Where is Philanthropy’s Community?

July 28, 2009

In the past three weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of philanthropy research and how conversations in philanthropy happen; in a surprise turn of events, I have been asked to help manage the paper writing process for Blueprint’s work with MacArthur and am now back to working full-time. The back story behind our work with MacArthur is that we’re writing these series of papers, on topics ranging from field-building to ecosystems of change to PRIs and public-interest funds as part of their $50M Digital Media and Learning initiative, and one of the challenges I’m trying to sort through is how we turn these papers into something more than digital bits sitting on a hard drive collecting electronic dust – a very real problem in philanthropy (I’d give you statistics, except philanthropy also has a data problem). In an ideal world that revolves around the current publishing model, we would publish papers, people would read the papers, the field would talk about the papers, and at the end of the day, funders would increase the impact of their philanthropic dollars.

To some extent, this model works. Recently, the Irvine Foundation and Bridgespan just published a report on field-building and we at Blueprint are hoping to host a joint event with them for people in philanthropy interested in the topic (will update as soon as I have details). There may be room for incremental improvements to the model – instead of publishing just reports, maybe we could think about publishing blog posts, web-tools, videos, and/or podcasts that don’t necessarily revolve around papers. Or instead of just having conversations via conference calls and in-person meetings, the dialogue could happen and continue online, perhaps resulting in increased examples of collaboration and measurable results. Similarly, other projects in the philanthropy world like IssueLab and PhilanthropySearch are working on the pipeline between papers and people while some like WorkingWikily and NextBillion are trying to create a one-stop-shop for publishing, reading, and commenting around specific topics like social media and BoP development.

IMG_0198Money, Mobs, and Media 2

But after attending Money, Mobs, and Media, the super fabulous and sold-out event yesterday hosted by The Hub with panelists Matt Flannery of Kiva, Steve Newcomb of Virgance, and Ben Rattray of Change.org, I realize I may be asking the wrong questions. There’s something missing from the model, something that’s important that I completely missed because I was looking for something else. What I’m talking about is community.

Update: Check out the video of the event here.

In the event last night, one of the premises of the evening was change doesn’t happen without community – a great opening theme for The Hub, which hopes to be one of the centers of activity for the social innovation community here in the SF Bay Area (disclosure: I’m a dues-paying member of The Hub). When you have a strong community, people share information, people talk, people collaborate, and stuff gets done. And then it hit me – the social enterprise community seems to be much stronger than the philanthropic community. Everything about social enterprise is community-oriented: businesses form partnerships, people are excited to share information, and members of the community come together to celebrate and collaborate and are happy to look to others for leadership. But in philanthropy, collaboration is the exception – affinity groups like the Grant Managers Network and funding collaboratives like Grantmakers in Health and the Environmental Grantmakers Association are few and far between – with attirbution and time-constraints often getting in the way. The few examples of successful joint ventures I do hear about in philanthropy have, perhaps not surprisingly, involved SE funders – like Acumen Fund’s PULSE/IRIS project and the Social Entrepreneurs API.

Philanthropy has tremendous potential to become more effective if the philanthropic community were more effectively organized. So where is philanthropy’s community, especially in the SF Bay Area? If it doesn’t exist, how can we create community? (Or if it already exists, how do I get plugged in?) Some of the stories from last night on success provide an interesting backdrop for creative thought – Matt Flannery talked about how Kiva was created with a lot of touchpoints to give the user an addictive experience while Ben Rattray talked about how communities are defined by their compelling messages and enable people ways to become part of the community (e.g. the Obama campaign was successful because of its message and how it enabled people to become part of the community, not because of the tools it used). So what are philanthropy’s touchpoints, addictive experiences, and compelling messages? I want to have this conversation – and so do others – and I also want to do something about it. If you do too let me know either by commenting below, sending me a tweet (philosopher20), or e-mailing me at tony [at] blueprintrd [dot] com.

P.S. For those of you in SF, it would be awesome to meet as a group and chat about this.

22 Responses to “Where is Philanthropy’s Community?”

  1. I have always tried to figure out who is making the case for philanthropy.

  2. Tony Wang Says:

    Thanks Read for commenting – glad I could shed some light on what can be often the opaque world of philanthropy (I’m still trying to figure out this field myself!). While I’m often critical of the field of philanthropy, I do believe that philanthropy, which can be viewed as private sources of capital for public good (as opposed to public sources of capital), could and often does play an important role in effecting change in society.

