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.
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.