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158 posts categorized "Science/Technology"

Do Bots Have a Role in Social Change?

February 23, 2017

ChatBotsIt's not every day you find yourself talking about sex with a chatbot named CiCi. But that's exactly the situation I found myself in a couple of weeks ago.

Chris Eigner, CEO of the digital product agency Epsilon Eight and the engineer behind CiCi, had asked me to test out the sex education bot before he released it publicly. While I'm usually an eager user of technologies in beta, I found myself feeling sheepish about talking to a bot about sex. So I decided to outsource the task to a friend, who had me ask CiCi a question about condoms. The bot's response was both mature and relevant: "There is nothing wrong with having sex so long as you are mature enough to handle the responsibilities and consequences."

Feeling like we were off to a good start, I decided to tell CiCi that I was "asking for a friend," just as one might in a conversation with a real person. CiCi's response was sweet: "You can't put a price on true friendship."

What may sound like a simple exchange was actually a remarkable experience. CiCi was capable of being simultaneously educational and personable. Interactions like this — casual, informative, bot-driven — increasingly will be part of our lives, and we should be careful not to underestimate how significant this development is likely to be for the future of social change efforts.

Despite calls for the sector to be more innovative, our field is a late adopter of new technologies. The ascendancy of bots represents a real opportunity for us to do better. Rather than delaying adoption, we can and should begin developing and using these tools at the same time as — not after — the usual early adopters.

But what does it mean to adopt chatbots as a tool for creating social change? And how can social change organizations use them to advance their cause in a time of political turmoil and resource constraints? Let's look at four valuable applications:

Fundraising growth. Interaction and automation are essential to scaling your fundraising efforts, and chatbots can take those efforts to a new level. charity: water has already launched a chatbot that allows supporters to engage with and donate to the organization via Facebook Messenger. Don't be surprised to see, in the not-too-distant future, other organizations scale their fundraising rapidly with one-click giving that enables anyone to donate to an organization like GLAAD simply by sending a rainbow emoji.

Movement building. Keeping track of policy changes and upcoming actions can be challenging (especially in today's political climate). Chatbots can solve the issue of communication breakdown by allowing people to easily get the answers they need via instant messaging. Rather than asking supporters to scroll through timelines and long email chains, you can use chatbots to deliver the information you want them to have, anytime, anywhere.

Enhanced transparency. The social sector's approach to transparency is outdated. People want their questions about impact and an organization’s financials answered as soon as they ask them, rather than having to dig around its website, where they may or may not find what they're looking for. Because they are perfectly suited to giving people the information they want quickly and efficiently, chatbots are poised to usher in a new era of transparency — and the trust it engenders.

Navigating bureaucracy. Typically built around a set of burdensome rules and often outdated assumptions, bureaucratic processes are a perfect place for using bots. A great example is Do Not Pay, a bot created by Stanford undergraduate Joshua Browder that is billed as "the world's first robot lawyer." The bot brings free legal services such as fighting unfair parking tickets, arguing tenant cases against landlords, and applying for social services to people who otherwise be unable to afford them. In the not-too-distant future, expect bots to eliminate all sorts of bureaucratic headaches for us.

We are living through a transformative period of history. Not only are sophisticated tools like chatbots becoming available to organizations of all shapes and sizes, but the democratization of the technology underpinning these tools increasingly means we can build them ourselves. All this points to an opportunity for the widespread adoption of chatbots resulting in a new level of organizational effectiveness and impact.

Headshot_Kyle CrawfordBut while chatbots can do a lot, they can't do everything. And that means that, for the foreseeable future, real people will continue to be the primary drivers of social change. It might just be a little easier with a bot by our sides.

Kyle Crawford is CEO and founder of Fundraising Genius, an innovative platform that teaches startup growth techniques to foundation, higher education, and nonprofit leaders. Contact him at kyle@fundraisinggenius.co.

[Review] 'Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations'

January 30, 2017

One morning at the gym, I looked up at the TV and saw that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was promoting his latest book and opining about the state of the world following the U.S. elections. It took me a minute, between the banter and the buzzwords, but I eventually understood Friedman's reason for writing the book: like most of us, he thinks the world is moving too fast. His recommended remedy? We all need to slow down and reflect on the causes of this acceleration so that we can more confidently (and optimistically) chart our way through an increasingly complex world.