    I’d love to hear more about what philanthropy means to you and the role of community. Thoughts?

  3. […] Where is Philanthropy’s Community? « Philosopher 2.0 Tony Wang wonders where philanthropy's community is and sets out to do something about it. (tags: philanthropy) Tweet This Post  […]

  4. Kalvin Says:

    You don’t think it’s just that the philanthropy community is demographically older and less new media so you’re less aware of the scene, so to speak?

  5. Minh Says:

    Hi Tony, figured I’d reply to on here. I think lack of an impactful philanthropic network centers around two points: how the financial elite (foundations, celebrities, billionaires, etc…) have traditionally practice philanthropy and how that has been perceived and received by the interested members of the general public, the nontraditional players I was talking about. Philanthropy as practiced by those at top has been ridden by lack of transparency. Grant apps and requests go in money (potentially) comes out, with often no explanation by funders as to why or how the decision was made—what happens during the review process is basically a black hole. Philanthropic actors therefore have little incentive to collaborate and members outside the inner circle are excluded from participation. I think robustness of the social e community is largely due to its acceptance by the general public, fueled in part by the desire of our generation to do good. People feel like they can easily access the social e conversation (regardless of their actual ability to do so). It’s less so with philanthropy. I think we first need to create that atmosphere within the philanthropy space-players like kiva and change.org are beginning to do that at the most grassroots level. The challenge is mobilizing upon that to create a more dynamic conversation between all different levels of the philanthropic “pyramid”.

  6. Kyle Reis Says:

    Great post Tony. To steal a quote from the Nonprofit Commons (a great community of nonprofits working at the intersection between virtual worlds and the real world), community is the killer app. I would argue philanthropy does indeed have a pretty strong community but it’s a somewhat insular one and communes episodically. What’s needed, I belive, is greater interaction and the formation of stronger “loose ties” between communities, e.g., between the philanthropy and social enterprise communities. In our hyperlinked world, perhaps we should try to find better ways to link communities to one another in a more dynamic way.

  7. ecofrenzy Says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for writing this! I’d agree with Minh. I don’t think that philanthropy is very accessible, and I don’t feel that I can really participate until I have enough disposable income to start giving large sums. So I’m distant from it. Perhaps I define philanthropy too narrowly. But at the same time social entrepreneurship is open to anyone regardless of ability to give to charity – as long as you have a little time and passion, the community welcomes you with open arms (in my experience).


  8. Finally .. a voice that is joining me in expressing concern over the “balkanization” of the philanthropic community! Thank you, thank you!

    Maybe the place to start is to define who “belongs” and, perhaps more importantly, who the “the community” feels does not “belong” — a start on the list of possible players:

    Individual donors
    Funder trade associations (e.g. CoF, ASF, Hispanics in Philanthropy, etc.)
    Donor trade associations and clubs (e.g. More Than Money, giving circles, RAGs)
    Community Foundations
    Commercially-sponsored charitable gift funds (e.g Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.)
    Nonprofit-sponsored CGFs (e.g. NPT)
    University degree programs
    Certificate programs
    Academic associations (e.g. ARNOVA)
    Philanthropy “think tanks”
    Nonprofit sub-sector trade associations (e.g. health, arts, museums,rescue missions, food banks, CASE, etc.)
    Social venture, philanthrepreneur, and other self-identified cutting-edge social entrpreneurs
    Fundraisers and their trade associations (e.g. AFP, and sub-sector specific fundraisers like health, education, arts, etc.)
    Other nonprofit professionals’ trade associations
    (e.g volunteer directors, CEOs, etc.)
    Consultants to charities
    Consultants to foundations
    Consultants to individual donors
    Consultant to consultants consulting to donors or charities
    Major/Mega organization reps (e.g. ARC, UW)
    Vendors and suppliers to the sector (e.g. Foundation Source, Blackbaud)
    Key bloggers, writers, speakers, thinkers
    Philanthropy-related publications
    Financial planners and wealth managers who assist their clients with their philanthropy (e.g. Int’l Assoc. of Advisors in Philanthropy)
    “Renegade” philanthropists (e.g. Doris Buffett)
    Philanthropy related government entities
    Celebrities who are really in it (e.g. Bono, Michael J. Fox)
    Celebrities who play at being in it (e.g. lots of sports stars)

    And the list could go on and on …

    So, who belongs, and who decides? Perhaps the whole notion of there actually being a “philanthropic community” is a myth — like unicorns, or Big Foot, or the lost city of Atlantis.

