I’m a bad blogger. I don’t buy into all this Web 2.0 bubble talk that bloggers are going to replace the “mainstream media”. For me, the important element about blogs is the technology that allows for the information stream to run back and forth and around and around instead of simply being piped in one direction. This kind of technology is best suited to debating opinions, not revealing facts. For the most part bloggers debate the meaning of the facts rather than reporting them.
Last October, a survey was released that focused on how the wealthy practiced philanthropy. At 7:11am on the morning the news was reported, I posted my thoughts regarding the implications of the survey results. I think that this symbiotic relationship between bloggers and the mainstream media is the future.
To me, the importance of blogs to philanthropy is that most philanthropy reporting focuses on the size of a grant or the focus of the grant, but not the implications of various philanthropic actions. For instance, everyone read in the mainstream media about the fact that Bill Gates was going to work at his foundation full time. And they read about the dollar amount of the gift that Buffett made to The Gates Foundation. But what were the implications? Philanthropy doesn’t have magazines like The National Review or The Atlantic Monthly that provide a forum for deep analysis and opinion. With philanthropy still an area of niche interest, blogs provide an ideal forum for this deep analysis and opinion sharing to develop without the need for an economic model to support a mainstream media outlet.
During the Morphing Media session, I was struck by Maxwell King’s assertion that in an era of “dramatically increasing complexity”, it is not possible that there is not significant economic value to good information and analysis. I think he is exactly correct. However, I also think that philanthropy, unlike most other media spheres, doesn’t need a functioning economic model to finance the sharing of information and analysis. This is because the sharing of information and analysis about philanthropy, even without an economic return, produces large social returns. If a foundation CEO writes about the successes and failures of a new program, she will increase capital flows from other philanthropic entities towards the reported successes and away from the revealed failures. Since foundations and other philanthropic entities are not competing against each other, but instead can measure success by challenges jointly conquered, there already exists a functioning model to reward the sharing of good information and analysis.
Huffington’s diagnoses of attention deficit disorder in the mainstream media and obsessive-compulsive behavior among bloggers got a good laugh, but it also has some important implications for philanthropy. In a world where philanthropy is still of niche interest, it takes an obsessive-compulsive personality to write constantly about areas of interest to the philanthropic community. Look at NetSquared for a good example. To my knowledge, there has been no mainstream media coverage to date. But the Giving blogs have been talking about it constantly. This is of no small importance to philanthropy. According to CompuMentor/TechSoup the following foundations are going to be attending and/or sponsoring NetSquared:
- Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
- W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Ford Foundation
- The Case Foundation
- Surdna Foundation
- The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
- Sunlight Foundation
- California Emerging Technology Foundation
- Schwab Charitable
- Community Foundation Silicon Valley
And Mark Bolgiano, former Chief Information Officer of the Council on Foundations had this to say about NetSquared:
"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…"
All of this attention on what I believe is a groundbreaking moment for philanthropy and there’s been zero press coverage, but massive blog coverage. That’s why blogs are important to philanthropy. That’s why understanding the “morphing media” is key for foundations and why foundation executives and other philanthropic leaders need to be engaging the blog community.
There are real risks to blogging. The article I linked to earlier about the role of bloggers at the California State Convention was not a glowing story about blogs. It cited a lot of trends in political blogging that I personally find to be negative. But blogging is happening, the media is morphing. There’s no stopping change. But if philanthropy ignores the morphing media, then it loses the chance to effect the new media that emerges. If philanthropy doesn’t wake up quickly to the changes being wrought by information technology, than blogs like Inside Foundations and Don’t Tell The Donor will be the ones setting the agenda. Wouldn’t it be better if leaders, new comers and everyone in between discussed the issues at hand out in the open and let the most vibrant, robust ideas rise to the surface?