Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 - the year in pictures (sort of)

I wasn't going to blog today but I'm several days into a nasty head cold and can't do much of anything else. To say goodbye to 2011, a year in which #infographics made the #buzzword list, I thought I'd share a few special ones.

First, there is Beth Kanter's collection of #philanthropy and #nonprofit related infographics - in wiki format - so that everyone can share.

Second, The WildAid machine (pictured below) is a virtual Rube Goldberg machine, drop your donation in one end and watch it "spit" out the results.

The "WildAid Machine" must be the ultimate intersection of #infographics and fundraising. (The picture is just a screen clip - you have to go the site to make it work)

Third, I've set two work related New Year's resolutions. One is to unsubscribe from all the email newsletters I receive (please don't send me any more). I've been at this for two days, unsubscribing away. The second is to try two new sharing sites for my work at Stanford (what a thrilling life I lead). Posterous sent me a great link to their "inspiration gallery" - and there I found an entire website dedicated to social media #infographics.

Fourth, this display of the Republican presidential candidates and their typical entourages was fascinating to me and my son. The content was clear and compelling. The display demonstrated the power of pictures to make interesting an idea that would be miserably dull if conveyed in text.

(Photo clipped from New York Times graphics)

Finally, a big thank you and an appreciative Ha! to Tony Macklin, who took it upon himself to create a practical #infographic representation of my buzzword lists from 2009, 2010 and 2011. He turned them into an actual #buzzword bingo playing board. (You can download your own board on Tony's site)

Thanks Tony, and all of you, for reading along, chiming in, and doing the good work that you do. If you like this blog and care about its continuation, please consider buying a copy (or two dozen) of the Blueprint 2012. It reflects my best thinking on the year to come, draws from the conversations we have here, and pays a tiny lit bit toward all the time I put into this blog.

I wish you all a happy and healthy year ahead.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Buzzword 2011.10 - #

The final buzzword of the year is # - the Twitter hashtag. Philanthropy finally got really hip to Twitter this year (as did so many people, thanks to the Arab Spring and Twitter-enabled TV shows). So the humble hashtag, the pound sign, the # is our final buzzword of the year.

One great example of how this Twitter convention has become part of the regular lexicon - The Case Foundation's end of year #GoodSpotting campaign - born to be sticky, hashtag and all. Forget about folks fumbling to come up with "bumper sticker" statements or even sound bites. #Whatmattersnowisthehashtag.

We've rediscovered the @ sign. Google brought back +. The humble # is 2011's final philanthropy buzzword. As you prepare for your New Year's celebration take a moment to ponder which lowly keyboard key will come to prominence in 2012.*

Happy New Year to everyone.

The full #buzzword list:
.1 Social Impact Bond
.2 Collective Impact
.3 Storytelling
.4 Charitable Tax Reform
.5 Infographics
.6 Evidence-based

.7 Shapeshifting
.8 Disruption
.9 Amplify
.10 # 

*I've already had a very funny Twitter discussion about the | - the keyboard symbol that has @jenbo1's vote. Go vertical line!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Giving with Brian Lehrer

Will Kickstarter raise more money for the arts in 2012 than the NEA provides?

Is there a new generation of assumptions about where good comes from?

Is technology changing our definitions of good and evil? Will the future of philanthropy be found in brown paper bags?

Listen in on this Skype discussion with Brian Lehrer and colleagues from The Awesome Foundation, DonorsChoose, and KickStarter to learn more.

Also introduces Stanford's Philanthropy, Policy and Technology Project and our #recodegood project. 


Monday, December 19, 2011

Philanthropy Buzzword 2011.9 - Amplify

Is it a social media thing? Have we given up on leverage? Scale?

Without a doubt, 2011 was the year of "amplifying" philanthropy. A few examples:

And on and on and on. My, it's getting loud in here.

Here's the list of 2011 Philanthropy Buzzwords.

In honor of the recession-that-experts-say-is-over-but-tell-that-to-the-unemployed, I'm only doing 9 Buzzwords this year. Everyone has to cut back.

.1 Social Impact Bond
.2 Collective Impact
.3 Storytelling
.4 Charitable Tax Reform
.5 Infographics
.6 Evidence-based

.7 Shapeshifting
.8 Disruption
.9 Amplify

I'm just kidding.  Stay tuned - in the interest of collective impact, multi-platform storytelling, and disrupting the status quo, I'm trying something new this year.  The 10th buzzword of the year will be announced in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on December 27th. They'll have the full list and reveal the buzzword you've all been waiting for. 

Buzzword 2011.10 - ....

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Buzzword 2011.8 - Disruption

Disruption is the new black. Clayton Christensen began the authorial trend with his management classics on disruptive innovation. He’s gone on to “disrupt” health and class. I contributed to the meme with Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector. Others have written on disrupting homelessness, media, technology, and manufacturing. 

Here's a report from the Alliance for Children and Families called Disruptive Forces: Driving a Human Services Revolution

Disruption may soon replace innovation as the most overused and underdefined term in the social economy.