    Maybe the model for philanthropic “community” should be based around actual, physical, geographic communities — where those from the various balkan states in that area can discuss and design a vision and plan specific to that community.

    For if it does not lead to making change in the world — and in its many unique corners — what would be the point in identifying or drawing together the mythical “philanthropic commmunity?”

  9. Tony Wang Says:

    Wow! I’m totally in awe and overwhelmed by everyone’s comments – thanks everyone for joining the discussion; I’m glad I’m not the only one interested in philanthropy’s community! Here’s my thoughts on some of the things that have been said so far:

    Kalvin, I think you’re right that demographics has something to do with it, but I’m not so sure it revolves around social media adoption. The differences between the SE and philanthropy communities are partly social media, but they’re more fundamentally about approaches; philanthropy is often more top-down while SE is more bottom-up. Part of the explanation in terms of differences might be generational and part of the explanation might be structural (philanthropy is used to drawing clear boundaries of inclusion/exclusion while SE encourages broad participation). So if anything, I would think the generational differences aren’t fundamentally about technology adoption, but about leadership styles. (There’s a book I’m in the middle of reading called Working Across Generations that’s super insightful about generational differences, especially about issues in the nonprofit sector).

    Minh, I think you’re spot on when you say that philanthropy lacks transparency and often excludes others from participation. One question I’ve been contemplating is how intentional is the lack of transparency and exclusion? Though I can sometimes be unforgiving, I have a hunch that staff members at foundations are actually pretty nice people – and like most people who work, are extremely busy. Program officers are primarily concerned about managing their portfolio and working with their grantees; transparency about the grant process and community engagement are often secondary priorities. The grant application process is like the job application process – funders get hundreds of grant proposals and they’re most concerned about getting $s to organizations that need them; giving individualized feedback to everyone who applied isn’t practical and reduces the time they have to making sure they select the best organizations. That being said, some organizations are better at managing the process than others – and the work of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and their Grantee Perception Reports is geared towards improving that exact problem.

    As for community engagement and soliciting community input, I’m not sure what the key forces at play are. Maybe some program officers, who are often selected more on their academic abilities, feel like soliciting community input directly challenges their position as smarter, more informed decision-makers. Maybe it’s a legacy of old practices, where funders solicit grant proposals and program officers make decisions without community input. Maybe it’s a complete lack of understanding of how to build community. Maybe philanthropy’s really good at community engagement, but are selective about who they engage and don’t reach out to the broader public. I’m not sure what the answer is here or what’s typically the case – maybe others who have worked at foundations longer than I can shed some light on the issue of why foundations don’t engage the broader community.

    Kyle, I wanted to thank you especially for your comments on the blog – even though this is a blog that’s usually about philanthropy, most of the comments aren’t from the foundation world, so welcome! I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of whether the community of philanthropy is strong as a whole – within philanthropy there seem to be strong communities, especially among peer institutions – but I do think you’re right to say that our communities, when they exist, are often insular and episodic. Here in the SF Bay Area, we have Northern California Grantmakers, Foundation Center, and the Association of Small Foundations, but I’m not sure how active those communities are (this might be because I’m a consultant and not an actual grantmaker). But strengthening philanthropy’s community and strengthening philanthropy’s relationship with the larger community are two separate issues, and it seems that we have a lot of work to do on both. Any thoughts on how we can find those better ways to link our communities?

    Amie, glad to see you’re reading this blog too! I’m totally on the same page with you – if it weren’t for my day job, I’d probably feel alienated by philanthropy as well and choose to spend most of my time in social entrepreneurship. But because I walk that awkward line between the two, I also see the real need to bridge these communities as Kyle mentioned. And I wonder what we, as young twenty-somethings, can really do to bring those communities together, so that philanthropy and the funding-side of the equation doesn’t always resemble the Dark Side.