Bookcover_Thank You For Being LateAs he explains in Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writes books (The Lexus and the Olive Tree; The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century; Hot, Flat, and Crowded) "because I love…taking a complex subject and trying to break it down so…I...understand it and…readers better understand it." Reading his work, one can see the interplay between the best sellers he writes every few years and his twice-a-week musings on the op-ed page of the Times. In Thank You For Being Late, for example, he sets the table with one of his go-to subjects: Moore's law, named after Intel-co-founder Gordon Moore, who noted in 1965 that computing power had been doubling every year based on the increasing density of silicon transistors in computer chips — and was likely to continue at a similar rate for at least the next ten years. As anyone who follows tech knows, Moore's famous observation continues to bear out forty years after its predicted expiration date. And the consequences of that astounding increase in computing power serve as a backdrop against which Friedman explores three accelerating forces affecting every aspect of our lives: technology (especially cloud computing, which he calls the"Supernova"), globalization (the "Market"), and climate change ("Mother Nature").

The exponential growth in computing power and the increasing rate of innovation it drives have created, according to Friedman, an orders-of-magnitude change in digital interconnectedness, transforming how we communicate (texting, social media), shop (e-commerce), and even where we sleep (Airbnb). At the same time, he argues, the rate of change, both technological and social, enabled by this connectivity now exceeds our ability to adapt, causing many of our current political, economic, and sectarian challenges. "When fast gets really fast," he writes, "being slower to adapt makes you really slow — and disoriented."

And guess what? The world continues to speed up.

He notes, for instance, that the typical cellphone today provides SMS texting capabilities and mobile access to the Internet to anyone who can afford one, creating a previously unimaginable global exchange of goods and ideas. Residents of small towns in sub-Saharan Africa are just a text or a click away from family members in northern European cities — and everyone in between. "Globalization has always been everything and its opposite — it can be incredibly democratizing and it can concentrate incredible power in giant multinationals," he writes; "it [also] can be incredibly particularizing — the smallest voices can now be heard everywhere — and incredibly homogenizing, with big brands now able to swamp everything everywhere."

On the downside, the forces unleashed by globalization and a digitally networked world are merging with human-driven climate change to create a perfect storm of unintended, and mostly negative, consequences, with the most profound effects being felt in the most vulnerable countries and communities. Sadly, efforts to cope with the massive movement of people triggered by climate change have been woefully inadequate, not least because "when Moore's law and globalization accelerate at their current rates and your country falls behind on education and infrastructure, it falls behind at an accelerating rate as well."

The book is classic Friedman — a smorgasbord of ideas interspersed with conversations with world leaders and parking attendants. In a single chapter he might explore the potential of article intelligence, reflect on the political cataclysms of recent years, and offer policy recommendations based on lessons learned from Mother Nature. Throughout he indulges his seemingly insatiable curiosity and penchant for asking questions that border on the metaphysical. If at times it causes his narrative to feel a bit scattered — jumping from topic to topic with an alacrity that can be fatiguing — most readers won't hold it against him; in fact, it is probably what makes his writing appealing to so many.

I know: Friedman's technique is often criticized for being a form of lesson-by-anecdote that is taken more seriously than it should be. The caricature goes something like this: I was in [insert world city] for two days and took a cab to meet with [insert world leader]. While in the ride over, I spoke to my driver, who shared his view that [insert insightful comment], and all of a sudden I thought to myself: Eureka! this is the answer to [insert complex world crisis].

And it's true, to the extent that any caricature is. But the final chapters of Thank You for Being Late are much more substantive and give us the musings of a grounded, authentic, and, yes, deep thinker — not to mention a badly needed voice of reason in our current politically fraught climate. In the final pages of the book, for example, he visits his childhood home of St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, where he grew up in an environment of "inclusion and civic idealism." Once there, he tries to see the community for what it was and is, all the while looking for the source of its still-evident civic spirit — and for lessons that can be replicated in communities across the country. The story of St. Louis Park, he writes, "is the story of how an ethic of pluralism and a healthy community got built one relationship, one breakup, one makeup, one insult, one welcoming neighbor, one classroom at a time." While nostalgia is certainly a factor in this rosy assessment, there's more to his trip down memory lane and explorations of what happens in a community where people take the time to get to know each other and build bonds across their differences — or, as he puts it, who are willing "to belong to a network of intertwined 'little platoons', communities of trust, which [form] the foundation for belonging, for civic idealism, for believing others who [are different] [can] and should belong, too." Yes, in an age of accelerating global interdependence and contact between strangers, "the bridges of understanding that we have to build are longer, the chasms they have to span much deeper." But that is the challenge.

In our ever more complicated world, generalists who wrestle with a broad spectrum of ideas and seek to help us understand often difficult issues and events are in short supply. In the crowded (and increasingly noisy) public square of the twenty-first century, reasonable, thoughtful, and generous are not adjectives applied to many: Thomas Friedman is all three, and Thank You for Being Late offers some of his best work to date.

Michael Weston-Murphy is a writer and consultant based in New York City. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 25-26, 2016)

June 26, 2016

BREXITOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civil Society

The Huffington Post's Eleanor Goldberg shares this tidbit: During the last presidential election cycle in 2012, more Americans gave to charity (59.7 percent)  than voted (53.6 percent). What's more, the U.S. lags most of its OECD peers when it comes to voter turnout. According to Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, that's because giving is seen as "more direct, more tangible,” whereas "there are lots of gaps between what any one politician promises and what he or she can deliver." 

Digital Divide

A study commissioned by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to mark World Wi-Fi Day (June 20) finds that nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the people in North America, which boasts the world's highest average monthly income, do not have a broadband connection.

Environment

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther talks with Linda Greer, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, about how NGOs can pressure companies to change, why environmental nonprofits should not take money from corporations, and how NRDC is working Ma Jun, China’s best-known environmental leader, to bring about change on the environmental front in that country.

Immigration

"The Brexit vote," writes Dara Lind in Vox, "has proven that anti-immigrant anxiety is an incredibly powerful force: powerful enough to, in certain circumstances, ensure an electoral victory. But the thing about running on people's anxieties is that once you get into office, you have...to alleviate them." Otherwise, you're just another failed politician "who couldn’t keep [his/her] promises."

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A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

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Foundation Transparency: Game Over?

June 16, 2016

Data_unlockedThe tranquil world of America's foundations is about to be shaken, but if you read the Center for Effective Philanthropy's new study — Sharing What Matters, Foundation Transparency — you would never know it.

Don't get me wrong. That study, like everything CEP produces, is carefully researched, insightful, and thoroughly professional. But it misses the single biggest change in foundation transparency in decades: the release by the Internal Revenue Service of foundation 990-PF (and 990) tax returns as machine-readable open data.

Clara Miller, president of the Heron Foundation, writes eloquently in her manifesto Building a Foundation for the 21St Century: "the private foundation model was designed to be protective and separate, much like a terrarium."

Terrariums, of course, are highly "curated" environments over which their creators have complete control. To the extent that much of it consists of interviews with foundation leaders and reviews of their websites — as if transparency were a kind of optional endeavor in which foundations may choose to participate, if at all, and to what degree — the CEP study proves that point.

To be fair, CEP also interviewed the grantees of various foundations (sometimes referred to as "partners"), which helps convey the reality that foundations have stakeholders beyond their four walls. However, the terrarium metaphor is about to become far more relevant as the release of 990 tax returns as open data literally makes it possible for anyone to look right through those glass walls to the curated foundation world within.

What Is Open Data?

It is safe to say that most foundation leaders and a fair majority of their staff do not understand what open data really is. Open data is free, yes, but more importantly it is digital and machine-readable. This means it can be consumed in enormous volumes, at lightning speed, directly by computers.

Once consumed, open data can be tagged, sorted, indexed, and searched using statistical methods to make obvious comparisons while discovering previously undetected correlations. Anyone with a computer, some coding skills, and a hard drive or cloud storage can access open data. In today's world, a lot of people meet those requirements, and they are free to do whatever they please with your information once it is, as open data enthusiasts like to say, "in the wild."

Today, much government data is completely open. Go to data.gov or its equivalent in many countries around the world and see for yourself.

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5 Questions for...Harvey V. Fineberg, President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

May 25, 2016

Established in 2000 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation holds assets of $6.56 billion and in 2013 was the ninth largest U.S. foundation by asset size and tenth in total giving. With a focus on "[tackling] large, important issues at a scale where it can achieve significant and measurable impacts," the foundation's main program areas include science, environmental conservation, patient care, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., joined the foundation as president in January 2015. Prior to that, he served as president of the Institute of Medicine (2002-14) and as provost of Harvard University (1997-2001), following thirteen years as dean of the university's School of Public Health. A co-founder and former president of the Society for Medical Decision Making, Fineberg has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and serves on the boards of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (which he chairs), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the China Medical Board.

PND spoke with Fineberg via email about the foundation's approach to grantmaking in the areas of environmental conservation, scientific research, and patient care.

