Transparency Talk

Category: "Facebook" (17 posts)

Transatlantic Exchange: A German Foundation's Social Media Journey, Part One
May 3, 2012

(Anja Adler, a former communication manager for German foundation Stiftung Mercator, is now writing her PhD on the political importance of online communication and social media and works as freelancing social media strategist for the foundation. She has a M.A. degree in Communication and North American Studies from Free University Berlin.)

Anja Adler

Many German foundations are still debating whether or not to engage with social media. Even though some of the larger foundations set up Facebook, Youtube or Twitter accounts, one-way communication is still the rule and dialogue on these new platforms – with few exceptions – oftentimes left to the communication intern. At Stiftung Mercator we believe that social media are not just an add-on. At the end of 2009, we therefore set up a strategy with the aim to integrate these new communication channels in the work of all of our staff, attempting to be more transparent and to help our staff with feedback and new ideas from old and new stakeholders. After the first two years of getting our feet wet, we have successfully set up a social media task force to continuously build our skills, installed a social media newsroom that incorporates channels like Facebook, Flickr, Scribd, and Youtube, and experimented with online campaigning in some of our projects.

While we are proud of the accomplishments, we are still looking for answers to some of the most important strategic questions:

  • Should social media leadership be left to communications or should programs take the same responsibility?
  • How can we inspire more feedback and generate more added value?
  • What are the best “calls to action“ for us and how can our community benefit in return?

With a few more years of a social media head start, we were wondering what the U.S. foundations have to say. So I ventured out to the U.S. this March to speak with nine of them, which included representatives from: Asia Society, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, German Marshall Fund, Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Sunlight Foundation, and the Foundation Center.

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After more than 2,000 miles traveled, and more than  24 hours spent in meetings, with more than 26 people, there were plenty of answers and helpful anecdotes (I put together Storifys on each foundation for more information). As William Bohlen from the German Marshall Fund correctly remarked, "If you know one foundation, you know one foundation." Still, some patterns have emerged and as I reflect on this journey,  two recurring themes  were echoed about lessons learned from philanthropy sector experimentation into social media usage thus far: content is king, and the development of social media champions. In today’s post I will focus on what I heard about content, and in my next post I will share the specifics on what I learned about social media champions.

Content is King

With the growing importance of the internet and the transitional role of journalism, new intermediaries are taking over the public sphere. "For the first time in history, we have the chance to become influential publishers ourselves", Geoff Spencer, Vice President Communications and Marketing at Asia Society, told me. Instead of discussing all the possible social media channels out there (apparently Pinterest is the latest craze in the States, too...), I found myself talking to many foundations about the growing importance of addressing target audiences directly instead of only trying to pitch the media. This new focus on content ownership seems to have increased the foundations' awareness of data and stories in general. The trend of content strategy and rise of content strategist positions at many U.S. foundations might be a reaction to the insight that all social media channels need a good online hub – and in most cases this is the web site.

With an integrated Twitter wall and large image-centered news releases, Knight Foundation's web site, for example, puts stories about grantees and projects first. The Foundation Center's project uses powerful data visualization to coordinate funding efforts of eleven foundations and transparently and visually report about it. Sunlight Foundation even funds a project called Politiwidgets that provides infographics on members of Congress and makes inserting them into a blog post as easy as embedding YouTube videos. Blogs also do the job, as Rachel Hart, Communications Officer, Open Society Foundations, summarized, "I see our blog as our own newspaper. We can’t just wait for others to cover our issues, we need to get the story out there ourselves." And that sometimes leads to stories in the traditional media. One of Open Society Foundation's blog stories has been picked up by CNN, a Knight blog story found its way into a PBS report, and posts from Asia Society's blog are regularly featured in The Atlantic.

For Mercator, this focus on content strategy will mean three things for the future:

  • First, we will be discussing how to increase online editorial content on our grantees and projects to better link our social media story-telling to our online presence. Of course, you can already find all the necessary information (project descriptions, funding data, project partners etc.) on our web site, but apart from news releases we do not yet share success stories and lessons learned.
  • Second, we will also be talking about data visualization. With the help of mapping and infographics we could probably communicate our complex topics - climate change, integration and cultural education – in much more approachable, user-friendly ways.
  • Third, we will be screening the most important blogs for our topics. Even though we might not start our own blog right away, we will definitely be engaging in this new sphere of public debate in the future.

