The Philanthropy411 blog posted yesterday twitter links to 90 Foundations that Tweet, along with 16 philanthropy professionals who have their own twitter accounts.
This is a great resource for any philanthropist or non-profit entity — whether solo or part of a larger organization — as reading tweets gives rare insight into real-time discussions and foci in those organizations. It also offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn from and collaborate with one another — something that happens too little in the philanthropy arena but is beginning to be recognized as a benefit to both foundation and grantee.
Here’s why tweeting is a mode of community communication you’re going to have to get on board with, at least for a while:
1. Tweeting is informal. One of the greatest breakdowns between a non-profit entity and a philanthropic body is cultural inequality. With twitter, everyone (more or less) is on the same class-level.
2. Tweeting is broadcasting. You never know who could be reading, so tweets need to be comprehensible to anyone and everyone. This means there’s very little room for specific audience manipulation.
3. Tweeting is non-committal. Twitter is a forum for discussion. People tend to finalize deals over more traditional communication streams like email, snail mail, phone, and face-to-face meetings. Whereas twitter is considered a place where you can show interest without committing yourself to a deal. This is the place to learn more, ask questions, and then take it to the next level (usually email) if necessary.
4. (At least for now) Tweeting circumvents bureaucratic barriers like calendar scheduling and gatekeepers. If you have a good idea, tweet it @ the person you think would find it interesting; no need to get time on their calendar. I strongly believe that, as the service becomes more widely used, VIPs will continue to institute stronger barricades. But, while it’s new and fun, you can often reach them directly.
Twitter remains a means to an end, but it can be a mode of conversation providing exposure to new ideas and connections without the weight of commitment.
By now, you’ve likely heard of Gmail and Google AdSense creator Paul Buchheit’s blog post titled Collaborative Charity. In it, he declares,
“I’m going to donate a bunch of money, but I want random people on the Internet to decide where it goes.”
This is crowdsourced philanthropy. You remember crowdsourcing from Who Wants to be a Millionaire. That lifeline — “ask the audience” — was the perfect example: asking a large group of people to offer their ideas on a solution to a problem. Wikipedia is another great example.
But why would we try this with philanthropy?
Well, it’s a simple case of market majority. While a lone philanthropist doesn’t necessarily have the breadth of knowledge to determine the best grant recipient, the market majority — the crowd — will most likely be able to shake out the highest priority need.
And one of crowdsourcing’s biggest benefits in the philanthropic field may be transparency. Making decisions based significantly on the suggestion of public majority means less chance of ethics or bias being called into question. And making your values and conditions clear to your “crowd” simply demands greater public transparency in order to ensure an informed decision.
There are still many unanswered questions about crowdsourced philanthropy: Will it be successful? Will it become a trend or a viable model for giving? Who exactly is the audience? Perhaps Paul Buchheit’s experiment will help us begin to understand the answers to those questions, but many more experiments will be needed to label this a success.
And one thing is certain — philanthropy will need to master technology in order to get the most benefit out of this, and most other, field trends.
Good Examples of How Philanthropy Can Use Crowdsourcing
Philanthropy Enabling Crowdsourced Solution: This is an old example, but a good one. In it, the Rockefeller Foundation funded an opportunity for a non-profit in India to generate solutions to a problem via crowdsourcing.
Philanthropy Using Crowdsourcing for Strategic Planning: The Peery Foundation is currently using a twitter hashtag notation stream to publicly discuss some significant strategic planning questions. The hashtag — #PFWhiteboard — suggests that foundation representatives, and anyone else who has a thought or good suggestion toward their progress, are “whiteboarding” solutions via twitter stream. In my experience, hashtag conversations have been a bit clunky to follow, and you don’t necessarily get a broad market spectrum of input; but the Peery Foundation is experimenting in public transparency, crowdsourcing ideas toward their strategic planning process, and taking full advantage of available technology in this process. I look forward to following the conversation and to getting great ideas from their brainstorming.
These are just a couple of examples of how philanthropy can use crowdsourcing in rather low-risk ways. And while they’re no doubt just our “first steps” toward experimenting with this idea, they offer springboards for more complex ideas in the future. You don’t have to put yourself out there like Mr. Buchheit, but you can use this age-old technique to create opportunities, define solutions, or narrow down choices.