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Questions for Lucy Bernholz

July 15, 2010

Network_plug Hard to believe, but our annual senior staff retreat is right around the corner. To help prepare for this year's gabfest/adventure (always more fun than you'd think...really), my Foundation Center colleagues and I will be hosting Blueprint Research + Design founder and über philanthropy blogger Lucy Bernholz for two days of brainstorming next week.

To get ready for Lucy's visit, I've been re-reading Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector, the monograph she wrote with Ed Skloot, former president of the Surdna Foundation and current director of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society at Duke University, and Barry Varela, a staff member at CSPCS. I won't summarize it here (others have already done a good job of that), except to say that it's a thought-provoking exploration of the way trends in technology and data production/collection/visualization are reshaping philanthropy and social change efforts.

The paper is packed with sharp observations, and throughout the authors give voice to questions suggested by their conclusions and predictions. Questions like:

  • How will better data sharing affect the way individuals donate? Will it grow the philanthropic pie? Will it lead to data, and analytic, overload?
  • Will individual donations become less focused on the local and more foucsed on the regional/national/international?
  • Will networked technologies create a generational split in philanthropy? How will they affect donations to religious groups?
  • What will new technologies bring to labor-intensive activities such as foster care, homeless shelters, mentoring programs, and arts and cultural production?
  • As philanthropy becomes ever-more networked, what new forms of accountability and governance will emerge?

Knowing Lucy will be on site -- and that I may have a chance to do a video chat with her -- I jotted down a few questions of my own as I was reading:

  • Is data an input, a platform, or both?
  • Does information want to be free?
  • Does the growing availability of data change the role of narrative in social change work?
  • What is the role of strategy in an era of disruptive change?
  • Are there any downsides for philanthropy in the continued penetration of networked technologies into philanthropic practice?
  • Do you see anything that could slow or reverse the continued penetration of networked technologies into philanthropic practice?
  • What's the most compelling reason for a funder or donor to embrace the networked future?

I'll probably have a few others by the time she gets to New York. And I bet some of you who have read the paper have a few of your own. I'd love to hear them -- or any other thoughts you might have about the paper's thesis and conclusions. Feel free to share 'em in the comments section....

-- Mitch Nauffts

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