    Renata, I’ve read some of your articles on Tactical Philanthropy and glad to see you chiming in. You have clearly thought a lot about this issue and for what I can only imagine has been a much longer time and know many more relevant stakeholders than I could’ve ever come up with! I probably agree with you that actual, physical, geographic communities probably makes the most sense – and that as globalization and interconnectedness continue to grow, we’ll see more collaboration between funders across different geographies. Real funders are addressing this very real issue – and I hope we’ll see some real solutions pretty soon.

    As to the most basic question of how do we create this mythical “philanthropic community” – I think it starts with a group of committed individuals who can trust each other, who develop a strategy together, and execute that strategy to create the change we want to see in the world. I just started reading it, but Tribes by Seth Godin seems like a good book to read in the meantime. :)

  10. nurturegirl Says:

    Thanks for the great post. And thank you for caring! I hear the event last night was fantastic.

    A few things, as I feel I might have an unusual perspective on this. I have been working in philanthropy (co-founder of inspiredlegacies.org with Tracy Gary) and also heavily into online community development and engagement.

    Community is not network. http://emekaeme.wordpress.com/2008/01/14/network-and-community-related-but-not-the-same/ If you formed a community for philanthropy, as Renata clearly shows, there are sooooo many to include. Do they all belong in one community? They perhaps should all be networked together but a coherent community?

    That said, it is great to see places where a unification of many voices happens. I am a member of the Transformation Philanthropy Leadership Circle, for example, and we have voices from very different parts of the field converging on the question of what transformational philanthropy is and how to grow it.

    It might help to see the partial client list Tracy has. As a leader in donor education, she often speaks to philanthropic networks: http://www.inspiredlegacies.org/collaborators/clients.htm See especially donor networks, regional area grantmakers, and advisor networks.

    Most of us do philanthropy at some level. We average about 3% of income. Should we include everyone who is philanthropic?

    Or just uber-givers? BolderGiving.org tells stories about truly bold philanthropy. While created by an older generation, they are picking up social media tools. See their videos on YouTube. :) And I will to some degree agree with Kalvin that they are slow to pick up new media, which may be an age thing, but it is also a privacy thing.

    The field of social entrepreneurship and social capital is miniscule compared to the field of philanthropy. And while philanthropy can learn lots from their intersections and overlaps, asking a whale to do what a minnow does might be a bit unfair.

    I will grant you that philanthropic circles tend to be insular. The lure of money is strong. Cross-class groups can be painful too all. Foundations often feel like there are hungry fish swimming all around and the moment the foundation (or any therein) say something publicly, the fish start jumping.

    I wonder what it will take to create the right trust networks and safe spaces for more open communications?

    I am certainly a big fan of field-building. My blog category on that is at http://nurture.biz/category/field-building/

    I hope this is helpful. We are all learning here.


    ps. funding for meta-level social change is always hard, and it is especially hard during an economic downturn when direct need charities try to put a bottom under our collective fallout. Who would be visionary enough to fund a truly representational meeting of the philanthropic community?

  11. Valdis Krebs Says:

    Community vs Network…

    I see these as two ends of continuum — not as different species. There is probably some magic level of connectivity that changes a collection of connected individuals to a community [including some overriding attribute(s) they all have] but I doubt if we can put a number on it. It is not 42.

    Community membership is not yes/no or in/out… it is more like fuzzy set theory — you feel some level of membership between 0 and 1 [0 and 100%]. I feel more membership in some collections than others and it could change and that is OK [collections range from nodes with similar attributes or location to communities with strong connectivity and overlapping attributes and goals]. Some may feel/experience Group X as a community, while others may experience the same collection as something less.

    Collections and context in an ongoing dance! What’s your experience?

  12. Tony Wang Says:

    Jean, thanks for the long, thoughtful, and very insightful response – (I’m also a fan of Tracy Gary’s work – I’ve read parts of Inspired Philanthropy for a project once). I think you and Miguel both raise good points that networks are not the same as community; everyone that follows me on Twitter may not necessarily be in my community, but all are technically within my network. I think that community, like Ben Rattray of change.org mentioned, is about the message – and I’m not saying we need a network in philanthropy, because plenty of those exist (NCG, ASF, and CoF for example) but what we really need is a strong community (or communities) in philanthropy with the message that philanthropy can be better (for starters, it can be more transparent, participatory, and collaborative).

