Googley philanthropy

I’m getting ready for a talk this week at Philanthropy New York about giving and What Would Google Do? So I’d like your help on brainstorming what Googley philanthropy looks like. How would a transparent, networked, collaborative, even open-sourced, process-oriented, beta philanthropy as a platform operate?

Not being wealthy, I don’t know a lot about how philanthropies operate, though I have begun begging seeking funds in my new life at CUNY and so I am eager to learn more. That’s why I’m looking forward to the conversation and brainstorming at the event and here. So let’s examine a few of these notions.

A philanthropy is not about giving away money but about accomplishing goals and the internet and social connections give it new and more effective and efficient ways to do that. That’s why I think it makes sense for a charity to be transparent. In its challenge grants, the Knight Foundation urges applicants to open up their ideas to get more input. I’d think that even the MacArthur genius grants would benefit from open nominations. With transparency, givers open themselves up to getting more information, new ideas and suggestions, links to new and possibly better grantees from a public that will gather around them.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting for a second that philanthropy should become democratic. The philanthropist or foundation is responsible for the optimal use of its always-scarce resources and so it must decide where its money goes to meet is own goals and conditions. But I do think that – as with journalism, marketing, government, and most any industry – more information from interested people can only help. That’s why I’d like to see philanthropies open up their goals and processes using the web and social media: blogs, Facebook, Twitter (where I see a fair number of philanthropists and foundations already).

Once transparent, it’s a short step to becoming collaborative. The charity can ask the public for help in finding ways to meet a goal – and not just through seeking funding. It can use the internet to mobilize people to work together. Why will people go to the effort? For the same reason that the charities are giving money: because they care. Once more, I’ll call on the vision of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of time given to Wikipedia by people who care. This is what makes philanthropy ideal for online, I’d say.

Collaboration can take the form of ideas and the form of effort. Of course, it can also take the form of money. Challenge grants are common: At CUNY, we’re working to meet a $3 million challenge grant from the Tow Foundation right now; Knight does likewise for community foundations to encourage them to invest in local journalism; on every NPR fundraiser, there’s a matching challenge used to motivate the public to give more. Challenges work in some cases better than others but online presents a new opportunity to have grantees raise money from their publics when that’s helpful.

But even aside from challenges, there are advantages in collaborative fundraising online. A foundation can create an infrastructure that lets people piggyback onto its giving, structure, and management: ‘We gave $3 million to this effort and if you agree, you can give, too, and we’ll make sure your money is as well spent as ours.’ The charity becomes a mutual fund. In that sense, then, the foundation can extend its value not just with its money but with its expertise and structure. Except then, when the money comes from the public, the public becomes the boss and the charity merely helps organize and executes its desires.

Openness and collaboration at the start of the process – seeking and giving funds – can also extend to the end: sharing lessons learned, good and bad, from giving. About a year ago, one foundation I know sent out a report detailing its mistakes. I thought it was gutsy (though potentially a bit embarrassing for the grantees – that’s the risk). But that kind of openness about lessons learned can be valuable to others. So why wait until the end? What about being transparent during the process of a project, so adjustments can be made? That becomes beta philanthropy.

At the end, a foundation, charity, or philanthropy should act like a platform. They do now in the sense that they make good work possible with funding. But how else can they enable others to do the same good work and how can they thus extend their resources with knowledge, networking (from introductions to more formal structures), vetting, teaching, management, and more?

How do you think philanthropy can work differently given the tools of our new age?

: LATER: Here’s info on attending the talk Thursday morning. And here is Philanthropy New York’s blog.

  • Jeff, my business partner and I have discussed at length how the values of social capital and knowledge capital are increasing, while the value of finance capital is tenuous. I’ve also thought a lot about discussions of value networks – how we don’t account well for the value of intangible social and knowledge transactions, so that organizations may be undervalued if you focus only on the financial bottom line. This thinking may be relevant to your question – to what extent should philanthropies develop other forms of capital than finance?

  • Googley Examples include:
    Find out how you can contribute locally, nationally and internationally to help educate students and provide the resources for entrepreneurs to help themselves. Find out how you can direct your patrons to become part of the solution or get help for their own worthy projects. provides direct aide to worthy educational projects in the US – classroom by classroom.
    Kiva.Org lets you lend to entrepreneurs around the world who are trying to make a difference in their communities. This is an excellent social network combining sponsorship and philanthropy.

  • Cliodhnagh

    You should take a look at ammado

    Individuals and organisations can engage with causes that are important to them, donate to nonprofits all over the world, and raise funds through ammado.

    Built on top of the platform is a micro-payments system that has spurned “micro-philanthropy”. Donations can be made from as little as €4 (or the equivalent in 30+ currencies), this donation can then be split right down to 5c per non profit. Your “ammado giving circle”, will graphically represent your giving portfolio – the causes you donated to you and the proportion in which you donated.

