Previous month:
November 2006
Next month:
January 2007

December 2006

Raising Awarness Org: 1,000 Ways To Help Nonprofit Philanthropy

Raising Awareness: See, read, take action.  The site provides text, information and evocative pictures to move viewers to action for humanitarian causes. Gianni Giacomelli, along with one of the founders, interviewed by email, had this to say:

Raising Awareness is both a project and an experiment - totally nonprofit. In my professional life I am head of strategy for a large software vendor, and I use technology to shape businesses. Here I wanted to marry our personal credos with technology to get more people galvanized and mobilized about the nonprofit world. To some extent, I feel that nonprofit is not "marketed" appropriately, i.e. the dream and satisfaction of "doing good" is "under-marketed". Consumerist terms aside, the fact remains that for those in the field working for an NGO is the only meaningful thing in life, while for the common person it is a luxury, sometimes superfluous item. Our gut feeling is that the images of nonprofit are not sharp enough, the messaging not fresh/segmented/compelling enough, and the "path to action" too long or monolithic (give give give).

We get about 1000 visitors per month these days, and we have not marketed this at all. Our next steps is to spread the word and then spruce up the website with a wiki and a content management tool that allows people to post their photo and text content (a virtual exhibition) - kind of "flickr meets nonprofit"

Gianni ends by saying she would like feedback on Raising Awareness, and on her "credo." The power of blogging is conversation, many to many, rather than factoid after factoid launched by publicists and pundits into the "context of no context."  So, feel free to add your thoughts.


Queenpins Meet Kingpins: Shake Hands and Come out Swinging

So, we invite the leaders of philanthropic tribes, progressive and conservative, secular and religious, Buddhist, Muslim, Fundamentalist, Jewish, Episcopalian, old money and new money, givers and social entrepreneurs, the charitable and the opportunistic schemers, and call them all, including the Mullahs, "the Queenpins," thereby mortally insulting, among others, the Southern Christian Patriarchal Kingpins, and glorying in their discomfiture. We also offend all kinds of other traditional, male-optimized, communities. Does that work? Sure, if we can stay in conversation with our faces red with fury, or white with mortification. Start with the fact we hate each other, that communities coalesce out of love for members and hatred of the outsider, and around that fact of human nature, build a network of love/hate, a community of communities who hate each other.  Heck, I know families like that. I have been educated in a grad school riven like that.  I live in a country like that. The world is like that. The UN is like that. I say, Bring your hatred, every last bit of it. Bring it into the open and call it philanthropy. Hatred drives great writers in their incandescent moments. It drives diplomats, Congressmen, generals, clerics, and political philosophers. Why should it not drive us? But stand there with me and create a civilized space, a space of ritualized violence, in which we can have that death dance together, like boxers in the ring, until we fall exhausted into one another's arms.  All I want is a square ring, a fair official, and as many rounds as you think you can go. I want to make sure the fight is fair, but I am not moderate. In the ring of open debate, it is the two of us. And, I want to see what you have got, every bit of it. Don't leave your hatred in the dressing room. Here is my chin, hot shot. Yes, I called you a "Queenpin." What are you going to do about it, you big moralizing Girly-Man? At some point, the energy of malice turns to laughter and affection. Let's fight through to that point.

Philanthropy is not just love of humankind, it is culture war by other means. Granting that, we can still create a federation of communities, for the greater good. It would look a lot like democracy is supposed to look.

Allison Fine on Funding

Allison Fine, author of Momemtum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, blogs with polemical verve at A Fine Blog and at Fine on Fundraising. Here she predicts the death of the eponymous foundations, sunk by the weight of bureaucratic staff (like Albert Ruega, I imagine). What do paid foundation staff do?

They create grant-making guidelines, they go to meetings with applicants and make site visits to verify that the work is being done, and they meet with colleagues to design funding strategies. As a result we have more deliberate giving, but giving at a much slower pace. In addition, large staffed foundations tend to take fewer risks simply because more people are involved in funding decisions and staff have their own reputations to maintain and agendas to follow.

