The question of why foundations don’t encourage/allow their employees to blog has quickly turned into a discussion of whether it is OK to blog anonymously:
“If you have something worth saying and your intent is to influence or guide others, put your name on it. Otherwise we have a bunch of sheep talking to sheep.” – Tom Belford, The Agitator
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that for far too long nobody wanted to provide insider’s commentary about foundation work. And, if for now, for the very smart reasons Don says he wants to stay hidden, let’s still be grateful for the fact that he — and others I know of who also write under a disguised name — are helping push the door open wider.” – Bruce Trachtenberg, The Communications Network
My intention in bringing up the debate was not to question whether foundation employees should blog anonymously, but rather ask why there are not more “sanctioned” blogs and why foundation aren’t requesting that some of their top people blog, let alone discouraging it.
In the for-profit world, many companies are finding that blogging is a very good way to engage their customers. Both Microsoft and Hewlett Packard have employee blog portals that the public can access.
The nonprofit sector also understands the promise of blogs. Last month, influential blogger Jeff Brooks at Donor Power Blog cited the post “10 ways nonprofits can use blogs and bloggers to support their cause” from Britt Bravo’s Have Fun * Do Good blog. Jeff added his own list of ways for nonprofits to become engaged in the blog conversation and said “It’s a big conversation, and you can be part of it, even without a blog of your own.”:
- Find the blogs that cover your topic.
- Follow them closely.
- Comment on them (not anonymously, but under the flag of your organization).
- Get to know the bloggers: Who’s reasonable? Who’s always throwing bombs? Who’s likely to admire your organization most?
- When you know them, think about contacting the right ones about issues of mutual interest. (But don’t, don’t, don’t send press releases! You can hardly imagine how annoying that is!)
So what about private foundations? Although maintaining an appropriate public face can be critical, they are far more independent than nonprofits and for-profits since they don’t have customers and donors to please. They also have far fewer competitive issues to deal with. They can freely give away their “secrets” since all their knowledge will do is improve the state of the sector. The more foundations are willing to share, the more effective all grantmakers will be.
I just don’t think they understand how to use the internet at all. We have a website, and until recently it was just our guidelines, forms, and contact info. We’ve made progress by adding a monthly column from the president.
A lot of the program and executive staff just don’t understand computers. I’ve seriously had to sit some of them down and explain “how the internet works” and all kinds of little tech things that they just can’t be bothered to learn.
They are afraid of the changing technology. It’s new and different to them. I’ve been participating in various online communities (BBS, listservs, forums, blogs) since 1995, it’s just second nature to me.
I’ve been trying to push them along via an intranet, which will finally be set up by the end of the month for me to beta test before letting the program staff have at it.
Once they can see the benefits of knowledge sharing through technology *inside* of the organization, then maybe I can sell them on the benefits of using it publicly.
I think having CoF inviting bloggers to cover the conference is a big step in the right direction. It will raise the profile of blogging in the foundation community. Hopefully the media session will give me information to bring back home so I can teach them.
I might have mentioned this in a previous comment, but one president who blogs is Bob Connor of the Teagle Foundation. And on our website, we report about a recent experiment in which MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton took part in a webchat so he could answer questions about the foundation from anyone, anywhere who wanted to take part. Thanks to the internet, things are moving in the right direction.
Our colleague Phil Cubeta has sounded the same lament on many occasions. I’m grateful to you for raising this important issue again.
First, I would make a distinction between an institutional blog, which is little more than unremarkable web content dressed as a blog, and a real blog, in which a real mind helps advance a given conversation. A variety of factors prevent there being more real foundation blogs:
1. What the Mysterious M says is clearly true. Foundations are largely Web 0.2 institutions in a rapidly approaching Web 3.0 world.
2. Many foundations adhere strictly to a kind of “message discipline” and blogs are inherently undisciplined. (A blogger who doesn’t take a chance, who already knows the answer to each question he or she raises, isn’t really a blogger in my view.) Foundations do this in part because they fear the current regulatory environment.
3. Most foundations might not have anything valuable to say – and why should they? Their ability to do good foundation work doesn’t necessarily require them to think and communicate great thoughts.
4. While attitudes toward blogs are changing, I think some people still look at them as beneath contempt – something no respectable person would do.
5. Some foundations (not many, I would guess) have very well thought-out communications goals and plans, and blogs might not be an especially effective way of advancing those goals.
And there are many other reasons I’ve heard philanthropoids discuss.