You can find other buzzwords in Blueprint 2012. The 2011 list so far includes:

Buzzwords 2011

.1 Social Impact Bond
.2 Collective Impact
.3 Storytelling
.4 Charitable Tax Reform
.5 Infographics
.6 Evidence-based
.7 Shapeshifting

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Buzzword 2011.7 - Shapeshifting

Shapeshifting is what happens when an organization changes corporate form – usually shifting from nonprofit to for-profit. In the 1990s dozens of health care organizations and hospitals made this shift, spinning off philanthropic foundations with billions in assets. Since 2000 we’ve seen this in other sectors, including student loan providers. The sale of nonprofit Jumo to for-profit GOOD raised the issue again in the summer of 2011. 

Two other notable instances of shapeshifting that received less attention were the conversion of website verification firm TRUSTe and the online community site Couchsurfing. These last two shifts were accompanied by significant venture capital investment. Shapeshifting raises valuable questions about the range of organizations that can produce social good , their relative effectiveness, and the role of both private and philanthropic capital in catalyzing these enterprises. 

Brad Smith of The Foundation Center gets the "buzzword identification" prize for this one

Buzzword 2011.6 - Evidence Based

I first came across the term evidence-based as a description of a specialization in medicine. Yes, Evidence Based Medicine is a new subspecialty. I know what you are thinking - the same thing I wondered when I heard this. "Wait, if evidence-based is a specialty, what other kind of medicine have the docs been practicing?"

Well, it turns out, that the evidence-based protocol in medicine, which involves a certain number of Random Control Trials (Hey, you, get back here, I heard you start to leave the room) and a specific protocol for reviewing the medical literature, is contested by folks who  practice medicine based in science AND human judgment AND quality of life. It's a beautiful parallel to the role of evidence-based practice in philanthropy and nonprofits - proof + passion, head + heart.

Evidence based practice is what we got when the protocols for using specific kinds of research analyzed in specific kinds of ways spread beyond medicine into domains such as education and nursing.

Evidence based practice is expanding in philanthropy. The Annie E Casey Foundation has an evidence based practice group. The spread of EBP seems to be in direct proportion to the growth of Program Related Investments, Impact Investing, and Social Impact Bonds - all tools that need external standards for success. It's also riding the wave of charity rating efforts, independent ratings organizations, and institutions focused on improving philanthropic practice. Nonprofits and evaluation groups are using evidence-based practice not only to assess programs but to design and replicate them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains an online database of evidence-based programs and practices.

This is not a fly-by-night buzzword. Evidence-based is a rigorous approach to the application of research to practice and while the approach may not have all the answers we can expect to see more of it.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I'm thrilled to announce the ReCoding Good Charrette series. This is a key part of the work I'm now doing at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS).

The charrettes (design conversations) will run over the course of 2012 and focus on issues that offer new opportunities to use private resources for public good. We'll poke and prod and question these topics, turning them over and examining their roots as well as their potential. What are we looking for? Their likely, possible, or desired impact on philanthropy and the policy frameworks we use to guide private resources for public good.

Charrettes are hosted with partner organizations. Topics identified so far include:
  • Is it better to give or to share? Intersections between philanthropy and the sharing economy
  • Political Charity? Citizens United and the New Reality of Change
  • New Money, New Rules: The Policy Frame for Impact Investing
  • Global and Digital: Public Goods in the Internet Age
  • Big Data, Open Government, and the Public Good
  • 21st Century Institutions: Governing Public Good
  • Bioscience, the body, and the body politic - new frontiers of public and private
The conversations happens all year long online at #ReCodeGood. Charrette discussions will be  documented and shared on the PACS website and here. We invite you to participate in all of our electronic discussions and public forums.

The ReCoding Good charrettes complement a series of scholarly workshops, ongoing public forums, idea sharing, and policy research that make up the larger project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology. We expect this work to provide guidance for improving the public policy frameworks that shape our social economy.

We invite you to join us in asking five key questions about the emerging social economy:
  • What does a post-Citizens United world mean for nonprofits, philanthropy, and the public good?
  • How is digital technology changing our conception of public accountability and public goods?
  • How will big data, the sharing economy, and open government influence philanthropy?
  • How can we better align our regulatory frameworks that govern and structure the creation of public goods with the technological innovations being made in bioscience, data processing, and other rapidly advancing fields?
  • What are the 21st century policy frames we need to encourage the use of private and public resources to help address our major domestic and global challenges
The answers to these questions will inform policies to shape a more robust, capable, fair, and effective system for using private resources for public good. Such a system matters to all of us: nonprofits, donors, social investors, social entrepreneurs, activists, public officials, and, above all else, citizens. The rules reflect what we want from government, markets, and individuals in solving our shared social problems.

All materials from and information about the project can be found at We invite you to join our email list, talk with us on twitter (#ReCodeGood) and join us in person whenever you can. You can register to participate in the conversations here.

The ReCoding Good charrettes are part of the Philanthropy, Policy and Technology Project of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University. Rob Reich, @robreich) and I (, @p2173) are leading the project. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Making political decisions in the new social economy

In the newly released Blueprint 2012 I talk about how political contributions and charitable giving may well become part and parcel of the same "change strategies."

I use a "galaxy/universe" metaphor to show how charitable giving, impact investing, and political contributions are all part and parcel of one universe. As donors and changemakers we are traversing this universe, making decisions about our resources from each of the galaxies.

