Using Technology to Reduce Burdens of Grantee Reporting

As foundations strive to become more accountable and transparent about what they are achieving with their tax-exempt endowments, they are adopting practices to measure the impact of their grants, which in turn requires measuring the impact of their grantees’ work. Because each foundation typically has distinct goals it is trying to achieve, grantees often must report on a host of different measures for different funders. All of this results in a vicious cycle of paperwork.

Project Streamline, a group of eight prominent organizations representing grantmakers and grantees, recently published a report examining this phenomenon called “Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose.” It is the beginning of a year-long conversation the group will lead about how to improve the gathering of grant information for a “stronger, more effective sector.”

One development that might be particularly promising in this regard is the Cultural Data Project, which was developed and is overseen by a group of Pennsylvania funding agencies. It is described by the Pew Charitable Trusts as “a standardized, statewide, Web-based data-collection system for arts and culture organizations.” Basically, it functions as a centralized place where arts and culture organizations provide data that multiple funders need. But not only does it provide the funders with data – each organization also is able to access the aggregated data of its peers. The project has begun a national expansion, and it may provide a model for other fields.


Balancing Technology and the Environment

For all the opportunities that technology presents for improved collaboration, efficiency and communication, there are also environmental downsides to consider: the churn of ever-evolving gadgets and devices that more often than not end up in landfills, the energy required to produce, run and charge them, and the materials required to make them.

For foundations and nonprofits that embrace environmental sustainability as part of their missions or organizational values, balancing technology needs and their impact on the environmental can be a challenge. Not only due to cost considerations, but also because the whole idea of green technology seems to be relatively new. To date, not many resources have been available to help nonprofits learn about and evaluate their options for deploying technology in a more environmentally responsible fashion.

All that is starting to change. Last month, in conjunction with Earth Day, TechSoup announced a new GreenTech Initiative to connect nonprofits to green technology information and resources. Check it out at, along with the results of TechSoup’s March 2008 survey assessing the availability of green technology information and services, current knowledge of green practices, and the level of nonprofit interest in green tech and services.

Foundations can also find a lot of great resources and ideas for greening their operations in the Environmental Grantmakers Association’s Green Beyond Grants toolkit. EGA also has a Green Co-Op, through which it negotiates with vendors to provide its members with volume discounts on “green” products ranging from office supplies to gift baskets to rental cars.

A Cautionary Note on Google for Nonprofits

I was scrolling through today’s Nonprofit Online News from The Gilbert Center and was struck by the following cautionary note about the recently released Google for Nonprofits:

…I wish there were a section entitled Is Google for Nonprofits Right for You. For example, if you have even the slightest bit of worry about the privacy of your users from government spying, I would be highly cautious about this. Google has been more cooperative with both China and the Bush administration than I think is appropriate for the smaller, more vulnerable activist organizations that might gravitate toward the Google platform.”

To be honest, such a consideration would not have naturally crossed my mind – but that sort of ethical (and potentially legal) consideration would seem to be important for nonprofits whose activists might be targeted as a result of a government’s ability to track their activities online. As I’m sure such concerns apply to many other Internet-based platforms, it suggests yet another layer to peel back when examining online technology options for nonprofits.

PS: As I am not totally up to speed on Google’s level of cooperation with the Chinese government, I did a quick search using (what else) Google. Two relevant articles published today came up: China’s Battle to Police the Web on BBC News and Yahoo, Others Do China Balancing Act on Marketplace. Google is certainly not the lone Internet company criticized for its dealings with China. It is, however, the one that seems to be most actively working with nonprofits.

DIOSA Web 2.0 Training Doubles as Fundraiser

I just learned from a coworker about an intriguing Web 2.0 training opportunity for nonprofits in New York City this Friday, March 28.

The price of admission? A $35 donation to the Fair Trade Resource Network. The organizer? Heather Mansfield, owner of DIOSA | Communications and online community manager for

The registration process itself provides a mini-education in how the power of Web 2.0 can be harnessed for nonprofits: the social-networking approach to promoting the training includes a widget on the DIOSA Web site that facilitates donations and doubles as a portable promo for the event, which people can embed on their own sites. (I tried embedding the widget here but couldn’t; my best troubleshooting guess is that Wordpress security settings won’t allow it.)

Heather’s fundraising goal via the training is $2,800, and so far she’s raised $2,265 from people who have registered to attend the training session. If my tally is correct, participants represent close to 50 nonprofits in the NYC area.

If I didn’t have a prior commitment on Friday, I would definitely attend!

PS: Check out how to partner with DIOSA to organize a Web 2.0 training for nonprofits in your city, to benefit your organization.

Funding vs Mission: Lessons to Learn from Wikipedia Dialogue?

On Friday I read an AP article titled “Wikipedia Questions Paths to More Money.” I was struck by the Wikipedia community’s dialogue about the implications of how Wikipedia chooses to finance its work – mainly because I also have been struck by the lack of a similarly pervasive dialogue in the philanthropic community about how foundations generate the money they grant to nonprofits.

The idea of tying money to mission – of taking a holistic view of an organization so that its funding sources do not run counter to its mission or culture – seems like a no-brainer to me. But the prevailing approach in the foundation world is to look the other way when it comes to investments. Fiduciary responsibility is largely viewed as ensuring the highest possible returns for the sake of earning the 5% that a foundation is required to pay out in grants each year. The likelihood that the other 95% of foundation resources are not being used to advance their missions (which, by the way, totals roughly $600 billion in the U.S.) – or in fact may be working against what their actual grants are trying to achieve – is not often considered in the quest for returns and perpetuity.

