Yesterday, I arrived at the Council on Foundation’s annual conference entitled, “Philanthropy’s Vision: A Leadership Summit.”  For the next four days, I will post a round-up of my experiences at the conference for readers of the opinion blog at the Stanford Social Innovation Review

As a micro-philanthropy consultant and blogger, I have focused most of my attention on the tools that make small-scale grant-making possible, including DonorsChoose, Kiva, and Facebook Causes. But micro-philanthropy also encompasses new ways of thinking about donor engagement, the grant-making process, and program evaluation. I’m looking forward to using the Council on Foundation’s leadership summit as an opportunity to focus on these other issues.

Here are a few questions I have going into the conference:

  • What interest do brick and mortar foundations have in using technology to broaden participation in grant-making?
  • How can we overcome the perception that technology-assisted philanthropy is a phenomenon for the next generation to figure out?
  • In what ways can micro-philanthropy facilitate co-funding opportunities and unlikely partnerships among activists, foundations, and the corporate sector?
  • Is there interest on the part of foundations to use technology to collaborate, or at least create the appearance of collaboration?

I expect to find some clues in the next few days that will help me piece together a few initial answers to these questions. For the duration of the conference, I will be wearing my blogging hat only. I’ve committed myself to asking questions, listening, and learning from the incredible gathering of people.

Of course, I have my own experiences and ideas to bring to the debate. But I’ll be leaving my preconceptions at the door. I’m entering the conference with fresh eyes on an issue that’s very dear to me.

Day 1 Round-up: May 5, 2008

I find myself on the edges of what could easily be called the “Davos of Philanthropy.” Roughly three thousand attendees have flown in from across the globe to discuss the current and future states of global philanthropy.

A few phrases from the opening statements of Steve Gunderson, the Council on Foundations executive director, jumped out as worth noting:

  • “Philanthropy must become a movement, more than an institution”
  • “Our greatest power is not in the checkbook but in our vision.”
  • “Either we frame the conversation about philanthropy, or our detractors will.”
  • “Market economies are best when joined with a strong philanthropic movement.”
  • “If we do not believe change is possible, we cannot be philanthropists.”

Gunderson’s remarks were followed by a video essay from Roger Rosenblatt, contributor to the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Rosenblatt’s vision of the future of philanthropy jives 100 percent with the potential I see in micro-philanthropy to transform traditional philanthropy into a vibrant, inclusive and very public force for good.

The big ideas of Rosenblatt’s video testimony:

  • Ordinary citizens are left out of contemporary philanthropy
  • Non-philanthropists equate philanthropy with charity, as opposed to strategic efforts to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
  • Philanthropy can make use of ordinary citizens, who would amplify the work and mission of foundations
  • Foundations should reconsider their inclination to “work in the shadows”
  • When foundations take a more public role in the media, they will reframe the news from a conversation about problems into a platform for demonstrating that problems have solutions.

That the Council on Foundations chose to feature this video statement from Rosenblatt in the opening session suggests that there’s interest in broadening participation in philanthropy. I’m excited to ask attendees what they thought of the message, and whether it resonated.


imagePeter Deitz is a micro-philanthropy consultant and the founder of Social Actions, a website that helps individuals and organizations use social media to plan, implement, and support peer-to-peer social change campaigns so that grassroots solutions to local and global problems can flourish.  He also writes a blog about micro-philanthropy.

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