Friday, November 09, 2007

Searching for the point in philanthropy 2.0

All of a sudden there is a flurry of discussion in philanthropy blogs and conferences using terms like "open source philanthropy", philanthropy 2.0, etc. See for example Fil 2.0: Facebook Filanthropy.

Full disclosure: I am helping out a bit with a conference session titled 'Philanthropic Models 2.0', which will take place at the May 2008 Council on Foundations Summit. I am very excited to hear what folks working in the social networking realm have to say about their nonprofit and philanthropic initiatives and technologies. But I am also perplexed by the emerging language to describe all this.

Is philanthropy 2.0 the "new new philanthropy"? It is difficult to parse out if there is a "there" virtually there.

In terms of open source philanthropy, a term I recently picked up when Peter Karoff spoke at the Minnesota Council of Foundations annual conference, I am still working to understand how the web can truly facilitate democracy in philanthropy, when -- if we are talking about foundations and grantmaking -- much of the power and a majority of philanthropic funds residesin the hands of people who do not have an online presence and may not even use the web themselves: unstaffed family foundations and individual donors.

Such innovation in this field seems to happen in this order:
  1. An exciting-sounding new phrase or concept gets coined to define the moment;
  2. People try to bundle their ideas under this ruberic, so it means everyone (and nothing);
  3. Researchers are hored to write reports that definition the term, so everyone can move on to a new confusing catch phrase...
Whatever happened to New Philanthropy? Venture Philanthropy? e-Philanthropy? Is Philanthropy 2.0 different or just an extension of these? We seem to create whole new categories and supposed trends, and they seem to disappear when the pundits discover something new.

The same can be said for social entreprenuarialism - it is very difficult to find agreement on what we are talking about when we use that phrase.

In fact, the basic words and titles for our field as a whole are very confusing. Are we the nonprofits, nongovernment, independent, or third sector? Or should we be dubbed civil society, the term more popular with scholars?

Michael Edwards of the Ford Foundation, a prolific writer on these matters, asks of the term civil society: "What is to be done with a concept that seems so unsure of itself that definitions are akin to nailing jelly to the wall?" I think this question apt for the concept of philanthropy 2.0.

So please, let's stop playing "Pin-the-2.0-on-the-Topic" and start using the web in practical and innovative ways to advance ethical, effective philanthropy. A good, basic place to start would be convincing and enabling a lot more non-staffed family foundations to get their information on the web, so that future grantees can find them more easily! The Foundation Center provides such a service.

Another solid idea is PhilanTrack™, an online grants management system for nonprofits and funders. This is an innovative online system for managing grant proposals and reporting that "enhances accountability, transparency, and efficiency."

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