An Important New Foundation Blog

(Disclosure: The Peery Family are clients of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors. We advise on a portion of their overall philanthropic activity and offered only limited input on their new blog.)

This is the first time I’ve written a blog post about the activities of a client. But the Peery Foundation’s experimentation with Twitter was featured as a “Next Practice” in a report from the Monitor Institute and I feel that their blog is noteworthy in the context of the limited way in which most foundations use their blogs.

Dave Peery and his program leader Jessamyn Lau run the Peery Family’s philanthropy on their own. Yet the duo have made waves in Bay Area philanthropy. They were the ones who anonymously (they’ve agreed to go public now) stepped in to offer FORGE a large grant after the Tactical Philanthropy community had rallied around the nonprofit’s efforts to embrace radical transparency. They’ve been co-funders with groups like the Skoll Foundation and the Draper Richards Foundation. They were early supporters of Vittana, which has gone on to become one of the most innovative new applications of microfinance. And they started to use Twitter in early 2009 in order to crowdsource their strategy – their efforts were even highlighted as a cutting new practice in the Monitor Institutes report on the future of philanthropy.

You can read a post that Nathaniel Whittemore wrote about Dave Peery here. Note the way Nathaniel talks about Dave’s listening skills.

Recently, the Peery Foundation launched a website, where you can find out more about their approach and their portfolio  and see numerous micro-documentaries about their grantees.

You will also find their new blog, titled PF Whiteboard. Dave launched the blog with these comments:

“Last year we conducted an experiment.  As we were undergoing a strategic-planning process, we decided to open up our discussion to include other minds in the field who were on Twitter.  Truth is, I had no idea how to use Twitter, but Jessamyn showed me a few things and we decided to see how we could use it during our discussions about the direction of the Foundation.  We’re a small shop – there are just two of us running the day-to-day, so being able to include other ideas was extremely helpful – and fun!  We just began by sending out tweets that summarized what we were discussing, what questions we had, and inviting people to chime in using the hashtag #pfwhiteboard – thus creating a virtual whiteboard of ideas to aid in our planning.  We netted a number of new connections, relationships, and some fresh thinking.  We hope to do the same here, on the PF Whiteboard.

We think of the Peery Foundation as a learning foundation.  After we all, we are a family foundation without a highly professionalized staff, but we’re thoughtful about the work we do and aim to improve every day.  Blogging on the PF Whiteboard, I believe, will probably be of greater value to us than anyone else as we’re able to put our thoughts and experiences to paper and learn from the rest of you.  We hope you’ll comment and share your opinions.  Ultimately, we really hope the content here can serve the field of philanthropy in some way.”

The reason I’m excited about the Peery Foundation blog is because I think that Dave and Jessamyn get that social media is best understood as a conversation and a conversation is most interesting when you focus on listening and learning.

They’re even willing to take listening to extremes, such as this recent post by Jessamyn in which she attempts to crowdsource her own annual review by asking readers who she has interacted with to give her feedback on how she’s doing. While she offers the option of emailing her the response, she encourages people to post their feedback as a public comment.

When I wrote recently about the way that social media is leading to philanthropy’s own “period of rapid innovation” the key argument I made was that good ideas come out of environments that accelerate idea exchange. In that post, I pointed to the way that Melinda Gates had recently responded to questions from another blog and argued that blogs that only talk were really just newsletters and that blogs that listened and responded to the broader conversation were the ones that mattered.

Dave and Jessamyn are just two people. That handicaps them in terms of human resources, but it frees them to experiment in ways that hierarchically structured, staffed foundations have a difficult time doing.

If you care about social media and philanthropy, I encourage you to follow the Peery Foundation’s new blog, follow them on Twitter at @DavePeery and @JessamynLau and most importantly to engage in the conversation they are trying to stimulate.