Foundation employees, unlike social entrepreneurs, are basically worse than useless.  Bill Schambra would probably agree with  Allison and mount an even more vocal attack until someone points out that he too is a Foundation employee. Surely, Albert, Mad Monk, and Philanthropy Beat, you can't let Allison blog alone. Anyone who spells "Allison" with two Ls has her own issues. Over a lifetime, think of the wasted energy typing L twice when you could be doing something useful for humankind. Note that I spell Philip with only one L.   

RSF Social Finance: Lending to NGOs

Patrick O'Heffernan of Social Edge on Mark Finser of Rudolph Steiner Foundation.

In 1984 Mark Finser was ready to offer US $6,000 to a social benefit venture when a local school asked him for a half million dollars. He agreed to raise the money and that was the start of the RSF Social Finance, a fee-based non-profit...that provides loans and grants to NPOs.

There was no term "social entrepreneur" in 1984, but like any entrepreneur, Mark saw a need and filled it, thus helping to kick off the triple-bottom line industry we know today. The need he saw was the inability of NPOs to get loans, regardless of their size, assets or track record in fundraising.

The money RSF lends come from investors who are "mission aligned" with RSF and the progressive NGOs to which it lends. (Increasingly RSF is lending to mission aligned for-profits too.) The depositer's money goes to work in "the community," where community includes not just geography but a community of interest and ideals. Such social investors may be willing to accept a slightly lower return, if their funds advance the values they share with NGO. The lender may be able to pass on a lower interest rate to the NGO. This seems like a good basis for a successful social finance organization, a happy investor, and thriving nonprofit community.  Keeping  investors informed about not only their financial return, but their specific social return (the  ways their funds helped a portfolio of NGOs)  can keep the virtuous circle turning. It might be pleasant to read your account statement while eating an apple from an organic farm whose orchard was funded by a loan made from your deposits.

Empowering the Donor - Fundraisers Do That?

Jeff Brook's at Donor Power speaks, I think, as a capable and idealistic marketer, perhaps a direct marketer. The research and experience show that Boomers want to be empowered, have choices, etc. Hence nonprofits must target donors in new ways. He offers marketing and branding tips on how to do that. Sean at Tactical Philanthropy discusses Jeff's perspective and seemingly endorses it. I do too, but let me introduce some caveats:

  • "Donor" is fund-raiser language. It shows the human being who gives or has given is being conceptualized and objectified as an ATM. Already the language has betrayed the whole concept of true empowerment of the giver who is, after all, also a parent, child, citizen, civic leader, and probably a donor to many causes and organizations.
  • For fund raisers to empower donors with choices is risky: Choices among what options? This or that giving opportunity at the organization employing the fund raiser? Or options among nonprofits, beyond the one employing the fund raiser? Among life choices and financial options some of which are not philanthropic? Some of which are not even financial?

Seeing donors as targets of marketing and seeing success as dollars raised for your employer, or for client of your marketing firm, falls far short of empowering our fellow citizens with true choices. True choices would stem from considering the client's (notice the change in language) personal situation, aspirations, family situation, giving history, financial, tax and legal data, and then providing a range of feasible options that balance these considerations. The fund raiser may or may not be on that team of advisors, for the fund raiser's claim to providing options is often very limited. 

What I hope will evolve, particularly among those serving affluent donor-client-citizens is a shared understanding, among fund raisers, planned giving officers, financial consultants, financial sales people, donor mavens and donor networks, of the terrain on which giving takes places, and the many silos that break our field up into self-enclosed little worlds, each with it own experts, language, expectations, and ways of measuring success. As we come together to serve the donor, the donor's family, the causes the donor supports, and our civil society, we may find that we are evolving a new profession from our now patchwork fields of practice. The on-line conversation is good because it will enable us to talk to one another across these disciplinary divides.