(Blueprint 2012)

I was surprised and delighted to see a similar metaphor used in the newest issue of Mother Jones Magazine where they write about the emergent relations between 501 (c) nonprofits and political giving. All of this is brought to us courtesy of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs the FEC.

Mother Jones also includes a closer look at the content of the political giving galaxy - here's a snapshot (Photo from Mother Jones, Courtesy of BoingBoing)

This issue of Mother Jones issue includes the decision tree infographic below. Whatever your politics, policies, or charitable interests, these are the enterprise decisions you are now navigating. The decision tree walks a donor through the tradeoffs of anonymity, tax deductibility, and other factors that are now in play.

(Mother Jones Magazine)

I was quite struck by this, as it mirrored a conversation I'd recently had with a real life large scale political donor. He told me of a conversation he'd had with a campaign fundraiser, who basically walked him through these options on the phone. And when he got off the phone he said, "Whether or not I mix my philanthropy with my political giving this way I know that others will be doing so." I found myself also wondering if the nonprofit development directors calling him were aware of the blend of options he was now considering.

This is the new social economy.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The data ecosystem

Open up the data!

I feel like I should tattoo this on my forehead. This is what I think about, write about, speak about, and blog about. My forecast for next year (and the years beyond) includes a whole section on big and open data as a resource for social good.

But I don't think data are going to change individuals' behavior directly. Most of use a lot more than data when we make decisions. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, won the Nobel prize in Economics for proving that we're not as rational (read: data driven) as we think we are. We factor in lots of other interests and issues besides data when we make choices.

This is especially true in philanthropy. We give for reasons of the heart, personal connections, feeling good, looking good, and doing good. Efforts to shift our giving toward more rational, data driven, informed practices know this - they aim to shift the margins (which are quite big) in order to eventually, perhaps shift some of the middle.

So why am I so focused on opening up data when individuals may not use them? Because data are the most basic organic matter for the ecosystem of social good. They provide fodder for how we identify "the problem," which then plays a huge role in "the solutions" that we build.

I believe that opening up philanthropic data will help enough innovators to think differently about how we change the world. Their efforts will yield new opportunities for the existing system and for all of us.

Stop for a second and think about how data now subtly guide or inform your choices in all sorts of realms - air fares, music, book and movie recommendations, jobs, directions, bank rates, cupcake shops, hairdressers - we all have the option for using more data than ever before when we make these daily decisions. And it's not just the easy stuff, like price. It's the tough stuff, like opinions and reviews, that are now available anywhere, everywhere on seemingly everything. When Angie's list started advertising that you could compare plumbers and doctors I knew we'd turned a corner.

I didn't personally seek out these data. Entrepreneurs saw the value of data as raw materials from which they could put new tools into my hands. Those tools help me do the things I like to do faster, easier, and with better results. And when enough of us start expecting this information to be available it spills over onto how the whole system works.

In philanthropy, we're just moving beyond the most basic information. Basic data on operational overhead is widely available and is beginning to power some new tools that let you contrast nonprofits. But that approach still assumes that you and I care about that administrative ratio comparisons first and foremost when we make a gift. Some of us do, but most of us don't.

This approach also sees data as an end-point in the decision making process, not as an input to thinking about solutions.

What we need is an approach to data that goes beyond the basic quantitative comparisons and gets to the level of how we solve problems. If we shared information on where private and public money flows in a community, or where needy people spend their days, or how much food gets wasted and where, or we could hear directly from our elderly neighbros, or help artists connect with each other we might imagine whole new approaches to our shared problems.

What if we could match something like RelayRides (neighborhood car swaps) with TaskRabbit (small job doers) with volunteers for the elderly so that we could help our neighbors keep their doctor appointments and avoid the ER? Or use data on car sharing services to reroute busses so they serve the areas that really need them? Or use the Twitter patterns of food trucks to help identify cohorts of professionals who might be willing to volunteer? Used the opt-in text messages of young people to engage them in community or public service?

What can we learn from giving patterns? Of individuals, corporations and foundations? We don't really know because we don't really have these data in the form that would allow us to know. We also don't have the ability to mix giving data with shopping data, political giving, voting patterns, faith traditions, or other potentially useful information. Charitable giving is an enormous part of our communities, yet we haven't cracked a way to use the aggregate information on money flow, causes, organizations, or donors so we can see this pervasive activity in any kind of meaningful context.

I see philanthropic data as a "nutrient" in a healthy, diverse ecosystem of social solutions. The open government movement has accomplished some of this with public data - and we have better 311 systems, better public transit, and quicker response times for public works departments as just some of the results.

Early, proprietary efforts at mashing up philanthropic data are being used to develop strategy maps and plot grants by location. These are great first steps.

When we get to the point when you can track funding from all investors (impact investors, philanthropy, government) or monitor particular organizations or enterprises that interest you, then we can influence the flow of capital.

When we can see entire  ecosystems of organizations and funding by issue, geography and population, we can engage communities, guide public policy, and fund accordingly.

And when we can map and mine patterns of success and supply, we will inspire the next era of change makers to expand what works and build what's missing.