In my next post I will share details about the other theme that emerged from my travels, about finding and supporting internal social media champions. Since I could not meet with every foundation representative who is involved in interesting social media experimentation, please share your thoughts about what you have learned from incorporating social media into your philanthropic work in the comments below.

RWJF: Thoughts on Putting the Social in Social Networking
March 12, 2012

(Erin Kelly is the social media manager at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Follow her on Twitter.)

Erin Kelly

As my colleague Steve Downs indicated in a January post here on Transparency Talk, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is "a couple of years into our journey and we reap the benefits of being more open and engaged every day." How serendipitous that as I started to draft an outline for this post, I stumbled upon "The Promise of Social Media" on Forbes, where the authors surmise, "Based on our extensive field research--we believe social media is likely to be one of the most significant forces reshaping management and business over the next decade and more." Here's my perspective on how one philanthropy is navigating this vast ocean and a few early observations from these efforts in the pursuit of making new things possible.

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Participate

Philanthropy can embrace this networked age to work collectively to reach our shared goals.

Many of us (staff at RWJF) are engaged on social media platforms sharing research and insights into the areas we work, revealing the results of grantmaking and evaluations, and touting the efforts of our grantees and partners. Steve affirmed this last month, as "a fundamental part of any RWJF staff member's job [is] to remain up to date with the latest developments in the field." Web 2.0, the introduction of social tools, has offered us greater opportunity for two-way lines of communication and engagement. When I want to gather intel, I share an update on my LinkedIn wall, or post a status update on Google+ or Facebook, soliciting input on my half-baked idea or venting the latest dilemma stumping me. When the Vice President of Research and Evaluation wants to learn what research really resonated with the public, without an internal bias, he invited "the people formerly known as the audience" to RWJF's web site to vote and comment. (words in quotation taken from @chiefmaven's visit to the Foundation in October 2011.

What have we learned? Set aside time to practice using the platforms to demonstrate the value of such efforts first-hand. "It sounds really simple," Steve says, "but it's very hard to know what social media really means until you do it. Conducting small, focused online experiments allow staff to learn about the potential for social media within their work." Staff members are encouraged to tweet during "learning sessions." These sessions have been part of our DNA for a long time; outside experts are invited to speak at the Foundation to share a dialogue with staff about a subject matter related to our mission. Our physical walls no longer hold back wisdom; at the same time this helps serve as a wading pool to help us, particularly new staff, build more confidence in these tools and mindset.

Be Vocal; Encourage Others to Join In

The Vulnerable Populations Portfolio was just beginning to investigate the area of trauma. Instead of approaching this through more traditional avenues, such as commissioning a scan, Program Officer Kristin Schubert hosted an online discussion to gain a better understanding of how different stakeholders viewed chronic trauma, particularly its impact on healthy development among adolescents. The program work is still being developed, but the discussion forum affirmed for Schubert that various audiences were thinking about and approaching trauma very differently and that no one at present is approaching trauma in a holistic way. While this effort provided an opportunity for RWJF staff and current grantees that work within adolescent systems to uncover real-time research, models and practice in the field, it also facilitated a network weaving opportunity for anyone involved in the issue to connect with peer-experts in youth neuroscience research.

What have we learned? To do our work better--e.g. develop strong, impactful programs--we need to be honest about what we know and what we don't know about a new area of interest. And when soliciting the input of others, it is critically important to be as specific as possible in the requests for engagement. Be clear about the information you are seeking and what you want others to contribute, so everyone involved walks away more knowledgeable and you attain the goal you set out to accomplish.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Senior Program Officer, Mike Painter, wondered: Could we provide a social networking site (SNS) for a group of thought leaders working to improve health care across the country--patients, consumers, physicians, policy-makers, employers, health plan leaders, anyone with a genuine interest in improving the quality of care--to have open, honest discussions on a range of quality related topics? In the past, Painter has relied upon being a member of an existing listserv, which may seem limiting and constrictive given the environment we engage in today 24/7 with seemingly limitless platforms that offer farther reaching networking tools. From an original invite to leaders within the Aligning Forces for Quality initiative, the group has welcomed more and more people with similar goals and interests. The collective now has access to new perspectives and ideas, a treasure trove of experts and expertise to learn from, and a means to collaborate with one another. Almost one year in, Transformation has Begun is still going strong with more than 600 members on Facebook.

