2012 Trends in Philanthropy: Data

This is the final installment of our three-piece post examining what 2012 has in store for philanthropy. We’re taking our lead from Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012 which notes three big shifts in store for the sector this year. Today we’ll be taking a look at data and it’s role in creating the social good.

Data and the desire to accumulate it tends to fall in and out of fashion in Australian philanthropic circles. Opponents compare the collation with the chains of government bureaucracy or worse still, that overly self-indulgent practice of ‘naval gazing’. On the flip side of the argument you have proponents espousing data as a commodity every bit as important as the currency distributed through grants.

Gone are the days of data being considered simply numbers on a spreadsheet.  The Blueprint paints a wonderful picture of the changing face of data and how we use them:

In reality, anything that can be digitized can become data. This includes items that start out digitally – photos, videos, cell phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and blog comments. It also includes things we convert to digital form – books, old newspapers, films, music, and the content of our file cabinets. Once this material is digitized and we can click on it, “like” it on Facebook, or share it via Twitter with friends we create another layer of data.

Data allows for the impact of our philanthropy to be captured, shared and understood in ways like never before. Equally we can better and more quickly measure the campaigns people respond to and as a result help to bring resources and effort to major issues more quickly. As individuals we can donate via text messaging (not as well as we should be able to here in Australia), crowd funding, Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, and an array of other web tools – all of which leave a trail of giving data behind. We respond and interact with data in today’s world – we are the creators the next role is to become the curators.

So has philanthropy in Australia responded to this changing landscape of data collection and use? In grantmaking philanthropists have long backed data collecting and building in the area of medical research but the sciences have a longer history of utilizing the power of data in their research and storytelling.  For the community sector the sell to philanthropy is much tougher. Research, evaluation and data collection doesn’t excite philanthropists in the same way that getting tangible things done on the ground does.

The community sector is not alone in being under resourced to measure and understand its own impact. The philanthropic sector, which houses huge amounts of data, makes precious little use of any of it. The tide is slowly turning however.  The Centre for Social Impact is undertaking mapping work, led by former Philanthropy Australia CEO – Gina Anderson,  to examine where some of Australia’s major trusts and foundations are making gifts. Research at Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies is exceptional and building, while Swinburne University continues to grow its credentials in this space.  All of these are positive advances but more can be done and is required.

Data is powerful.  It helps us to tell our stories.  To excite and teach us.  Data helps us to build a picture of where we are as a society and where we might be headed.  How we use and interact with data in 2012 has the potential to influence the trends we will be seeing in 2013.  Is Australia’s philanthropic sector ready for this shift?  I have my doubts but there is a slow movement occurring. Let’s revisit at the end of the year.

If you have not already done so, head to the Philanthropy 2173 Blog to get your hands on a copy of the Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the Blog via @3eggphil


When is a wealthy entrepreneur a philanthropist?

I watched with interest a couple of weeks back as word hit that Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron had tipped in $10million to buy the Triabunna woodchip mill in Tasmania. While Wood and Cameron have already established outstanding philanthropic credentials, many environmentalists would argue that the acquisition of the mill, which they intend to transform into an eco-tourism site, is their greatest gift to the community to date.While some media used language to infer the purchase was philanthropic, others simply referenced Wood and Cameron as two wealthy, conservation-minded entrepreneurs. Environmental philanthropy has long been a game of semantics.

So was the purchase of the mill philanthropic?  If we believe that philanthropy is the love of mankind, or the desire to improve the well-being of humankind, then strictly speaking I’d suggest that the purchase certainly came from that place for Wood and Cameron.  Regardless of your beliefs or mine,  both Wood and Cameron would believe deactivating a native woodchip mill is for the benefit of all people; a healthy environment is good for us all. On the flip side, those in the forestry industry have argued that the purchase will lead to jobs loses, will do little to protect the environment and will be an economic failure as an eco-resort. But consensus on the value of the gift has never been required to define philanthropic acts.

The purchase of the mill has got me thinking; is this a sign of  philanthropy moving away from its passive roots? If the purchase of the mill isn’t philanthropy, what is it? Who is it that ultimately gets to define what constitutes philanthropy?

The growth of social enterprises, crowd funding, CSR and giving structures are mixing the world of philanthropy into the world around us. Apart from the Wood and Cameron example, I’ve heard recently of a number of unique approaches to funding and fundraising.  For example Anh Do’s gift to the Australian Cancer Research Council of 1% of his book takings looks set to reap some nice financial rewards – a definite act of altruism and philanthropy.  I’m also hearing more regularly about the establishment of investment circles, where a percentage of income earned goes to the circle’s charity of choice. And what about sponsoring a friend to grow a ‘mo’ in November, is that an act of personal philanthropy (by both the donor and mo grower)?

No doubt, when the figures are compiled at the end of the year many of these unique approaches and ways to give back to the community will not be recorded in our ‘giving’ data. So, how much should be considered philanthropy and how much should we disregard? Does it need to  pass all the public benefit tests before we can celebrate it as philanthropic?

In environment funding, litigation, advocacy and campaigning have always been the bedrock of funding approaches in the United States.  It’s been tougher here in Australia.  The approach taken at Triabunna Mill by Wood and Cameron is regularly at play in the United States and much of the time it is underwritten by philanthropic trusts and foundations. Perhaps what the environment (and the rest of the NFP sector) needs is less philanthropists and more wealthy, conservation-minded entrepreneurs?

Crowd funding

I was on a panel recently chatting about funding with Rick Chen from crowd funding website Pozible.  Crowd funding is described (on Wikipedia, the font of all my knowledge) as “the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the internet, to support efforts initiated by other people and organisations”.  Pozible is specifically for creative projects and ideas.  Creative types can load a project on the website for which they are seeking support, and anybody on the planet can give the project a small or large amount of money, or anything in between.

I was pretty excited about the Pozible model, and impressed by its success in its first year.  Rick said there’s been a 60% success rate, which means 60% of the people who’ve put projects up for support have successfully reached their fundraising target.  Not bad.

The first time I heard about this type of funding was at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Chicago last year.  There are a few different types of crowd funding.  Some sites house projects which have the capacity to offer tax deductions and others provide a ‘gift’ in return for your support.  At the conference I heard about some really amazing examples.  United States Artists was seeded with $22 million from a coalition of foundations (FordRockefeller, Prudential and Rasmuson) and in 2010, launched the first “micro-philanthropy” site for artists.  I also love the thinking behind Community Supported Art.  Combining my two loves – food and art – CSA was inspired by the increasing trend of consumers buying seasonal produce directly from local growers.  They’ve applied that same theory to the arts.  Community members can buy a ‘share’ which gives them three ‘farm boxes’ containing art works from local artists.  I may be getting away from crowd funding a bit here, but I think it’s a really innovative way to get a collective of funders to support an artist’s work.

I was excited about Pozible because I see it as part of a new wave of philanthropic initiatives.  It was pointed out during Rick’s presentation that the ‘donations’ are not really donations because, in Pozible’s case, you get something in return (called ‘Rewards’ on Pozible and ‘Perks’ on United States Artists).  In the legal sense, that’s absolutely correct.  You’re getting something in return for your dollars and therefore you’re not entitled to a tax deduction.  But philosophically, it sort of feels more like philanthropy to me.  What you’re getting in tangible terms is usually something small like your name on a website or a signed copy of a book or CD.  What’s far more valuable to the giver is that warm fuzzy feeling that you’ve been part of something.  Knowledge that you, along with many others, have contributed your small part to actually make something happen.  Given the sense of community it brings, I think there’ll be a lot more crowd funding, and models like it, to come.