Open data are the fuel to make all of this happen.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Philanthropy and Social Investing Blueprint 2012

My third annual industry forecast for philanthropy and social investing is now available.

After a year like the one we've just had what can donors and impact investors look ahead to in 2012? Here's what we can expect:

"There are two things we can be sure will happen in 2012. First, hundreds of millions, probably billions, of dollars will be raised by newly created, issue-specific nonprofit organizations in the United States. Second, that money will be used for political advertising in the American presidential campaign.
An opening statement about political giving might seem out of place in a monograph on philanthropy. It should make you say, “what?” The key challenge for philanthropists going forward will be to understand and adapt to the actual landscape of funding in which they now work. Today this is as much a landscape shaped by the dynamics of political giving and impact investing as it is by charitable giving. It is the gravitational pulls and pushes, the choices made between and among these resources and the enterprises that they fund that matter."

Blueprint 2012 will help donors, investors, and enterprise leaders address three big shifts coming in 2012:
  • Finding your way in the new social economy in which philanthropy and impact investing now operate
  • Considering the implications of the Citizens United decision on philanthropy and social investing
  • Making sense of data as a public good
Looking further into the future, Blueprint 2012 provides early alerts about the impact of open government and the sharing economy on philanthropy and impact investing. 

You can buy hard copies on Lulu, pdfs at Scribd or Amazon Kindle versions (eBook format is coming soon!). Orders of 20 or more can be placed by clicking here. Preview the book below:

Philanthropy and Social Investing Blueprint 2012                                                                                                   

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Money for Good II

The Money For Good II report is out today!

A deeper look at what motivates donors to give, what information they use, what needs to be done to research to make it more useful to donors, and what could be possible if a small percentage of donors focused their giving on highly effective nonprofits.

Get all the materials here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Funny philanthropy campaigns

I like the Case Foundation's #goodspotting campaign so much I wanted to declare it a buzzword the minute I heard it. That seemed perhaps a bit rash. Instead, I decided to highlight some fun fundraising campaigns and ask you to submit your favorites.*

Case Foundation #GoodSpotting - great video

Jimmy Wales is back asking for money on Wikipedia. This campaign raised eyebrows, and a lot of money, last year.

The @rockpapergivers campaign is well-named. Not much info available, just a twitter handle with a great description, "The worlds largest rock paper scissors tournament for charity, raising $1mn in 2012 with roshambreneurs."  Intriguing. Could rank up there with last year's stellar Spelling Bee for Cheaters hosted by 826 Valencia.**

The #Whatever campaign. Do something, anything, #dowhateverittakes to help homeless kids.

Several folks wrote in praising the old fashioned direct mail solicitations that promise "make a gift and we'll leave you alone." They seemed to work. (HT @jessamynlau, @sewsueme)

Thanks to @emahlee for the link to the "save our journalists" campaign from Grist - journalists as endangered species who need organic tea - here's the video.

It's not too surprising that the country that gave the world Monty Python could also consistently make Red Nose day funny. (HT @carolefiennes)

Please send me links to the holiday giving campaigns that catch your eye for their irreverence, accuracy, engagement, irony, or humor. The ones that excel in shtick, make you laugh, and make you violate your own rule about not passing on chain emails. Submit them in the comments only and include videos and other links so we can all enjoy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently ran this story on shocking fundraising campaigns - I'm looking less for shock and more for shlock.

While you're at it,  give me thumbs up or down on #goodspotting as a 2011 buzzword. (Vote in the comments or tweet me @p2173). Catchy? Meaningful? Might it stick around as an idea (or, in 21st-century-online-jargon) become a meme?

Happy Turkey. Go on out and appreciate something today.

* I also set up a new blog, (app)reciators, for the little things in life
**Full disclosure - Eric Kessler, my colleague at Arabella Advisors, is behind @rockpapergivers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The business of the business of good

Michael Porter, the Harvard business school guru, defined how industries work in his book on competitive strategy. He drew out the relationships between competitive enterprises and their supply chains, infrastructure, distribution channels, and advocacy organizations. He noted how industries develop secondary support firms - such as specialized consulting services geared toward the needs of the enterprises in that industry.

By this standard, philanthropy and nonprofits have solidly achieved the industrial state. Three recent pieces on the consulting businesses that serve philanthropy and nonprofits caught my attention. The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran this piece, noting some of the bigger name firms. It also noted that the services these organizations provide used to be offered up pro bono. Now they are lines of business or entire firms unto themselves.

Blue Avocado, an online newsletter targeting nonprofit professionals, recently ran this piece on the "philanthropic industrial consulting complex." The title gives you a sense of the piece's position on the growth in consulting firms serving nonprofits and foundations. One insight worth considering is the degree to which young professionals may be more attracted to the consulting firms than to the nonprofits themselves. If true, this detracts talent from the sector and devalues the role of direct experience over academic degrees. The article offers no data to back the claim, but it is an intriguing concern. The third piece was a Washington Post story on the use of funds at the Newark Public Schools foundation funded by Mark Zuckerberg and others. At the time, the Newark Star Ledger was reporting that 1/3 of the funds from the Foundation for Newark's Future had gone to consultants linked to the Mayor's office.

