Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Please...disrupt this

I wrote this about Square last week.

Then eBay and Grameen announced a mobile payment network system. (HT @kanter). And Simple was launched at #XOXO conference (which raised operating funds on Kickstarter). 

Some people agreed and suggested much more. Others disagreed.

I think it's high time we took all the innovation that's going on payments, banking, and mobile and said , "OK - how can we reinvent charitable giving." Really reinvent it. So it works -
  • People have the funds they need to do good.
  • Do-good enterprises are accountable - to the communities that matter (the public - their immediate community and the general public, their funders, tax exempting authorities)
  • Philanthropic funding is efficient and transparent.
  • Nonprofit reporting is seamlessly integrated with their expenses, taking the hassle out of fund reporting.
  • Grant reporting from foundations is streamed live and reported electronically (to the IRS and to intermediaries and sensemakers)
  • 990 data and grants data are accessible and interoperable with public revenue and issue data
There are $45+ billion in foundation grants made every year - that's a market worth making easier, more transparent. There's another $200+billion given by individuals each year. That's worth improving.

ICYMI - the rest of the five part series on technology and giving, including two special inserts on "tech and evil"  and "videos for good" is now available.
  1. How Square will change everything
  2. Cloud Philanthropy
  3. Filters and finding things
  4. New Skills for Giving
    1. 4.5 Technology for Evil
    2. 4.5.2 Videos for Good
  5. The Rules that Matter
The branch conversations are really great. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Video for Good

Have you seen Caine's Arcade? If not, watch below.  If you've already seen Caine's Arcade then skip to the second video and watch Caine's Arcade II and check out The Global Cardboard Challenge.  It will make your week (or your year, Happy 5773 all)

Caine's Arcade

Caine's Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.
9 year old Caine spent his summer building an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad's used auto part store. He is about to have the best day of his life.

Caine's Arcade II

Boing Boing, The Global Cardboard Challenge

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Rules that Matter

[Part 5 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. Over the last 5 days I've been thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment and suggest additions or corrections as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]

Do you remember the way the SOPA/PIPA debates went down? In January of 2012 the U.S. Congress was considering two bills about content ownership and distribution on the Internet.  Most of the public wasn't paying any attention. Then, suddenly millions of people were paying attention - organized by advocates within the open source, free press, free speech, free internet communities - and supported by actions of some big Internet organizations. Wikipedia, Craigslist, Google, Reddit, Wordpress, and other major sites blacked themselves out on January 18. Voters took to petition signing, tweeting, blogging, and even took to the streets. The bills were dropped. Many have written about this as the event that marked "the internet standing up for itself."

On a grand scale, it reminds me of book store lovers standing up for their bookstores. I've written about how this has happened near me in San Francisco and is ongoing now in Menlo Park on behalf of Keplers, but it's actually happening in many parts of the United States.They're both examples of people coming together to stand for things they care about - millions of people in the SOPA/PIPA instance, hundreds of people in the case of each local bookstore.

It is only a matter of time before the same forces of self-organizing take on the established rules that guide philanthropy. We'll be reinventing the rules of civil society before you know it.

We're seeing the pre-policy change behaviors - activists and donors rising up to protest a Board decision at the Komen Foundation, leading to policy change, personnel turnover, and organizational disruption. Implications - what are the new rules of governance and accountability our digital civil society?

We're also seeing pre-policy change innovation - consider the steady move toward opening up research, science, and information funded with public dollars. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) reported an 83% increase in articles published from 2010 to 2011. What are the new rules about content for our digital civil society?

We've seen innovations such as Kickstarter inspire change in how social sector activities are funded.  They've already led to changes in the policy landscape for raising capital through crowdfunding. What are the new rules for financing and owning social sector enterprises?

We're seeing experiments in democracy and political engagement through Pirate parties and deliberative democracy. What are the new rules for civic engagement and how will that alter the social sector?

It's hard to know for sure which innovation, from car-sharing to crowdfunding, from social media accountability to intellectual property practices, will lead to policy change. Steven Berlin Johnson does a great job in his upcoming book, Future Perfect, of outlining the common behaviors and practice changes that matter in what he calls the "peer progressive" movement. We can't necessarily predict what will sprout, but I think the seeds have been sown for multiple new ways of financing, distributing, and creating social good in a digital age. The rules to guide those practices will also change. What are the new rules for personal privacy and collective action in our digital age?

