Friday, November 30, 2012

Tweeting for trustees

(Photo from my twitter stream, November 30, 2012)

That tweet is something I've never seen before - "Tweeting for Trustees" I called it when I retweeted it and watched it take on life.

The idea is impressive to me - My Society, the brand name of the UK Citizens Online Democracy, is inviting people to apply to be trustees of the organization. MySociety is home to such services as,, and and has recently received financial support from the Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundations. Here is a primer from the UK Charity Commission on what it means to be a trustee. I wish I qualified, I'd apply.

Back in the winter and spring of 2012 I wrote about how governance would need to change given increasing expectations of accountability. This was one of the more important lessons of the Komen Foundation meltdown, in my opinion. It's going to be fascinating to create new models of governance that take advantage of the tools we have and help organizations better serve communities. (This is a theme in the coming Blueprint 2013) .

If you know other nonprofits or foundations that are really opening up their governance methods, processes, participants please point me to them.  I'd love your help in finding great examples - as always, please load them in comments, tweet me at @p2173 or send via email.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In re: philanthropy rules, pay attention to the states

I'm up past my eyeballs working on the Blueprint 2013. In it I write about the critical role that state governments will play next year in providing incentives to, tracking, and regulating nonprofits and foundations. The last few days have carried these stories:

1) The New York Attorney General will post data online about nonprofits' fundraising and spending in response to the October storm.

2) State tax credits are a boon to donors. This is true in some places, but in others, like Michigan, the end-of-year giving numbers will reveal what happens when states end tax credits for giving.

3) Cases in California, Idaho and Montana went down to the election day-wire demanding donor disclosure from nonprofits deemed to be active in politics. This issue will continue at the state level even as the national attention fades (until the 2014 midterm elections). New York passed a temporary rule requiring greater disclosure.

So while media attention focuses us all on the "fiscal cliff" and nonprofit advocacy coalitions bare their teeth over potential changes to the charitable tax deduction rules, pay attention to the 50 states - that's where I think the policy action will be next year.

This is one reason I am so (super wonk) excited to be participating in a February conference of Charity Regulators hosted by Columbia Law School.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scaling mutual aid

This is a fantastic article on #occupysandy, #rollingjubilee and the opportunities/challenges of scale in today's social economy.

Occupysandy is the disaster response network birthed from the #occupy movement in response to Hurricane Sandy. Individuals have been out there serving as bike messengers, food runners, pedal powered cell phone chargers, apartment stair runners for water delivery, and managers of Amazon wish lists for purchasing and distributing goods.

Now four weeks past the storm (recovery still underway), the network has introduced #rollingjuibilee - a global, mutual aid effort that is relieving individuals of their debt burdens. Donors buy debt for pennies on the dollar and then forgive them. Simple. So far, individuals have donated a bit more than $400,000 and freed other people from more than $8.5 million in debt.

Simple, yes. And wonderfully pushing the boundaries of political ideology, organizational structure, and the age-old expectation that mutual aid involves knowing the people you are helping. This is one fantastic example of how we are changing the ways we use our own resources to help others, or, as we so alliteratively refer to it at Stanford the ways we use private resources for public good. That it doesn't fit neatly into existing political boxes is an intellectual bonus from my perspective - falls right into line with Steven Berlin Johnson's arguments in Future Perfect about peer progressives. (See my review in SSIR - but really, you should read the book.)

And now, to the question of scale. In Paul Ford's New York article he describes how the Rolling Jubilee effort is built on the Amazon IT backbone. This infrastructure is available for mere pennies compared to dollars. Researchers use it, businesses use it, (more) nonprofits probably should use it - when it comes to cheap, scalable infrastructure this is one example of the corporate world's best and biggest made available to anyone.

What once may have seemed ironic now seems ordinary - occupy, a network noted for its lack of hierarchical corporate structure and its anti-corporate focus -  has found a way to deploy one of the corporate world's most reliable, biggest, and "first class" systems to scale its debt-erasing efforts. Scaling social change efforts ain't what it used to be.

Using Amazon's servers requires one to behave by Amazon's rules for data ownership, portability, and surveillance. You use their systems, you play by their rules. This is just one more example of why data (policies, practices, ownership, rights) are so important - a theme I've been barking about for years and which, I'm happy to announce, is quite prominent in the upcoming Blueprint 2013.

What's my point?  Infrastructure, cost and assumptions about proximity are not the impediments to scaling social change efforts that they once were. Data rules might be. 

