George McCullyA New Interface between Philanthropy and the Public: The Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory (MPD)

By: George McCully In: Media and Technology| Nonprofits| Partnerships and Collaborations| Philanthropy

7 Sep 2011

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.

3 Responses to A New Interface between Philanthropy and the Public: The Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory (MPD)

Debbie Botos

September 9th, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I have tried to use this, and simply get nothing. The “panels” don’t show up, large charities we routinely give grants to don’t seem to be there. The Foundation for MetroWest, where I work, doesn’t come up if I enter the name.

Am I just expecting it to do something it doesn’t? Are there just a few charities entered? Is it supposed to be incomplete?

George McCully

September 12th, 2011 at 11:21 am

Thanks, Debbie, for your interest, comment, and questions.

The “panels” issue is something we have never encountered ourselves nor heard from others. What browser are you using?

“Foundation for MetroWest”, which just changed its name, is in fact there—I just looked at it. As one of its founders and a trustee for its first ten years, I am very interested in its being there—actually we inserted the new name when we received its new logo.

As for “large charities”, please send me their names. It could be that they are not of statewide philanthropic interest (we shall issue a Supplement for charities of only local interest), in which case they are probably not actually “large”; or that their 990s and websites show no evidence of public fundraising, which is one of the criteria for inclusion.

In any case, we very much welcome corrections to the data. We say on the website that this is a “beta” year, and that it will take a while to arrive at a consensus list—which is why this is necessarily a collaborative project.

Thanks again for your interest, and please get in touch directly so we can review these issues with you.

George McCully

October 5th, 2011 at 8:59 am

Just for the record, there are 3,480 charities listed in the Directory so far, purporting to be a complete list of Massachusetts charities. On the Discoveries page is an analysis of the group’s structure and distribution, which is then discussed on the Blog page.

The panels appear on the homepage and the search page, and if one clicks on them in either place, each has an interactive screen of its own for users to designate parameters of their searches—by region, field, revenue size, year of IRS authorization, and demographics served.

I have not heard from Debbie, so I’ll give her a call.

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