Finally, because the purpose of this five-part series has been to help organize my thinking for Blueprint 2013 I've concentrated on information and communication technologies, as these are furthest along in how they're visibly shifting civil society.  That won't be the case for long. Digital communications is becoming infrastructural to the social sector and our attention will soon shift. Advances in genomics, biotech, and even self-driving cars are accelerating at such a pace they will soon start shaping the daily lives of millions of people. As that happens, our understanding of technology and philanthropy also needs to expand.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch]

Technology for Evil - Special Insert Part 4.5

Don't forget - technology can be used for evil as well as for good.

We are reminded of this every day. The possible role of low-cost video and worldwide distribution in the events in Libya and Egypt yesterday brings the point, ever so sadly, home. And the difficulty in knowing who made the video, what their motivations were, and what role it really played in the protests and violence - we don't know yet and may never fully understand.

Think also of:

Decentralized and globally disbursed terrorist groups.

Distributed denial of service attacks.

Cyber security.

Nuclear and chemical weapons.

Citizen surveillance.

Government control of dissidents.

Digital shadows and the threats to activists.

Every thoughtful piece written on technology and the future, from Yochai Benkler, Cory Doctorow, Marc Goodman, Mimi Ito, Steven Berlin Johnson, Jaron Lanier, Larry Lessig, Rebecca MacKinnon, Evgeny Morozov, Howard Rheingold, Clay Shirky, Sherry Turkle, Ellen Ullman, Barbara Von Schewick, Jonathan Zittrain, and others, makes this point - even when the authors disagree on the end analysis (good or evil).

What does this all mean for philanthropy? In other posts in the series I've been writing about filtering and new skills.
  • How do you know whom to trust? 
  • How good is your BS detector? 
  • How do you know who is behind the work you're supporting? 
  • Are you putting people or grantees at risk with your communications plans or your data security?
  • Is your organization smart and safe about its data security, storage, and access?
  • How does individual privacy factor into your decision making?

[This is a special addition to the series I've been posting this week on the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment and suggest additions or corrections as what I learn here will inform the book. The previous posts, including their branches are here, here, here, and here. Thanks.]

I've also been experimenting with "live conversations" about the posts over on branch

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Skills for Giving

[Part 4 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. This week I've been thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment and suggest additions or corrections as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]

(Photo of a friend's business card. Really.)

I spent the summer between my junior and senior year of college taking a computer science class. I was so intimidated by the very idea of software programming that I wanted to have it as the only thing on my schedule (besides a full time job and training for field hockey season). I learned how to do some basic C++ programming and spent 8 weeks writing code to move a green blinking dot (the mouse) through an ever-changing arrangement of solid lines (the maze). I passed the class, got my required math/science credit, and returned to college in the Fall as a history major.

Yesterday, I logged on to the website IFTTT, signed in with a username and password, and with about three clicks "coded" my blogger posts to automatically save into my account on Evernote. Then I went over to ManyEyes, uploaded an excel spreadsheet, and made a bubble chart almost as cool as Hans Rosling's. I took a few minutes at lunch time to finish another module of CodeAcademy and, while I was at it I logged into Khan Academy to check in on my 6th grader's progress. Back at work, thinking about open licensing and social change, I've been slowly schooling myself in GitHub, exploring it and reading Pro Git, as I find I need to "play with it to get it."

Cory Doctorow tells us that ""Computers are everywhere. They are now something we put our whole bodies into---airplanes, cars---and something we put into our bodies---pacemakers, cochlear implants. They HAVE to be trustworthy." Marc Andreessen points out that "software is eating the world," and that in our world "everything is programmable." The Estonian government has decided that coding should be part of every first grader's curriculum.

We won't all become coders, but we all need to know how to make our computers and mobiles work for us and get smarter about how they are re-shaping what we share, when, and with whom. There is a sign that the general public is getting savvier on these issues - the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life found recently that more than half of the people they surveyed had either uninstalled or chosen not to install an app because of their concerns about privacy.

The technology infrastructure for data, communications, news, presentations, analysis, and sharing is constantly changing and expanding. Our practices for choosing and using data, telling stories, persuading others, and making choices have to keep up. The data sources that will be linked, omnipresent, and increasingly useful for donors, nonprofits, program professionals and board members are improving, rapidly.  These include data at all levels - industry-wide, issue-specific, programmatic performance metric, and on social outcomes. Running successful programs, leading organizations, analyzing funding opportunities, communicating and managing, or being an effective philanthropic professional requires people who can constantly upgrade their own abilities at data analysis and presentation, information synthesis, networking, financial analysis, and BS detection (or, what Howard Rheingold aptly calls "crap detection." We'll all need the kind of marketing and network experience that running a crowdfunding campaign requires, and funders will have to recalibrate where they fit into the ever-changing types of revenue that individuals, projects and organizations will be using to get things done.