The rules are changing. We all need to be part of how they change - please follow my work on this at #ReCodeGood and at Stanford PACS, in the Blueprint 2013, in our SSIR blogs, and in our soon-to-be-published white papers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Philanthropy Buzzword 2012.8 - Hackathon

Hackathon*. This a cultural event in the world of software coders that is quickly becoming a problem solving approach in the civic space. What is a hackathon? A brief and intense (usually a weekend) period in which coders, designers, data geeks, and increasingly artists, community members, nonprofit leaders, and philanthropists get together to try to create quick technological solutions to shared social problems.

The geekier ones focus on deeply troublesome code problems. The more social oriented hackathons produce apps and maps and mobile tools for guiding disaster response, job seekers, data seekers, pothole reporters, park bench users, and others.

CrisisCommons, #hurricanehackers, #HackerHelper, DataKind, CivicCommons, RandomHacksofKindness, CodeforAmerica, Tech4Engagement, github,  - hacking and hackathons are everywhere. These are just some of the organizations, products, networks and relationships bringing them to bear on shared social problems.

Previous list of 2012 Philanthropy Buzzwords

7) Fiscal Cliff
6) Resilience
5) Social Welfare Organization
4) Sensemaking
3) Data Scientist
2) Flash Mob Philanthropy
1) Data

One great thing to look forward to in 2013 - hackathons 2.0 in which the communities, organizations and individuals who have the questions and grassroots expertise to identify the right problem and help design the solution will be part of these hackathons. Check out the work of the Grey Area Foundation For the Arts, Creative Currency for one example.

* Also known as Code Fests, DataJams, Code Jams...Some bonus related terms, courtesy of @vicvrana - "Datapalooza" and "ideation"

Monday, November 19, 2012

We've got data, now what?

Join me for this upcoming webinar

We're Getting Data, Now What?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
11:00am-12:00pm PST, 2:00-3:00pm EST
Lucy Bernholz, Visiting Scholar, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society
Darin McKeever, Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jake Porway, Founder and Executive Director, DataKind
June Wang, Knowledge Management Officer, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Up until recently, the nonprofit sector has not been known for transparency and collaboration. But times are changing. Thanks to rapid advances in computer and communication technologies, it is possible for stakeholders in the nonprofit sector to disclose more, to know more, and to demand more.

Join SSIR on November 27, 11 am PST and 2 pm EST, for "We're Getting Data, Now What? " a lively discussion on recent changes taking place in the nonprofit sector. These changes include the "Reporting Commitment," in which 15 large foundations have agreed to report quarterly to the Foundation Center's, and the "New Markets for Good" effort, focused on helping donors use data about different organizations to inform their giving choices. The presenters will analyze how more timely grant reporting from foundations can allow other foundations and nonprofits to look for relevant patterns, identify potential partners, scan a funding field, and potentially develop strategies that take into account other philanthropic resources.

This webinar is ideal for any and all stakeholders in the nonprofit sector who seek to know more about trends in nonprofit disclosure and transparency and who seek guidance on how to understand and take advantage of big and open data. Webinar registrants will have the opportunity to ask the presenters questions during the last 15 minutes of the hour.

Learn more about this webinar and register here. Your registration fee includes on-demand access to the webinar for 12 months and downloadable slides. This webinar is part of the 2012 SSIR Live! series—webinars are presented on the most provocative and important topics that have appeared in recent issues of SSIR and from sessions at the Nonprofit Management Institute. To view previous webinars, go to


Friday, November 16, 2012

Your #Philanthropy #Buzzwords

I'm working hard on two things for you.

First, the Blueprint 2013. There's some good news about the Blueprint this year. I can only tease you with it now, but look for a real press release soon. In the meantime, loyal readers and dear friends, pull out your pencils and mark your calendars - the Blueprint will be available on January 1, 2013. That is a little bit later than its usual December 1st publication date, but, trust me, it will be worth the wait.

Second, buzzwords. It's almost Thanksgiving. I know you think of the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's as "Giving Season." This year, be sure to be part of Giving Tuesday on November 27 as we turn our collective energy to helping make the world a better place.

I, however, think of the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years as "Buzzword Time." I have to check the list I've been keeping all year, watch what others are doing, start bookmarking all the other lists that people start posting everywhere. Most of all I have to make sure I get to 10 Philanthropy Buzzwords for 2012 before December 31st.

