Keeping the Discussion Going

The moderator of almost every session I’ve attended here in Seattle has begun by saying that they really wanted the session to be discussion rather than just having speakers talk at the crowd. All 100+ people in the room would nod their heads and then a traditional conference format unfolded with a Q&A at the end. Conference sessions simply aren’t the place for a discussion. There’s to many people and too much authority vested in the speakers for any real conversation to emerge. But discussing the topics raised at the conference is what blogs are for.

As conference participants head back to their respective foundations, remember that online the discussion is really heating up. Did you enjoy the session “Changing Poverty Through Profit”? Did you know some people refer to this set of topics as Micro Loan Sharking? Were you interested in the mission aligned investing concepts that came up in a number of session? The online discussion of foundation investment policies held here in January was called “unprecedented” by the Aspen Philanthropy Letter. Did Clara Miller and Nancy Roob get you thinking about growth capital and scaling nonprofits? Listen to my interview with Clara Miller that will be posted tomorrow and then leave your comments or questions. Is your foundation experimenting with transparency? Let me know what you’re doing and I’ll showcase your project.

At the end of the Demonstrating Impact session, Mark Sedway had a stack of written questions from the audience that had not been answered. He announced that he would be posting them at the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative and asking the panelists to blog their answers. You don’t have to wait until next year to learn more about the subjects we’ve all explored over the last few days. The information capabilities of the web are already being utilized by a number of people to learn and discuss philanthropy. Spend some time on the blogs I list in the right-hand column or at least use the Chronicle on Philanthropy’s Give and Take blog to stay on top of the discussion.

Last night, Jeff Martin, who had invited me to attend the conference and two foundation staff members, got into a debate about foundation payout rates. It was a good debate, with the two foundation employees holding diametrically opposed views. I told Jeff that he should invite them to record a podcast (online audio) and post it to the Council on Foundations website. Everyone thought is was a good idea. It would take about 20 minutes and cost about $20 or less to make happen. These tools are available, they’re effective and cheap. Nonprofits have been quick to start using these tools. Now it is time for Council on Foundations members to do the same. I believe deeply that we are witnessing a Second Great Wave of Philanthropy. I see the way that technology has revolutionized many industries including the financial services industry that I work in. The time is now for philanthropy to embrace information technology and accelerate the cultural significance of philanthropy as a defining aspect of the early 21st century.

One Comment

  1. Well said, Sean. I agree with all of it. Lets push and pull and see if we can make some of this happen. Remembering, of course, that as soon as everyone returns home we must compete against their inboxes for attention.

    Another way of asking the question Sean asks is this? You spent several days in Seattle. What question do you have that is still unanswered, that is related to what is in your inbox, and that you’d like to keep discussing? What will happen to that question if you continue with business as usual? What ways might you actually pursue an answer or a discussion about the question if you could stay in touch with other participants, speakers, or people you passed in the halls of the Seattle Convention Center?