    I don’t think philanthropy is doomed to be none of those things social entrepreneurship is because of its size – it may be slower to change though because of it’s ingrained traditions, even if some are pushing for change (reminds me of the Republican party). That said, philanthropy has unique challenges because of its control of capital; but transparency, participation, and collaboration could truly remove some of those barriers so that philanthropy can be a process where individuals make completely transparent funding decisions with the public support, solving some of the problems Minh alluded to.

    Valdis, I’m honored that you’ve found your way to my blog – I’m actually a HUGE fan of your work with orgnet; some of your papers have been very informative in our work here at Blueprint (Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving is one of my favorites).

    I’m not so great with the quantitative analysis of social networks (in my experience, it’s hard to say a priori what a density of 2.5 means). Instead, for me, the value of network mapping is the illustration of the field and the questions you can begin to ask because of the visualizations you can imagine. How are connections being formed? How strongly do people feel about the networks or communities they are a part of? What factors contribute to the strength of how a person feels about their community? I’ll probably need to browse more of the http://www.orgnet.com site – but if there’s any particular reports you think would be worthwhile to read, I’m sure a few of us would love to know.

  13. As for a dream community… We just built it – but will you come?

    We have built it as an “industrial strength” collaborative network and we have put over a year of strategy and innovative functionality into it that addresses many of the issues and nuances being discussed here. As we have just launched, our biggest hurdle, at the moment, is getting people to know about it and its extraordinary benefits. Perhaps you can help.

    Jane Siebels, philanthropist and one of the Trustees of the Templeton Foundation founded the project for all the reasons discussed here in this blog; lack of transparency, lack of collaboration, lack of knowing who is doing what-where. lack of sharing information, strategies, innovation between like -minded organizations.

    Some might say that the nature of foundations doesn’t lend itself to this kind of inertia and change, yet, as we have witnessed, current resources dwindling and needs growing daily, there is a huge need for a dream community, like iGivingWorld to engage 24/7.

    What we have seen in philanthropy and what we will see in philanthropy are always two different worlds. We are certainly in or on a pivotal space and time, where what was, does not equate to what will be… There is a greater velocity of change in our existence right now. We weren’t exchanging information, immediate messages and bonding” in a digital realm” at this pace before. We are in essence condensing time and evolving rapidly.

    iGivingWorld.com answers many of the network questions I have read here.

    iGivingWorld is not based on one network but many networks of like- minded organizations, or “tribes” if you will. By virtue of their interests and specific causes moving forward, these networks can be bonded as one yet circulate as well to discover others.

    But don’t take my word for it…(full disclosure- I’m the CEO) take a look yourself…

    If you would like a “day pass” to view iGivingWorld – get in touch. apply(at)igivingworld(dot)com.

    Or, go to http://www.igivingworld.com and you will see a link for a New User guide, which discuss all the current tools. The newest piece of functionality that we are working on right now is also going to be quite helpful… Updates in the field, text, images, video being sent directly to the “iGW – Projects” from hand-held devices. This would also be fed into a “public page” that can be shared throughout the organizations and all inquiring associates, donors, grantees, shareholders etc… In essence the communication progress.

    Philanthropic change. A shift in the paradigm. We need it. This is the time, now more than ever.

  14. Emily Gerth Says:

    Really interesting discussion Tony!

    To be fair, I think there is a lot more community and collaboration out there than you have perhaps realized. There are dozens of affinity groups and regional associations which do great research work and provide a forum for sharing/coordinating/collaborating. Grantmakers definitely talk to each other about everything from strategy to particular grantees, although some foundations are very engaged in this sharing and others choose to go it alone.

    On top of this, there are intermediary organizations where several grantmakers donate and then delegate the authority for making grants to a board with representatives from their organizations or a new, expert organization. Off the top of my head, I know that the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa does some joint grantmaking and brings together the Presidents of nine major foundations to coordinate their work. On a local level, the Bay Area Workforce Collaborative is a partnership between 13 grantmakers as well as the State of California to develop job pathways through local community colleges. The Energy Fund is an organization that receives funds from several major foundations and then has its own expert staff to manage the re-granting process. So, it’s definitely happening, although perhaps not as much as it should.