What have we learned? Find ways to meaningfully engage in existing communities or networks. The right platform may not be the one you build. We tried this when the group launched--we built the platform--but the interaction was not as high as anticipated. Once the space moved to a SNS people were already engaged in (Facebook), membership and engagement catapulted. Also, ensure you have clear terms of use, including general etiquette guidelines, from the beginning. According to a recent PEW Internet report, 85 percent of SNS-using adults say people are mostly kind, but nearly 50 percent have witnessed mean or cruel behavior by others at least occasionally. Offer concrete etiquette guidelines to foster a pleasant and supportive SNS experience.

Be Ready and Willing to Learn

Before letting go of the notion that the platform had to be ours, the Foundation enabled comments on The Foundation welcomes comments on every piece of content posted, such as press releases, issue briefs, evaluations, and videos. Getting ready for this required significant internal coordination to ensure we had representation from all areas of our operations and a robust framework for moderation. While we were ready (and eager) for a sizable number of comments, it seems that the opportunity for commenting may not be as natural on our site when compared to the more conversational nature of blogging.

What have we learned? Do not assume that a new behavior or means of interaction--e.g. public commenting on your material--will be accepted by your audience. People may not turn out or may be less willing to jump in to offer public comments on an academic article or other published works. While the Foundation was ready for action, the website averages one to two comments a week.

Bundle Your ROI Stories

As Lucy Bernholz and Jim Canales point out in this insightful post, knowing what constituents are focused on or discussing at a given moment is vital to our work. We are no longer limited to having a discussion with those in the room; anyone holding a tablet or smart phone is now part of the conversation. The Foundation is excited to witness the next big, bold breakthrough bound to transpire when multidiscipline thought leaders and unconventional perspectives mingle in the large community.

If you ask staff who lived the activities summarized above, using social technologies has had an overall positive impact on the way we work allowing us to surface a variety of ideas, gain valuable input into team strategies and help disseminate knowledge. Most importantly, these experiences have reinforced the notion that philanthropy can embrace this networked age to work collectively to reach our shared goals. We still have a ways to go. As a learning organization ever focused on assessing impact, we are still tinkering with how to evaluate these investments in social networking.

Do any of these lessons ring true for your organization? Do you see social media reshaping your work? Share your story of how new ways of communicating, convening, or collaborating have galvanized your organization in the comments below.

-- Erin Kelly

Becoming a "Web 2.0 Philanthropy" at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
January 10, 2012

(Steve Downs is Chief Technology and Information Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.)

Steve Downs Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), like many philanthropies today, has embraced social media. We have a Facebook page, YouTube channels, blogs and multiple official Twitter feeds. Our staff also participate directly: more than 40 of my colleagues are regular Twitter users and many have contributed blog posts to popular sites within their fields. Our CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey (@risalavizzo), sets the tone with her regular activity on Twitter.

Like many philanthropies, we're still finding our way and doing our best to learn from our collective experiences and from the experiences of others. For RWJF, engagement in social media is rooted in a context – a context about who we are as an organization and what we seek to become.

The first part of that context comes from our history with transparency. Since RWJF's beginnings, we have emphasized independent evaluation of our programs. As David Colby (@DavidCColby) and his colleagues have detailed, RWJF chose to make public the results of those evaluations so others could learn whether the interventions had (or had not) been effective. In addition, since 2007, we have made public an annual assessment that examines a number of dimensions of our organizational performance. (You can download these reports on our website.)

The second part starts in 2008, when RWJF underwent a strategic planning exercise where we began by looking at the world around us. We saw innovations in philanthropy coming from newer, smaller foundations -- like the Steve and Jean Case Foundation and the Omidyar Network -- that were leveraging new technologies to cast a wider net as an effort to stimulate conversation and engage people more widely. We saw new models for the sector like Kiva and DonorsChoose -- platforms that enabled more direct connections between donors and their impact. And we also saw the amazing, disruptive accomplishments of services like Wikipedia and Craigslist that were run by organizations employing only a few dozen staff by but drawing their power from vast networks of engaged users. We came away from this effort with a sense -- still very impressionistic -- that we should explore what it would mean for us to become a "Web 2.0 Philanthropy."