Here's the list I have so far:

7) Fiscal Cliff
6) Resilience
5) Social Welfare Organization
4) Sensemaking
3) Data Scientist
2) Flash Mob Philanthropy
1) Data

This year I got some great help from participants at the Independent Sector Conference. Here's a list of suggestions I gathered in a breakout session.
"Network(s) (ed)           Highly effective organizations           Community engagement
Innovation                     Analytics                                             Social enterprise
Impact                           Tech for good                                      Crowdfunding
Interaction                    Blended Value                                     Mission related investing
Impact Investing           Collective Impact                                B Corporations
Big Data                        Metrics                                               Optics
Social enterprise           Crowdfunding                                    Social innovation
ROI                                Results-based                                     Social impact bonds
Digital public goods      Outcome oriented                               Social economy
Evaluate                         Theories of Change                            Hybrid organizations
Community ecology        PerformWell                                      Transmedia"

I also was the recipient of this great "buzzword proposal."

I have my ideas and secret list of Philanthropy Buzzwords 8, 9 and 10. I'm also open to suggestions right up until December 31st 2012. Send me yours in the comments or on twitter at @p2173.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Art of Jargon

I had a great time at the Independent Sector conference on Sunday. I learned a lot at the four sessions I attended, ranging from some more details about the MarketsForGood initiative (concept paper is now up) to great examples of social finance from The Moore Foundation, Omidyar Network, New Schools Venture Fund, the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and McKinsey. I thought Matt Miller's and Arturo Vargas's comments at lunch were spot on - I hope #IS makes them available publicly immediately.

I also met a guy named Michael Alexander from Grand Performances in the session I did providing a "sneak peak" at the Blueprint 2013 (yes, it is almost that time of year). He (and all the participants) showed a fine ear for buzzwords (stay tuned) and Michael also shared the following proposal he has written. Enjoy (with tongue firmly planted in cheek)!
"The Innovative Art Jargon Creation Project - An Activity for the New Millennium"
Project Synopsis
Grand Performances respectfully requests a grant of $37,500 to manage a program to develop new Art Jargon which will be necessary for effective grant writing in the next century. Grand Performances is uniquely positioned to manage such a project because it has already created a number of important new phrases that, through increased use, will be of great value to arts grants writers in the years to come. 
Grand Performances will arrange a three day retreat, in an inspiring setting for a minimum of twelve experienced arts grant writers, grant panelists, foundation policy managers and artists to assess the need areas for future art jargon and to suggest a minimum of 120 new phrases (commonly referred to as "buzz words") that can be used by arts grant writers for at least the next ten years without "wearing out their welcome."
Each new phrase will come complete with a dictionary-style definition and a minimum of three contextual examples to help arts grant writers become comfortable using the new phrases in grants they are preparing for various size organizations representing various arts disciplines. In addition, by using the latest technology, an "Art Jargon" home page will be established to provide national distribution of the phrases as they are developed. 
Each passing decade since the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts has seen a geometric growth in the number of "buzz words" used by arts grant writers in their appplications. To date, there has been no formal development program to insure consistency of quality of these new phrases, nor a system for dissemination to insure that grant writers throughout the country had access to the new phrases at the same time, often giving grants writers in one geographic region or one discipline an unfair advantage over those writers not familiar with the new phrases. Certain regions and certain disciplines have been consistently underserved due to their grant writers' inability to gain access to the new phrases in a timely manner. 
As the number of new ideas for projects eligible for grant funding has decreased (see "There Is Nothing New Under the Sun" attached), the number of new "buzz words" has increased enabling experienced grant writers to 're-package' old ideas with new jargon. During the national economic recession of the early 1990's grant writers hit "a brick wall" as funding decreased for the arts and the available supply of new "buzz words" diminished. Arts consultants were the first to notice the problem and quickly brought the issue to national attention at conferences and other gatherings where arts consultants meet to strategize and assess their own ongoing marketing efforts. A privately funded study involving independent arts grant writers, arts consultants and representatives from government funding agencies from throughout the country provided evidence that one of the major causes of the diminished funding was a scarcity of exciting and useful "buzz words" that could be used in arts grant applications. 
Grand Performances is less than two years old and has already coordinated one large "arts think tank" retreat and produced two new Arts Jargon phrases that have entered the grant writing vocabulary. These phrases already have had positive results in Grand Performances' grant writing. In 1996, with funds from a Lila Wallace/Arts Partners grant, GP hosted a two day retreat to address questions of serving "accidental audiences," the first new Art Jargon phrase GP created. At a subsequent "art jargon brainstorming workshop" the use phrase "art tastemaker" was created. 
Armed with the credit for creating these new, vital arts grant phrases and the success of the workshop process, GP is now ready to embark on a more adventurous project to create 120 new "buzz words" and develop the Art Jargon Home Page.

