Blogs Aren’t For Everyone

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from an anonymous writer named “S”. S works in communications at a large California-based foundation and has worked in the philanthropy sector for more than a decade.

By “S”

You know what? Blogs aren’t for everyone. I get so tired of hearing how important it is to start a conversation online and care for it and feed it and make it go. Blogging can be a great tool, but has anyone thought about the fact the blogging may not be the greatest thing to ever come to philanthropy? How is posting a blog and receiving comments really a conversation? I post, you post, I post…

Paul Brest needs a blog. Really? What for? Let’s step back and think about this for a moment. Paul Brest needs a blog why? So that his completely scrubbed words can help philanthropy make its mark on the world? Let’s be real. Not only is Paul Brest too busy to have a blog, but the honest truth is, people don’t crave news about philanthropies, they just don’t. I work for a foundation and we share about our work only as much as we want to. Other than that, no go.

This blogging community in philanthropy is tiny. The only people who regularly comment on others’ posts are the bloggers themselves. When you need to ask people to Digg it or to StumbleUpon it, what are you doing? Skewing the result of what normal people might do. People aren’t Digg-ing it or StumblingUpon it because it’s not what is on their agenda.

Philanthropy is a great thing and helping out all kinds of people is a great thing. But foundations get so wrapped up in trying to tell everyone about their work and how great they are. Who cares about what the general public thinks? We are important and we are doing great work. We are so convinced that we need to get out there with our message.

The foundation I work for has spent nearly four decades doing good work. And before the Internet and blogging and Digg and StumbleUpon and other avenues online, we have been able to get the word out as necessary.

I am not against an online conversation or building the interest around philanthropy. We just need to think about it and not assume that everyone should be interested. They have their lives, too.


  1. Ashley says:

    Absolutely! I love that someone is saying this – I work for a small foundation and everytime I go to a training where someone asks “who here writes a blog” as if everyone should have a blog it frustrates me. What’s the point of writing something when no one is listening? Time could be spent a lot better on program efforts. I’m just happy to hear I’m not the only one doubting that everyone who is anyone should have a blog.

  2. S, thank you so much for submitting this post. I happen to disagree deeply with you (surprise, surprise), but it is nice to have someone with your point of view willing to engage. Especially in as high profile a way as an entry to the One Post Challenge.

    The part of your argument that I agree with: Not everyone needs a blog. Absolutely true. In fact, I would argue most people do not need their own blog. Writing a blog is time consuming and not for the faint of heart. Having people disagree with you publicly online is not most people’s idea of fun.

    What I don’t agree with:

    1) “Paul Brest is too busy to blog”: A big part of Paul Brest’s job is talking about the Hewlett Foundation’s work and the work of its grantees. Blogging is just another communication device to do what he already does. This argument is kind of like a CEO in 1998 saying “I’m too busy making phone calls and sending faxes to get into this email thing”. Many blog posts are about 300 words long. Given his staff of IT and communications professionals I’m sure he could handle it.

    2) “Online conversations are not “real” (you post, I post…)”: Online conversations cannot and do not replace face to face interactions. But they allow you to share ideas with people around the world very easily. I’ve learned a lot from Tactical Philanthropy readers and other philanthropy bloggers. I’ve learned almost nothing from foundations because they share so little of their knowledge. The NY Times rightly made a big deal out of Hewlett and Irvine’s sharing of their “hard lessons” and “mid-course corrections”. These reports were wonderful first steps. Time and expense spent on those reports was not insignificant. Having blogged about the programs all along the way would likely have been cheaper and likely have led to earlier corrective actions from the outside input that the blogs would have generated.

    3) “People don’t crave news about philanthropy”: People don’t crave boring press releases from foundations about their latest grant. People crave news about exciting, interesting ways that philanthropy is changing the world. If I’m wrong about that, then so is Barron’s, the Wall Street Journal, NY Times and Financial Times. So are all the new startup philanthropy magazines. So are all the people sending in entries to the One Post Challenge.

    4) “The philanthropy blog community is “tiny””: The philanthropy blog community is new. Very new. Given its size the impact is rather incredible. Example #1, you’re bothering to enter this competition, #2 the NY Times has mentioned this blog and others a couple of times this year, #3 the Financial Times hired me to write a regular column after reading this blog (I kind of think that Paul Brest if he can write might have a pretty good resume for writing a philanthropy column… better than mine).

    5) “foundations don’t need to get their message out” (I’m paraphrasing you, hope I got it right): You work in communications. Foundations spend a ton of money on PR. Yet most Americans can’t name any, ANY foundations or any good that they’re doing. Congress is constantly looking at more regulations for philanthropy. Even philanthropy “insiders” like Lucy Bernholz has called for more aggressive taxation on foundations. I think foundations DO need to get the word out. More importantly, they should WANT to. Foundation are in the business of making the world a better place. If they are any good at what they do they have very valuable information to share, information that quite literally can change the world. Foundations should want to share this information.

    6) “Using the same non-social media tools you’ve been using for the past four decades is working just fine”: No, in fact it is not. Most Americans cannot name ANY foundations or the good works that they do. The mainstream press constantly characterizes the foundations of wealthy people as “tax dodges”. Stephanie Strom at the NY Times just wrote a whole article about how most foundation money just goes to the arts and churches and questioned whether this kind of charity should even get a tax deduction. The non-social media tools are fine for talking to philanthropy insiders. Conventions are great for this. But this strategy has already failed as a way to communicate with the public. Blogging is not for everyone. It is not the only way to get the word out. But it is a great alternative to the failed communication strategies employed by most foundations.

    “S”, you are a brave soul for posting your entry on this blog. The quick response from Ashley (above) shows that you are not alone. I get that posts like my article Paul Brest Needs a Blog make it sound like bloggers think that blogs are some kind of holy grail. They are not, just a very effective communication tool (and low cost too).

    Try this. Google “Paul Brest”: a Tactical Philanthropy post is #9, Google “James Canales” a post is #4, Google “Packard Nitrogen Project” (one of the most innovation uses of social media tools by a foundation) a post is #2.

    I’m not patting my own back. I’m telling you that Packard, Hewlett and Irvine should own those Google keywords, but they’re losing control of the message by not understanding the power of social media tools.

    I wrote this comment in the way you told me you wrote your post, as a stream of consciousness exercise. I’m worried that my friends in foundation communications are going to take insult. But in the spirit of debate, I’m going to go ahead and post it. I look forward to your response.

  3. Maybe the question shouldn’t be whether or not foundations or their presidents blog, but what more can be done to ensure that people who work for foundations — at all levels, and who have something to say about the work they do, and what they and their organizations are accomplishing — use the growing number of philanthropy blogs as ways to share their thoughts, points of view, experiences, and knowledge. Sort of like you are saying, Sean, it’s a “use it or lose it” opportunity. Being part of the conversation doesn’t require your own blog. Use someone else’s.

    I also don’t think it’s a valuable or necessary exercise to worry about the size of audience you are reaching. Rather, I think it’s safe to believe that by participating in online conversations you are talking to people who have some interest in the subjects being discussed (or they wouldn’t be reading the blog in the fist place.)

    Finally, I have no doubt there are a lot of passive readers who don’t comment online but who are likely to reflect on what others are blogging about and commenting on. So by taking part in blogs, you’re reaching them…maybe even influencing them.

  4. There is another way for social profit sector leaders to blog or take part in blog conversations: they can do so anonymously. No one needs to know that Paul Brest says this or that. But if he blogs a “this or that” that has meaning in our professional lives, we will listen.

    Gates Keepers

  5. Ashley says:

    Sean, you had a lot of good points. I think that I may have misspoken in my earlier comment.

    I agree with S that not everyone needs to have a blog, and that using whether one has a blog as a measure of their online savvy is too broad. That’s the point that I was really trying to get at before – I have been to conference after conference where admitting you don’t have a blog is akin to admitting that you still drive a Model-T.

    What I find frustrating is the idea that the blog is the be-all, end-all technology solution. Blogging is not one-size fit all, and there are plenty of ways that an organization can find an identity online, whether that is through blogging, social-networking, webcasts, or any combination of other ideas.

    I’m not arguing that organizations shouldn’t have blogs – they can be a powerful tool. But they are not a one-size-fits-all solution to web 2.0 challenges. I think every organization needs to thoroughly think through what makes the most sense for them, and stop embracing blogging just because it can be successful for other groups. And if they then decide, yes, we would love to have a blog, we have the resources and subject matter to keep it interesting and engaging – then that’s great too. And if they decide not to blog, I think that can be an equally valid decision.

  6. Definitely agree Ashley. It is not that every foundation needs a blog, it is that more foundations need blogs.

    I’d love to know the conferences you’re referring to. Since almost no foundations have blogs and almost no foundations have blogs (at least not philanthropy focused blogs) it seems strange to me that you feel that not having one is looked down on. Nonprofits on the other hand have really embraced blogging.

  7. Ashley says:

    That may be the issue – I have found myself at more Nonprofit-oriented sessions lately. I recently attended a local Association of Fundraising Professionals conference where blogging was a big focus. My organizational also partners with our local state nonprofit organization to provide training classes, and several of the classes that I have participated in (focused on marketing and communications) spend a great deal of time talking blogging.

    Perhaps attending more Foundation-specific sessions would give me a different perspective. And maybe in a year or so my organization will decide to start a blog – but in the meantime I would love to see more conversation on “whether to start a blog” in addition to “how to start a blog.”

  8. Phil says:

    I am pleased that “S” vented in pubilc. She or he must now feel quite uncomfortable, perhaps uncomfortable enough to return and invest some of energy in creating shared understandings with informed citizens outside the silo in which he or he has found a comfy career path. The public square in which we meet as citizens to talk, listen, and learn changes us from professionals with a job to citizens speaking and thinkg for ourselves.

    Hiding out inside the firewall is a strategy that looks increasingly dated. There was a time not long ago when what happened outside of the inner circles of philanthropy was marginal and could be ignored, as one might ignore the bum by the Dumpster. Now we have gone through a quick reversal. The new public forums are news, and old staid silos look musty, crusty, and sound sometimes almost qeurelous, “Hey, we are in charge here, not you outsiders, you interlopers, you nobodies. Who gave you the right to set the agenda when you are just, well, ordinary people?”

    We need to get past our parochialism in philanthropy. S did a service is giving us a case in point. Is S returns perhaps the conversation will transform him or her, and make the “day job” seem pretty dull and predictable in comparsion to the living thought she or he might find here – but only if the poster enters into the conversation, rather than leaving a screed and disappearing in a huffy haughty snit. Not that I am criticising, we are all a little off balance in this new world of talking in public.

    Welcome S.

  9. S says:

    I find it interesting that not only does Phil know that my career path is comfy, but that I also haven’t responded to any comments about this post because I’ve left in a huffy haughty snit. All this without even knowing who I am or anything about me.

    Perhaps something intervened? It did and it’s called my life. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to think about Sean’s points in depth and craft a thoughtful response.

    My original post is not a screed, rather it’s an unbidden stream of consciousness about where my thinking is on blogs right now. Doesn’t mean my thinking won’t change and doesn’t mean I won’t comment at another time.

  10. I can’t believe no one beat me to saying “Cluetrain Manifesto” in this crowd 🙂

    Quite simply, the rules of the game have changed. There is now a tech-literate audience of critics, supporters, funders, media folks, clients, assorted ignorami, and other denizens of the deep floating out there, all of whom engage the internet in some way. If a foundation sees the value of a favorable TV interview, they should see the value of a successful blog…both bring a message to an audience. Why ignore one audience in favor of another? Through the four decades of your success, the organization has surely had to re-evaluate its strategies several times, sometimes moving between media or even developing competence in new and emerging media technologies. Technologies change, new models emerge, and we adapt or we sink as a result.

    As Sean’s comment states, however, most foundations seem to be doing a terrible job accomplishing this with the internet. The idea of transparency (essential for a conversation…otherwise your “blog” is just a stream of press releases) is apparently even more terrifying to a foundation than it is to big business. But even businesses are beginning, slowly, to see that it might make good business sense to promote transparency in their operations.

    Your writing hints strongly that blogs are something many people (yourself included) do not have time for. The very two-way nature of the medium seems to make it somehow more frivolous, and not as “serious” PR as a televised interview or newspaper article. You suggest that “having a life” is a reason not to blog. Why is that? If your organization decides that blogging is a necessary part of their work, then it should become someone’s *job* responsibility; not something that you play with when you’re bored and lacking a life. Successful blogs are serious, and taken seriously, just as any other kind of successful publishing or community building.

    “I work for a foundation and we share about our work only as much as we want to. Other than that, no go.”

    This seems to support my earlier point that foundations, if anything, seem even more inclined to act as though they are above a need for transparency. I’ll mention a few points on transparency; I’m sure others can make this argument in far greater detail.

    1. Do you think it would strengthen the nonprofit sector if your applicants knew the decision-making process that went into each review, and the reasoning behind a rejection that culminates from that process? Would this be a good thing for your applicants, both in reapplying and in applying to other foundations?

    2. Do you think your current and future funders would welcome transparency in grant-making? The media?

    3. Are there resources your organization can offer others that aren’t purely financial? For example, in your current position, do you have skills that a nonprofit might be able to benefit from? Blogging might be a very efficient way to transmit that expertise within an interactive medium. I know you probably hate the word “conversation” intensely by now, but it’s relevant. You might not have time to go do workshops on your area of expertise for nonprofits around the country (or the world), but it takes a lot less time to become active in online discussions.

    I think organizations should absolutely take the time to consider if blogging is something they can commit to, because successful blogging takes serious, committed work (I can point to an abandoned blog of mine if you need proof). The thing is, blogging can be a lot less work than failing to communicate effectively.

    Do foundations really not care that most of the general public can’t even name one?


  11. Jason says:

    I am relatively new to the blogging community but have found that there are a number of visits too my blog that do come from fellow bloggers. However I would say at least half of my comments and visits are coming from non-profit professionals that do not blog at all. They have searched looking for information on a specific topic and that has landed them on my blog.