"Web 2.0" is becoming an increasingly archaic term as it is regularly supplanted by the term "social media," but for us, the distinction has meaning. Where "social media" is often associated with services like Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr, we see "Web 2.0" as running deeper. It is the collection of tools that harness the collective creativity and knowledge of and promote interaction among the Web's many users. It is based on an "architecture of participation," which enables the users of a service to add value to that service. Beyond social media, it can be expressed in many other ways, ranging from the user who improves on a cooking magazine's recipe by adding an unexpected spice to the protester during the Arab Spring posting a cell phone video of a beating on YouTube for the world to see. It is the seller rating system of eBay, in which the experiences of hundreds of other buyers give a potential buyer confidence in the seller. It is about the blurring of the lines between producer and consumer, the blurring of the lines between expert and non-expert and the aggregation of many small contributions into something of great value.

We knew that as a relatively large and relatively middle-aged foundation (we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year) with our traditions, habits and engrained practices – we would have to consciously push ourselves to evolve in this direction. We needed first to flesh out the vision, which we did through a combination of research (i.e. small "r" research like reading case studies and talking with folks at other organizations) and experiential learning. Those of us tasked with working on the vision felt we couldn't do so unless we were actively engaging in Web 2.0 experiences, so we started experimenting with Twitter and Facebook -- and experiencing their cultures and experiencing their value to our day-to-day work. It wasn't long before we concluded that becoming a Web 2.0 philanthropy was not so much about adopting new social media than it was about embracing the underlying values of Web 2.0 and weaving them in to our work. We honed in on three principal values:

  • Openness, at one level, implies transparency–letting others see into the organization and how it works. But in Web 2.0, openness goes beyond organizational transparency and represents humility and a willingness to learn, to be surprised, and to hear and accept criticism.

  • Participation refers to a style of engagement in the professional communities of which we are a part. It requires asking questions, listening, responding and contributing where we can add value–whether expertise, research and other materials, or connections.

  • Decentralization is a natural consequence of distributed participation and inherently requires a ceding of some control. So much information is now created and shared collaboratively, and the path and shape that such information takes cannot be controlled by any one entity or group. However, a tremendous upside of the emergence of Web 2.0 is the potential for countless unseen contributors to augment and amplify one's own contributions.

Building on these values, the research and our early experiences, we sketched out a vision of how RWJF could embrace Web 2.0. The vision included a number of elements, ranging from using social media to be better informed about our fields and the work of our grantees, to cultivating our networks of people and organizations who care about our issues, to crowdsourcing expertise, to seeking feedback and criticism and ultimately, to using using Web 2.0 principles to design programs that work at very large scales. The vision, along with a strategy to evolve toward it, gave the organization a context and a rationale for our embrace of social media, which was beginning to play out.

One might be tempted to think that with all of this Web 2.0 strategy development going on, we approached social media with a deliberate, carefully planned strategy, but in fact, we took a much more organic approach. Previous to the Web 2.0 work, we had done some limited blogging and had gotten over the usual jitters about all the things that could go wrong. Later, as a few intrepid staff began testing the waters at Twitter and Facebook, we consciously took a supportive stance. We came up with social media guidelines that, while putting up some guardrails to limit the likelihood of unfortunate events, actually encouraged staff to experiment and to develop their own, individual personalities online. We wanted them to explore how it could provide value and we wanted to learn from their experiences. The context of our overall push to become a Web 2.0 philanthropy informed the development of our social media guidelines, provided a strong incentive for staff to participate and, by connecting it to a set of values, also influences how staff participate in social media.

We're a couple of years into our journey and we reap the benefits of being more open and engaged every day.  Many staff feel as if they're better engaged in their fields, they're learning more and they're expanding their networks.  This being a journey, though, it hasn't always been easy and we've hit our share of potholes.  Staff do wrestle with where to find the time to engage meaningfully in social media and being open and engaged often means having to expose what you don't know -- which can be uncomfortable.  We're also finding that there's a long way between having a vision of how to leverage Web 2.0 to change the world and having the world reliably work like a Wikipedia or a Craigslist.  Just because you ask people's opinions doesn't mean you'll get them -- sometimes the crowd keeps its wisdom to itself.  My colleague Erin Kelly will speak to some of these challenges in a future post on our social media experience.  As we continue this journey, we have lots to learn -- and I'd love to hear how others are finding success or overcoming obstacles to becoming more open, more participatory and more decentralized.