If The Innovative Art Jargon Creation Project is a success, as it is expected to be, Grand Performances will embark on an acronym acquisition and administration (AAAA) project that will create useful acronyms that can be used in project proposals, interim and final reports and other project-related documents.
Grant funding will be used to operate the Home Page for the first year. In subsequent years, subscriptions, which will be sold to Arts Grant Writers for $200.00 per year, will sustain the Home Page. Any additional income will be used by staff to revisit the retreat site during the off- season to look for lost "buzz words". 
Grand Performances is also exploring the possibility of copyrighting the new phrases and charging a re-use fee in order to support the project in the future. "

Not surprised that someone as talented as Michael is way out in front of me - it never occurred to me to try to license buzzwords and I'm nothing compared to him when it comes to acronymization. Hats off!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Buzzword 2012.7 Fiscal Cliff

The fiscal cliff. I was saving this buzz word for later in the year. However, I've heard the phrase so many times today it must be the post-election day equivalent of attack ads. Since reading the paper and turning on the radio this morning I've heard the phrase at least once every hour (I'm listening to NPR). So far, only Terri Gross has spared me.

What is it? The fiscal cliff is the well-branded combination of automatic budget cuts and tax hikes set to go into effect on January 1, 2013. This is what our esteemed representatives signed off on when they couldn't reach an agreement but had backed themselves up against a debt limit ceiling. It's a self-imposed, self-exploding deadline of financial decisions that is intended to make politicians work together to avoid it.

Wait for'll hear about it on the news any second now. Expect it to dominate all poltiical coverage from now until December 31st. If anything has actually changed in Washington, the House and Senate will do something about it.  Whether they do or don't you'll hear about it.

What does it have to do with philanthropy? Lots. One of the tax cuts set to expire is the estate tax. The domestic spending cuts it would set off would have big implications for social services across the country. The uncertainty it creates is one of those fail-safe 4:05 pm excuses reasons given to explain why the stock market went down or sideways (not up).

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Predictive analytics and philanthropy

Political and media junkies agree that one man, whose name appeared on no ballot, really won the election on Tuesday. Nate Silver, big data political analyst, blogger, and New York Times columnist. Silver's accomplishment? Using aggregate analysis of polling data Silver was able to correctly predict the outcome of the election in all 50 states. Watch Jon Stewart and Silver discuss this accomplishment and its role in the "defense of arithmetic."

In this age of big data and increasing foundation transparency, who will be the first big philanthropist to put predictive analysis to the test in the social sector? Silver's analytic model relies on calculating the probability that each candidate will win based on the results of numerous state and national polls. The model is inherently dependent on the quality of each of those polls but it also benefits from the sheer number of polls done during a Presidential election.

As individual foundations share more of their information in more useful ways, IssueLab catalogues and organizes the research that foundations and nonprofits do, independent analysts like GiveWell or users of the Nonprofit Finance Fund's FinancialSCAN tool, and local, state and federal agencies make more data available publicly we may be reaching the point where meta-analysis of others' research - whether program evaluations, strategy plans, or needs assessments - is possible and worth considering. We are slowly building the repository of raw material - data that can be shared, compiled, compared and considered in the aggregate - that makes such research feasible. Academic centers like MIT's Jameel Poverty Action Lab have been doing this with kind of analysis of existing randomized control trials.

Who will be the first philanthropic funder to take on the role of "aggregate analytic funder?" Seen as part of the overall social landscape, with foundations often claiming the role of R and D and innovator, it is a role ripe for the taking. Now looking for the "Nate Silver of the Social Sector"
Blatant Self Promotion:
On November 27 at 11 am PDT I'll be moderating an SSIR webinar on Data and Philanthropy with Darin McKeever of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Jake Porway of DataKind and June Wang of the The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. We'll be looking at and talking about the emerging data backbone of information from foundations as well as the "why and how"? of using this information. Please register and join us.
Please note, I'm not contradicting all my previous statements about the role of intuition and passion in philanthropy. (In fact, for an individual donor who is passionate about math, big data, and analytics, this is indeed a perfect fit.) This foundation could be a "meta sense-maker" of sector research and data, help issue-specific funders learn which information works and where there are real knowledge gaps, and help others use and make sense of the abundance of research that exists, but is sorely underused. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The big power of 140 characters

A few days after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Atlantic seaboard, devastating places like Staten Island, I saw something on Twitter I'd never seen before - a request for a significant donation:

Met and responded to by the Foundation (within hours)

 Agreement reached -

All on Twitter. In a matter of hours.

