Thursday, March 22, 2012

The most transparent grantmaker

Twitter made my day this morning when I received this:

Check out David's blog post for what he's up to - here's a short list of what he's aiming to post
"I commit to publishing a blog post within 15 days of the signing of a grant agreement that I have facilitated between Omidyar Network and a partner organization. The blog post will contain the following information:
  • Amount of grant
  • Date that grant agreement was signed
  • Name and link to receiving institution and other organizations involved in the project
  • Name and link to co-funders
  • Summary of grant
  • Contextual analysis of related issues
  • Metrics to gauge the impact of the grant
  • Date and manner that the relevant project will be evaluated"
He goes on to note that he'll be using the IATI schema and will get to the XML version of this information soon.

I jumped at this news and hope to speak with David next week to learn more. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to help David's efforts succeed. Let's use his effort to push further on our own transparency initiatives. It's a great opportunity for Glasspockets to chime in, for other grantmakers to think about their information sharing  and for the rest of us to use the information that does get provided.  It's great that one grantmaker has committed to put this information out there - but transparency improves practice only when the information is used. We need others to follow David.  Perhaps you'd like to surpass him, you're not going to let him get away with this "throw down challenge" as most transparent, are you?!

We need activists and grantees to respond, request, use the info; we need sites that can mash grantmaker data with public information, political giving, results data, other financial flows, etc. We do need to focus, as Phil Buchanan of CEP notes, on "the transparency that matters." As important as what we share is why we share it and what we do with it. In other words, transparency is part of a series of behavior, actor and organizational changes (it's part of institutional conversations) not just "another thing to do."

We need to see the sharing of the info as the first step in a conversation that aims toward better results.

Thanks, David, for your efforts. Everyone else, how will you use the information and join the conversation - what will you do to be more transparent?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nonprofits as the bad guys

Today at Stanford we're holding our #ReCodeGood charrette on Citizens United: Are Nonprofits People, Too? This post from Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, couldn't have been more timely. It raises several issues about transparency, trust, disclosure, advocacy, and anonymity. The question Roll Call asks, which we'll be grappling with is:
“I think there is a lot of concern in the nonprofit community about this,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, an Indiana University professor who studies nonprofits. “The problem is: What do you do about it? It’s hard to see a solution that’s workable.”
We'll be looking for workable solutions. We're particularly honored to be joined by Rick Hasen, of UC Irvine's law school, who posted his materials on his Election Law blog, along with Dan Newman of, which uses data and visualizations to reveal relationships between money and politics, colleagues from the Sunlight Foundation, Independent Sector, several local foundations and invited participation from the California Attorney General's Office and the Fair Political Practices Commission. Finally, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker is joining us - her articles State for Sale and Covert Operations are critical reads on this topic.

Listeners to NPR's Morning Edition may have heard Peter Overby's first in a series on the big donors to SuperPACS in this Presidential election. Overby explains why the disclosure rules on 501 c (4)s - which are not required to disclose their donors but do report their expenditures - obscure just how much more money might actually be flowing from these and other individuals through social welfare nonprofits. NPR also has an interactive on other "SuperPAC Superdonors."

Monday, March 19, 2012

REVISED AGAIN: Technology and future of social sector

What follows is a small collection of recent interviews, public discussions on technology and good.

(my photo, The Creators Project)

1) "The Joy of e-Giving," @MattBish in The Economist on Davos panel with Chelsea Clinton, Sean Parker, Eric Schmidt, Yuri Milner, and Alec Ross. Best part is suggestion from Tim Berners-Lee for
 "...a radical approach to improving the effectiveness of philanthropy through extreme charity: it should become a routine activity, he suggested, that anyone receiving a donation should publish in cyberspace exactly what they do with it, all the way along the line until the money reaches its ultimate charitable destination."
Platforms like Peer Water Exchange and FLOW are making this happen.

2) A review of a #SXSW session on "The Benevolent Internet"

3) Here is an interview with me in Crain's Chicago Business on future of nonprofits and technology.

4) Darin McKeever from @gatesfoundation on the Internet gets Charitable  (Thanks Victoria Vrana)

5) And because The Grants Managers Network conference is happening now, let me point you back to my plea for Open Data from last year's Personal Democracy Forum - (VIDEO) -

Since that speech last June, colleagues at DataWithoutBorders have held several amazing datadives and helped #NPOs across the country put their data to work. We're starting to see how powerful this behavior can be when put into action.