Have you ventured down a similar path? Tell us if/how your organization has embraced these tools to work in a different fashion. Did you to so to become better informed? Build networks? Service a traditional organizational or "consumer" need in a new manner? Let others hear what you have struggled with (or celebrated) to help shape the trajectory of a project you are working on with the contributions of others.

-- Steve Downs

Glasspockets Find: Spotlight on the James Irvine Foundation
July 14, 2011


Kudos to the James Irvine Foundation for two very visible steps designed to increase its grantmaking transparency and participation. This month the Irvine Foundation announced that it will introduce a new grantmaking strategy for its support of the arts in California, effective 2012. After spending the past year gathering input from grantees and other experts, the foundation has identified major shifts in the California arts sector, due primarily to demographic and technological changes, and hopes to address the resulting challenges and opportunities posed to nonprofit arts organizations.


Eager to engage the public and to promote the new, still-evolving strategy, the foundation has posted a new video webinar of a public, online presentation made to its grantees and the California arts community on June 27, 2011, and is soliciting feedback on its web site and its Facebook and Twitter pages. The web site also features more than a dozen frequently asked questions that relate to its current and future support of the arts in California.

The foundation's current priorities will continue to guide its grantmaking for the remainder of 2011. As a supporter of the California arts community since its founding in 1937, the James Irvine Foundation is to be commended not only for making a thoughtful review of its existing strategy, but most especially, for its efforts to think out loud and be as inclusive and transparent as possible, with its many communication devices, as it prepares to launch its new strategy.


In a separate effort to be more transparent, the Irvine Foundation has taken the traditional features of its annual report and added more detail and analysis of the foundation's performance in order to measure its progress and to hold itself accountable to its long-term goals. The foundation's just-released 2010 Annual Performance Report not only includes such common annual report features as a complete listing of its 2010 grant awards, but also:


  • examines progress in each of its grantmaking programs and its effectiveness as a philanthropic institution;
  • allows online viewers to watch an introductory video from Jim Canales, president and CEO;
  • provides a section on "Exercising Leadership" and another on "Constituent Feedback" that includes highlights of its second Grantee Perception Report, commissioned by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Please share your thoughts regarding the Irvine Foundation's efforts to be more transparent. All comments are welcome!

-- Mark Foley

Integrating a Network Mindset into Grantmaking: Part 1
February 22, 2011

Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits, and co-author of the highly acclaimed book, The Networked Nonprofit, published by J. Wiley in 2010.

This two-part blog post explores "network weaving" skills and how grantmakers can overcome the challenge of transfer and incorporate these activities into daily practice. This post also looks at how social network tools can facilitate network weaving.

Beth KanterI've been participating in The Network of Networked Funders, a community of practice for grantmakers facilitated by the Monitor Institute. These grantmakers are supporting and working through networks to pool their learning and increase the impact of their respective grantmaking practices. In late 2011, Funder's Guide to Networks will synthesize the knowledge and publish a print publication for the broader field of philanthropy.

Courtesy: jolivacea

The knowledge about best practices for working with networks is being actively and transparently shared in real time through social media channels. This post summarizes a conversation and exercise we recently did to look at how grantmakers can strengthen grantee networks through intentional "network weaving" techniques. The purpose of the exercise was to explore how to get past the challenge of integrating these techniques and tools into daily practice.

1. Think about your current work. Brainstorm a list of the content areas and tasks in your current job as a grantmaker. What is it that you need to know or be able to do as a program officer or other functional area? Here are a few starters:

  • Staying informed in the field
  • Developing program strategy
  • Exploring potential opportunities
  • Conducting due diligence
  • Managing grantee relationships
  • Assessing impact

2. Identify Specific Network Weaving Techniques To Integrate. Network weaving is the process of making connections between people and groups in a network. It can be done online and offline. June Holley, an expert in networks who also facilitates a community of practice of network weavers, defines some of these qualities and skills of network weavers.

Let's look at a few:

Work Transparently: The more public you are, the easier you can be found, and the more opportunities you have. Of course, everything doesn't have to be public, but not everything needs to be closed. One small step towards transparency is letting go of information (that isn't confidential). Don't wait for people to ask—share it through social networks.

Convene: This is bringing together small groups of stakeholders to give you input and feedback—from designing programs to planning. These can be done offline and online.