I still have hope that mission-related investing might one day become a “best practice.” The LA Times investigative piece in January 2007 about the Gates Foundation’s investments sparked some discussion. The follow-up story in December 2007 shed light on some promising practices among other foundations. And Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors released a monograph this month called Philanthropy’s New Passing Gear: Mission Related Investing, a “practical guide that translates the concepts, ideas and philosophy of Mission-Related Investing into useable policies and practices for foundation trustees” (read press release).

So far, though, a large-scale shift toward mission-related investing doesn’t seem to be happening in the foundation world. Yet. What is it about the Wikipedia culture that makes the funding-versus-mission conversation possible, natural and expected, even? If foundations were more directly in communication with their core stakeholders (or each other), could mission-related investing gain momentum faster?

Getting Up to Speed on Nonprofits in Second Life

Today I planned to attend my first nonprofit event in Second Life as Infinity Kane (my virtual alter ego), but my plans were thwarted by outdated video card drivers. Until I figure out what that means and how to fix it, I’ll have to satisfy my “SL” curiosity through the experience of others, as chronicled online.

One of the biggest nonprofit presences in Second Life is the Nonprofit Commons (watch TechSoup’s intro on YouTube), an “office park” that opened last year to provide free virtual office space to 32 nonprofits (see Tenant Directory). The virtual land for Nonprofit Commons was donated by Anshe Chung, the virtual real estate agent who graced the cover of Business Week in 2006 as Second Life’s first real-life millionaire.

TechSoup has a Nonprofits in Second Life blog (NPSL), and the NPSL wiki links to some interesting media coverage of the Nonprofit Commons, including an in-depth and totally fascinating article titled Pixelanthropy: Charities tap into Second Life (MSNBC/Contribute magazine, January 10, 2008). I also got the scoop on other virtual worlds via the Virtual World Tour on YouTube (recently featured on Beth’s Blog  and the NPSL blog).

So what exactly are nonprofits doing in Second Life?

I had heard about the American Cancer Society’s Second Life Relay for Life, which is entering its fourth year and raised more than $118,000 in 2007. And the MacArthur Foundation’s year-long exploration of philanthropy in virtual worlds (read Jonathan Fanton’s remarks, June 22, 2007, or watch an excerpt from the Second Life event on YouTube).

The Pixelanthropy article linked above cites examples that include Save the Children’s Yak Shack, a 3-D animal pageant; a virtual Camp Darfur; the American Heart Association’s virtual tour through a malfunctioning heart; and a “fly-a-thon” to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. It also references other nonprofit gathering grounds in Second Life: Commonwealth Islands and Better World Island. In terms of more recent events, below is a roundup of seven nonprofit Second Life events organized during the first quarter of 2008 (also see NPSL’s calendar of upcoming events).

If you’re reading this post and have participated in a nonprofit event or space on Second Life, I’d love to hear what your experience was like. What do you think are the pros and cons of events or spaces in Second Life versus real life? Also, a lot of events seem to be held simultaneously in the virtual and real worlds. Is that a prerequisite for success?

Sampling of Nonprofit Events in Second Life – First Quarter 2008

  • March 22: WaterPartners Village launches in Second Life and other social networking sites on World Water Day (also see Emerald City blog post and press release on EarthTimes)
    From press release: “…WaterPartners Village is hosting a live virtual music festival featuring the most popular performers in Second Life, as well as free hot-air balloon rides to tour the scenic landscape of the virtual village. The WaterPartners villagers will blog about their journey to obtain safe drinking water and sanitation for themselves and their families, beginning on World Water Day and continuing through summer 2008.”
  • March 20: International Justice Center Opens 
    From NPSL: “Global Kids, the foremost nonprofit in virtual world education, is set to launch the International Justice Center within Second Life …. The inaugural event will feature a presentation and discussion by Mr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. During the launch, the ICC Prosecutor will appear in avatar form…”
  • March 12:  Moving Forward Film Festival Debuts in Second Life
    From National MS Society: “The Moving Forward Film Festival will make its in-world debut in Second Life … in celebration of MS Awareness Week … at the ‘MS Society’ pavilion.”
  • March 8-9: In the Pink Virtual Show 
    From NPSL: “A collaborative of Second Life residents will be presenting … a series of one-acts intended to fight gender violence …. IN THE PINK celebrates the strength of women, exploring sexuality and what it means to be a woman in real life and on Second Life.”
  • February 29: Using Virtual Worlds and Emerging Technologies for People with Disabilities 
    From NPSL: “…a 1-day free online event happening on’s Community forums and in Second Life…. This two-part, interactive event will take place in two locations online…”
  • February 8: Best Practices for Nonprofits in Second Life (also see event recap)
    From NPSL: “…the program will explore what are some of the lessons that non-profits have learned from their first forays into the virtual world.”
  • January 28: Virtual Liberties: Do Avatars Dream of Civil Rights?
    From NPSL: “…a public forum … featuring Jack Balkin, First Amendment legal expert at Yale Law School, and Robin Linden, head of marketing and business development at Linden Lab…. This will be a multi-verse event, taking place both in Second Life and Teen Second Life, as well as audio streamed to the web for the VW-impaired.”

iMentor Interactive @ NTC Innovations Plaza

While browsing the Innovations Plaza participants for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans (March 19-21), I noticed a project called iMentor Interactive. In a previous post (Nonprofit Leaders-to-Be Redux), I queried whether there might be opportunities for nonprofits to embrace online technologies to facilitate mentoring or networking. iMentor Interactive – “an online social network designed especially for mentoring” that launched in the fall of 2007 – seems to be just that sort of opportunity. While the eight member organizations currently using iMi all focus on youth, the FAQs state the program is customizable for any organization. iMentor’s sponsors and partners in developing iMentor Interactive include 100 Women in Hedge Funds, Robin Hood Foundation, NPower NY, McKinsey & Company and REEA.