Philanthropy requires honesty and a sense of humour

Philanthropy requires honesty and a sense of humour

So says Lucy Bernholz, author of Philanthropy2173. This popular blog was named the best blog in its category by Fast Company and if you’re like me, you have the blog updating automatically on your iGoogle page. Understanding the changing world of philanthropy and the nature of giving is a quest for many foundations and charitable organizations. The need to understand is only amplified by the increasing demand on people’s generosity.

Referred to often as the “global threat set,” climate change, drought, food shortage, population growth and aging will draw on human and financial resources with increasing intensity. Keeping pace with this threat set is vital. Lucy Bernholz is at the vanguard of these changing times.

In her recently released book, Disrupting Philanthropy – co-authored with Edward Skloot and Barry Varela, Bernholz explores the immediate and longer-term implications of networked digital technologies for philanthropy. As they explain, 10 years ago the landscape of philanthropy was relatively simple. “There were foundations – private, community, and corporate – that awarded grants to non-profits. Givers gathered information about non-profits mainly through word-of-mouth.  Commercial investment firms were relatively small players on the philanthropic landscape.” In 2010 the landscape is very different.

While philanthropy may need honesty and humour, it also needs to be aware of the technological tools that can support its longevity and effectiveness. “The outline of philanthropy’s future is visible in online, shared portfolios of loans, as well as informal networks of volunteers working to aid disaster relief. It’s visible in commercial firms seeking social missions. It’s visible on shared platforms for measures of social return and in peer networks of individual donors. It’s visible in foundation-led explorations of networked governance models and in community-based experiments with local fundraisers networked across time zones.”

It’s visible everywhere. But where is it headed? What is the net outcome of this movement online? How are philanthropic organizations keeping pace? The McConnell Family Foundation is making some headway towards answering these questions, particularly through their work with the Framework Foundation’s, Anil Patel. How many other foundations are taking a wait-and-see approach?

Technology offers us many opportunities. As Lucy Bernholz concludes, “Just a few years ago we could not have imagined using dispersed networks of cell phones to report on earthquake damage and relief operations.” In recent memory similar efforts were only just made possible online after Hurrican Katrina. During Net Change Week in Toronto, Lucy Bernholz will join John Thackara and Dr. Gerri Sinclair on a panel to discuss the “Future of the Web and the World.” Moderated by TVO’s Jesse Brown, the discussion will explore the future of philanthropy, the future of food security and the future of education. Register to participate in the discussion here.

For further insight about the impact of technology on economic and democratic progress you can also register to see Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir. Professor Quadir is the founder and director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founder of Grameenphone Limited in Bangladesh. For nearly twenty years, he has been advocating for the use of mobile phones to empower ordinary people in low-income countries and for commerce-based solutions for their advancement. Professor Quadir will speak at the MaRS Centre on Wednesday June 9 at 5pm. Register for Professor Quadir here.

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