Adventures in New Giving Update

February 9th, 2012 by nathanj5

I’m getting some great contributions and feedback on my new project proposal and wanted to share an early update.  Big thanks to everyone who’s chimed in already.

First off, I’ve grabbed a new Twitter handle for the project @NewGiving and folks are starting to join the email list to track the project.

The big news…

…is that people are already donating key resources.  Just moments after I posted the proposal, Dave Chakrabarti offered to build a Drupal site for the project.

And today, Morgan Dusatko said he’d help me produce a video for the Kickstarter campaign.

On my own, the site would have been a run-of-the-mill WordPress install, and the video might have come from my web cam.  These early gifts are a big deal. Thank you!

A little help from my friends…

I also got some great resources from successful Kickstarter campaigner and filmmaker Sam Mayfield.  If you’re curious about the ins, outs, ups and downs of Kickstarter, here’s a guide that I found pretty useful and another story with insider insight into the Kickstarter team and the emotional fortitude it requires to run a campaign there.

More feedback and questions I’m working on…


Budget questions are going in two directions.

A couple of people asked how I’m using the money.  It’s a pretty simple breakdown:

  • $500 for equipment (camera, mic, tripod and cases)
  • $5000 for plains, trains and automobuses ($500/city, and I’ll be looking for hosts for sleeping)
  • $4500 keep-me-alive budget (or $50/day)

Honestly, it’s pretty slim, especially the keep-me-alive budget.  I’ll be doing this with a full-time focus, so I’m trying to avoid taking on client work during the Adventure.

And that was the other issue.  One very experienced friend said I should raise the goal to $15,000.  That way, I will have a cushion and can contract for technical support.  This would be brilliant, especially to have an editor catching footage via Dropbox and cutting it for the web.

But, as my mom pointed out, $15,000 just sounds like so much more than $10,000.  What to do?

I’d love to find a couple of key sponsors to come in at $2,500 and raise the rest from the crowd.  Any ideas for who would “get” the project and like to be have top billing on the site?

Other Questions and Comments (aka an FAQ-in-draft)

My good friend and colleague Vicky suggested that this story is special because it’s not about wealthy or famous people.  In our celebrity-obsessed culture, this is about everyday people organizing together, and I should focus on the everday-ness of it, the practical, DIY ingenuity that will show others that they can do it, too.

Collabforge wiz and former OneWedbay conspirator, Matt Cooperrider asks

What creative methods will you use to engage your supporters in the development of this new resource, or in making the project happen generally? For example, the way in which you collect and curate the stories could be open and collaborative. You could open it up to submissions beyond just those folks you interview.

To that I say, yes, yes and more yes.  I will be very interested in curating content from lots of people.  If you want to contribute content or have cool (Drupal-friendly) platform ideas for making sharing easy and engaging, please let me know.

My favorite philanthropy wonk, Lucy Bernholz asks

What are you going to do with the stuff when it’s done – where will it live? And suggests that I offer some sample video interviews to give people a feel for the project.

The material will be updated constantly to the new site throughout the project, not just when it’s “done,” so it will be a living, growing resource as the project develops.  When the project is done, I’ll be asking the community built around it what should happen next.

And I have time for at least one interview video sample before the Kickstarter campaign starts.

In the comments of the first post, old Mozilla pal Katie Guernsey asks

Do you have stakeholders and champions in each of the cities you have identified? Do they, themselves, feel part of this New Giving identity? If not, is that part of the how the tour will serve this community?

Yes and no.  I’ve tapped a bunch of folks in those cities, and they’re starting to chime in with interest and offers of support, but it’s a great idea to do a city-by-city campaign tactic.  Monday is DC Day, Tuesday is for NYC, etc.

“New Giving” is a new term, and part of this project is to test the parameters of what that identity can mean.  By and large, the people who I’ve talked to who are leading some kind of New Giving understand and feel a connection to the term.  I’m sure there will be dissenters.

Chickens and Eggs

The trouble with jump-starting a movement is that a lot of people aren’t familiar with what’s going on (hence the need for the jump-start) and some ask for a bunch of definitions and data up front that don’t exist yet.

