In early 2007, Carla Dearing, then the CEO of Community Foundations of America, wrote an op-ed in Worth magazine titled, “The Schwabification of Philanthropy.”
Today, donors bring increasing expectations to their philanthropy, including the need for complete information, varied opportunities for involvement and full accounting of outcomes. As a result, a new philanthropic strategy is emerging. In a nutshell, it concerns itself with the question: What does it take to leverage limited charitable resources in ways that address the overwhelming needs we face as a global community? For many individual donors, it includes the question: How do I apply the same level of savvy that enabled me to amass wealth in the first place to my charitable giving?
In theory, foundations should be obvious allies for donors who want to develop their own philanthropic strategies… This group has honed approaches to address diverse challenges and communities over many decades. While foundations have undoubtedly produced great triumphs, they have also produced mistakes that neophytes could avoid. Unfortunately, even the best foundations tend to operate in tightly closed systems where such comprehensive information sharing is not valued.
…The “Schwabification” of Philanthropy: It is only a matter of time before some entrepreneur or institution takes a page from Charles Schwab and empowers people with information in the philanthropic marketplace. While the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and its imitators are making donor-advised funds cheaper, the next round goes to the company whose infrastructure delivers real value to philanthropic strategists. Schwab revolutionized the financial market by disintermediating stockbrokers, who had been able to charge high prices by hoarding information. Look for the same principles to apply, especially within public charities.
Yesterday I suggested that packaging and distributing this “value added information” would be a highly leveraged, high impact, philanthropic activity. Today, Tony Wang, an employee at Blueprint Research & Design who helped Paul Brest write part of the book Money Well Spent, absolutely knocked my socks off with his follow-up blog post. What Tony is talking about is The Googlification of Philanthropy.
Google revolutionized how we find and access information – but that’s only half the story. Google also revolutionized how we create and share information. As the dominance of Google increased, so did the number of people who tailored their search results for Google’s search engine (what industry people call “search engine optimization”). Google didn’t think, “Let’s try and contact everyone to give us their documents and we’ll reorganize the information” but instead thought of a way to provide a tool that takes unorganized data and makes it more relevant to the person looking for information – with the consequence of people making their information more organized and relevant.
But the most interesting effect of Google and its relation to philanthropy is its effect on the evolution of conversation. For the most part, people read blogs only if they’re relevant and blogs only become relevant if they produce highly useful information. Thus, blogs like Tactical Philanthropy and Philanthropy 2173 have come to dominate the philanthropy blogosphere arguably because of their relevance – but more importantly, they illustrate how people now have an incentive to produce highly useful information as competition for attention increases. The more useful the information you produce, the more likely people are to listen to you – and in theory, the greater your impact.
I’m hoping that philanthropy recognizes the importance of its knowledge assets in addition to its other assets as an institution and as a grantmaker. And I think one way foundations can use their knowledge assets better is by creating a more efficient marketplace of information that provides the right incentives for people to provide highly useful information. And I think that search can be part of the answer.
But Tony’s no armchair theorist. Tony’s gone ahead and started building a tool that helps move the needle. Using Google’s Custom Search tool, which allows individuals to create a version of Google that search a defined set of resources, Tony has built Philanthropy Search. Currently the site indexes 114 websites including top philanthropy media outlets, university philanthropy research groups and the websites of the top 100 foundations. You can see the full list of indexed websites here and you can test drive Philanthropy Search here. Tony is actively soliciting feedback on additional sites that should be added or suggestions for improvement.
Quickly testing the search term “global warming” shows that using regular Google, you get almost exclusively links to government agencies and mainstream press reports whereas using Tony’s Google-powered Philanthropy Search you get links to philanthropic research on global warming and philanthropic media reports of global warming related grants and programs.
The Schwabification of Philanthropy was about lowering the costs of administering philanthropy and thereby giving tools to individuals who want to take control of their giving. The Googlification of Philanthropy is about organizing philanthropic knowledge to allow for smarter giving. Most importantly, the Googlification of Philanthropy means that organizing the information will not be done by the information creators, but by third parties and – excitingly – the users of the information themselves.