I'm starting to think of my own professional skills like versions of operating systems - I'm a v.49 now and I'm working on upgrading myself to v.49.x. (Peter Leyden calls this "reinventing" and points to Tim O'Reilly as a model).

I used branch to help me think through this post, and was able to participate in an incredibly helpful conversation with Christine Egger, Beth Kanter, Howard Rheingold, and others. The resources that these folks linked to over there are incredible - from NTEN to Rheingold, conversations hosted on blogs and in books, Facebook - using the tool and writing this post was a meta-lesson in exactly the skills I'm talking about. For the sake of length I'm linking to them all rather than re-phrasing them here.

Everyone in philanthropy needs to keep learning - to keep up with the ways change is changing and to understand the design choices that effect our communities, privacy, choices, and sense of trust. In the Branch discussion Beth Kanter helpfully summed it up - "we need Net Smarts, cross-cultural competency, visual thinking, and data skills."

Here's a great example of this type of "professional upgrading" from the Nieman Lab on Journalism at Harvard. Brian Boyer, head of app development at NPR, not only describes, but offers the syllabus for the "hacker journalism" course he sees as necessary. Professional development is going to have be treated as a moving target. Our assumptions that "past degrees are an indication of future success" won't work anymore. There's lot of news about how technology is disrupting schooling and higher education. Those of us already in the working world are experiencing this as well - the need to simultaneously do and learn. We're all beginners now.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch. I'm embedding the branch discussion below so you can see what it looks like.]



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Filters and Finding Things

[Part 3 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. This week I'll be thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy.These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment and suggest additions or corrections as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]

Over the last few weeks I watched both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. As I tuned in and out of the televised coverage I also checked in on Twitter throughout the coverage. We're a country divided between the two political parties.  From the rhetoric of speakers on both stages, the difference between their approaches to the future is quite stark.

I wouldn't have known that from my Twitter stream. Furious one week, delighted the other week the thousands of people I follow on Twitter were of one mind during these two events. That's when I realized how much filtering I had done about who I follow. I had slowly but steadily curated a bunch of people with whom I agreed. That's who I was listening to and sharing links with. I know that there are people who disagree with me politically, but I had effectively (though not intentionally) silenced them.

We must manage our filters. We can diversify them deliberately or channel them into a group that passes around the same joke dozens of times in a matter of minutes.  If we're in the business of finding good ideas we need to manage those filters to help us, not limit us. Community organizers, activists, funders, and social innovators need to regulate the flow of info we contribute to and take advantage of, depending on what we're looking to accomplish. Narrow is good sometimes, broad is critical at others.

Political writing is, in Steven Berlin Johnson's phrase, right alongside tech reporting in the "old growth section" of the internet media forest. Philanthropy, social innovation and grantmaking, on the other hand, are much younger parts of that ecosystem. We are seeing lots of new sources of information that matter to our work (see EdSurge, for example, which tracks funding and innovation in education technology, an area of great interest to lots of philanthropists). We're seeing more foundations sharing information deliberately (Here's a good example from the Arnold Foundation). We're also seeing many wheels being re-created - do we really need 110+ online databases of giving opportunities (And here's the 111th, also from the Arnold Foundation) 

The information marketplace for giving and impact investing is still in its infancy - it's dynamic, redundant, and full of gaps. It's inefficient, incomplete, and in a time of transition.

We all need to stay light on our feet as we think about about where and how we get the philanthropic information we need - and dial our channels wider or more narrow depending on what we're looking for. Filtering noise and finding what and whom we're looking are daily practices.

**Bonus commentary on some new tech tools**

For about a year I've been completely uninterested in adding more tech tools to my daily regime of Twitter, Blogger, Email, Flipboard, and RSS Feeds. Google+ was the last network I joined and I don't use it anywhere near as much as Twitter. But an interesting change is happening in the tools that are available, and I've found myself experimenting with RebelMouse, Branch and ITFFF. These three sites are different from each other, but they have some interesting things in common. First, they assume I have online networks in place and they offer me ways to augment how I use them. Second, their geared toward visual interaction - whether it's the icons on IFTTT or the pinterest-esque layout of RebelMouse, they take my text-heavy world and make it easier to navigate. Three, they don't demand my attention the way earlier network tools did. I set something up on IFTTT once and that's it. I participate in a conversation on Branch and then I can move on. 