Some people are concerned that a wide audience not already tuned into New Giving projects won’t understand and want me to make it simple.

Some people ask a ton of questions that don’t have answers yet and suggest that they wouldn’t contribute to the campaign if those questions aren’t answered.

Unfortunately, it can’t work both ways.  It’s got to be either simple and compelling or a PhD thesis that satisfies every particular curiosity, but is too immense for the campaign to work for web-sized attention spans.

So, let me lay this out as the basic premise and see how it flies:

Adventures in New Giving is about discovery, storytelling and community-building.

On the discovery side, this is a field research project. What is going on? Who are these New Givers? Why are they giving? And what can strengthen their impact?

I believe this is a compelling story. Why are people doing this in the depths of a recession? How can we help more people follow their lead?

On community: based on what I know, people are not networking beyond their particular New Giving project circles.  What we have now is an organic uprising of a self-organized giving communities and platforms for organizing crowds. How can we build a mutual aid network that can learn, share and enhance their impact together?

That’s the chicken, or more likely the egg.

Keep the feedback and questions coming.  They’re all very appreciated.  Thank you!


Adventures in New Giving: A Request for Collaboration

February 7th, 2012 by nathanj5

I’ve been cooking up a new project idea. Please read the whole piece for the background on “New Giving” and the genesis of the idea, but here is the core concept and request for collaboration…

Adventures in New Giving: Exploring the Frontiers of the Altruistic Economy

What is it?

  • A 10-city, 90-day tour to the hotbeds of New Giving in the US (and maybe Canada) this summer.
  • Collecting stories (interviews and case studies in text, pictures and video) from New Givers and New Giving grantees, as well as Big Givers, non-profit leaders, and social entrepreneurs with insights to share.
  • Hosting micro-summits of the local New Giving community at each stop to help weave the local networks, while connecting them to the national narrative.
  • All gathered on a new web site that I hope will become a resource hub for current and potential New Givers, their supporters and project fundraisers.

I can’t do it alone.  I need lots of collaborators to help me find and tell those stories.

I also can’t pay for this project alone.  If I can sublet my apartment (and find a long-term cat sitter), I still need to cover some basic bills to stay focused on the project, pay for the travel (while couch surfing to save money), and buy some equipment.

I think the whole thing would come to $10,000.  I hope it will be worth much more to the growing New Giving community.

In true New Giving form, I am considering running a Kickstarter campaign to gather the funds.  For those who haven’t seen it, Kickstarter helps people fund creative projects in small increments coming from friends, family and friendly strangers.

I’m writing this post to find out if people think this Kickstarter campaign and project idea will fly.  Is $10k reasonable?  Would you kick in a contribution and share it with your network?  Do you have ideas to improve the concept?

Let me know what you think:  below in the comments, via email (james.nathaniel [at] gmail [dot] com) or on Twitter @nj140.

I’ve even set up an announcement email list.  I won’t hit send emails more than once a week.  If you want updates, sign up here.

Thanks for considering this and thanks in advance for the feedback.

The Background

It’s been about a year since I started organizing Awesome Foundation Seattle, pulling together conversations with other young philanthropy leaders and writing about their work.

I have met amazing people and had a number of inspiring and challenging insights shared with me.  I believe there is a new movement coming together: philanthropy is now cool.

Take my home base of Seattle, for example.  There are at least six young philanthropy projects, including Awesome Foundation, Sprout, the local Philanthro Chapter, Agency (aka Party with a Purpose), Service Girls, and Social Justice Fund NW’s Giving Projects.  And I’m still learning about more efforts here and around the world all the time.

And I’ve been looking for a name – what to call this movement?   Last November, Awesome Foundation founder Tim Hwang wrote a blog post where he defined it as “New Giving,” something apart from Big Giving (think traditional foundations).

For Tim, New Giving is marked by small-scale funding that permits “organic growth… for a critical level of expertise and experience to congeal.”

I believe New Giving has at least 3 strains:

  • Crowdfunding.
  • Grassroots, community-driven philanthropy that relies on collective action, rather than individual wealth, to take action.
  • The changing role of technology in giving and the webby culture of sharing it engenders.

