How does philanthropy meet the public? How does the public find and meet philanthropy?
Up until now, interactions between single charities and individual donors have happened accidentally, occasionally prompted by media. No comprehensive, coherent interface has existed to facilitate them.
Four obstacles have impeded public-philanthropic interaction: (1) print technology, (2) no clear definition of philanthropy; (3) confusion of philanthropy with “nonprofits” (which exaggerates the number of relevant institutions more than tenfold), and (4) lack of a systematic (that is, logically coherent) taxonomy of philanthropic fields.
If an interface between philanthropy and the public were to be designed to promote and increase their mutual productivity, what attributes would it ideally have?
Should it represent all charities in all fields?
Should it include nonphilanthropic “nonprofits” or just philanthropy?
Should it be clearly, precisely, and usefully organized?
Should that system of organization also support, encourage, and facilitate research, including data collection and analysis?
Should the system be freely available to all users, both professionals and lay persons (especially potential donors)?
Should it be donor-friendly-interesting, informative, educational, attractive, and fun to use for newcomers to philanthropy?
Should it specify the demographics of the people those charities serve, for example, age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic, civic, and medical status?
Should it provide links to charities’ Form 990s?
Should it provide links to charities’ own websites with contact information?
Should it systematically identify entire groups of charities that meet users’ search criteria?
Should it note each group’s distribution geographically, chronologically, demographically, and by revenue and fields?
Should it be organized around specific philanthropic markets nationwide for broader searches and comparisons?
Should it be co-hosted on local institutions’ websites as hubs for philanthropy in their service areas?
Does anything currently available on the Web meet these criteria?
Yes: the Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory (MPD)-www.philanthropicdirectory.org. It was conceived and developed by the Catalogue for Philanthropy at a cost of nearly $1 million. The MPD is the first designed, systematic, comprehensive interface between philanthropy and the public. We are testing it this year in collaboration with the charities and community foundations of Massachusetts and extending it state by state nationwide over the next two years as funding becomes available.
George McCully is president of Catalogue for Philanthropy.