6) Jake Porway of Data Without Borders is in San Francisco tonight for a talk at CodeForAmerica  Big Data for Public Good. These are the front end events that we'll look back on and say "that was the moment" when community organizations really started using data as the new platform for change. I can't make it to tonight's  CfA event, unfortunately; but you should get there if you can. Yesterday, my family and I had a great chance to hike and talk data, video tagging, the future of news collection, R & D on community data, etc. etc. with Jake.

(Photo by @pbftwit)

Then we went to The Creators Project - an amazing art + tech installation at Fort Mason. This stuff will blow your mind - especially examples of extracting "closed captioning" from video broadcasts to make the video searchable. Which is technologically cool. And there's beautiful art as well:

(my photo, creators project)

That yellow thing is a data-driven, android phone-enabled pinball on a folded metal surface, structured as a multiplayer game. But, I'm sure you knew that.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Institutions as conversations

Why does corporate philanthropy usually get slotted into the marketing budget/ vision of the company? In this age of conversation and co-production, community engagement/community affairs/community philanthropy seems to me to be a ripe R & D activity. Get out into communities or issues, see what they need, see if you can be useful. It's like social media - a conversation, not a broadcast.
A word from me, my sponsor: Thanks for reading this blog. Thanks for buying the Blueprint - consider it a "Thank you" for a $10 purchase in support of the blog. (It's pledge time in NPR land, why not here?) You can also get the "blog in a box," "a ready to go retreat" and everything you need to talk about the future of the social economy in this toolkit (from me and the Council of Michigan Foundations).

(Regularly scheduled programming)
I listened, attentively, to the story "autopsy" on This American Life. I think they set a new (high) standard for handling the mistakes we all make and are increasingly making in public. After watching, listening and talking about the Invisible Children video and how it compared to the Komen events of a few weeks ago, I realized two things:
  1. The two-way, conversational, visible and video-able nature of our media lives - in which everything is both instant and archived - is part of how our future institutions will need to look. These are attributes of 21st organizations, not just social media efforts. 
  2. We engage in words, video, and photos - which broadens the conversations far beyond those who are comfortable writing. Commenting and conversing in video and photos - this is where digital media are taking us. Pinterest is one recent example of this - the boards are  conversations in photo form. I post a photo, you respond with a photo, others chime in with photos of interest to them. This development further expands the conversation - not everyone is going to write down their thoughts, but we're all carrying video cameras in our pockets and will get more and more comfortable with recording and sharing our responses, ideas, conversations. 
I had a great time in Dallas with the local chapter of Social Venture Partners and the Dallas Foundation. Conversations in the hallways made me realize how much I've been thinking about - and learning from others - about this question of 21st century institutions. I'm reminded of a story that Neil Degrasse Tyson tells in one of his lectures. It starts with a picture taken of the Cydonia region of Mars (below).

 (Photo from Wikipedia)

When this photo was first shown to us earthlings, according to Degrasse Tyson, many people took it as proof of life on the red planet. Really, those are just rocks. The photos that scientists used to locate  water on Mars show a barren landscape (no "faces"). His point is this - if you go looking for life on a distant planet and think that it's going to look like you, you're not going to find it.

My point - if we go looking for the institutions of the 21st century, and think they're going to look like those from the past, we're not going to find them. So I've started thinking instead about the attributes that viable organizations will have, given our expectations and technologies. A starting list includes:
  1. Permeable and transparent or very clear on why they're not.
  2. Generative - they have to do more than make one thing happen, they have to be able to set the conditions for the next thing to happen.
  3. Longer-term time horizon than one-off networks, but shorter-term than in the past (e.g. perpetuity).
  4. Public governance will change to expect and include outsiders (stakeholders?) in viable ways. Corporate public governance may go beyond shareholder proxies and public nonprofit governance will go beyond self-appointing boards of directors.
Finally, I've been thinking about how we all need to "Act like an Artist." Artists have been getting the work done - their art - in commercial, nonprofit, individual and networked ways since the dawn of time. We need to learn from them because their social economy is now all of ours.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Are Nonprofits People, Too?

