Late on a Friday afternoon (April 8), feeling a little punchy after a long week, I posted Bernholz’s Law of Philanthropic Adaptation 1.0. Then I wound up thinking about it most of the weekend. Here is the first upgrade.

Bernholz’s Law of Philanthropic Adaptation, 1.1:

The rate and cycles of philanthropic adoption of new technology follow a fairly predictable pattern, regardless of technology. This pattern is:

  • Phase Zero – ignore new technology.
  • Phase One of philanthropic adoption of a new tool is fundraising. (See this application of iPhones)
  • Phase Two (in the case of bet2give phase one and two are simultaneous) is using charitable giving as a means of attracting customers to some other business model. (See good2gether  or goodsearch)
  • Phase Three is using the tool to publicize the philanthropic status quo (see almost every foundation website)
    • Phase 3.5 – meanwhile, real change will begin happening on the edges, as innovators recognize the implications of lowered transaction costs and global attention (see globalgiving or networkforgood).
  • Phase Four involves trying technology to change the edges of philanthropic practice (see Packard Foundation’s Nitrogen Wiki).
  • Phase Five brings us to the conference circuit, where we will learn (perhaps with some bemusement) about technology applications that “came in from the edge” and are now discussed as mainstream. ( globalgiving and networkforgood)
  • Phase Six – we watch in envy as a real twist or two in the playing field as we know it happen, and reshapes microfinance and donorschoose catches public school foundations off guard. They also get adoring press attention.
  • In Phase Seven – big foundations amplify attention on “little” innovations and while attention is directed there…
  • …Phase Eight begins, in which the reality of how change happens is setting in and new philanthropic supports for these new ways of being are being created (while we’re looking elsewhere.) In other words, we’ve entered phase one of a new cycle.

imageLucy Bernholz is the Founder and President of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc, a strategy consulting firm that helps philanthropic individuals and institutions achieve their missions. She is the publisher of Philanthropy2173, an award winning blog about the business of giving and serves as Executive Producer of The Giving Channel on