I also believe New Giving builds social capital through the sharing of financial capital.  It is a new form of civic engagement in an era of deep skepticism of governments and the political process.  People are supporting solutions directly with their cash and their time.

Why is this happening now, especially given our ongoing economic uncertainty?  What does this young movement need to flourish?  What can I do to catalyze the next wave of growth?

I want to find out.  I want to help tell the story of New Giving and build a more robust community of New Givers who can support each other and make it easier for more people to join in.

As I said above, please let me know what you think about Adventures in New Giving: below in the comments, via email (james.nathaniel [at] gmail [dot] com) or on Twitter @nj140, and/or by signing up for the updates list here.


Open Philanthropy Post

December 29th, 2011 by nathanj5

Last month, Fast Company’s new blog, FastCo.Exist, published my piece on Lucy Bernholz and Open Data in Philanthropy.

Networked technologies and big, open data are in the process of reshaping nearly every industry–music, health care, education, scientific research, and journalism, as well as the nonprofit sector, civil society, and government. The consequences of long-tail economics and wise crowds are forcing almost every institution to adapt (and hopefully improve) or face obsolescence. Except, perhaps, one prominent sector: institutional philanthropy.

Read the whole piece here.


Embracing Next Generation Philanthropy

September 12th, 2011 by nathanj5

This is the intro for my recent guest post at the NTEN blog.  Read the whole piece here.

Recent economic forecasting suggests that traditional fundraising is not going to get easier any time soon. While it’s tempting to focus on scarcity, a new generation of philanthropists is coming of age. They are young community builders, driven by a DIY ethic, and empowered by social media. They are leveraging the lowered costs of coordination provided by the web and mobile net, and they are stepping up to meet the challenges facing their generations.

What are you doing to find them now and cultivate relationships with them for the long haul?

Read the whole piece here.


$1,000 To Do Something Awesome in Seattle!

September 7th, 2011 by nathanj5

Re-posted from the official Awesome Seattle blog.

The first grant cycle of the Seattle chapter of the Awesome Foundation is now open!

Further details below, but the basic idea is that a small group of Seattleites have committed to showing up together each month, pooling $1,000, and giving that $1,000 to the person we think has the best chance at achieving something awesome.

This isn’t traditional philanthropy. No reporting, no strings, no oversight. Just $1,000 to do whatever it is you think is worth doing. We’re calling out to artists, scientists, activists, geeks, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, and you!

Deadline for submission is September 30th. Then we’ll do it again every month, for at least 6 months.

So let’s get going! Tell us what amazing thing you’d do with a grand.


Connect with us and help us spread the word:
@AwesomeSeattle on Twitter
Awesome Seattle on Facebook
Our announcement list (hot tip: we’ll be having parties to celebrate grantees)

For those of you who refuse to believe it’s that simple:
How it works. Who we are. A detailed FAQ. The founding concept.


Building Millennial Philanthropy, 1% at A Time

August 18th, 2011 by nathanj5

Daniel Kaufman, founder of One Percent Foundation

UPDATE: I got a couple of factual corrections from Daniel, concerning how OPF grew and their total giving to date (an impressive $200k).  My apologies for the misunderstanding.  Read on!


In 2007, Daniel Kaufman started a conversation about philanthropic giving over dinner with his law school friends that has since blossomed into the One Percent Foundation (OPF), a national organization that engages young adults in philanthropy through giving circles and leadership development.

That first circle of friends realized that they were giving reactively, rather than strategically funding the things they cared most about.  They uncovered a pattern of challenges that stopped them and their generation from doing more:

  • A concern that they couldn’t afford to be philanthropists.
  • Not knowing where their money would be most effectively shared.
  • Doubting their potential to make an impact.
  • That group started their own giving circle, pooling 1% of their incomes and collectively overcoming these challenges to effective philanthropy.

    “I never meant to start an organization,” Daniel admits, but word spread quickly and giving circles began following their model, springing up CORRECTION: the original founders moved to New York, DC, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle, growing into a national giving circle.  By 2009, they realized they were filling a vital niche.  OPF was ready to scale.