Fund raisers can rise to the level of trusted client advisor, Charles Collier, head of Planned Giving at Harvard, and author of Wealth in Families, is a great example. But his methodology is more like a family consultant than a traditional fund raiser or planned giving officer. It will take organizations as enlightened as Harvard to show the way. The fund raisers I meet very often say, "All well and good, and it makes sense in principle, but I have to raise $3 million by June and I have to go make more asks. Maybe we could talk to the donor about her real needs after we get the gift, ok? That way it won't slow things down." I understand, having worked in sales management, the predicament of those managed to a quota, how quota pressure may force the front line person to be transactional, but we have to get beyond this if we are to make good on the claim of being donor centered. Or, even just plain humane.

New Resource Bank

What if you could deposit your money in a bank that shared your values and invested your funds accordingly in the local community? That is the thought behind New Resource Bank in San Francisco.

"We're drawing in customers with a new standard in customer service and through our deep understanding of our clients' business,"says Peter Liu, initial founder and vice chairman of New Resource Bank. "Part of our strategy is to meet head-on the growing green business market—while giving our depositors a safe and sound way for their money to work consistently with their values."

Queenpins of Philanthropy Blogging - Towards a Convening of the Best in the Giving Field

Come to think of it, Tracy may have been referring to Lucy Bernholz, Susan Herr, Lenore Ealy, or Gayle Roberts as the Queenpins of giving blogs. That would make more sense. The point, really, is that philanthropy, giving, fundraising, political theory and activism, social organizing, voluntarism are all one field of practice, though we operate in our little professional silos, each chirping our little birdsongs, to the other birds of our species. Yet, giving could become conscious of these subcultures and transcend them for a higher purpose, for several higher purposes: to give and raise more money, to invest it in nonprofits, causes and forprofit ventures to better purpose, to better serve donor-citizens, and to elevate the culture of givers, receivers, and the society at large. We are "aware" of one another now in the blog worlds. We link warily -  " Who is this person? What are they nattering on about? Are they one of us?" We can dimly hear one another in the dark. Will we keep each one of us chirping his or her song, like some Nightingale at dusk in a Romantic poem, where isolation is the theme? Or will we begin a blog to blog and ultimately face to face conversation leading to a re-envisioning of our multi-disciplinary pro-am field of practice? I hope we will begin to find one another, not just as bloggers but as forces for change. My personal dream, that led to the creation of this blog, and was part of why Tracy formed Inspired Legacies, was to catalyze a not-for-profit, transpartisan, supra-disciplinary space where the best people in the giving field, including donors and donor mavens, could make common purpose: call it a club, a commons, a hub, a network. Tracy is considering an invitational convening, maybe in April, to coincide with the Advisors  in Philanthropy Conference in Chicago, to catalyze such a network. Though dominated by Queenpins, a few token Kingpins would be invited too in order to hit our diversity quota. The space created for others would not be "inside" Tracy's space, nor Gifthub's, but more like a hologram formed by the energies of those who participate. No one would own it - odd thought. It would give those who participate a cooperative advantage (access to the best minds and networks); from that, of course, each might find a competitive advantage. Sharing works like that; if you have tried it with other talented, well connected people who live the culture of giving.

Thoughts? Interested?

Gifthub as "Queenpin Strategy"?

On a phone call today my friend, Tracy Gary, characterized this blog as "possibly the Queenpin strategy" for organizing donor networks, advisors, and nonprofits.  O the shame of it all! Queenpin? My colleague, Senator Dick Minim (D MA), tells me to take no offense; as a liberal I should get in touch with my feminine side. Actually, as a servant of wealth, I aspire to be neither King nor Queen, neither Courtier nor Churl, but the Queenpin's faithful Fool. That is probably what Tracy meant anyway.  Coming, Your Highness.  (As the song says, "We all gotta serve somebody"; it might was as well be Tracy. She is a lot nicer than my real boss, though not nearly as rich.)