Disrupting Philanthropy Report: A Conversation

The Disrupting Philanthropy Conversation at Pew

Today, Lucy Bernholtz, Edwards Skloot, and Barry Varela hosted a conversation at the Pew Conference room on their recent Disrupting Philanthropy Report. In attendance where folks from some of the largest foundations and technology companies in the world. The following is a liveblogged account of the conversation.

We opened the panel with a discussion about Haiti. Fifteen of the sixteen roundtable members found out about the earthquake online as opposed to a broadcast or traditional print outlet. The DNA of the way of thinking has changed… Ushahidi is a classic example of our new reality, which is being shared and openly discussed now. Here’s why digital matters as outlined by report co-author Lucy Bernholtz at the event:

We are experiencing a rejuvenated market zeitgeist in resolving societal problems as a result of technology. There’s a whole series of more granular issues from measurement and transparency to data and how can it be used externally. There are four critical aspects the the Disrupting Philanthropy Research.

  • 1) Data is the new platform for change (Ushahidi). Low cost of organizations, public movements, etc. have created a data deluge.
  • 2) There’s a real idealogical battle about who produces social good, including the commons, charities, foundations, businesses, etc. They are all inter-related in a networked way.
  • 3) This new networked reality demands new governance models about participation for organizations with authenticity
  • 4) The biggest question, what’s the biggest limitations of crowds and clouds? Where does this end? How do we make decisions? How do we share information?
  • The Conversation on Data

    Edward Skloot, Lucy Bernholtz, and Barry Varela
    From left to right, Edward Skloot, Lucy Bernholtz, and Barry Varela.

    Data can be in a system, and it can be shared in all sorts of ways. Organizations are reporting to a new level of public analysis. Behaviors of organizations are being changed. Public disclosure is forcing a lot of hands, creating a new way of looking at analysis.

    The question in the new government becomes how have we incorporated the public will on this. Rendering data against archaic policies has become a tension that the Obama administration is trying to work through.

    There’s no common language to interact, no protocol to unify the data transfer. How do you code information to make it universal, but at the same time, in a way that creates power and interpretation battles? Lack of standards, data integrity and information transfer becomes a key aspect of the social web.

    Talking New Business Models

    Revenue supported social enterprises are adding disruption to the mix, and social investment changes require data and metrics. Market activity and capital behind social enterprises is demanding new standards, which may spread to the larger social cause sector.

    We discussed parallels of social enterprise and business-based social good producers involved in the sector. B Corps, L3Cs, etc. have brought code level changes to the social sector. Tax emption and deductability reshape the way people can affect social good changes.

    The Networked World of Change

    The siloed approach to affecting change is being torn down before our eyes. We are seeing a new networked ecosphere arise with social enterprises, businesses, 501c3s, governments and the public, creating new resources and ways of affecting change. It’s also creating conflict and tension. The internets are lubricating the process.

    501c3s are becoming more sustainable by focusing on what they do best within this architecture. A fundraiser can’t dig wells so to speak. Then there’s the public will to create new dynamic architectures and circumnavigate the existing structures.

    New Governance versus Old Systems of Power

    There’s an anti-organization approach. It’s a moment in time when committees versus action remains a major tension, and there incredible new momentary projects (zeitgeists) occurring. Governance within structures feel threatened, and are being revamped to some extent. At the same time, change is being forced from the outside.

    There are new ways of working that are operating outside of the system. Should the new ways of doing things be regulated, and vice versa? The panelists thought there’s a need for institutionalization, and that the new players will be forced into larger accountable governances overtime.

    I strongly disagreed (and was talked down). In my opinion, we are seeing the change that we have seen in larger for-profit markets, where innovation is occurring because technology enables people to do things differently. There’s a dissatisfaction with the larger organizations that cannot be quelled.

    In the end, we as a group agreed that it seems like the big organizations are not going away, but the new guys won’t either. Technology has enabled the change agent.

    There’s a similarity between this and the Catholic Church, and how it lost control of Christian faith in Europe due to the rise of the Gutenberg press and the ability for every man to practice with a bible at home. Today the Catholic Church is still there, but you have so many different types of Protestantism it’s amazing.

    It’s the ability to garner large dollars versus the balkanization and destabilization of governance within philanthropy. There are many possibilities. We left our morning session with many more questions than when we walked in. We ended on this note, two general themes (as pronounced by Darin McKever of the Gates Foundation):

    1) Technology leads to increased productivity and lower capital requirements

    2) Data information availability creates behavioral and attitudinal changes

    Into the Afternoon

    We then moved into the afternoon sessions with an introduction of Subsidy Scope. This new tool created by Pew will reveal government subsidies to 501C3s, a transparency initiative. We demoed the tool with searches for the American Red Cross and the National Rifle Association.

    The first discussion revolved around data and whether it’s widespread availability and the lack of ways to extrapolate could create chaos. Understanding data and mashing it up to make decisions. Once standards are in place, we can analyze it and understand it.

    Nonprofits have a capacity issue. Can they extrapolate the data and make intelligent decisions. What can be done to illuminate the story and affect better change? Packaging data goes beyond stories to policy changes.

    Data can be a platform for change, yet you need a voice. You need leaders. Data, platforms to talk, pedagogical diffusion, publicity, partnerships, and coalitions: It’s not one or the other, but all.

    Resources have changed. Money used to be the old capital, but now there’s data. There was a discussion of this as a foundation model.

    Breeding transparency and data sets can bring out trust, change and new efficiencies. There was a great discussion about whether or not it’s really affecting the way to govern.

    How do we make it more systematic? Does the movement to fund the social entrepreneurial efforts (L3Cs, etc.) really change with all of the data and tidal waves of change? What can philanthropy achieve with data? How do we archetype strategy in an era of volatile tools, movements and rapid data change. How does data availability affecting change and education of the donor and the financier?

    An interesting discussion revolved around the citizen philanthropist. How do we educate them? How do we captivate them? Organizations in the long tail like Global Giving are succeeding. Can we better examine the individual donor to help change? The data boom and the desire to play with it is creating a demand for measurement, and useful and replicable programs.

    The real challenge for change advocates is to stop challenging human nature. Use data with emotion to channel human nature and move towards an evolved, better result. Data can be used as an organizing tool. Donor advised funds such as community foundations are a great example.