  • Interesting thoughts, requiring further thinking, but my initial reaction would be that philanthropic people (and bodies) differ enormously – they cannot be treated as one, since they have different agenda, levels of interactivity with the recipient bodies and goals. After all a social interaction between individuals within corporate bodies is usually aimed at marketing rather than benevolence, whereas in this instance the philanthropist often doesn’t even want details of their donation to be published.

    At the individual level this is a very powerful tool however, and social networks are starting to play a big part in the attraction and retention of new and repeat funding respectively.

  • Lisa

    Have you looked to Philanthropy 2173 ( for ideas? Lucy Bernholz has been giving this some thought for a while.

  • Laid Off Too

    Congrats on your test results!
    Thanks for raising this topic. As a 10-year amateur fundraiser, I can say transparency will help all charitable causes. It only takes one charity misusing funds to paint the entire landscape with doubt.
    Even if every organization had a pie chart saying how each contribution dollar is spent, it would be a great start. When I’ve asked this question, the number of evasive answers is amazing. Needless to say, it’s hard to donate money if there are no assurances it will go where it’s supposed to go.
    Looking forward to future posts on this topic!

    • I agree. I run a 501(c)(3) non-profit called and 100% of every $ donated goes to our cause. The money goes into Pay Pal and then sent to the pillow manufacturer when we send pillows out to our soldiers and vets.

      I pay all administrative costs (web site hosting, etc) out of my pocket so I am “walking the talk” and constantly contributing myself. We have a number of affiliate programs (and more to come) tied to PFS and all the funds earned in those programs go to what we do . . . send pillows to soldiers, vets and to the families of fallen soldiers to thank them for their service and offer them a little comfort when they sleep.

      In fact, I resisted becoming a 501(c)(3) (which means filling out a bunch of paperwork and sending it and in extortion fee to the IRS for $750, and yes out of my pocket). at first, but did it hoping contributions would rise and would attract larger donors.

      Pillows For Soldiers is one organization where 100% of all donated $$ go to the cause. We have no employees, just volunteers, which I am one also . . . I just happened to come up with the idea and executed it.
      My ownership of the domain name and web site is pretty much it and I have a awesome web master . . . David Warner . . .

      Note: On January 9th, 2010, we will be passing out 500 pillows to vets (many of which are WWII vets) at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner Medical Center in Salisbury, NC which just happens to be walking distance from Dave Warner! If anyone wants to help us in this endeavor, go to and make a donation. Your donation of only $21 will send a pillow to a vet in a VA Hospital and we plan to go to all of them!!

  • Jeff, you wrote: “At the end, a foundation, charity, or philanthropy should act like a platform.”
    As we learn well in the software business, *everything* can’t be a platform. A platform is only useful if some non-platform component uses it. But, there is certainly room for platforms, and many of them.

    A useful distinction to be made here is the difference between specific “applications” of philanthropy (i.e. feeding the poor, teaching folk, exposing them to art) and the “infrastructure” that supports the various applications. A very significant, fundamental problem with philanthropic efforts in the US today is that virtually all of them are in the application business and few are in the infrastructure business. (Thus, there is little sharing and much waste…) This may be, in part, because, just like with software, it is the “applications” that people actually interact with and most folk don’t see the infrastructure. Thus, if your view is shallow or if you’re in it for the ego boost — you will tend to focus on the “sexy” applications business.

    In my opinion, the “Googly” thing to do in philanthropy would be to work on infrastructural issues — not applications. The Googly thing would be to withhold resources from specific applications while pouring resources into efforts that make a hundred thousand different applications more efficient, effective, etc. — by building up the infrastructure for philanthropic efforts.

    For instance, a Googley group concerned with disaster relief would build rapidly deployed communications, collaboration, and database systems, etc. that could be instantly put in action when there is an earthquake or Tsunami — but, that group would NOT put money into sending food or blankets to the victims of any specific disaster…

    A Googley group that wanted to improve the diversity of cultural events in New York City would focus on providing or building tools to efficiently find low-cost temporary housing for visiting artists, members of orchestras, etc. since that turns out to be a significant component of the cost of performing in New York — but such a group would not provide funds to support any specific performance or group.