As the founder of a consulting firm that served foundations, and now a managing director at another such firm, I've lived through the decade and a half of consulting firm growth. I founded my firm in 1997 in my living room. Within a few years we were competing with the spin offs from the big consulting firms or consulting firms with ties to major universities. To the degree that these firms add rigor, analytic capacity, talent, and research to the world of social good they are probably a net positive. Those that run as commercial firms inhabit the social enterprise space - serving the social sector without tax subsidy and paying for it with earned revenue. Those that run as nonprofits work hard to justify that tax exemption by sharing otherwise proprietary insights with the broader sector. However, to the degree that competition between these firms results in the service sector equivalent of planned obsolescence, or the kind of tail fin embellishment of 1950s auto makers, we might take a second look at our utility.

The consulting world has considered professional credentials, social impact advisors' networks, professional alliances, and so on. These efforts are nascent and no better or worse than any other industry's unforced efforts at self-regulation. As consultants to the social sector, I believe it behooves us to take seriously the potential and limitations of our aggregated selves.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fast Company Profiles Open Philanthropy

Thanks to Fast Company's Co.Exist blog and Nathaniel James for calling attention to the progress being made in "open philanthropy." It is an unduly generous profile of me but the real news is the exciting progress being made on sharing data about private resources for public good and treating these data as public goods. Other elements of what is changing that are not mentioned in the Fast Co article:

What's most exciting? That the list above could go on and on...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Ambassadors for Philanthropy

The international program, Ambassadors for Philanthropy, aims to encourage philanthropy by giving philanthropists a voice. This involves all kinds of media use, a broad definition of philanthropist, and a global presence. They are in start up phase, making connections and listening to doers and donors from Bucharest to Beijing.

The program was started by Dame Stephanie Shirley, who was appointed Britain's first ever Ambassador for Philanthropy in 2009, and aims to engage philanthropists in countries all over the world. They are starting the conversation, literally, on November 7 with their first Mashup Monday - conversations via social media. Join them.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Philanthropy Buzzword 2011.5 - Infographics

(Both charts from Ben Greenman Graphs about Charts and Charts about Graphs, Graph One and Four.)

I found these in the Fall 2011 issue of the Grantmakers in the Arts Reader*. As is the way with pictures and words, they absolutely convinced me that Infographics had to be this year's philanthropy buzzword #5.

We've gone from the Beauty of data to Bad data, Badly drawn. Of course, a picture could show this best, so here it is:

(From The Guardian, Datablog)

The good news is this kind of overkill fits in perfectly with the lifecycle of these things. We've gone from rare to cool to overhyped and overused. Next in line should be "good and useful and common."

*By the way, the issue also has a fabulous short spread (graphic novel style) on copyright in the digital age. Absolutely worth reading.

The $230 Billion Question*

I love data. Especially when they are all over the place. This is the case with estimates of the impact of the charitable tax reforms, proposed in President Obama's (Congress-will-hold-it-hostage-forever-so-it-doesn't-really-matter) Jobs for America Act

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that $230 billion in government revenue will be "lost" to charitable donations between 2010 and 2014. So the $230 billion question on the table to several economists is what would be the effect on charitable giving if the law:
  1. Reduced the charitable tax deduction for wealthy households +
  2. Increased the marginal income tax rates they pay?
The experts said:

    1. Decrease between $0.8 Billion and $2.43 Billion (1) OR
    2. Decrease by between $1.7 billion and $3.2 Billion(2) OR
    3. Decrease by between $2.9-billion and $5.6-billion.(3)  
So, changing the law will decrease giving by somewhere between $.8 billion and $5.6 billion - that's quite a range. The scope of that range gives you a sense of how much the economists disagree on the likely effects.  Even the high number estimate is only about 2% of annual giving. 

So, what might REALLY disrupt things as we know them?
  • The Super Committee (AKA the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) fails to reach a deal and across-the-board cuts in domestic spending go into effect in 2012. The Committee has a deadline of November 23, 2011.
  • The collapse of the Euro and its ripple effects.
  • Mother Nature hits the US with the world's first trillion dollar natural disaster (this would mean - most likely - one of the major coastal cities) causing massive long-term evacuations (among other horrors).
  • A pandemic with which the public health system can't cope. 
  • Changes in tax exemptions, deductibility of gifts to churches/synagogues/mosques (my guess - I'd love to see economic models on this). 
  • Campaign finance and charities become so intertwined in 2012 Presidential Election that small donors throw up their hands in disgust and stop giving and voting.
  • All current signers of the Giving Pledge decide to forego endowments and make their gifts for operating expenses. Starting in 2012. 
  • Corporate codes across the U.S. change to provide businesses with documented social returns the same tax treatment as nonprofits.
  • High end donors shift their charitable budgets to political giving - deciding it's cheaper to "influence" policy then underwrite direct services.
  • Small donors replace cash donations with volunteering, overwhelming local organizations with talent but slashing their contribution budgets.
I can think of all kinds of other possibilities. Some of them might be rule changes, perhaps around telecommunications and how we use mobile phones. Others would be behavioral, new practices for sharing digital information that empower networks more than organizations. Others are only slightly farfetched - involving legal challenges around the rights of robots or with regard to human tissue. Perhaps we'll see a space-based (ocean-based) community where all the roles and rules are written from scratch.
What do you see as potential disruptors - for good or bad - regarding philanthropy as it now works in the U.S.?