Engage New Perspectives: We tend to stay in our comfort zones and don't engage different perspectives—learning from adjacent practices can be useful.

Close Triangles: This is the practice of introducing people in your network to one another. You need to let them know why you are making the introduction. These can be done both online and offline.

Post Questions to Individuals and the Crowd: Social network tools make it very easy to ask questions to individuals and groups of individuals. By posting a question on your Facebook Status, LinkedIn Q/A, or Twitter, you can informally and quickly get answers. There is a new social network, Quora, that is built on the concept of asking and answering questions.

Share Learning: To share learning, you have to intentionally hit the pause button and reflect. One way to incorporate this technique into your day is to set aside five minutes at the end of the day for reflection. Blogs are terrific vehicles for sharing what you've learned.

Model Network Weaving: Network weaving encourages rhizomatic behavior, so what better way then to model the techniques for others.

3. Identify the gaps. Looking at the items in #1, think about the gaps. Where are you falling short? Where can network weaving techniques help you bring value to your work? This conversation leads to rich observations about the value of network weaving.

Network weaving techniques can help grantmakers keep informed of their program area, but also the broader field of philanthropy. It is especially valuable in a time of fewer resources, where funders are often in engaged in conversations about bringing other resources to the issues they support.

These techniques are used in working with networks of grantees to achieve better outcomes. Says one grantmaker, "I'm involved in a network of domestic violence agencies. We have goals around strengthening and increasing the number of connections with housing providers. A big part of my job is to foster those connections."

Finally, network weaving can also be used internally to help make connections or encourage more transparent sharing of learning.

What value does network weaving offer your work as a foundation staff person?

In Part 2 of the blog post, we'll explore how to use some social networking tools to visualize your network and examine why changing our practice is so hard.

— Beth Kanter

My Foundation is on Facebook. Now What?
February 7, 2011

(Tina Arnoldi is the director of information management for the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.)

Tina Arnoldi

You've taken that first step. You heard a lot about Facebook and now understand that it's not just for kids. You may even know the majority of users are over 40. After talking about it for so long, someone in your office has finally set up your foundation's Facebook page. It's official. However, there's nothing on there yet. You have no "likes," no activity, and you're wondering what to do next. Allow me to share a few tips we picked up here at the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, as we embarked on our own Facebook journey.

First, the basics: is the information on your page filled out completely? We used the space available to briefly explain the mission of our foundation and then provided multiple ways for people to contact us, including our web site and Twitter accounts. We also uploaded a crisp, high-resolution image of our logo.  

When we set up our page, we realized the importance of having more than one page administrator, who has rights to delete spam and add content on behalf of the foundation. Not only was it more manageable to have multiple people adding content and responding to fans, it also ensured that we would be able to maintain our page without interruption in the event that a staff member left our foundation.

Before we told people about the page, we made sure to add some content so we weren't driving traffic to an empty "shell." Our updates include information about what's going on at the foundation and general philanthropic news in our community. For a while, we imported our blog content as well as our CEO's Twitter feed (@GeorgeStevens). Since then, we've also added more conversational posts, such as, "What type of causes do you support?" and, "Are there any fundraisers coming up this week?" We definitely see an increase in the number of people who "like" our page when we share good news. Plus, not having automated content shows people we're engaged and really do spend time on our page.

At our foundation, we also quickly learned that a steady stream of fresh content is important, but not an outreach strategy in and of itself. Think of the ways you currently communicate with your constituents. Do you send e-mail? Add a Facebook link to your signature. Have a printed newsletter? Include a write-up about your new Facebook page. These are all ways we let people know about our page. We also asked foundation staff to share our page with their Facebook contacts. In a short time, we had the minimum number of fans required for a custom Fan Page URL.

Facebook has worked well for us with public events. Not only does it save postage (although we still do paper mailings), it reaches an audience that isn't in our current database. By making events public, we ensure anyone on Facebook can find them and can also invite their friends by sharing the event link. It's a great way for new audiences to learn about our work, and provides an opportunity for visitors to become fans so they're aware of future events. 

Skeptical that your Facebook page can give you results? I recently gave a presentation on social media at one of our library branches. Undeterred by warnings that this branch often sees a very low turnout at events, I posted the event on Facebook under the foundation's page and also shared it with some Facebook friends. I ended up with a very good turnout for that branch. As much as I would like to think it was all me, I know it was the power and ease of sharing information on Facebook that really helped get people in the door.

