Social Media Tools for Philanthropy, Part II

My post on Social Media Tools for Philanthropy spurred a number of in depth comments. I encourage you to read them by clicking here.

One important point was the relative unimportance of the tools themselves. As Holden from GiveWell wrote:

In the end, GiveWell really isn’t about "social media." We’re using social media because the technology is here and it’s helpful, but if it weren’t here, we’d make a newsletter and Xerox it for everyone we know.

Tools are just tools; they are not an end unto themselves. Actually that reminds me of the debate I had with Phil Cubeta about Tactics vs. Strategy in philanthropy. Professionally, I advise clients on the most effective tactics they can use to achieve their philanthropic goals. But tactics are not an end unto themselves.

Last year, David Wilcox at Designing for Civil Society wrote a post I liked a lot titled, “Participation as culture, not tools… though new ones help.” I summarize a few of his main points below:

  • Successful participation is more about developing a culture, than using a set of tools.
  • The main barriers to effective participation lie both in personal attitudes and institutions, and mainly revolve around desires for power and control.  The institutional barriers are embedded in hierarchical systems, the personal ones in beliefs that we only succeed by competing.
  • The social web and social media are profoundly important because they enable individuals to mix greater collaboration (we) with higher personal profile and influence (me). This immerses people in a new type of participative culture, with attitudes, tools and behaviours to match.
  • Participation is not always the answer. Good leadership involves knowing when to enlist and direct, when to  facilitate and support … and how to mix them all.

Using social media tools makes it easier for foundations and other donors to share information about effective giving. But the existence of the tools is not enough, a cultural shift must happen. Emily, from Philanthropy Australia, writes:

The issues involved with private foundations and social media are not dissimilar to corporations and social media, I think; in that corporations are wary of blogging etc (in public, at least) ostensibly because it compromises public image.

Private foundations seem to have similar reluctance to put faith in social media when it compromises their privacy – whether because they believe what they do with their money is their own business, or the projects they fund are controversial, or they don’t want to be flooded with applications for funding… there are many reasons.

But my point is not so much that we should be supporting this attitude, but that the use of social media isn’t just a matter of translating the occasional behind-closed-doors discussion onto an internet medium. We’re keen to make the information we’re gathering and fostering as accessible as possible to the parties who will benefit from it the most.

However, considering the existing attitude – or, I suppose you could say ‘culture of privacy’ – of foundations, we’re aware asking for information from them + making the information completely public = them not disclosing any information to us. So we’re taking baby steps, trying to change the culture gradually – ease them into it rather than shutting down potential positive outcomes by doing too much too fast.


  1. David Wilcox says:

    Sean – thanks for the mention. You might be interested in the social media wiki carnival Michele Martin and I will be running next week.

  2. Emily says:

    Thanks for continuing to foster this discussion, Sean. It’s certainly been useful for broadening my understanding of the issues.