Monday, November 25, 2013

Close the Loop - $10,000 for feedback ideas

One of the hallmarks of digital civil society is the low cost access to mobile conversations. This technology - mobile, SMS based - has the potential to disrupt how we think about evaluation and performance management. We - nonprofit leaders, activists, funders, residents, evaluators - can provide direct feedback and input on needs, capacities, program strengths, and problems.

  • How will we use these tools? 
  • How will organizations adapt to actually use the information gathered?
  • What are the privacy and ownership issues surrounding these kinds of interactions?

Feedback Labs and Ashoka Changemakers are leading the efforts to experiment, learn, and inform us about these questions. They've opened a call for submissions:

"seeking innovative solutions that are helping feedback loops to empower people, drive better decisions, and put resources where they’ll make a difference."
 First call applications are due November 27. Nominate or apply here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Crowdfunding and philanthropy

A colleague at The Monitor Institute pointed me to this "research" on crowdfunding. Some of it just blew my mind.

(Photo from

If these numbers are even close to correct, "social causes" (undefined in the "research") accounted for 38% of 2012 crowdfunding, which totalled $2.7 billion in 2012. That puts global social cause crowdfunding last year at $1,026,000,000. And this undefined category of "social cause" doesn't include the performing arts, film, music, or environmental projects. This is notable since a review of categories of funding on Kickstarter noted that dance projects were the most successful.

With the strong caveat that this isn't academic research, it's self-interested marketing "research,"  that's a lot of money.

I am interested in learning more about:
  1. Where does institutional philanthropy fit in around these crowdfunded dollars? Are foundations funding projects before they raise money from the crowd, and then helping them raise those funds?
  2. Are foundations tracking crowdfunding campaigns in the proposals they receive from nonprofits?  What trends are they seeing? How are they thinking about this information as a signal about fundraising trends? Idea-testing trends?
  3. If there are foundations interested in sharing their data on question #2 above, I'd love to coordinate research on this at the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab, possibly in partnership with the new crowdfunding lab at UC Berkeley. Contact me.
  4. I know of at least three start up consulting firms aimed at helping people run successful social good crowdfunding campaigns. There are probably 300 if not 3000 such firms. What do we know - what should we be tracking - about the emerging ecosystem around social cause crowdfunding?
  5. I expect crowdfunding campaigns will play an increasing role in raising funds for disasters such as the Philippine typhoon. Who/where will those data be tracked?
  6. My upcoming Blueprint 2014 (available December 4 at predicts a major crowdfunding scandal in 2014. So I'll be watching.
Here are two blog posts from the Knight Foundation on crowd funding and their grantees. Here's a post about the Geraldine R Dodge Foundation and Kickstarter. Please send me other examples of foundations and crowdfunding.

Here's the full infographic of the research findings. The report is available for sale.


Interactive tools for collective work

GrantCraft has launched a new interactive tool finder for funders interested in collective work. This grew out of research and analysis by the Monitor Institute (now part of Monitor Deloitte) and the Foundation Center and their report called Harnessing Collaborative Technologies.

The tool finder lets you search by type of need or type of tool (data gathering, project management, decision making, etc). It's one of those projects that was meant to be digital and interactive as the types of software being presented here proliferate, die or improve all the time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dollars, Data, and Democracy

Thanks to Tom Watson at Forbes for this article on the new Digital Civil Society Lab I'm co-leading at Stanford.

He's exactly right - we're looking at dollars, data and democracy.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Get what you deserve when you give

I've been on a bit of break from my years of pointing out the foibles of #embeddedgiving - or what the industry calls cause marketing. Two things bring it back to my attention:

1. Amazon's gotten into the game. This is huge because Amazon is, well, Amazonian. Earlier this week the online retailing behemoth announced that it's AmazonSmile program would let shoppers donate 0.5% of their purchase price to the charities of their choice. That's nice. But why don't they just give you the discount, let you donate the money to the charity of your choice, and let you keep the warm glow, credit, and tax break for yourself? By funneling it through Amazon are you making your life easier or are you just letting Amazon take credit for your largess?

Why do you need an intermediary to give away your money? Just about any organization you want to support has a Donate Now button of their own.

When you take Amazon up on its 0.5% donation, guess who gets credit for the donation? Amazon. Credit for your spending your money. Hmmm. And the costs Amazon incurs to run this program? Where do you think they'll show up and to whom will they be passed on? What an irony  - call it a discount, take all the credit, and pass on any additional costs for running the program to customers somewhere else. This is what really happens with embedded giving.

2. Breast cancer awareness fatigue. Finally, this has been building for years and the pink-ization of everything is finally getting some of the backlash it's long deserved. See this article in The Guardian for a well-written commentary, there are many, many others.

Embedded giving runs directly counter to efforts to build strategic and effective philanthropy and more accountable nonprofits. It puts intermediaries where none are needed, complicates (if not obfuscates) feedback mechanisms, and is almost entirely unaccounted for and unaccountable.

Please, this holiday season, give. If you want to be part of something, be part of #GivingTuesday. But get what's yours when you give by giving directly to the organizations of your choice.