(1) IUPUI Campbell Co study.
(2) Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center Microsimulation Model - presented to Senate Finance Committee, Testimony of Eugene Steuerle
(3) Joseph Cordes, an economics professor at George Washington University

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Blueprint 2012 - Coming Soon!

The third edition of my annual industry forecast will be available for purchase on December 1st. Stay tuned for ordering details and some special offers this year. Subscribers to Stanford Social Innovation Review should look for the ad in the upcoming issue for a discount code.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The most important thing written about philanthropy in awhile

(Illustration by Steve Brodner, The New Yorker, October 10, 2011)

In my opinion, the most important thing written about philanthropy in a long time is this piece "State for Sale" by Jane Mayer in the October 10, 2011 New Yorker.

When you read it, you will think you are reading an article about state politics, campaign finance reform and Citizens United. I challenge you to read it and mark each and every time you come across the words "philanthropy," "foundation," or "nonprofit." And think about what the relationships, roles, and funding streams described in North Carolina mean for nonprofits and your giving.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Online Giving Database

In December of 2009 I published a database of online giving marketplaces that was developed by a Coro Foundation Fellow working on behalf of the Hewlett Foundation. I'm pleased to provide this link to an updated database, also done by the Hewlett Foundation. You should download this document rather than try to read it on the screen. It now includes 100 such platforms.

Mashable just highlighted "11 Innovative Crowdfunding Sites for Social Good" - you can check out their list here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Data in action

Five "notes" related to philanthropy, information, data, and action:

1) The California Community Foundation awarded one of its Unsung Heroes awards to Healthy City - a data driven project run by the civil rights organization Advancement Project. This is about data for action and social change.

2) Data Without Borders* held its first Data Dive in NYC and is coming to San Francisco on November 4th.  Learn more here and sign up here.

3) I lucked out and got to work with Stephanie Hankey of Tactical Technology Collective for several days last week. Tactical Tech's work is all about "turning information into action." They have fabulous toolkits (free, downloadable, creative commons licensed, open sourced) on their website. Plus, they have a robot, "ono," and s/he has a video collection. They have a book coming out in 2012 - it is already on my must read list.

(Photo from Tactical Tech, data visualization book)

4) The Knight Foundation continues to dominate the voting in my "person's choice award for foundation data communications." Here is their latest report, Getting Local, on nonprofit news organizations.

5) The Digital Public Library of America, a project of the Berkman Center at Harvard is holding its first plenary session on October 21 at the National Archive. This is truly "data in action" - an effort to create a digital public library. I've been following this from "idea" to action and find this effort to be truly hope inspiring. The plenary session is over-registered but you can participate via live stream on October 21. All info is here.

*I'm on DwB advisory board.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Philanthropy as infrastructure?

This is a bad idea. As a society, we should not encourage the replacement of public responsibilities by private philanthropy. Philanthropy is fickle, it's too small and fragmented, and it's under the control of a few, it's not democratic. Its strengths in an ecosystem of funding options (public funding, commercial capital and philanthropy)  - choice, independence, and experimentation - become its weaknesses when one posits it as a replacement for public funding.

Of course, the key issue of our day is what is the "public responsibility?" Libertarians such as Ron Paul argue that the list of public responsibilities should be as small as possible - smaller government is what we need and we should leave business to do as much as possible. For example, today's NY Times reports that Paul wants to do away with the TSA and have airlines provide security. He believes that market pressures would induce the competing airlines to provide just enough security screening to be safe but not so much as to be intrusive. Given that security is a present day operating cost balanced against a potential future threat, I'd argue that the airlines would cut, slice and eventually abandon security measures as quickly as possible as they incur costs against the bottom line.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed suggesting that philanthropists start building bridges and invest in the nation's physical infrastructure. Just a few weeks ago I had a conversation with two colleagues about the "minimal viable role" of government. Defense spending was in there. So were roads. I guess I overestimated.

How about loans for businesses? Starbucks' is working with CDFIs to launch what could become a significant loan program for small businesses. The "Create Jobs" plan is good - it has good leverage, gives everyday people a chance to engage, and could actually provide meaningful resources. But don't fool yourself into thinking that a $5 donation through your coffee vendor is going to save the economy. CDFIs  grew out of the mutual aid efforts of immigrant communities a century ago, were boosted significantly by government support in the 1960s and have drawn significant private capital ever since. Their existence reflects a relationship between government, private capital, communities and philanthropy. They've become core parts of the nation's commitment to communities and small businesses (even if Howard Schultz had not ever heard of them until recently). Starbucks' philanthropy can expand this, build on it, and engage everyday people in it - that's all good. But it can only do so because of the base of institutions that government itself helped build and the regulations that require banks to pay some attention to communities.

Philanthropy has a role in the ecosystem of funding for public goods. It is one key way in which we use private resources for public goods - volunteering and impact investing being two others. Claims that philanthropy can replace public funding fail to understand its actual scope and potential. Counting on it to provide core public services is, among other things, simply undemocratic.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thoughts from afar

I've been traveling, meeting new thinkers, and seeing the world from vantage points beyond my norm. So many ideas are moving in my head - think of this blog post as literally a chance to grab some of them, "tie them down" for the nanosecond it takes to write them, and see if they spark insights for you.

