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


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