If you already have a page for your foundation, what are some tips that worked for you?  Did you find your fan base growing quickly around a certain event? What kind of status updates do your fans respond to? I'd love to hear your feedback. This is a great opportunity to learn from each other.

— Tina Arnoldi

TMI vs. ROI: Risks and Rewards of Philanthropy 2.0
January 4, 2011

(Paul Connolly is Senior Vice President of TCC Group, a management consulting firm that serves nonprofit organizations, foundations, and corporate community involvement programs.) 

Paul ConnollyAre "glass pockets" in the digital age half empty or half full? The answer is not so clear, based on the intriguing nuggets that surfaced when I moderated a panel discussion on "Philanthropy 2.0 — The Role of Digital Media, Technology, and Networks" at Yale School of Management's Philanthropy Conference on December 3, 2010. The panelists included Ken Berger of Charity Navigator, Claire Lyons of the Pepsico Foundation, Michael Smith of the Case Foundation, and Jose Zamora of the Knight Foundation. They all agreed that grantmakers can't afford to ignore social media as its saturation grows. They talked specifically about how funders are using digital technology to tap crowd input for influencing funding decisions and to enhance accountability and transparency. The discussion raised some provocative questions.

The Rewards of Crowdsourced Philanthropy

More grantmakers are utilizing online crowdsourcing techniques to engage a wide audience in suggesting funding ideas and priorities. Zamora explained that the Knight Foundation has employed open web-based applications because, "We do not have all the answers, and we often do not even know the right questions; it is too presumptuous for funders to assume that they can adequately identify the best priorities on their own." Through the Knight News Challenge (which has the tagline "you invent it, we fund it"), the Knight Foundation has been able to identify a variety of off-the-radar ideas for journalism. Innovative projects that have been funded include online town halls, digital courtroom coverage, virtual eyewitness video-editing studios, and hyper-local and data-filled maps for community media web sites.

Over the past year, Pepsico has made $20 million in grants through its Pepsi Refresh campaign based on public internet voting on its funding priorities. This online project has served to build the company's brand and increase customer participation and loyalty, as well as support a variety of good causes.

And while relinquishing some control is an inherent part of these interactive approaches to grantmaking, funders need not give it ALL up. One Case Foundation online program that supports citizen-centered solutions lets the public vote to determine an initial cut, but the foundation staff members make the final recommendations for grants.

Risks of Using Interactive Digital Media in the Nonprofit World

Although the Internet provides enormous opportunity for more openness, accountability, and innovation, technology is a platform for collective engagement but not the solution itself. As Lyons noted, "Crowdsourcing is a surgical tool, not a panacea." The hard work of improving communities remains, and won't be magically managed by crowds. Beyond misconceptions about the role of technology, we must also look to the risks of such 2.0 approaches.

The truth is, crowdsourcing can also misfire. Sometimes crowds are wise, and sometimes they are, er, less wise. The resulting broad input can end up being superficial – the philanthropy equivalent of "cute baby" photo contests or slacktivist-style "bumper-sticker" causes. Berger cautioned that for nonprofits, online marketing of "best stories" or "happy news" too often overshadows hard evidence of proven results. (Charity Navigator's motto is "use your head so your heart does not get broken.")

And although the Internet may feel like a more open and level playing field, power imbalances between funders and grantseekers still exist. Participants in one Case Foundation online grant voting program, for instance, reported being less than completely honest with the foundation because it still controlled the purse strings – and therefore held the financial prospects of these organizations in the balance.

Information Overload?

The ubiquity of online tools raises other questions. There are now 62 online information intermediaries in the nonprofit rating information space. Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes added to the mix last month when he launched yet another called Jumo. While these resources provide the public with diverse choices, donors have also clearly stated that they want information that is easy to access and understand. Are funders — who financially support many of these sites — contributing to information overload? Is there too much fragmentation and should some of the sites consolidate?

Despite the proliferation of online rating sites for nonprofits, we do not see an excess of such sites for foundations. But such a scenario may not be far off — and would certainly shake things up. Would nonprofits — and funders themselves — benefit from a user-generated review site like Yelp for foundations?

— Paul Connolly

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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