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Weekend Link Roundup (September 12-13, 2009)

September 13, 2009

Chain-links Communications/Marketing

Internet marketing guru Seth Godin argues that putting "free" on top of an existing business model is a sure recipe for failure. When "advertising goes away," writes Godin, "you need to make something else abundant in order to gain attention. Then, and only then, will you be able to sell something that's naturally scarce."


On the New Voices in Philanthropy blog, Trista Harris, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, reminds her readers that diversity is about age, not just gender and race, and that the presence of multiple generations on a foundation's board and staff invariably improves its grantmaking.

Higher Education

In the Washington Post, Zephyr Teachout, visiting assistant professor of law at Duke University, argues that, like newspapers, the majority of brick-and-mortar universities will be rendered obsolete by digital technologies over the next decade or two. And while that might benefit millions of college-age students for whom the cost of a college education increasingly is out of reach, the cost to society will be "a precious academic tradition that is not easily replaced."


Guest blogging on Beth Kanter's blog, Gale Berkowitz, director of evaulation at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, argues that continuous evaluation is integral to the success of any social change effort. And at Packard, evaluation is guided by three main principles:

  1. Success depends on a willingness to solicit feedback and take corrective action when necessary
  2. Improvement should be continuous, and organizations should learn from their mistakes
  3. Evaluation should be conducted in partnership with those who are doing the work in order to maximize learning and minimize the burden on grantees

Good advice for all of us.


On the Posterous blog, 3BL Media -- an organization working to "advance and promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability through effective communications" -- offers nonprofits this list of 50 things they can do to "foster a sustainable culture of innovation."

International Affairs/Development

In a lengthy critique in The Nation, Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez, and Annie Shattuck examine the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to end hunger in Africa and conclude that, well meaning though it is, the foundation is making many of the same mistakes made in the 1960s by the architects of the original Green Revolution.

Writing on the UN Dispatch blog, Alanna Shaikh argues that the One Laptop Per Child project started by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte has been a failure. "The laptop," writes Shaikh

never came down to the hundred dollar price that was promised. The huge orders never materialized, and the project was very slow to allow sales to NGOs and charities instead of just governments. They abandoned the human-powered power source. They abandoned the special child-friendly OS. The laptop still didn’t sell to their target market in the developing world....

Once the laptop finally started arriving in the developing world, its impact was minimal. We think. No one is doing much research on their impact on education; discussions are largely theoretical. This we do know: OLPC didn’t provide tech support for the machines, or training in how to incorporate them into education. Teachers didn’t understand how to use the laptops in their lessons; some resented them. Kids like the laptops, but they don’t actually seem to help them learn.

That view is vigorously challenged by half a dozen people, including Negroponte, in the comments section following Shaikh's post. In a world where every organization is being asked to do more with less, it's an interesting and timely debate.


Recently, the German blogger elite launched an English adaptation of their Internet Manifesto, which details "how journalism works today." Blogging at TechCrunch, Markus Goebel notes that "the 17 articles run down from statements like 'the Internet is different' and 'the Internet improves journalism' [to swipes like] 'tradition is not a business model' and 'the web constitutes an infrastructure for social exchange superior to that of 20th century mass media.'" You can check out the entire manifesto (in fifteen different languages) here.

Social Enterpreneurship

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington, a panelist at the recent Social Capital Markets Conference 2009 in San Francisco, considers the emerging market for social capital and wonders how nonprofits, those organizations that have been creating 'social impact' since before it was cool, fit into that market? Writes Edgington:

Many would agree that the nonprofit sector and the philanthropy that funds it are dysfunctional, even broken. And I think most of us would agree the government sector is fairly broken as well.

But we cannot discount and dismiss either sector. In the true spirit of the social innovation space, we must recycle and reuse the nonprofit and government sectors, just as we are refashioning the private sector. We must reconfigure the assets of all three sectors to turn them into more effective, more productive, higher functioning sectors that can work with, not separate from, each other to create solutions....

Don't miss the thoughtful discussion in the comments following the post.

Speaking of SOCAP09, Andrew Wolk, founder and CEO of Root Cause, has put together a nice roundup of resources from and about the conference.

Do social entrepreneurs realize that the world has changed? That's the question raised by Matthew Bishop, New York bureau chief of The Economist and author, with Michael Green, of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, in the latest issue of UK-based Alliance magazine. The global economic paradigm that prevailed for a quarter-century has been revealed as "seriously, perhaps fatally, flawed," writes Bishop, and the battle to invent a new paradigm is under way. It's a time for "discontinuous thinking," not business as usual. "The challenge for philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and all those trying to solve the world’s most pressing problems," adds Bishop

is, first, to figure out what has changed and then to look at themselves and their organizations anew. In many cases, personal or organizational attributes that were taken for granted or even seen as weaknesses in the old world will be tremendous strengths in the new one, while former strengths may turn out to be less important, or even downright dangerous....

We couldn't agree more.


In a two-part series on SocialEarth, Mike Shoemaker at the Human Ventures blog, asks "If you were the non-profit god, what would you fix?" (Read part one here and part two here.) In the posts, Shoemaker discusses the problems nonprofit organizations face when using the three-party market model -- the ability to get a service for free on someone else’s dime -- and notes that for-profit organizations using the same models do not have the same problems as their not-for-profit counterparts.

And in a more recent post, Shoemaker reflects further on the subject and asks, "Are we arbitrary or fickle in how we give?" He then writes:

The big difference is that in most of the for-profit world cases, effectively serving your primary customer also directly and positively impacts your secondary customers/funders.

In the non-profit world, however, when an organization improves its ability to serve its target population…donors may receive more or better stories of good deeds and see more compelling impact numbers in the annual report, but they are still not likely to receive anything more tangible. That is, I think, the essence of what makes the non-profit model so much less sustainable.

Put a bit more conceptually (feel free to tune out here if you’re not interested in the academic speak), we do not seem hard-wired to use optimal-decision making methods when it comes to altruism. We seem to be content knowing that our money is going to a “good cause” (or that we’re getting a tax write-off), and few of us will take the time to look hard for better or “optimal” causes when it comes to how we invest our philanthropic dollars. So when it comes to giving, we’re somewhat arbitrary and especially fickle....

(H/t: Lucy B. @p2173)

That's it for this week. What did we forget? Drop us a note here. Have a great week!

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by DJ  |   September 14, 2009 at 10:14 AM

"...well meaning though it is, the foundation is making many of the same mistakes made in the 1960s by the architects of the original Green Revolution"

Speaking of which, Norman Borlaug passed away over the weekend. His discoveries made life better (heck, made it possible) for untold millions on this planet.

Posted by Mike Shoemaker  |   September 28, 2009 at 11:12 PM

Thanks for the shout-out. Fantastic weekly round-up!

Posted by Renee Westmoreland  |   September 30, 2009 at 09:31 PM

Thanks, Mike. You're welcome!

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