    On the other hand, I’ve always thought that there were big gaps. There is a lot more “sharing” than there is coordination, collaboration, etc. One of the reasons philanthropy doesn’t have as a high-functioning a community at it could is that the people with the real power (the boards and the donors) are rarely part of the discussion. They are ultimately the people who make the most important policy decisions about grantmaking at a foundation. I can’t tell you how many conversations I remember from my time in philanthropy where foundation staffs said, “Well, we’re convinced that general operating support is great and evaluation is important but our Board is reluctant.”

    It’s kind of an upside down system where the experts — foundation staffs and, of course, grantees — are thinking about these issues full-time but the power often resides with people who are doing this work on the side. And this is a tricky problem to solve because in the case of private family foundations, the donors and the people on the board are off doing the activities that made them the money in the first place (running that family business!) or simply don’t intend to be experts on all these issues.

  15. Tony Wang Says:

    Greg, thanks for commenting and welcome. Once upon a time, sometime last year, I had heard something about igivingworld but had not seen it in action. I’d love to try it and test it out, but one word of caution: technology is only the tool that facilitates community action; creating community is its own separate process that requires sincere time and efforts. That said, I’ll withhold disbelief until I actually see the product in action.

    Emily, glad to see you adding your much needed perspective to this dialogue! I’ve always valued and respected your opinion, especially since you have the experience of a grantmaker while I *gasp* technically have no direct grantmaking experience and ironically, blog about philanthropy.

    It’s funny you mention that community and collaboration do exist in philanthropy – after getting some comments and talking to others, I’m decidedly mixed on the issue. On the one hand, I am aware of some of the collaborative efforts like the ones you mention (one would hope I’ve heard of the Energy Fund, hehe) – but on the other hand, a lot of my conversations with both grantmakers and consultants like myself suggest that community and collaboration are HUGE issues (and most would agree that philanthropy as its own community is often very isolated from the rest of society, as both Minh and Amy commented earlier). I think you’re on to something when you make the distinction between sharing and coordination/collaboration. Foundation professionals are more than happy to share logic models, grant information, and reports – but when it comes down to making coordinated funding decisions (even if it’s not the same grantee) or talking about how their work advances a common field, examples are few and far between.

    What I’m beginning to realize though is that while some intuitive opportunities for collaboration simply don’t exist because of different funder priorities or board disinterest, many opportunities for collaboration that could happen but don’t – even with funder interest – is simply a question of data. I had a conversation with a funder yesterday who was really interested in knowing who else was funding their grantees and possibly trying to convene a group of like-minded funders; unfortunately, easily accessible data has been a barrier. However, with better research and communication tools that decrease the cost of collaboration – something we at Blueprint are working on, I’m excited to see what could really happen in this space.

  16. This has been a great conversation and one that touches on a lot of the issues we struggle with at IssueLab (both as knowledge mobilizers and as a nonprofit ourselves).

    But rather than dive into the very tempting topic of whether philanthropy can and should be more transparent :) I would like to return to the original motivation for your question about community — your desire to get the research you are producing off the shelves and into the hands of folks who can really use it.

    I think Emily Gerth is right, there are a lot of very active communities and networks already out there. But unlike SE’s the salient group identity for many of these networks has to do with the social issue they address rather than their tax status or the fact that they are all philanthropists. Of course there are also plenty of additional networks and discussions that explicitly address “nonprofitness” or philanthropy — we are actually all taking part in one right here right now — but if we took a look at the sector from 10,000 feet up I think we would mostly see a lot of groupings around the very issues that motivate the work to begin with, e.g. associations of grantmakers for education, listservs for child care practitioners, clearinghouses for housing advocates.

    So do we need a more centralized community or do we need to: 1) be more skilled at locating and reaching the communities that are already out there 2) do a better job of building bridges between those existing networks and 3) share information through more open, accessible, and distributed models?