I sense an important change in this generation of network tools, they're complementary, simple, and assume pre-existing connections. The kind of interdependence these new sites have on pre-existing networks may not be reliable, given changes in companies' APIs and the business model demands for ad-driven sites, but from a user perspective the augmenting nature of them is really appealing.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch] - 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cloud Philanthropy

[Part 2 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. This week I'll be thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment and suggest additions or corrections as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]

I use Box, Dropbox, Google Docs, iTunes, Blogger and Pandora (among others). I store stuff that I've purchased in the cloud. I store stuff there that I share with others. I subscribe to stuff that only lives in the cloud. My devices spend a lot of time syncing with one another.

When I started my company in 1997 I spent a lot of time with network technicians, installing cat 5 cable, telephone exchange boxes, and servers. I sold Blueprint last year and now know that it would cost me maybe a third as much money for the technology to start another business. I could subscribe to most (if not all) the software and data storage I'd need and use VoIP. I'd never have to crawl under another desk, shove dust bunnies off a tangle of cables, or pay San Francisco rent for server space.

Cloud computing doesn't just change how we work, it changes the kinds of organizations we can start and how we can run them. The remotely stored data can be mined in ways that lead to new businesses. Cloud based philanthropy would experience the same benefits. Donors can launch foundations on subscription software, store their work in the cloud, permit others to share and use their data and research. They can import pre-existing data taxonomies so that their individual work feeds an aggregate picture and the aggregate picture informs their individual choices. They can engage "stringer" program officers, volunteer advisers, and remote board members and all work off the same information backbone. Grants management software can be programmed to instantly share data with larger repositories, expediting the reporting time and our ability to see trends.

Cloud-based information access and sharing makes it possible for networks of people to collaborate easily, cheaply, in real-time and anytime. It changes the need for an institutional home for changemakers. It makes it easier and easier for people to work in fluid groups, within, across and without organizational affiliation.

Cloud based philanthropy may be more transparent than our current model. Keeping your data on 3rd party servers forces people to think about ownership, security, access, and privacy upfront. Default foundation practices of reporting only for compliance reasons may give way to a more open and collaborative mindset that facilitates joint strategy setting and shared outcome reporting. Cloud based information is archived differently and may change what we know in the future about today's grant makers.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch


Sunday, September 09, 2012

How Square Changes Everything

[Part 1 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. Over the next 5 days I'll be thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment or suggest additions/corrections  as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]

My favorite cafe is in a laundromat. The owner is a self-described luddite except for the technology that goes into a fantastic espresso shot. About a year ago she became one of the first merchants I interacted with who was using Square. I sat in the cafe one day chatting with her when another customer came in - turns out he works for Square. He explained the pricing to me. He handed me a Square. He told me how I'd be able to pay by just walking into the cafe and saying hello. As he told me more the cafe owner interrupted. "It's easy, cheap, and cool," she said. That's when I knew it was something to watch. I walked home and let my kid set up the app on my iPad. He looked at me. "Cool. Now what do you want to sell?" In the course of 15 minutes I'd gone from coffee customer to potential merchant.

Square is part of a larger mobile payment trend. There are services from Verizon, Google, PayPal, and others. You may not have used your phone to pay for something yet but you will soon (Square just signed a deal with Starbucks.)

Square will change philanthropy. It's cheap. It's designed for the individual and it benefits merchants (it is much cheaper than regular credit card merchant accounts). It makes it easy to sell things, to track data on what you've sold, and to get better at what you're doing.

Square makes giving easier between and among individuals - which has implications beyond fundraising for how we make change happen. Square lets you track your charitable giving and political giving right next to the rest of your expenses. We'll get better at seeing our giving in relation to our overall budgets - and financial companies and budgeting software providers will help us take this further. It will lead to giving accounts at banks, add-ons and rounding up from merchants, embedded giving everywhere, matching gifts apps, and "I give, you give" behavior on social networks and in crowdfunding systems. It will accelerate the ability of people to motivate and fund crowds, of crowds to do things, and of networks to step in where once institutions reigned. It's cool, it's fun, it makes life easier and a little bit less expensive.