    “Millennials aren’t at the table.  [They] don’t control any of the sources of funding, and the non-profit landscape represents the passions and perspectives of its funders.’   This is a critical leadership gap.  Younger generations bring new ideas, energy, and are committed to improving the world they are inheriting.  Traditionally, however, they have to wait in line for leadership in the boardrooms and executive offices of the philanthropic and non-profit worlds, slowing the potential for the positive change they can deliver.  They are also a massive, underutilized resource. According to OPF’s research:

    If every person in their 20s and 30s gave 1% of his or her income to philanthropy each year, it would translate into $16 billion in annual support for non-profit organizations.  This is six times more than the Gates Foundation gave away last year.

    How it works

    One Percent Foundation is changing the equation.  The model is relatively simple.  Participants commit 1% of their earnings, as they define it.  Working on quarterly grant cycles, participants nominate non-profit organizations to receive an OPF grant.  In a key leadership development piece of the program, volunteers act as program officer for one cycle each, learning how to research nominated organizations and complete a due diligence process.  Then, the community votes and grants are awarded.  If they have less time to give, participants can jump in during the voting phase.

    To date, OPF has given $17,000 in unrestricted grants to 10 organizations. CORRECTION: OPF has raised almost $200,000 for organizations, giving $17,000 every grant cycle.

    It almost goes without saying, but online organizing is central to this entire process.  Word spreads through social media and “all the steps [participants] can take happen through our web site.”


    Beyond giving to important causes, OPF is building individual skill sets and shared confidence in the giving community.  “There’s this really powerful feedback loop where people feel they can trust the community and can change the non-profit landscape by operating through the community.”

    And that change is coming from a willingness to embrace risks, an ability not generally characteristic of traditional grant makers.  “[We]really take a chance on innovative ideas and good leadership.  We’re funding organizations that a year or two later are getting major recognition from the establishment in the philanthropic space.”

    For example, OPF was an early investor in Kiva.  Similarly, they helped seed One Acre Fund, helping East African farmers grow more on their land and alleviate hunger.  Last year, One Acre received a $765,000 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and is now serving 55,000 farm families.

    What’s next?

    OPF is ready to grow once again.  They are investing in new leadership (announcements forthcoming) and they are turning growing pains into self-sustaining gains.

    “Growth dims the personal sense of engagement,” that has been so important to OPF’s model.  The foundation has been so successful at youth engagement because of participants’ authentic, meaningful experience with the program.  Daniel doesn’t want participants ever to feel that they are getting lost in a “sea of voices.”

    Instead, OPF is converting their model into a web platform where third parties can start their own one percent circles.   “Now, for example, a group that has gone through Teach for America or a group of friends scattered across the country can give together.”  Daniel hopes this platform will take OPF from a donor and corporate-supported entity to one that earns its revenue.

    Lessons for philanthropy at large

    OPF is a great example of a pattern I am uncovering in my Mapping Trends in Philanthropy project:

    Young leaders + community + smart technology + high risk tolerance = innovative philanthropy.

    While the dollar amounts are often on the small end of the spectrum, these new entrants act like sensitive antennas, picking up promising signals that are too small for bigger institutions to read, then amplifying them with recognition and some cash to get started.  Traditional foundations would be well served to build this offering directly into their strategies by cultivating relationships with new entities working with young leaders.

    Next generation giving is just beginning.  I’ll let Daniel have the last word:

    “We’re trying to create a movement around philanthropy and democratize giving.  There has been a sense that giving circles don’t work with millennials, because they’re too independent.  I think that is a statement that is being made with too broad of a brush.  There are lots of ways that millennials want to connect and do big things as a community, but there’s not the infrastructure to enable it in a meaningfully way.”


    Reading Roundup: Philanthropy – 7/6-12/11

    July 13th, 2011 by nathanj5

    1) Silicon Valley status symbols emphasize mind over material
    2) A Modest Story About Moving Cash
    3) Budget Talks Could Put Tax Breaks for Donations in Peril
    4) Make Today’s Lessons Accessible for Tomorrow with Metadata
    5) It’s The Relationship, Stupid!
    6) Beth Falcone and Jamie MacDonald Launch GiveCorps
    7) Giving is Love

    1) Silicon Valley status symbols emphasize mind over material

    Jessica Guynn at Los Angeles Times

    In brief: “Silicon Valley’s rising young stars are rejecting the traditional symbols of status: fast cars, yachts, luxury homes. To make their mark, they’re putting their wealth into social causes and start-up ventures.”

    My 2 cents: If you read through the article, you’ll find some gender-biased comments. The piece is driven by anecdotes, and doesn’t provide any broad data to support its broad premise.  It does reference an ethnographic dissertation published by Alice Marwick, available here.

    2) A Modest Story About Moving Cash

    Karen Pittelman at Resource Generation

    In brief: A quick, inspiring story about a small foundation that took its mission-related investment approach seriously enough to move most of its accounts from a corporate bank to one that shared its social and environmental vision.  Bonus: they’re making better yields on their assets now.

    3) Budget Talks Could Put Tax Breaks for Donations in Peril

    Lisa Chiu at the Chronicle’s Government and Politics Watch

    In brief:

    As members of Congress and the White House prepare for this weekend’s closed-door negotiations on a deficit-reduction measure, many nonprofit leaders are worried that charitable deductions for wealthy Americans could face strict new limits.

    President Obama this spring said he supports limiting deductions for wealthy people as a way to help bring more tax money into federal coffers—and that would include deductions affluent people take for gifts to charity.

    See a more recent follow up post here.

    My 2 cents: I’m beginning to wonder if there is an organized lobby for limiting the charitable deduction.  If so, I haven’t seen it mentioned in these stories.

    4) Make Today’s Lessons Accessible for Tomorrow with Metadata

    Sophia Guevara at Re: Philanthropy

    In Brief: Metadata 101 for foundation staff.

    My 2 cents: +1

    5) It’s The Relationship, Stupid!

    Richard Woo at Philanthropy 411

    In brief: “When we pay as much attention to authentic relationship development as we do to program development—there is a greater chance of becoming relevant. Relationships are boundless, programs are finite.”

    6) Beth Falcone and Jamie MacDonald Launch GiveCorps

    at Citybiznews

    In brief:GiveCorps is an online platform that provides an easy way for donors to learn about and give to local nonprofit organizations and get discounts from area merchants in return.”

    7) Giving is Love

    Brigid Slipka at writings on giving & living

    In brief: “Parting with your money is hard. But the hardest thing of all may be acknowledging what giving truly is, without scorn or eye-rolling or uncomfortable silences.”


    Reading Roundup: Philanthropy – 6/29-7/5/11

    July 6th, 2011 by nathanj5

    Welcome back from the holiday weekend.  So many noteworthy philanthropy pieces this week…

    1) “Scaling Up” in a Time of Scarcity: Some Experiences, Observations, and Caveats

    in 3 parts (1,2, & 3)

    Gara LaMarche at Intrepid Philanthropist

    In brief: This superbly written speech is brimming with comments worth quoting at length…

    Notes on scaling:

    …it needs pointing out that scaling isn’t for everyone and every issue… when we speak of scaling up we are mainly speaking of initiatives that address big societal challenges, like education, health, and housing, where an approach can tested, improved and proven on a manageable basis and where having done so, given the huge scope of the challenge, it is appropriate or even imperative to extend the benefits much more widely.

    Notes on innovation:

    …what is often really the case is that the old ways were never really given a chance to work, or that the lessons learned in earlier times have been forgotten or even trampled over by ideological assaults.

    Notes on scaling and government programs:

    …impact and effectiveness are often no match for the pull of inertia and tradition, of patronage and politics, and evidence alone has never been enough to win the day. What, therefore, do we need to do to communicate more effectively about proven programs? To build the missing constituency for effectiveness?”

    Especially check out LaMarche’s comments on playing both partner and adversary to the US government, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, in post #2.

    Concluding notes:

    I think some of us fear that if we use plain language or speak from the heart, we won’t be taken seriously… But we don’t need to abandon the high road to get the details right. We can do both. Rigor and moral clarity need not be in tension. They are mutually reinforcing and mutually dependent.  It’s fine for us wonks to talk about scaling and metrics, but let’s keep that in the family. To build the missing constituency for what works requires us to understand that evidence does not drive policy unless a compelling message is there…. The only way we can achieve impact at any scale is if we become a movement for change, combining proven metrics and effective programs with communications and advocacy efforts propelled by a shared vision and story of who we are, what we’re trying to achieve, and why the change we seek is vital to the lives of real people in every community.

    2) Streamlining Charitable Advocacy and Lobbying Rules

    Meredith Brodbeck at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

    In brief: Brodbeck points to Larry Ottinger’s recent “Bringing Nonprofit Advocacy Rules and Culture into the 21st Century” report (PDF).  Noting that 1970′s regulations to limit non-profit lobbying haven’t kept up with inflation Ottinger recommends indexing limitations to inflation going forward and eliminating the $1m cap for large organizations, replacing it with a 5% of expenditures.  Ottinger’s report also recommends Independent Sector’s remedy lifting some limitations on private foundations and their grantees.

    “What is needed is a paradigm shift, one that makes participation by foundations, charities and their constituents in the democratic process an ‘ordinary, not extraordinary’ part of the sector’s identity and activities.”

    My 2 cents: The current regulations create a chilling effect on most non-profits who either don’t take their 501(h) election to lobby for legislation or don’t take full advantage of it.  Any regulatory relief on this issue is welcome, but won’t address the other major constraint on non-profit legislative efforts: capacity limitations.  Even if foundations and non-profits were freed up to lobby more, how will the field provide them with the resources to do so?

    3) More on Philanthropy’s Natural State of Underperformance

    Sean Stannard-Stockton at Tactical Philanthropy

    In brief: ” …unlike voters or customers, beneficiaries of philanthropic efforts have no mechanism by which to hold philanthropists accountable.”

    My 2 cents: I’ve been thinking a lot about asymmetric information flows between grantor and grantee.  Stannard-Stockton is talking about a feedback loop missing in philanthropy that exists, to differing degrees, in markets, politics and evolutionary systems.  Non-profit grantees are understandably fearful of criticizing their benefactors, “biting the hand that feeds them.”

    It’s really too bad.  As intermediaries between grantors and beneficiaries, they have deep knowledge of both sides of that equation.  I think it would be exciting to uncover incentives for foundations to get unfettered criticism from their grantees.

    I’ve been looking at the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report as one such mechanism.  I’ve asked Sean and his readers for their thoughts on this project.

    Reading through the comments also pointed me to Brigid Slipka’s excellent post, Define Failure In Terms of Beneficiaries, Not Donors.

    4) Fear of Failure: An Obstacle to Change

    Dione Alexander at Money and Mission

    In Brief: “Change capital is to the nonprofit world what venture capital is to the for-profit world. It is money that can be used for excellent growth opportunities and to incubate innovation… nonprofits are often rewarded for their ability to effectively produce more of the same even if there are potentially better opportunities on the horizon.”

    5) The Glass Filing Cabinet: What the Packard Foundation is Learning about Learning in Public

    Paul Connolly at Transparency Talk

    In brief: “Rather than scrutinizing Packard’s data on our own behind closed office doors, we are facilitating a “learning in public” process through which we are sharing early research findings widely and encouraging input… How can philanthropies create better filters for seeking commentary when most people actually might not be that interested in poring through all of the information in those glass filing cabinets?”  Connolly’s group, TCC, is using a combo of wikis, social media and convened dialogues in their open evaluation.

    My 2 cents: Commendable approach to radical transparency for philanthropy.  Some operational notes: Wikis aren’t great for dialogue.
    It’s great to see that they’ve enhanced your wiki with more immediate communications fora, like discussion groups and social media channels. Wikis are great places to create flexible banks of  “canonical knowledge,” which is to say – find patterns of consensus truths among your participants through dialogue, and later fit them into your wiki taxonomy.  You can then target appeals to stewarding the wiki to your most active participants.  Caveat: wiki UI’s aren’t the most user-friendly, so staff time is invaluable in that stewardship – keeping the structure clean and navigable and participants trained and supported.

    6) Building Relationships in Public Policy from the Ground Up

    Matt Mendenhall at Re: Philanthropy

    In brief:

    As preparation to enter the public policy arena, community foundations first educate themselves regarding the true limitations as well as the misconceptions about limitations to public policy work. If the term “public policy” creates mental blocks (”we can’t lobby”), using other terms-such as “civic leadership”-may help to expand perspectives on what is both possible and appropriate.

    7) Two-Thirds of Nonprofit Executives Plan to Leave Jobs Within Five Years, Study Finds

    Philanthropy News Digest

    In brief: Quick overview of the key numbers coming out of the recent CompassPoint/Meyer “Daring to Lead” (PDF) report, including the headline statistic.

    8 ) Adaptive Philanthropy

    Susan Wolf Ditkoff at Tactical Philanthropy

    In brief:

    I’m intrigued by the questions that adaptive philanthropists are asking. For example, an adaptive strategy requires clear but flexible definitions of what success looks like, for whom, and what is known or assumed about the problem – but not a rigid roadmap of how to solve it. An adaptive strategy articulates clear criteria and a screening process for what will and won’t get funded (guardrails if you will) that help philanthropists quickly assess and decide among emerging opportunities – without succumbing to random opportunism or mission drift.

    My 2 cents: An excellent, succinct post, worth reading every word.


    Awesome Foundation Seattle Community Meeting

    July 5th, 2011 by nathanj5

    On Thursday, June 30, 20+ Seattle residents came out for the first local Awesome Foundation community meeting. On behalf of my co-organizer, Tommer Peterson and myself, a big thanks for those who joined us.

    We met coders, artists, activists, co-working enthusiasts, and at least one roboticist – a truly awesome mix.  Lots of people couldn’t attend, but wanted to get involved, so here’s our follow up post, as promised.

    Read on for:

    • A quick overview of the meeting
    • Information about next steps
    • Notes from the Q&A session

    If you already know for sure that you want to get involved and weren’t at the meeting, head over to our Awesome Foundation Commitment Form.  If you are new to Awesome Foundation Seattle, you can read our initial invitation post and my personal note about why I’m psyched to get AF Sea started.

    Our Proposal

    Tommer welcomes participants

    After a getting-to-know you warmup, Tommer introduced the basic Awesome Foundation concept – 10 people (aka “Trustees”) giving $100 and collectively sharing a $1000 grant to the most awesome proposal each month. Awesome Foundation chapters are sprouting all over the world, and Seattle will probably be the 20th chapter.

    I talked about a vision for community engagement beyond the basic giving model.  Once we get good at making grants, I’d love to discuss an awesome group blog for Seattle, highlighting everything that makes the city great and helping to identify potential grant applicants.  Maybe we could have awesome volunteer days or give a larger, special grant once a year.

    There’s a lot of potential, and our direction will be determined collectively by those who get involved early.

    To build that broader engagement, we want to shake up the basic model a bit.  Tommer and I proposed 4 basic participation levels:

    1. Full-time Trustees: people who can make the $100/mo commitment for the first consecutive 6 months. This group will form the foundation of the foundation, make the first critical decisions about how the chapter will operate, and review grant applications each month.
    2. Guest Trustees: for folks who want to participate at a lower financial level.  Guest Trustees join the full-time Trustees for at least 1 month (or more) out of the first 6 and review grant applications in those months when they are making a contribution.
    3. Friends of Awesome: aka “Volunteers!” A number of folks have expressed support of the Awesome Foundation idea, but are not able to participate financially. We do need volunteers in several capacities. Let us know if you would like to help design, build and manage our local WordPress blog; organize events; and/or support our efforts to publicize grant opportunities
    4. Grant Applicants: The all-important piece of the puzzle.  We’ll always be looking for fresh, exciting proposals.

    Next steps

    A mingling of awesome

    After the post-meeting mingle, everyone filled out a form indicating their level of commitment. What’s next?

    Step 1) If you missed the meeting and want to get involved, it’s very important that you fill out the online Awesome Foundation Commitment Form.  Please fill it out by Monday, July 11.