The sharing economy is much more than just a bunch of neighbors sharing cars and tools. It could be the platform for the next iteration of social and political change.

Movements are really messy and what you see on the internet, television, and public statements is only one thin layer of what's really going on. What is the #occupy movement and how will it matter in the short and long terms?

The Post-Industrial Social Economy, a headline I blasted out a few days back, is real. We are creating (through the contraction of the formal economy, a slow shifting to informal networks instead of and in addition to institutional NGOs, the power of mobile enabled organizing, sector agnosticism about social change, and the legitimate elements of the social business movement  a new economy of good.
Here's a new book on sharing - Share or Die - that I look forward to reading.

I finished reading Jeff Jarvis's Public Parts on a plane a few days ago. He raises some interesting questions about the transformative nature of publicness. He also connects the "personal" public with the "shared" public - his own decisions about sharing information with changing community expectations about what information and resources are shared. I think this is important.

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International wisely summed up two key forces of change in the world: "The creation of a middle class in developing economies simultaneous with the destruction of the middle class in developed economies."

People my age (late forties) in eastern European countries have lived half their lives under communist autocracies and half their lives under capitalist democracies. They seem better able to reckon with the likelihood of real system change than I am - they've lived it. Some of the people I've spoken with have basically different understandings of "long term" than I do.  It's odd for an American to travel to Europe and feel like our country is "old," but that's how it felt to me. How do these experiences influence individual's commitment to a European Union (or to any political system?)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Giving 2.0 - Laura Arrillaga Andreessen

I'm honored to be one of the co-hosts for the launch of Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen's "back to school philanthropy must read" book launch. Please join us at Stanford's CEMEX Auditorium (Stanford Graduate School of Business) on Thursday, October 27, 2011. Program starts at 6:00, doors open at 5:30.

Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, Stanford PACS founder and Advisory Board chair will talk about her new book Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World with introductions from Jim Canales, President of The James Irvine Foundation and Stanford Trustee. Laura takes Giving 2.0 readers on a fascinating journey through the fast-changing world of giving and read compelling stories of individual philanthropists. This is the Stanford and Silicon Valley main event for the book launch!

RSVP here:

Honorary Co-Chairs:  Stanford PACS Advisory Board: Maddy Stein, Vice Chair; Susan Ford Dorsey; Laura Fisher; John Goldman; Russ Hall; Leslie Hume; Burt McMurtry; William Meehan III; and Regina Kulik Scully

Co-hosts: ASSU-Philanthropy; Castilleja School; The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Hoover Institution; Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS); The Learning by Giving Foundation; Legacy Venture; Marcia and John Goldman; Philanthropy 2173; Sand Hill Foundation; Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2); Skoll Foundation; The Stanford Alumni Association; Stanford Alumni Association- Stanford Club of San Francisco; Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR); Stanford Law School; Stanford Social Innovation Review; The Office of the President-Stanford University; Tactical Philanthropy Advisors; The Dragonfly Effect; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; Tides Foundation. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Post industrial social economy

I'm writing....articles, book review, annual industry forecast. This quote from Yochai Benkler in the NYT of September 27 really hit home and clarified something for me:

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”

The changes all around us in the social economy are not just the pressures on existing organizations or the adapted new organizations that are being created - they're about social good beyond organizations. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Problems and Solutions, Difficulties and Progress

I received the following email on Thursday, September 22, 2011 from Lee Devin, retired Professor of English and Theater at Swarthmore College:

"Hi Lucy
Reading your latest, I somehow got the idea to introduce you to T. D. Weldon's little book on The Vocabulary of Politics, first published by Penguin in 1953. He makes a distinction I've found very useful and I bet you will too.

Between problem and difficulty. I'm giving you the short version--the original is more interesting, but not so direct.

Problems have solutions; solve them and problems go away.
Difficulties don't have solutions; they require continual address.

A big pothole is causing a problem on 1st Street. Fill the pothole and solve the problem. Move on.

The nation's secondary schools aren't good enough. This is not a problem, it will never be solved. Some identifiable problems might be solved, but the system as a whole requires constant attention. The school system will get better, but will never not need your attention.

We like to simplify by naming difficulties and treating them as problems. "The War on Terror." This is not a problem, it's a difficulty, a part of contemporary life. It will not be "won" or otherwise go away. It will be addressed continually and ways may be found to diminish its impact on daily life.

And so on.

Struck me while reading you that philanthropy could do well to think of addressing difficulties and get over the idea of solving problems. Certainly that would be a boon to theatres, if the dreamers up of grants and initiatives could have that view.


I love this letter for several reasons. First, it introduced me to new ideas - those of T.D. Weldon and those of his critics in political philosophy.

Second, it introduced me to an interesting person I didn't know, Lee Devin. I immediately emailed Lee back and asked if I could post this letter. Then I searched for information about him. Read what I could find. Exchanged a few more emails. I would like to meet Lee in person.

Third, it demonstrated, yet again, how we can connect now - finding new ideas and people, creating new conversations, learning and sharing.