Harvey_v_finebergPhilanthropy News Digest: As Gordon and Betty Moore, you, and foundation staff have made clear over the years, the Moore Foundation supports fundamental scientific research and embraces experimentation in its grantmaking. Are those two things ever in conflict? And how do you and your colleagues find the proper balance between them?

Harvey Fineberg: Our support for fundamental research enables scientific breakthroughs. We embrace a systematic or "scientific" approach in all of our grantmaking, whether in basic research, environmental conservation, patient care, or at home in the Bay Area.

The systematic approach in grantmaking means that we rely on evidence and investigation, focus on long-term goals, and place a premium on defining measurable outcomes. We develop clear hypotheses that guide our investments. Along the way we continually test our assumptions, challenge our thinking, and, as necessary, adjust our course in pursuit of those outcomes.

In our grantmaking, we are prepared to aim high; we like to identify a path to success, and we are willing to fail in pursuit of a worthy goal. We know that accomplishing big things can take time, and we are investing for the long term.

PND: From your vantage point, does the foundation's focus on evidence make it an outlier in the philanthropic world?

HF: Gordon Moore has encouraged us to "swing for the fences." As we aim to tackle complex, important problems, we understand the world may change in profoundly important ways that we cannot predict. We work diligently to drive change to a certain scale or scope and understand there are times we may fall short. When things don't go according to plan — for better or worse — the most important thing we can do is learn from that experience and try to improve the next time.

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Helen Brunner, Founding Director, Media Democracy Fund

April 27, 2016

Helen Brunner, founding director of the Media Democracy Fund and an advisor to the Quixote Foundation, recently was awarded the Council on Foundations' 2016 Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for her efforts to protect the public's basic rights in the digital age and to secure universal access to a free and open Internet. Central to that work was funding and organizing the successful campaign to preserve net neutrality that culminated in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 decision to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or "throttling" — intentionally slowing — the flow of legal content or services and from offering "fast lanes" for a fee.

PND spoke with Brunner about the role of philanthropy in the ongoing debates over freedom of expression, data privacy, and the impact of social media on civic discourse.

Helen_brunnerPhilanthropy News Digest: The supporters of net neutrality seemed to have won a decisive victory last year, but the issue is being adjudicated again, with Internet service providers suing the FCC over the rules it issued in 2015 to protect the "open" Internet. Given that the court hearing the complaint is the same one that blocked the commission's earlier rules on net neutrality, how hopeful are you the new rules will be upheld?

Helen Brunner: I'm extremely hopeful they will be upheld, because I think this time we got it right. One of the things the commission didn't do in 2010 was to actually reclassify the Internet so that it could be regulated the way the commission regulates telephony. The Internet originally was regulated as a telecommunications service, but then the FCC decided, for a brief period, to regulate it more as an information service. But then they realized the Internet was far too important in terms of driving the economy — and innovation — to hamper it in that way, that the openness and innovation engendered by the Internet wasn't as well protected as when it was regulated as a common carrier. So they switched back, and that is, in fact, the current classification that enabled us to argue for "open" Internet, or net neutrality rules, under the rule of law properly.

So I'm hopeful the court will come back with a positive ruling. We had an extraordinarily good attorney arguing in court for the public interest petitioners, but the one thing that might come back for further review is mobile, which we care very much about because so many vulnerable populations rely on it for their Internet access. If the court feels that adequate notice wasn't given for that rule to be tasked, then the FCC will just go through the procedure again and get it right. That might be a concession the court would make in order to give more time for the big mobile companies to respond as to why they think it's a bad idea. And, of course, it would also give advocates of net neutrality another chance to respond as to why it's so important for the public interest and vulnerable populations for mobile to be neutral. There's a great deal of sympathy at the commission for that position.

PND: Social media played a major role in galvanizing public calls to preserve net neutrality and keep the Internet open. At the same time, social media seems to have had a pretty corrosive effect on civic discourse and the expectation of a right to privacy. Are those the kinds of inevitable trade-offs we all must accept as the price of the democratization of communication in the digital age? Or can something be done to slow or even reverse those trends?

HB: These are societal issues as well, whether we're talking about the coarsening of civic discourse or the aggressive tone of pundits in mainstream media. Social media is indeed amplifying all that, but I think we see polarized discourse everywhere, so it's something we need to address on a broader level. That said, there are some technical innovations that can cause social media to go off on a bad track, including something called "bots" on social media that can be used to drive discourse in a highly polarized direction, as well as techniques that enable companies to create false narratives. Now that isn't to say there aren't real dialogues and genuine arguments on social media, but there are things we can do to address the problem of bots, and there are several projects that different people are working on with the goal of at least eliminating the artificial hyping of phony debates.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2015)

November 02, 2015

To quote the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro: "You are a New York Mets fan...and you know nothing is guaranteed." Congrats to the Kansas City Royals on a spectacular season and a truly memorable World Series victory, their first in thirty years. If you're a Mets fan...well, you don't have to wait that long to revisit some of the winning content we posted in October.

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that had you cheering? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

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Investing in Fundamental Science: A Grantmaker's Perspective

May 26, 2015

Harvey_v_fineberg_for_PhilanTopicA half-century ago, Gordon Moore wrote a paper in which he projected that progress in the density and speed of silicon chips would increase exponentially. In his paper, Moore envisioned how this would enable technologies ranging from the personal computer, to the smart phone, to the self-driving car. His prediction became known as Moore's Law, and it has held remarkably true for fifty years. At a recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his seminal paper, Moore talked about the impact of his insight on modern technology and the crucial role of basic scientific research in making it come true.

Moore, a founder of Intel and chairman of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, noted that the technological progress we have enjoyed over the last half-century was enabled by science education and basic research. While the opportunities for discovery have never been greater, commitment to and funding for science — from government, industry, and philanthropy — fall far short of what is needed today to accelerate progress into the future.

In 1965, when Moore enunciated his insights into the development of the microchip, the U.S. government invested about 10 percent of its budget in basic research and development. Today, federal funding for basic research has fallen below 4 percent. 

"I'm disappointed that the federal government seems to be decreasing its support of basic research. That's really where these ideas get started," said Moore. "Our position in the world of fundamental science has deteriorated pretty badly. There are several other countries that are spending a significantly higher percentage of their GNP than we are on basic science or on science, and ours is becoming less and less basic."

Once a hallmark of an innovation-focused American society, corporate labs are almost non-existent today. Coupled with cuts in government funding, the United States is in jeopardy of losing its lead in super-computing, cybersecurity, space exploration, energy, and health care, a recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 21-22, 2015)

March 22, 2015

Think_springOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Cold winter, wasn't it? Well, yes, if you were on the East Coast of the United States. Not so much everywhere else.

According to Equities.com, the Guardian has launched a campaign to encourage the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, the two largest funders of nongovernmental medical and scientific research in the world, to divest their portfolios of investments in fossil fuel companies. "We have to confront our own inconsistencies," said Professor Chris Rapley, former director of the Science Museum in London. "Either [Gates and the Trust] accept the argument that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or they don't. It's highly symbolic when charities like this make a stand."

Education

On the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. program, argues that annual, comprehensive education data is vital to ensuring that all students have access to a quality education.

International Development

In the Washington Post, Kevin Sullivan and Rosalind Helderman offer a closer look at how Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable work in Haiti has both succeeded and failed.

Leadership

On the NCRP blog, Britt Yamamoto, executive director of iLEAP, a nonprofit organization that works to inspire and renew social leaders, shares some key takeaways from the NCRP report Cultivating Nonprofit Leadership: A (Missed?) Philanthropic Opportunity.

Grantmaking

The future of innovation in the social sector is...general operating support, writes Jocelyn Wyatt, executive director of IDEO, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

Nonprofits

Boston-based venture capitalist Todd Dagres is a fan of Shark Tank, the ABC business-pitch reality show, and according to the Boston Globe's Sacha Pfeiffer, he's looking to create a competition modeled on the show where "[e]arly-stage not-for-profit organizations could pitch their missions to investors, who would vet them on their plans and fund those they consider most promising."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2015)

March 04, 2015

For those of us who live and work in the Northeast, it was cold, really cold, in February. Fortunately, we were too busy serving up great content here on PhilanTopic to notice. So, while you wait for the next winter storm to roll in, pull up a screen and see what you missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Five Ways to Improve Your Digital Strategy for Older Donors

February 17, 2015

Older-donors-with-computerSome of the biggest nonprofit campaigns of recent years were most notable for how well they mobilized the ever-elusive Gen Y demographic. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation, and the It Gets Better Project's successful YouTube videos helped bring light to important issues affecting the LGBT community. But while these efforts certainly have helped to illuminate the future of fundraising, they haven’t been as successful in engaging older people, who consistently give the largest donations year after year. For those hoping to use technology to connect with their older donors, here are five important points to keep in mind as you create your digital plan of attack.

