karidunnsaratovskyGetting Googley With Family Philanthropy

By: Kari Dunn Saratovsky In: 2010 Family Philanthropy Conference| Family Philanthropy| Next Generation

29 Jan 2010

[Editor’s note: With the Council’s Family Philanthropy Conference set to begin on Sunday, January 31, keep up with the plenaries and sessions by following our 21 conference bloggers who will share their thoughts and impressions. Blogger Kari Dunn Saratovsky, vice president for Social Innovation at the Case Foundation, will moderate the closing plenary with “What Would Google Do?” author Jeff Jarvis. In this post, she asks readers to submit the questions they would like to ask Jarvis.]

I have the great pleasure and perhaps the great challenge of moderating the closing plenary “Direct From Davos: Jeff Jarvis on ‘What Would Google Do In Philanthropy’” at the Family Philanthropy Conference on Tuesday, February 2. The pleasure comes from having an opportunity to speak directly with a forward-thinker like Jarvis who focuses extensively on how the significant changes in our world have been brought on by advances in the Internet. The challenge arises because the tens of thousands of family foundations in the United States are diverse and divergent in their structures, operations and thinking—as Google is from Chrysler—and not all are known for their “Googley” innovative ways.

I work at a family foundation created by business and social entrepreneurs who have pushed us to experiment with philanthropy in ways that have tested the traditional boundaries and engaged the public in all facets of the grantmaking process. At the Case Foundation, we’ve tested a new model of “citizen-centered philanthropy” that involves “real people” in everything from developing program guidelines, to being part of the application process and sometimes even determining grant decisions. I’m not suggesting this is a model for all of philanthropy—and perhaps we’re in the extreme—but there are lessons to learn from shifting the balance of power in relationships between grantors and grantees to leverage the giving power of individuals (who make up 80 percent of philanthropic dollars). These are lessons that I believe could benefit family philanthropy in big ways. 

I first heard about the “Googlization of Philanthropy” from Sean Stannard-Stockton, who wrote on his Tactical Philanthropy blog, “Googlization focuses on enabling collaboration and participation by unbundling the process of creating information from its distribution. Since philanthropy is improved exponentially as more information is shared about which social-benefit efforts work—and which ones fail—this is a big moment for philanthropy.”

There are at least two ways that I see family philanthropy benefiting from testing these “googley” waters.

  • First, because family foundations often have boards made up of family members, outside perspectives may be hard to vet and are not always included in decision making. We know that the information we hold is not what is important, but rather it’s the opportunity to share and learn from one another that ultimately makes us better philanthropists. With that said, how can we help open up new avenues for sharing?
  • Second, to the degree in which a board is multigenerational, a new generation of board members is coming in with a different way of thinking and skill set. To keep this generation engaged, we must involve them in ways they know and understand. What are the opportunities we have to do this?

I’d like to open up this discussion to you. Whether or not you’re joining us in San Diego next week, what are your burning questions or thoughts you would like to ask Mr. Jarvis?

Please share them in comments below or if you’re on Twitter, tweet your questions using the hashtag #googphil. I’ll incorporate some of the questions and comments into the session.

3 Responses to Getting Googley With Family Philanthropy

Kate K

January 29th, 2010 at 10:30 pm

“To keep this generation engaged, we must involve them in ways they know and understand. What are the opportunities we have to do this?”

I’m writing from the perspective of a social change organization. I’m not sure this is a Googley enough idea, but–

Could younger generation family foundation board members shadow nonprofit staffers of organizations being considered by funding? Not a site visit, but rather shadowed them over the course of a few days? This might help separate groups that look great on paper from organizations that are successfully and powerfully succeeding in their missions. It would take advantage of younger generations’ familiarity with internships and fellowships to gather real-world experience with the nonprofit for the family foundation. It would also perhaps help build a stronger bond between funder and fundee.

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Adin Miller

January 31st, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Kari, I think the question of how to open up new avenues for sharing are not exclusive to just family foundations but the entire range of philanthropic organizations. That said, I’ve been impressed with the transperancy efforts undertaken by the Peery Foundation, which has taken to posting its strategic planning process online (primarily on Twitter). In another example, foundations have opened up and shared information by including community members in the RFP development process and in proposal reviews. Interestingly, the federal government has been more transparent than many foundations by both seeking input on RFPs through public forums and comment periods on draft application guidelines. For example, both the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service solicited public through such avenues for i3 and Social Innovation Funds efforts, respectively. If the federal government can do this, why can’t we?

As for a question for Jarvis, I would like to understand better how googlization can be applied to a board composed of family members with divergent grantmaking priorities (health, literacy, environment, etc.) and their own discretionary funds.   How would we generate collaboration in this circumstance?

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