back here later next week.

(OK, I'll admit, I included the video just because I liked it. I can't really weave it into this theme much better than I've done above. Can you?)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Seattle Foundation Giving Center


The Seattle Foundation announced its new online giving site today. Community foundations have been rolling out this kind of information for several years now but this is different.

Disrupting Philanthropy is all about this kind of knowledge sharing. When we wrote On the Brink of New Promise in 2006 we said this kind of information sharing was going to be key. When I published Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets in 2004 I said this kind of information sharing was going to be key. When I first went to work for community foundations in 1990 I tried to find ways to share this kind of information.*

So why shout out about the Seattle site? It is not the first of these sites but it does do a couple of things right and worth noting:
  1. It is open to anyone - you don't need to be a community foundation donor to use the information. You don't even need to register or log in until you decide to donate.
  2. It is "social web" savvy - you can link to twitter, facebook, delicious, etc. from anywhere on the site. When you link to the organizations through Facebook, etc the links take you back to the Seattle Foundation Giving Center information. This should help donors, nonprofits and the community foundation spread information about their interests' quickly and using today's tools. It also positions the site to "power" all kinds of community driven, individually developed giving challenges, etc. It should help the information go viral.
  3. Each nonprofit profile (and I'm told there are 700) provides information on the organization, the strategies deployed, the financials and "similar organizations"
  4. It puts a donor's choices ALMOST all in one place - research strategies, read more about certain strategies, find similar organizations, check the financials, read Foundation staff evaluations of an organization, give through the foundation, create a fund at the foundation, or contact the Foundation staff. The only shortcoming - the "donate now" button doesn't take you directly to the nonprofit's site to make a gift. At this point you have to login as a Foundation fund holder for some organizations - for others you can make a credit card donation or login. I don't know why this direct donation feature isn't universal. This is too bad. Otherwise, the way this information is provided is key - it puts the foundation's expertise front and center - and recognizes and encourages all of the many different ways donors will want to use that information.
  5. Presents information on accomplishments - both in the organizational evaluation section and under each category of giving.
  6. Avoids jargon. Amazingly enough, the site is written in plain English.
Of course, I have lots of questions about what might be next steps from this good start. The front end interface seems well designed - with the exception of the "donate now" hoop which sometimes lets you make a credit card donation to the organization and other times requires you to be fundholder at the foundation -it is not clear why this is the case. The site should let you click through and make a donation directly for all organizations. It is notable that the Foundation is not taking a cut of the credit card transaction fees.

The momentum and success (as in so many things) are going to depend on how well the Foundation can encourage people to use it, share it, adapt it, refer to it, link to it, build from it. In other words, (as always) it's going to be about the community, not the technology.
  • I'd love to know what the Foundation's plans are for promoting this site - will they use community challenges the way The Columbus Foundation has?
  • How have they and how will they continue to work with the Kings County nonprofits to share the information, get support from key donors and board members of those organizations, encourage them to use and promote it, and generally make it a win-win?
  • How will they involve the community in updating, maintaining and adding information to the site? Might they partner with GreatNonprofits or other review sites to get some information from outside experts?
  • Will they encourage other foundations and funders to share their information - either through through this giving center or on their own sites? Microsoft gave the Foundation a grant to build the site - will they also share their information on nonprofits and community strategies through the site?
  • How might they connect this information with the terrabytes of information on nonprofits and community issues that Kings County, the City of Seattle, major corporate funders in the region, wealth managers, giving circles or other private foundations in the area might have?
  • Will they open up some of the datasets and encourage local programmers and developers to create new apps for the data? Or let the organizations on the site use the data to advance their work?
  • And the question all other community foundations (as well as other charity rating and information sites) are surely asking - how will they pay for the site over time? What is the business model?
This site is the best I've seen in terms of re-positioning a community foundation's assets. It leads with information and expertise - locally sourced, relevant, and highly accessible.

*Luckily, my first community foundation jobs were at places that actively shared information on nonprofits with their donors - using (gasp!) - paper and pencil. We may also have used HyperCard for Macs - or I may be having a senior moment remembering that.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Buzzword 2010.5 - Charitywashing

Charitywashing. Verb. Gaining the trust, good faith, or simply the business of customers by aligning your product with a charity. Often takes the form of statements that claim "...x% of sales of this object will be given to charity." See also embedded giving.

The most egregious charitywashing practices include, but are by no means limited to,
  • not naming any specific charity,
  • not stating whether the percentage is of the retail price, total profit, or total sales, and
  • not including any kind of contact information that would allow anyone to follow up and see if you kept your word.

HT to @nathalierose of