Older donors are much more tech-savvy than many give them credit for

  • Nearly 3 out of 5 donors age 66 and older currently make donations via the web.

With the rise of tablet computing and streamlined mobile UIs, mobile technology is more accessible to different age groups than ever before. Studies show that in recent years, older users have proven to be very adaptable when it comes to new technologies and are just as likely to donate online as their younger counterparts.

Even though older users need a bit of extra care when it comes to accessibility, it's important that you don't view your older donors as technologically illiterate. The tough part is catering to these older audiences while still creating a digital experience that appeals to younger constituents as well.

Making your site more accessible to older donors

When catering to an audience of older constituents, the ideal goal is to strike a happy balance between quality design and carefully considered user-friendliness.

A few design details in particular, like font size and page navigation, are critical for making a site accessible to older visitors. According to Nielsen's usability tests of users aged 65 and over, older citizens require larger typography, with 12-point fonts (and higher) working best. In addition, older users tend to be more frustrated by frequent site and design changes. While this is less of a design detail, it's a good point to note for web designers who like to make tweaks on a regular basis.

When it comes to driving conversions, make sure you're prominently featuring all of your most common actionable functions. If you have a "donate" button, make it clearly visible on every page. By minimizing the number of clicks between your users and the option to donate or volunteer, you create an online presence that is simultaneously accessible and streamlined. For examples of sites that do this well, visit the Sierra Club, New York Road Runners, or the American Cancer Society.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 29-30, 2014)

November 30, 2014

Advent_wreath2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz asks some important questions about the purpose of civil society -- that peculiar space which "stands alongside, interdependent with the private and public sectors" -- in a democracy, and provides some answers of her own.

Fundraising

The December Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Joe Garecht at the Fundraising Authority, is open for submissions. This month's roundup is dedicated to getting nonprofits (and the people who run and govern them) to think bigger about fundraising. To have your post considered for inclusion, it must be submitted by the end of the day on December 29. Good luck to all!

Writing on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Ritu Sharma, CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, argues (unsurprisingly, perhaps) that social media "has democratized fundraising so that deep pockets are no longer required. Anyone with five dollars and a smartphone can be a philanthropist."

With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, it may be too late to take advantage of the fundraising advice Hilary Doe, a vice president at NationBuilder, shares on the Huffington Post, but, as she makes clear in her post, truly effective fundraising is all about year-round engagement with your supporters.

International Affairs/Development

How much of the money pledged by donor governments for Ebola relief efforts has been delivered to date? The answer, according to a report by Abby Haglage on The Daily Beast, is "not much."

A text message about a commercial jetliner hitting a water buffalo on takeoff is the point of departure for Zia Khan, vice president for strategy and evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation, to reflect on India's past, present, and future.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 5-6, 2014)

July 06, 2014

Iced tea_arrangementWe were out of pocket last week, so we've included a few items we missed in this week's roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Black Male Achievement

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter argues in a post on the HuffPo's Black Voices blog that three myths are hurting young black men and boys:

  1. Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.
  2. Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.
  3. Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.

Communications/Marketing

On the Philanthropy Front and Center - Cleveland blog, guest blogger Brian Sooy, president of design and communications firm Aespire, considers four dimensions of communications that have the potential for strengthening the culture of any mission-driven organization.

Data

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, Ben Hecht, president/CEO of Living Cities, and Willa Seldon, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, weigh in with a nice HuffPo piece on the transformative power of data.

Data may have the power to transform, but in a follow-up to a post on the Markets for Good blog he penned about the death of evaluation, Andrew Means, associate director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago, suggests that nonprofits still have a long way to go in learning how to use it to improve their effectiveness and impact.

Can data sometimes do more harm than good? Absolutely, says Robert J. Moore, chief executive of RJMetrics, on the New York Times' You're the Boss blog. In particular, writes Moore, there are three situations in which he has learned to second-guess the data-driven approach: when the costs are too high; when the results won't change your mind; and when following the data means betraying your vision.

Economy

Very good post by John Hagel, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, in response to Harvard historian Jill Lepore's recent New Yorker article dismissing Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. It's a bit of a long read, but Hagel's main thesis is that two forces – economic liberalization and exponentially improving technology –are "systematically and substantially" reducing barriers to entry and movement on a global scale while causing businesses and institutions to "fundamentally re-think" their models and arrangements. "Bottom line," writes Hagel, "[these two forces] are catalyzing more opportunity for players to adopt new approaches that can be highly disruptive...[and] increasing both the motivation and ability of players to pursue these disruptive
approaches...."

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