    Your description of an ideal world, where people are able to access papers, read them, discuss them, and make use of the knowledge doesn’t necessarily require a different kind of community than the one(s) that already exist. I think it might just require that we interact with those communities differently and that we get smarter about what kinds of knowledge people need and want and in what formats it’s most useful to them/us.

  17. Tony Wang Says:

    Gabriela, thanks for participating in the conversation and adding your valuable perspective! IssueLab I’m sure has thought a lot about these issues and I’m glad we can tap into some of your thinking on the subject.

    In thinking about next steps, I was overwhelmed with questions. Should we be working with others to build a more vibrant philanthropy community and duplicate the efforts of many already existing organizations? Does philanthropy as a whole seek a stronger community or does the desire for community reflect only a narrow subset of the larger field? I think both you and Emily are right that many communities already exist in philanthropy and it would be silly to try and create yet another community, but I also agree with Kyle’s observation that these communities are often insular and episodic, which explains why many of us are still searching for high-performing communities to plug into.

    I think the questions you raise are particularly salient and insightful and think that those are the exact things we ought to be doing – instead of creating new communities, we should be focusing our efforts on locating communities that already exist, strengthening already existing relationships and networks, and sharing information more effectively. As we’re thinking about the reports we’re trying to share, one thing I’m thinking about is 1) who exactly are we trying to influence and 2) what are the distribution channels for providing content. And in thinking about the latter question, I wonder what we can do to strengthen the pipeline of how information gets shared and also, what role strengthening communities both offline and online has in improving that pipeline.

  18. […] Philanthropys need for community […]

  19. Betsy Says:

    Whew! This is a toughie. Stick with me here as I piggyback on Minh’s point that this might be a function of incentive.

    Theoretically, if you don’t actively NEED to join forces with others, why would you? To be honest, “communities” primarily form to create support systems and determine solutions to common problems. But with them, they bring the potential for communication issues, administrative bottlenecks, and personality clashes.

    If you think about it this way, the philanthropic sector doesn’t…actually…have an incentive for creating “community;” most players are perfectly able to continue business as usual without it. And as long as coffers are full, there will never be any external incentive to force collaboration within philanthropy. In other words, the perceived stresses of collaboration might have simply outweighed the potential positive effects.

    In my opinion, opting out of community is always going to be the wrong choice. I’m like a broken record in my urging to create collaboration–of any kind–within and between nonprofit and government sectors. But until there’s incentive to do so, and until nurturegirl’s apt description of “hungry fish” ceases to be a source of fear for foundation reps, I’m afraid that many philanthropies will continue to be silo-ed.

  20. Tony Wang Says:

    Hi Betsy and thanks for commenting – I have certainly thought on occasion that philanthropy is completely accountable to no one and it’s certainly one of the things that academics and pundits like to often point out. But I think I agree with Joel Fleishman when he says that this unaccountability is both philanthropy’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.

    Without any particular incentives, which we often think in terms of financial incentives, people will fail to do a lot of things. But for foundations and people working in philanthropy, the incentive is often beyond financial to begin with – for those who could have made more in the private sector, working in philanthropy usually represents an opportunity to have more impact (the cynical view would be that everyone who works in philanthropy does so for selfish reasons independent of impact).

    So if the incentive can be greater impact, what needs to be demonstrated is that collaboration facilitates greater impact. Philanthropists have good reason to be cynical since much “collaboration” doesn’t show results, but I’m convinced the state of collaboration in philanthropy can be improved – what’s challenging is convincing those who have power in philanthropy that those with differing views of the potential for collaboration might be greater than what they consider to be possible and to make collaborative efforts easy. The same is true for mission investing, field-building, and many other efforts to change the landscape of philanthropy – and even without the lack of strong “incentives” I think real change is possible.

  21. […] Where is Philanthropy’s Community? (Philosopher 2.0 July 28, 2009) by Tony J. Wang “…But after attending Money, Mobs, and Media, the super fabulous and sold-out event yesterday hosted by The Hub with panelists Matt Flannery of Kiva, Steve Newcomb of Virgance, and Ben Rattray of Change.org, I realize I may be asking the wrong questions. There’s something missing from the model, something that’s important that I completely missed because I was looking for something else. What I’m talking about is community. Update: Check out the video of the event here…” […]

  22. […] Philanthropys need for community […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: