Who Defines the Philanthropic “Product?”

For there to be a philanthropic capital market, there must be philanthropic products. In this entry to the One Post Challenge, Carla Dearing of GivingNet looks at who defines these products and introduces a web 1.0 to web 2.0 framework for understanding them.

Carla Dearing is the CEO of GivingNet, formerly Community Foundations of America. Prior to joining GivingNet, Carla was president of a financial services firm. GivingNet publishes an excellent email newsletter called InTandem, which you can subscribe to here.

By Carla Dearing

Across most industries, companies are allowing clients to define product, promotion and even price through interactive online platforms. While the nonprofit sector is not there yet, several organizations are starting to move in this direction. Understanding the elements that support this type of client participation is critical for future success.

Knowledge Networking
is the amalgamation of knowledge management and social networking. It is the idea of capturing the knowledge of your organization and putting it online so it can be used to efficiently to serve your customers, but also so it can also be used by your constituents: donors, nonprofits, board members, advisors, etc., moving toward the self-serve model that is prevalent in so many other industries online. There may be some debate about how soon we need to make self-serve options available to our clients, but there is no question that this is the direction we are all headed.

On the social networking side, most people think of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Those are difficult analogies for our marketplace, because they don’t seem aligned with our business. The fact of the matter is that much of our business is social networking that takes place offline: events, one-on-one meetings, donors talking with each other about the organizations they are involved with, etc. The idea that we move some of that online is a logical next step for our market. We have to figure out what parts of social marketing fit our sector.

As organizations think about how knowledge networking fits with their brand, there are several models that span the spectrum of interactivity from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0:

On the left side of the spectrum, organizations provide information that people can search on—there is a minimal level of interactivity. As you move to the right you add elements of social interactivity to offer the user ways to interact with the information. The components are displayed across the spectrum, giving an idea of what components might fit best with your brand. Most people in our sector are still working on getting to Web 1.0 with their knowledge assets—just getting the assets online for people to just have access to online. Many foundations are not comfortable moving beyond 1.0 at this point, but it is good to see what is out there and where they might want to head in the near future in order to be competitive and meet the expectations of the marketplace.

Starting at the left side of the spectrum (minimum interactivity):

This tool was created by Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. It allows you to search for nonprofits—the first important element in knowledge networking. Once the organization has gone through a level of due diligence with the foundation, a red checkmark appears. Allows you to “donate now,” but there are no other elements of social networking.


Dot.che was created by the Arizona Community Foundation, and is now owned by ChesterCap, LLC. When you click on a particular nonprofit, you will see that this product collects less information on each nonprofit than DonorEdge does, but more than you will see with other sites as we move across the spectrum. It also has donate now (ecommerce), or donors can make gifts from their funds, but no other elements of social networking are available.


This software allows the foundation to create a “charity wish list” in a form that holds information about different nonprofits. Less information is collected in this system than in Dot.che or DonorEdge. In terms of social networking, there aren’t any elements other than ecommerce.

Moving to the right on the spectrum, we find the following:


GlobalGiving’s founders wanted to build on the World Bank’s efforts to promote a marketplace where ideas for improving communities around the world could be submitted in a competition-style format, and winning ideas would be funded. You can find organizations based on topic area, region, sponsor, etc. The site has a few elements of social networking: giving, volunteering, progress report from each of the organizations. Visitors can look at the results of the progress report and can forward those to a friend, hear from others who have given, add a badge to their blog or website. Users profile themselves and begin to make comments about the organization. Profiling is the second important component of knowledge networking, as it allows organizations to start to collect data about the individuals who are interacting with their information.

Moving again to the right:


Socialedge was created by the Skoll Foundation, which funds social entrepreneurial organizations, as a resource for these organizations. One of the areas that is particularly strong is what they call discussion forums or discussion threads. This has particularly applicability to our marketplace because the threads are listed by topic. Discussions are hosted by an expert in the issue area, then visitors start to add their thoughts. First, they have to profile themselves. The host responds to the comments. There is a lot that could be done in our market with knowledge networking using discussion forums on issues like housing, health, youth, etc. This site allows visitors to rate different blog entries or forums. Discussion forums and ratings are additional elements of social networking.

A little further to the right:


WiserEarth was started by the entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken, who is well known for his book, Natural Capitalism. It is an international network of 107,000 social justice and environmental organizations, with an impressive taxonomy. There are 49,000 U.S. organizations, but 6 months ago there were only 9,000 U.S. organizations. The site collects a handful of important data items about the organizations. As we move across the spectrum from 1.0 to 2.0, we start to see less focus on the amount of information provided about the organization, and more focus on the social networking elements. This site introduces the concept of tagging, which is essentially indexing the information to allow you to search on it. WiserEarth also has wiki functionality, which allows you to edit the information that is in the site. Visitors follow the trail of edits, and can add information, add organizations, post job listings, add events, etc. The site also offers discussion forums.

Sites that add more components of interactivity:


Kiva is an online microfinance site. Lenders profile themselves, shows repayment progress, etc. Not quite as many elements of networking—not rating yet, for instance.


A similar site is prosper.com, also an online microfinance site. It has more interactive elements, including bidding functionality like that of eBay. You can pick up the site and add it to your site via RSS, and get some credit information. There is a very high level of transparency in both the Kiva and prosper.com sites. Our market is not always comfortable with this level of transparency.


This organization is started by Perla Ni, who comes from the Stanford Social Innovation Review. This is basically TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) for nonprofits. Users enter information and ratings on nonprofits, profile themselves, learn what others are doing, add nonprofits and send information to others, e.g., board members, to have them rate, etc. The idea is to have a site that allows donors to find information about “good” nonprofits, based on feedback of the people who are really using those nonprofits or working with those nonprofits. An element of functionality introduced in this site is called a tagcloud. Tagclouds are created by software that “reads” the entire site, collects the tags from the site and displays the tags in a “cloud.” They are displayed by order of prominence due to how often the tags appear on the site.

The far right-hand side of the spectrum contains the most components of 2.0 knowledge networking:


This site has the most elements of 2.0 knowledge networking that we are aware of. This is MySpace for the nonprofit sector. First, the user profiles him or herself. (All of the presidential candidates have profiles on change.org, for example.) Then, as a classic social networking site, it starts to show relationships: how many people you have recruited to the issues/causes you care about. You provide information on the changes you want to see. The issues are listed in order of the size of the community that is working on the issue.

How to figure out where this fits with your brand?
As a marketplace, foundations tend to be on the left side of the spectrum. However, they should slowly and carefully build community around the knowledge resources they offer. They should let the people using the knowledge resource interact with each other, have discussion threads (they could have their staff moderate those threads), and offer ideas. Let people profile themselves if they want to and let them find others who are like them if they so choose. One of the biggest benefits of on-line community functionality, if it works, is that people in the community help keep the information fresh over time. Foundations need to ask themselves whether and how their organization will be a player in this emerging market.


  1. Thanks, Carla. What a great service you’ve done both listing and providing a brief overview of all these sites and their merits and benefits.

  2. Carla, Packard has used a wiki in their “Nitrogen” experiment to solicit “user” input.

    Given that information sharing is probably the critical issue facing philanthropy. I think that the web 2.0 infrastructure offers some compelling possibilities. Thanks for the round up!

  3. Jeff Tuller says:

    Great post, Carla. The move to this kind of integration of knowledge and technology may not be easy, but it is as inevitable in our sector as it is in any other – so no time like the present to start incorporating it into the still-evolving philanthropic marketplace…