(Cross posted on Stanford Social Innovation Review. See also #ReCoding Good Citizens United Charrette)

Citizens United and the future of the social sector

Presidential primary season has put the practical effects of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the FEC on painful display. By removing contribution limits, the decision has opened the floodgates to unprecedented cash flow for elections. It has also given birth to new organizational forms, as PACS morphed into SuperPACS, a new entrant into the already crowded campaign finance landscape of 501 c 4s, PACS, 527s, campaign offices and party coffers. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the early March numbers show a 234% increase in spending so far in the 2012 election compared to the same point in the 2008 cycle. Most surprisingly, it has positioned nonprofit organizations, specifically 501 (c) 4 and (c) 6 social welfare organizations, at the center of the money flow between donors and the offices their candidates seek.

There is a great deal of discussion about what Citizens United means for elections, campaign finance, and democracy. But what does it mean for the nonprofit sector? This will be the topic of our second #ReCodeGood charrette, coming up on March 20 at Stanford.

We are asking questions about the many possible ways the new rules for political giving might shape the nonprofit, charitable landscape. These include:

·      Will the ability to make unlimited contributions to elections change donor behavior? Will more donors seek to achieve certain social outcomes by influencing elections through (c) 4 or (c) 6 nonprofits? Will they draw against their “charitable” budgets to make these contributions?
·      How will the constant drumbeat of media attention to these political nonprofits affect public opinion of and trust in other nonprofit organizations?
·      How will calls for greater scrutiny of politically engaged nonprofits affect the oversight of others?
·      Will the new landscape of donor behavior entice more charitable nonprofits – 501 (c) 3 organizations to start or partner with election-engaged social welfare nonprofits – 501 (c) 4 and (c) 6’s?
·      How will demands for donor disclosure in political setting change age-old practice of charitable anonymity?
·      How will we know any of the answers to the above, given the current state of nonprofit and election disclosure rules?

Since January of this year, at least four states - Montana, Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont - have taken steps to counter the effects of the Citizens United decision. In Montana, a hundred year-old statute limiting corporate spending in elections, the Corrupt Practices Act, was upheld by the State Supreme Court, setting up a potential test case for Citizens United. The legislatures of Hawaii and New Mexico passed calls for a Constitutional Amendment to undo the decision and states across the country have revisited their existing rules on corporate spending and disclosure since January 2010. In Vermont, citizens in 58 of 60 town meetings held on “Town Hall Day” approved non-binding resolutions to undo “corporate personhood.”

While enormous spending gets all the attention, the roles of nonprofits and funders in both bringing the cases that resulted in Citizens United and responding to the current reality on the ground has warranted much less discussion. The appellant in the case, Citizens United, is a 501 (c) 4 nonprofit with an associated 501 (c) 3, the Citizens United Foundation. Nonprofit organizations and their funders have played a long role in advancing the legal strategy as well as those arguments being used to counter it. Corporate shareholders can (and are) seeking disclosure of political expenditures, however, there is no analogous process for nonprofit expenditures, as these organizations have no shareholders.

Participants at the March 20th charrette will include nonprofit lawyers, legal scholars, experts in political transparency, experts on nonprofit policy, and our special guest, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. On March 22, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society is pleased to host Jane Mayer in a public conversation with #ReCodeGood’s Rob Reich. Join us on campus at the Stanford Law School, Room 290 – register here.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Navigating the New Social Economy


I'm thrilled to announce that Blueprint 2012 is now a customizable toolkit for use by foundations, nonprofits, or any group seeking to improve their community. Navigating the New Social Economy: Making Sense of Philanthropy's Future presents practical information on the implications of three key issues for our sector - the new social economy, the impact of Citizens United on the social sector, and the potential of big data as a public good. You get the content you need on these three issues as well as the materials to lead strategy discussions about your work in this context.

The Council of Michigan Foundations made this possible - and their staff and members (independent, corporate, and community foundations) have vetted and beta-tested the tools.

The toolkit includes a customizable slide presentation that you can fit to your setting (board meetings, staff retreat, community workshops - you name it.) The slides come with an embedded script as well as a slide-by-slide facilitator's guide. There are suggested discussion questions to use with your colleagues. You also get digital copies of Blueprint 2011 and Blueprint 2012 and an introductory video of me kicking the whole thing off. The toolkit costs $100 and are available formatted specifically for private foundations, community foundations, nonprofits, or associations. It's a one-stop "board retreat in a box" - content, facilitation, and background materials included.

Purchase yours here.