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Is Philanthropy Ready for the New Consumer?

October 09, 2009

It's a brave new world out there, one in which the rapid adoption and growing influence of social media is transferring ownership of brands to consumers and, as Seth Godin would say, giving rise to the power and influence of tribes.

That, at any rate, is the conclusion of From Legacy to Leadership: Is Philanthropy Ready for the New Consumer? (4 pages, PDF), a new white paper from branding and integrated marketing firm BBMG. (Full disclosure: the Foundation Center has worked with BBMG in the past.) According to the report, social innovation

has gone mainstream, moving into the halls of power under an administration that understands the value of collaboration and partnership. Social entrepreneurs are breaking boundaries and blurring lines between nonprofits and for-profits, combining social purpose with financial promise as they look to create innovative, sustainable revenue streams.

Consumers, too, are driving this transformation -- by holding nonprofit organizations to higher standards, asking tougher questions and seeking more impact for every dollar or hour they invest in social causes. The opportunity has never been greater for nonprofit organizations to re-invent themselves around the new innovation imperative. As competition for mindshare and resources reaches new heights and power shifts from the few to the many, the way forward starts by understanding, engaging and empowering the new consumer. They are, after all, your next donors....

The report goes on to suggest that any brand/organization that hopes to realize the promise of the social innovation imperative must ask and answer three questions:

  1. How does this brand improve my life?
  2. How does this brand help me make a difference in the world?
  3. How does this brand connect me to a community that shares my values?

In this new age, the report concludes,

Organizations will no longer be defined by pure altruism but by enlightened self-interest. They'll no longer be measured by the problems they address but by the solutions they deliver. And they will no longer be shaped by the power of the few but by the voices of the many....

Okay, we've heard it before, from the likes of Godin, Dan Pallotta, and others. But as I sit here on a Friday evening, toggling between Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm, and my blog reader, it begins to make sense. The networks each of us creates through these new tools are growing larger, denser, and more connected to other networks. That gives me, sitting at the center of my various networks, a lot of power to influence things that matter to me, both personally and professionally. It also subjects me to the influencing activities of many more people than would have been the case even fifteen years ago.

That's a good thing, right?

To be honest, I don't really know. Sounds like a good subject for a future post. In the meantime, be sure to check out the BBMG report. It's short, sweet, and to the point.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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