    A Googely group might look at the Forbes article in 2006 [1] that showed that US non-profits in 2006 spent $45 Billion on IT with over $11 Billion of that on software. That group might then work to reduce the cost of IT through resource sharing or by developing free and open-source software for non-profits. Such a group would NOT build software for any specific non-profit but rather would seek to do something like reduce by 10% the IT costs of the entire non-profit industry and thus free up Billions…

    The subject of Non-profit industry infrastructure (NPII) is one that is rarely discussed — largely because it is not a very sexy issue and it offers few opportunities for “naming” things in a public manner. But, the most effective philanthropic investments will be those that focus on infrastructure. A dollar invested in infrastructure can benefit thousands of non-profits. The leverage is fantastic.

    bob wyman


  • Pingback: “Googley Philanthropy”: Brainstorming for A Talk with Jeff Jarvis « Smart Assets: The Philanthropy New York Blog()

  • This is a little off of the typical WWGD but I think it could be powerful nonetheless. One dimension of non-profits are the foundations that support many non-profits. A googly thing to do would be invest in startups like google’s foundation does that help to solve issues of importance to the non-profit (e.g., Google invests in alternative energy companies as they are a huge consumer of energy). In reality, foundations are like mutual funds with a huge amount of assets to invest in a diversified portfolio. An emerging trend is “Mission/Program Related Investing” where a small portion of the foundation assets are invested in a related sector.

    Let’s take an environmentally focused foundation. Rather than having all of their investment $$ invested in whatever sectors that will maximize return, they carve out perhaps 2% of their portfolio to invest in For Profit startups working in the same field — clean tech/energy as an example. Naturally, this could work for Knight, Tow and others who have made journalism-related grants with no expected financial return. Take some of their assets and invest in promising journalism-related startups with similar scrutiny as a venture firm. Perhaps that is a twist on your X-prize idea but doing it as an investment – e.g., have some thought leaders be a part of the selection process (Wyman, Jarvis, Evslin, Wilson, etc.). Some of those bets will pay off and help the sector in the process.

  • Xsil unpaid & AMMADO

    In case anyone makes the mistake of using Ammado to support charity, you may wish to re-think this as a matter of ethical urgency.

    Ammado is not what you think it is.

    Ammado is operated by Anna Kupka and Peter Conlon, who have not paid staff at their other company, Xsil, even though they have money to do it (from selling Xsil assets to ESI for $2.3 million). We, the unpaid employees of Xsil, have repeatedly requested that our salaries, holidays and notice-pay be paid to us but all of these requests have been rejected.

    We have been forced to seek legal action. So far, we have received positive decisions from Ireland’s Employment Appeals Tribunal and from the Labour Relations Commission, ordering Xsil to pay us. But still they do not. Not nice, are they?

    If you are well-meaning and want to give to charity, simply give DIRECTLY to charity. Why pay 5% or 10% of your donation to these people at Ammado?

    Take my advice and do not associate with them. There are 44 former employees (and their families, including very young children) who do NOT believe that they have any charity.








    Apologies for the anonymity.

    Yours in ethics,
    Xsil unpaid staff.

  • Irish

    “Xsil unpaid” – we told you several times not to speak on behalf of all of us – many of us don’t agree with you. Please speak for yourself but not for me and for others, thank you

  • Malcolm

    Check out Kickstarter

    They have an interesting microfunding platform that is not quite philanthropy but still looks to be quite successful.

  • Pingback: part II: blogging is for us : the political geek()

  • Jeff,
    How about filling us in on your presentation to the Philanthropy folk? What did you learn?

    bob wyman

    • What interested me most was how some folks saw the potential of transparency to rebalance the power in the relationship between grantor and grantee: The public can give input that can balance that from grantors, for example. We talked about the need for seeing projects as processes more than projects. I heard what I hear in any group: the difficulty of changing legacy institutions and that’s certainly true of conservative foundations (I suggested creating offshoots that operate in new ways: rogue charities). I realized that the hardest lesson for grantees and grantors in going online to be transparent is how to seek out and have conversations (I advised starting blogs with no design, no fancy technology; just add value to conversations).

      • cm

        Jeff, that is surely the rationale behind the “hand-up rather than hand-out” philosophy.

        When one sees Gates being “philanthropic” it is very easy to get pretty jaded about the whole exercise.

        Real philanthropy helps build grass-roots life improvement and businesses and is very much in tune with the needs of the community.

        Paternalistic philanthropy will send in a “solution” that does not match the problem. This tends to be very wasteful and only helps boost the donor’s ego.

        What many 3rd world schools need are pencils and paper. What many families need is simple gardening tools and vegetable seeds. Instead we want to send them OLPCs.

        One of my favorite charities is World Vision which has an emphasis on enablement rather than hand outs.

  • Trigger

    Going on what Xsil said I heard a nasty rumour that ammado was giving employees working notice and can’t pay their wages. Anyone confirm this? I hope it’s not the case.

  • I disagree about Wymann that philanthropy should act as a platform. Let’s recapitulate the real meaning of being a philanthropist. It is not just a display.

    Philanthropy connotes being compassionate to someone. Giving your best in your job is being a philanthropist. I hope people could understand the real meaning of it.