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.