Fourth, the content hits directly on a real challenge of philanthropy - one that I first encountered in my dissertation research - the whole concept of "problem definition." At the time I was interested in this in terms of the power dynamics - "He who gets to define the problem generally gets to define his preferred solution." Of course, Lee is asking me (us?) to consider the feasibility of actually solving problems - in terms of resources and time horizons and the philanthropic reality versus rhetoric of  metrics this has real implications.

Thanks Lee!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One prediction come true

 (photo from Google Wallet)

In my list of Ten for the Next Ten I predicted that smart phones would replace our wallets. This is already true in Europe and Asia - with launch of Google Wallet today (as limited as it is), it's come true in US also.

So what? Let me quite David Pogue, tech columnist for The New York Times, on why this shift matters:
"Someday, [this functionality] will be everywhere.
At that point Wallet will be much more than a glorified credit card. It will be the cornerstone of a huge economic ecosystem of banks, merchants, advertisers and other companies. It will replace everything in your wallet: tickets, boarding passes, transit cards. All electronic, all secure, all wireless and easy."
Notice who Pogue leaves out of that ecosystem  - nonprofits. Social businesses. Charitable donation collecting enterprises. That would probably be a bad thing for those enterprises, don't you think? If all our money is moving to our phones it's probably going to be part of that shift.

I don't think nonprofits and philanthropic giving will be left out (and I doubt David does either, he probably includes them in "other companies.") In fact, I'll bet that nonprofits and charitable giving fundraisers get right in there on this and embed the daylights out of their giving options with all those shopping options.

Let's hope we can be more creative than that as this scenario of wallet+data+telecommunications device comes into being.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why I'm a philanthropy wonk

(Photo from ZD Net)

From 1990 to 1997 I worked on staff for a number of community foundations. This was the early days of email, the heyday of the Mosaic (then Netscape) Internet browser, and few of us had cell phones. The hip kids who did own mobile phones aspired to own a Motorola Razr. One community foundation CEO I know owned an Apple Newton and the PalmPilot was introduced toward the end of this period.

It was clear to me then that community foundations had more information on hand than they knew what to do with. My colleagues and I - both donor service and program folks - spent lots of time in community meetings. Our board included local activists, representatives of wealthy multi-generational cornerstone families, local newspaper officials, bankers, and public sector officials. They were involved in a wide swath of community life. Every day the mail came filled with proposals about what was going on, what needed to be going on, and who wanted to do what. We used all the data we gathered to make the best grant decisions we could and to connect and weave together all the projects, organizations and individuals we could. We did our best and at the end of every day it felt like we had been pushed back to shore by the incoming tide of information.

This professional experience was a second formative* step in my obsession with communities and information. In 1994 I published an article in the (now defunct) Foundation News and Commentary about the need for community foundations to structure themselves around their information role and coined the term "knowledge foundations." Little did I realize then I was off and running on the core issue of the next 16 years of my professional life.

Lots has changed since the early 1990s. Smart phones are everywhere, Netscape begot Mozilla, and email is yesterday's technology, replaced by IM, texting and Facebook.  Community foundations still have tons of information. Having roamed the halls of the annual community foundations meeting I can attest that these folks are now as iPad, smart phone enabled as the next set of conference goers. I'm also pleased to say many of these organizations are getting much better at organizing information, using it, sharing it, and directing it back to the communities from whence it came and to whom it is very useful. A few highlights:
The spreading use by community foundations of DonorEdge, Razoo, DonorBridge, and other online tools to share their data about community organizations and engage individuals in giving.  To my surprise, several community foundation friends came up to me in the halls of the conference hotel to ask "Did you know that they're marketing DonorEdge with direct references to your work On the Brink of New Promise?" (I guess this is one measure of having made an impact - finding out five years after publication that a vendor is using your conceptual work on the future to sell products to the market you wrote about.)

The Denver Foundation is actively involved in its region's open government efforts - helping the local agencies open up and share public data so that residents can use it. This partnership includes other foundations and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network. They're creating the Colorado Data Commons. (Hey Data Without Borders - check this out!)**

The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta is building an online data hub for local citizens to share their stories. It's called the Neighborhood Corner and is part of the foundation's neighborhood grantmaking strategy. (Hey Craigslist Foundation and LikeMinded - check this out!)*** 

The last two examples are funded by the Knight Community Information Challenge.

This is all good. There are no doubt many more examples of foundations using and sharing data and information as a core part of achieving their missions. There's a long way to go. But it's great to stop and appreciate the progress.

Why am I philanthropy wonk? Because private resources matter in solving public problems. Using data and information in better, more inclusive and scaled ways, organizing around it, and recognizing its unique properties as a currency are defining elements of how our world works now. We have tremendous opportunity to improve both the use of information and the use of private resources.

*Formative step number one - seeing this same paradox of information flow in the historical research for my dissertation, Private Foundations and Public Schools.
**I'm a big fan of DataWithoutBorders and have been evangelizing about their work for months. Jake Porway, founder, has just been named a Pop! Tech Fellow - Yay! (Update: 12:52 pm PDT 9/21/11 - I just joined their Advisory Committee. So excited!)
***I'm on the Board of Directors of Craigslist Foundation.