There's another storm bearing down on the east coast. Many people (family members of mine, included) are still without power (10 days now.) Many lost lives, homes, businesses, loved ones. Recovery takes a long time.

The Carl V. Bini Fund was set up in memory of one of the #FDNY's finest who was lost on September 11, 2001. Anthony De Rosa is a Reuters reporter and an avid Twitterer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Money laundering and the election

When I wrote, in 2010, that the Citizens United decision would lead to money laundering by nonprofit social welfare organizations I really didn't expect it to be as obvious as this morning's headline on the San Francisco Chronicle:

(Photo from

If you can't read the text of that right hand column, above the fold story, here is the opening sentence, "California regulators said Monday that a conservative Arizona group hid the true source of an $11 million political donation in what they called the largest campaign money-laundering scheme in state history."

There's every kind of get out the vote effort under the sun today - check out "yourexcusesucks" and the "#ivoted" nudge campaign on Twitter for just two of them. Please, vote. The election will be over tonight.* The damage done to our civil society by this kind of money laundering and trust-incinerating will still need you tomorrow.

*Yes, I'm aware that both parties have lawyers at the ready and there's a chance we won't be done with the election tonight. I remember November and December, 2000. I'm trying to stay positive.

Friday, November 02, 2012

#tech, communities, #sandy

This is, (bad pun intended), a marathon.

1) Steven Clift of eDemocracy is working on a "tips" list for neighbors, disasters, and social media.

2) "First world" disaster recovery - cell phone charging is major activity. 

3) #DoSomething helps people everywhere think about disaster prep with #PantryPrep

4) Social media driven fundraising sites like getting lots of use for #sandy recovery (I mentioned CrowdRise and CraigConnects earlier)

5) After @MikeBloomberg (wisely) canceled the NYC Marathon, folks quickly set up ways for racers who had already booked hotel rooms to donate them to those seeking shelter post-storm - race2recover was up within hours of the Mayor's announcement.

6) Interactive maps of Red Cross shelters, open gas stations, and pharmacies.

7) Incredible maps of FourSquare check-ins pre- and post-storm

8) Public agencies turned to Twitter in a big way - good story from CNN on the woman behind the @FDNY account. (HT @Darimonline)

9) Here's an open transit planner built by tech community (HT @Digiphile)

10) David Pogue offered some tips on keeping things charged up

11) The Chronicle of Philanthropy put out this list of company donations to storm relief efforts.

12) PBS IdeaLab posted this story on most innovative coverage of the storm

13) Courtesy of @NickBilton and @theWirecutter - necessary tech for an emergency

Best of luck and lots of support to the #hurricanehackers and others at #crisiscamps this weekend!

Here are the previous posts:

Thursday, November 01, 2012

#Sandy, Tech, Communities - Part 8

This is the 8th post in this series. Here are some more resources

1) New York Tech MeetUp -#NYTM - is helping folks find electricity and coworking spaces. They've crowdmapped office space and bike access. (HT @ElizbthMllr, @Rasiej). They're coordinating through twitter with hashtag #sandycoworking

2) #NYTM is also organizing techie volunteers - here's the sign up form.

3) Here's a list of NY Tech community resources

4) It's amazing to me that any buses or subways are working in NY. That said, here's a (fake) version of what the NYC subway system would look like if it were mapped today. I got this on Twitter - don't know where it came from.

5) The biking community is out in force, helping people plan commutes and using bikes to charge phones. 

6) In a similar bike vein, #OccupyWallStreet folks were re-directing themselves into a bike messenger service -
7) More volunteer opportunities being coordinated by #OWS

(The examples from the bike communities and #OWS remind me of how important these kinds of flexible communities can be. Organized for one reason, the personal connections and commitments can be redirected in times of emergency)

8) #HurricaneHackers and others coordinating #CrisisCamps this weekend

9) Pay phones became useful again - ah, inrastructure. Perhaps someone will install handcranks in these and USB ports so folks can charge cell phones.....?

10) Duracell sent BIG battery trucks to Battery Park City. Here's a teapot that turns steam into electricity for phone charging (via Kickstarter). Assumes you still have gas running to your stove.

Here are the previous posts: