A Fine Blog

Happy Birthday to Grandpa Howard, Web 2.0 Style
Shelfari Making Waves
Games for Change Festival
Hillary Lights Up and Lightens Up
The New, New Philanthropy
Momentum Wins 2007 McAdam Book Award!
Philanthropic Transparency = Finger Pointing
A Lotta Help from Hamburger Helper

Happy Birthday to Grandpa Howard, Web 2.0 Style

When you least expect it the Connected Age can jump up and bite you somewhere uncomfortable. My friend Cathy’s Grandpa Howard turned 100 last week in Newark, OH (about an hour northwest of Columbus for anyone interested.) Before, in the broadcast era, the best one could have done to nationally celebrate Grandpa Howard’s milestone would be for Willard Scott to read his name while we watched his face pasted inside of a Smucker’s jar.

But, look here at what the Newark Advocate posted right after the event. As everyone who has heard me rant about it, I have been appalled by the hand wringing and whining by newspapers about their long, death spiral. Here is a local newspaper that has reinvented itself online, is doing a great job with video (and we don’t even have to take notice of how seamless and inexpensive it’s become) to secure it’s spot as a local resource. Add a few bloggers to it — and, what’s this, a newspaper has become a local community itself – take that big media!

BTW, Happy Birthday, Grandpa Howard!

Shelfari Making Waves

I’ve been watching Shelfari since its launch about a year ago. It’s a free site for book lovers to share their favorite books with one another. It’s been going along pretty slowly, hard to be heard in the maelstrom of social networking sites that have been launched in the past twelve months – harder still, I would imagine to take book lovers who have diffuse issue interests and may already have their favorite sites/blogs, etc. bookmarked online.

Then, last week, I read a blog post on their site that I thought was enormously encouraging for the possibility of shifting power between publishers and readers — at last!!

You can read the post here. Here’s the gist: Lance Fensterman is the director of the biggest book buying convention in the country called Book Expo America (BEA). Every year, thousands of buyers for book stores comes to this event to see the wares of publishers and decide what books to order for the upcoming year.

Lance started his own group on Shelfari called BEA Lit Insiders. Lance’s group allows anyone on Shelfari to recommend authors to present at a panel at BEA. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, let’s think about the implications. For the first time, readers, and perhaps other book insiders, can be part of an open process of promoting their favorite authors for this huge, national event. Is it possible that individual publishers might talk directly to readers someday too? Now, I really am getting utopian!Shelfari

Games for Change Festival

I had a fantastic, albeit short, time at the Games for Change Annual Festival yesterday. It is remarkable how quickly the field of gaming for social change has grown and matured.

Great examples of games for change highlighted at the conference included:

Ayiti: The Cost of Life, a roll playing game by Global Kids for children to understand the difficulties of living in poverty.

Peacemaker, a game available for a small fee for players to create their own pathways to peace in the Middle East.

Darfur is Dying. Since it’s release last year, over a million people have played this game to experience and better understand the dire situation regarding the genocide in Darfur.

In my remarks at the conference, I applauded their efforts, but also challenged gamers to think about funding and fundraising differently from traditional nonprofit organizations. I also challenged these activists to make sure that their efforts are connected to on-the-ground social change efforts. Games are great for raising awareness of an issue and educating participants. However, alone, they won’t lead to sustainable social change unless and until they form partnerships with social change efforts (not necessarily organizations) that can connect with and organize people to meet, protest, and advocate for change.

Hillary Lights Up and Lightens Up

In a brilliant send up of the Sopranos and her own undeserved reputation for stuffiness (which really isn’t deserved, honest), this new video from Hillary’s campaign accompanying the announcement of the new campaign song (OK, ugh, Celine Dion, but I can’t vote for everyone.) is this video. Best campaign ad or video of the season to date.

It’s hilarious and well timed. And my friend Geri Shapiro has a small cameo as one of the diners too. Brava!

The New, New Philanthropy

We appear to be reaching a tipping point of interest and activity around “new philanthropy” that is worth some examination. In particular, the efforts of the MacArthur Foundation to dip their toe into Second Life and the Case Foundation to fund individuals working to shift power locally between citizens and government are causing stirs.

In the case of MacArthur, one of the most venerated, and previously traditional, grantmaking institutions, has taken a bold leap into the virtual world of Second Life. And it’s not just that MacArthur stepped in but how that’s so impressive. There was Jonathan Fanton, the president of the foundation, himself (well, you know, his avatar) participating in the first event answering questions from two hundred avatars. It was a pretty standard give and take conversation between Fanton, a representative of Lindon and the audience. Of course, the phalanx of social media tools also spread the event far beyond Second Life via BlogTV, instant messaging, blogs and, of course, old fashioned email – and even the New York Times in old economy time the next day. It was the openness of the event that set it apart from business as usual in philanthropy world. Lucy Bernzholz has an outstanding analysis of it here. Lucy’s use of the phrase “a platform for individuals” for this use of Second life illuminates its potential power to allow many more people to participate and shape policy and social change efforts.

The Case Foundation’s effort are solidly on land and not on line, however there is connective tissue between their efforts and MacArthur’s. The Make it Your Own Awards Program is a grantmaking efforts based on a terrific paper that Cindy Gibson wrote last year called Citizens at the Center. The paper makes the case for a shift in power away from governmental institutions and even public policy makers to citizens and individuals. In other words, realiging who is working for whom. From the Case website, putting citizens at the center is important because, “Shifting to an approach that puts citizens at the center can be a powerful way to help ordinary people take action on the problems that are most important to them, and in the ways they choose.”

The grant program is intending to leverage the ideas in the paper and provide support to individuals in communities across the country implementing citizen-led efforts.

Apart these efforts are interesting, together they’re potentially ground shifting for several reasons. First, both efforts signal a realization by foundations that they must work fundamentally differently in the future. A foundation president does not spend significant time and his own capital participating in an experimental of this scope and public notice unless he thinks is signaling the importance that the institution is placing on this new way of working. And this is the first time that Case is has shaped a grant program with this much input from others on the front end and with an emphasis on individual over organizational grantees.

Which is the second point, both efforts emphasize participation by individuals over institutions indicates their understanding that continuing to assume that organizations are best suited to spark and implement social change efforts in communities is out of step with the reality that most of the explosive efforts in recent years have been extra organizational in origin. It also reflects that reality that with inexpensive social media tools the role of organizations has moved from being primary to being secondary. The second important parallel is that amount of transparency each brings to the foundation’s thinking and actions. As a reminder, dear reader, foundations are not required to share any information about their efforts but their tax returns. These two foundations have gone out of their way to let people in, to help shape the effort on the front end and to listen to them as their efforts have unfolded.

These efforts are hopeful signs for us idealists that the days of omnipotent, opaque foundations as the norm may be coming to an end.

Momentum Wins 2007 McAdam Book Award!

I am delighted to share the news that Momentum won the 2007 Terry McAdam Award that is presented annually by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management.

Here’s the announcement.

I’m off to Atlanta to accept the award — here’s hoping I don’t trip or make any other faux pas during my 5 minute acceptance speech!

Philanthropic Transparency = Finger Pointing

In her piece yesterday in the NY Times, Stephanie Strom reports on the increasingly willingness of national foundations, like Carnegie and Hewlett, to admit failures in their grantmaking. Hard to call it a trend with so few examples, but lets call it a trendlette. Transparency is has become a requirement in all sectors, and now, even in foundation land is dipping its toe in.
Of course, sunlight is a good thing – like a good disinfectant as my friends at the Sunlight Foundation are fond of quoting Justice Brandeis. But, here’s the catch, what Stephanie calls transparency is too easily turned into an excuse for foundations to point blaming fingers failed initiatives at their grantees. With so little accountability required, if a foundation has invested millions of dollars in a multiyear effort, a commitment that required an enormous amount of energy to convince their boards to do, and it doesn’t pan out, where are they going to turn? Well, honestly, who’s really blame, it’s got to be the people on the ground doesn’t it? Even a very good report on a foundation’s disappointing program, such as the Midcourse Corrections report written by Gary Walker by the James Irvine Foundation, is still a top-down exercise in a foundation-centric world. This particular report is very candid about the foundation’s mistakes (program officers handpicked grantees rather than having an open competition – oy!) but still didn’t involve grantees significantly in helping to unravel and understand what happened, much less help to think about ways it could be strengthened and improved. We’re still watching a foundation working at not with grantees, much less individual activists.

A much better direction is outlined by Cindy Gibson here. Cindy’s jumping off point is the new trend in allowing individuals and organizations to propose new ideas to foundations and also to vote on ideas and grants. From that point it makes more sense to begin to think about the different ways that foundation could — and should — engage people more in their processes and decision making. As Cindy provocatively asks in her blog post, “Do they owe the public a voice in the decisions these institutions make?”

The answer is a resounding yes, they do. As Irvine’s Midcourse report chronicles a foundation chock full of smart, dedicated staff still doesn’t have all the answers and could certainly have used, in that case, more input and advice from the people who actually do the work. Not serendipitously or occasionally or even privately, but openly, actively and deliberately. After all, foundations, perhaps to the dismay of some inside of them, aren’t private businesses but public trusts.

A Lotta Help from Hamburger Helper

I received an email from Jessica Pieciul who is spreading the word on Hamburger Helpers new grant program. The program is called “Hometown Helper.”

According to Jessica, “It helps local groups make a difference in their own community. Imagine seeding a community garden, putting a new scoreboard up at the local high school baseball field, re-stocking a small town library with new/additional books. Starting August 1st, you can apply online at www.myhometownhelper.com for a one-time grant from $500 to $15,000 to help fund a project.”

Looks like a great grant program for small, grassroots efforts, check it out!

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