NetSquared and Philanthropy

I almost didn’t go to the NetSquared conference this year. Big mistake, I’m glad I went.

Two years ago I attended NetSquared (which that year was a learning conference about how nonprofits could use social media tools). I, like most people attending, heard about YouTube and Facebook for the first time. And more importantly, I learned how to launch a blog.

This year, the conference focused on “mashups” for good. At first I thought the conference had become a hardcore tech conference (I like technology, but it is not my profession and I don’t attend tech conferences). But as I looked more at the structure (two days of presentations by 21 projects that had already been culled down by online voting, followed by winners being announced with cash awarded) I realized that what I was really looking at was an early example of the “nonprofit roadshow” concept that I wrote about in my Financial Times column about philanthropy in the year 2033.

TechSoup (the producer of NetSquared) CEO Daniel Ben-Horin confirmed this view of NetSquared in an email to me:

One point I want to make to you is that from where we sit this year’s conference is much *more* about philanthropy than the past conferences. We think we’re working up a model for distributed philanthropy that is, in fact, highly congruent with ‘the next great wave of philanthropy.’ The “distributed” part works three ways–(a) the projects can be anywhere; (b) the people contributing can be anywhere; (c) by ‘contribution’, we mean both cash and what is actually just as if not more valuable–terrific technology talent committed to social change.

In fact, what we’ve 3/4-built, 1/4 wandered into is a new business offering – running N2-like challenges in a variety of formats. So, without really pushing this, we already have 5 clients for this product—including Yahoo and Case Foundation. They all want to hire us because (a) we have the engine; (b) we have the technical community; (c) we have access to philanthropy and investment.

You can check out an overview of the conference and see the winning projects here. Note that Peter Deitz’s project Social Actions was a big winner (Peter was a member of the Tactical Philanthropy Blog Team that covered the Council on Foundations conference.)