Mobile phone payment systems writ large will change how money and data are linked, although   this may take awhile because of equipment requirements and deals among telecomms. But Square doesn't require people to buy new phones, it doesn't cost anything to set up, and it fits in easily with whatever you're already doing AND let's you do more, I think it will be slide right on in and become a basis for all kinds of new behaviors. Philanthropy and sharing are basic human motivations - the simplest technologies are the ones that are easily and broadly adapted and that can form the base for the greatest change.

Because Square is designed with people in mind, not just institutions, I think it has the best chance to propel change in philanthropy. It changes the most basic step, money transfer, in lightweight, easy, inexpensive and "cool" ways - innovation will happen on top of it as our behaviors change because of it. Just as web 2.0 made us all into content consumers and producers, I think Square will accelerate how we each donate to and do good. It's a subtle but important shift in perspective and I think long tail giving will change because of it. I'm not an employee, investor, or paid promoter of Square, I'm just a philanthropy wonk. And I think that what we'll see with Sqaure over the next year are the earliest outlines of what much of doing and giving will look like a decade from now.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch] -

UPDATE September 10, 10:48 am - here's the branch conversation that's now happening 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Data overload (not really)

Wow - what a week for data and philanthropy.  Resources you'll want to track:

1) Beth Kanter and KD Paine have a new book coming out - Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. In preparation for launch Beth has been sharing her wisdom on SSIR and on her blog. I'm thrilled to have the chance to moderate a discussion with Beth and KD at Stanford on October 18.

2) NTEN's latest edition of their magazine CHANGE is about data. Get it.

3) The Alliance Magazine special issue that I co-edited - What can data do for philanthropy? There's wisdom in there  - subscribe to the magazine or download (pdf) the special section on data.

4) I'm giving a 5 minute talk on data and change at the Council of Michigan Foundation and Michigan Nonprofit Associations joint annual meeting on October 8 - slides will go live shortly thereafter.  Not sure what kinds of video streaming/archiving might be available.

5) I'll be doing a webinar with Stanford Social Innovation Review that will make data and data tools for philanthropy and social good come to life.....(probably in November 2012)...stay tuned!

As an added bonus, check out Beth's pinterest collection of "Nonprofit Data Dashboards," go play with the data on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's special section "How America Gives" and re-read Brad Smith's great piece, "Philanthropy's data dilemma."

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Challenging Lessons in Innovation

The Knight Foundation is in the midst of their News Challenge focused on Mobile (applications due by September 10) You can apply, get  tips on submitting a great proposal, attend "office hours," and review lessons the Foundation has learned from past challenges. It's fun to have been part of the team working with Knight to learn from the News Challenge and rewarding to see the Foundation sharing what they learn through reports, blogs, and conversations.

I co-wrote (With Knight Foundation staff Michael Maness and Mayur Patel) a blog post about the Challenge's past challenges (and successes). The post is live on Knight's site, as is the full report. The Foundation also visualized some of the ideas, Six Ways to Scale, as well as reflections on failed attempts, "How Ideas can Stall."

(Graphics courtesy of Knight Foundation)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

What can data do for philanthropy?

(Photo from Alliance Magazine)

I had the privilege and fun of co-editing with colleagues from The Foundation Center the special issue of Alliance Magazine, "What can data do for philanthropy?" The issue is out to subscribers and online now.

In addition to editing, which I was involved in only so far as identifying topics/authors and requesting submissions (the professionals from Alliance and Foundation Center did the real work of editing), I also imagined a future for philanthropy in which data are a starting place, not an afterthought. I called it Data-first Philanthropy and it's included in the special section of the Magazine. (pdf) (Thank you Alliance, for making the pdf available)

Other articles in the section include:

Monday, September 03, 2012


EdSurge is a commercial news source focused on education technology.

Investors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Washington Post Company,  New Schools Venture Fund, and Paul Allen & Company (among others).

It's a good example of philanthropists providing investment capital right alongside business investors in a commercial venture. It happens to be focused on the intersection of commercial technology and public education - one of those public goods that enjoys at least rhetorical non-partisan support. Private, independent, commercial, public - it's a truly blended venture. It's long term revenue model is still being created (journalism in general is looking for the answers here) - but I think this is an example of something to watch.

It's also a really good looking, easy-to-use, and engaging site - complete with wiki to invite participation.

Note: I have no affiliation with EdSurge, I found out about it through a tweet.