    Step 2) Tommer and I will take all of the input from the paper and online forms and do our best to put together a great mix of full-time and guest Trustees.  We’ll send invitations to join that first group and take final confirmations.

    Step 3) Within a couple of weeks, we’ll announce our first group of Trustees and a calendar for future guest Trustees.

    Step 4) Trustees will convene to decide and announce our grant-making calendar.

    Step 5) The awesome commences – taking applications and making grants by the end of the summer.


    Participants had lots of questions.  Tommer and I want to make sure everyone understands that we don’t hold all the answers.  Instead, we’ll be looking to our fellow Trustees and Friends of Awesome to guide the way as we get started in Seattle.

    Q: What’s the mission statement of Awesome Foundation? What kind of work are you looking to fund?

    A: Unlike most initiatives, AF doesn’t have a tight focus on any particular area of work.  Grants from other chapters have focused on the arts, technology, and fun community engagement.  In fact, there’s a new international chapter focused on Food.  The mission of Awesome Foundation Seattle will be as broad and deep as our the imaginations of our Trustees, Friends and Applicants allow.  You can read the shared mission statement here and scan grants that have been given in other cities on the shared blog.

    Q: What’s the decision-making process – quorum? majority of trustees? does it need to be unanimous?

    A: Every chapter is free to choose its own process.  There is a draft Trustee manual that lays out decision models from several cities, and the first Seattle Trustees will have to decide how to decide.

    Q: Would grant applicants be encouraged to reapply?

    A: Yes!  Based on the experience of other chapters, we will want to stay in touch with applicants who don’t receive a grant in any given month and encourage them to keep old and new proposals flowing.

    Q: Will there be parties?

    A: Absolutely!  As often as we can, we’ll want to celebrate our grantees and invite more people to meet and mix with us to keep the awesome growing.


    Mapping Trends in Philanthropy

    June 29th, 2011 by nathanj5

    Philanthropy is changing, and I want to contribute to creating the best of all possible worlds for the social sector. Today, I’m launching a series on Mapping Trends in Philanthropy, to share what I am learning and invite a conversation with leaders in the field.

    As I’ve been gearing up to offer consulting services to the non-profit and philanthropic world, I’ve been reading widely and talking to dozens of smart folks to take in the scope of new trends, opportunities, and challenges in what I’ve begun to think of generally as the altruistic economy.

    Today, I’ll start with a basic taxonomy of these trends, and unpack each one over time. All of these trends are interdependent, often reinforcing the others, so as I approach the end, I hope to synthesize them into some working hypotheses and best practices for social impact leverage.

    There are a lot of smart folks working on philanthropic innovation. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, and I expect I’ll miss key things during these early passes. I hope readers will help fill in gaps and share resources, either in the comments of these posts or by contacting me directly.

    Without further ado, a bulleted taxonomy of philanthropic trends…

    • new media and technology adoption
    • communities and crowds
    • sectoral hybridity
    • generational shift
    • economic uncertainty
    • and a possible #6:

    • Global engagement

    Read on for a quick breakdown of these trends. I’ll be exploring each in much more detail in future posts.

    New media and technology adoption

    Last week, The Communications Network released a study, Foundation Communications Today, reporting on a survey of 155 foundation communicators. Among their findings, they reported that 47% of their respondents’ employers have blogs. At first, I was underwhelmed – less than half? However, a similar study from 2008 reported that less than 24% of foundations used blogs. An even more impressive indicator from this year’s study – 76% of respondents said their foundation is using online video. It’s safe to assume that new media use is on the rise.

    Communities and crowds

    I’ll go on at length a bit here. Adopting social network-enabling technology is a prerequisite to a deeper change in behavior and values. In a connected society, our technology drives down the costs of coordinating people. And then, brilliantly strange things begin to happen that industrial-era social models don’t anticipate.

    Internet theorists have given us a generous smorgasbord of buzzwords to describe this cultural shift: the wisdom of crowds, smart mobs, web thinking, cognitive surplus. I’m calling it the rise of communities and crowds. Put simply, it’s easier now for people to share – knowledge, money, time, even cars – and they are doing just that.

    Read the rest of this entry »