The response to my last post asking why more foundations are not part of the blog to blog conversation and why the two new philanthropy blogs are written anonymously came swiftly:
“…I prefer to be anonymous because I don’t have the authority to be speaking on behalf of the foundation… it seems prudent to me to avoid the risk of being perceived in the community as being a decision-maker at the foundation.” –An anonymous program officer at a family foundation
“I think you have to be careful not to mistake personal blogs written by employees as part of their foundations’ formal "communications" programs, Instead these are their own comments, viewpoints, and expressions about foundation work and what they see going on inside their organizations… If it were a perfect world, people would be free to speak their minds, talk about whatever issues they think merit attention, and hopefully they could do it without risk. But, as someone I know who blogs has said doing that under your real name can be a career-limiting move.” Bruce Trachtenberg, The Communication Network
“…I haven’t listed the name of my foundation because I think there is a distinct difference between my opinions on generational issues in philanthropy and portraying my opinions on those issues as my foundation’s stance on those issues…” – Trista Harris, New Voices in Philanthropy
I think Bruce is spot on when he says that blogs should not be seen as part of a foundation’s “formal communication program”. If a foundation wants to have a blog hosted on its website and use it as part of a formal communication policy, that’s fine. But far more interesting to me would be increased participation in the blog community by foundation employees. I understand the worry that an employee might say something “off message”, but I think potential fallout is way over blown.
Employees of foundations are allowed, expected even, to have thought provoking debates with other people in the philanthropy industry. Isn’t this sharing of ideas and knowledge a major objective of the Council on Foundations conference? If an employee of the Gates Foundation began to blog, in the same way many Microsoft employees do, I wouldn’t view their comments as official policy statements from the Gates Foundation. I would view their voice for what it is, the voice of an individual who has a background and knowledge base I find interesting.
Unlike the for-profit sector, philanthropy is blessed by the fact that sharing information with other players in the field does not lead to a competitive disadvantage. Instead, sharing information helps everyone.
Let’s use NetSquared as an example. We know, based on sponsorship that at least some major foundations are very interested in what’s going on. But a quick check on Technorati shows that no foundation related blogs or bloggers connected to major philanthropy organizations are talking about it. But then we find this on the NetSquared blog:
"I’m in awe.
The projects, the energy, the votes, the outcome, and the people paying attention to flaws and suggesting improvements… all of it feels to me like something that will be looked back on with a "Wow. I was there when it happened… when it got started"…
So what if this turns out to be a scale model of something bigger that turns philanthropy inside out? What if we could do this with a just ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT of foundation grants next year? That’s at least $20 million. What if we involved folks outside our motivated/activist/subversive tribe, say only a million of the people who would love to weigh in on these proposals? Best of all, what if this new way of doing things convinced a lot of new people with good ideas to go for it…?
I’m serious. It really could happen…"
That’s Mark Bolgiano, former Chief Information Officer of the Council on Foundations.
Let’s hear from more people.
Sorry, I just can’t get around the anonymity issue. Foundation staff can always get a Gmail or Yahoo account if they want to keep distance from their shop. 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 – More than anything else, I’m just trying to protect myself and my employer from any problems that might arise from people confusing my personal positions with those of the foundation for which I work. It’s not a simple matter of using a different e-mail address; anybody with basic Google skills and my full name can put me together with my foundation in about ten seconds. (Yup — if I use my full name and the word “foundation”, we’re the first hit on Google; if I use my first name with the word “foundation”, there are too many hits to count before we show up.)
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, shaping the direction and policies of my foundation are tasks that fall above my pay grade, so two problems can potentially arise if I’m linked to my foundation:
1) no matter how clearly or often I disclaim, people might take my words as representing the foundation in a formal capacity (I’m exploring these issues on my own, not with any official sanction from my employer) and
2) as Bruce points out, blogging about work — irrespective of one’s field — can result in unemployment.
I’ve been pushing my bosses to explore blogging as a way of getting feedback and creating dialog for our foundation, but they’re not on board yet. Maybe someday, but for now I’m participating as best I can.
Until then, relative anonymity is the only way I can participate in these discussions without exposing the foundation or myself to potential harm.
In reading the exchange between Tom and Don, it makes me think too much is being made about the anonymity issue. 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. Several years ago when I was at a foundation and blogging was still in its infancy, I would routinely share some of the better and more provocative anonymous postings with colleagues. Their comments — including from my boss — were often “bravo.” Anonymous blogging may not be ideal. But it’s a start. And a positive one.
Yes, I agree with Bruce. We are making progress even though incrementally.
Even worse than blogging is joining facebook which already has given me pause as I have a few potential grantees who have asked me to be ‘friends’.
Persona management gets complicated when you have professional responsibilities and personal opinions. How a person does that strikes me as a personal choice. A persistent pseud tied to an email address is more like discretion than deception.
I agree Phil. I especially like a persistent pseud because then a really personality develops. I just think that foundations are missing out on an important opportunity to further the sector by not encouraging their employees to blog.
Can you imagine that I would NOT blog Gates Keepers anonymously? http://gateskeepers.civiblog.org