What I’m Reading — February 2014

February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Philanthropy Trends: The more things change, the more they stay the same

In the readings that I have focused on this past month, what I have been seeing is new trends in philanthropy, and yet more of the same.

Following on last month’s analysis of mega-gifts and increased philanthropy, there have already been numerous announcements in 2014 of huge gifts. This includes Harvard’s largest gift from a single donor, Ken Griffin gave the University $150 million, announced on February 19. Since the beginning of the year there have been many gifts of $50 million or more. You can receive weekly news alerts for these gifts by subscribing to NOZA.

Additionally, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in February that in 2013 there was a “surge in giving” from America’s wealthiest, including notable gifts like Mark Zuckerberg’s $1 billion (with a B) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, $750 million from Texas oil tycoon George Mitchell to his family foundation in support of sustainability, and $500 million from Phil Knight to support cancer research at Oregon Health & Science University.

Is the mega gift actually back? This article from Forbes says that it will not be long for this world, according to a new survey of young beneficiaries.

According to Chronicle of Philanthropygifts to colleges and universities are trending upwards, with a ten percent increase over 2012. Alums are giving larger gifts, though the number of individual donors is trending down. Personally, I’d like to see what we in the business call higher participation levels. Everybody: give to your alma mater! It’s important.

This article from Spear’s (a magazine about wealth management), supports transparent philanthropy. That is, it opposes anonymous giving. I found this to be a refreshing piece in the way it shines a light on the complications and administrative burdens to a charitable organization that are required by anonymous gifts. Though the article doesn’t focus on this, I do support non-anonymous giving if only for the fact that standing as an example to others in the community and may encourage others to be more philanthropic.

More from the Chron of Phil on philanthropy trends from the One Percent: Some are criticising the signers of The Giving Pledge for not giving towards the world’s most urgent problems. Donors gave more in 2013, but some say that many are joining more for public relations purposes, and some sign but are not giving to capacity right away, making their philanthropic plans for later in life. Defenders of The Pledge say that it influences more effective giving, and encourages philanthropy in general. Additionally, there is a focus on recruiting international donors.

Talking of which…

USA! We’re Number One!

But just barely. Forbes analyzes the 2014 BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index, concluding that American donors give more that other countries, but by a slim margin. The article notes:

This is particularly striking given that the U.S. is the source of the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Spear’s has some interesting analysis on the results of the study, too.

This month in “Duh!”

So, about that up tic in philanthropic gifts? Yes, it does signal economic recovery, I suppose, but also, it requires trained professionals and strong, positive organizational culture. While the focus is on health care, two new studies by the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy conclude that there is a direct correlation between investing in fundraising professionals and increasing fundraising revenue. You can read about it in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required).

Local News – Philadelphia

U. of Pennsylvania Official to Lead William Penn Foundation

News near and dear to my heart, Kim Cassidy was confirmed president of Bryn Mawr College. Anassa Kata!

Villanova class does good through documentaries – Students at Villanova are learning how to make documentary films that tell the story of local charitable organizations. Doing good.

Cool, Random, and Noteworthy:

Pope’s Harley goes for $327,000 at charity auction – That’s right, the Pope had a Harley Davidson, and the proceeds of its sale went to support a soup kitchen in Rome. This Pope is super bad. Like, totally sick. Just saying.

This could fit into the local category too: Local fundraising consultant Pamela Grow wrote a very nice piece on her blog about what motivates people to give: It’s personal. Amen, sister.

I enjoyed this piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) by Fay Twersky, the director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She argues against “strategic philanthropy”, and advocates for more risk, and less certainty in philanthropy. She gently and subtly presses for less focus on outcomes and metrics and more creativity, innovation, and learning from beneficiaries. How very Silicon Valley.

In a similar vein, and also from SSIR, Phill Buchanan from the Center for Effective Philanthropy writes about Five Myths that Perpetuate Poor Philanthropic Strategy.

What are you reading?

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Method and Happenstance

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Key To Successful Research

I have written here before about serendipity and methodology in research, and I have been thinking lately about it again. Recently, Read, Write, Web reported that the website discovery tool StumbleUpon, among social media referral sites, is responsible for driving over half of the web traffic to websites. They surpass even Facebook and Twitter for referral traffic.

StumbleUpon was one of the first social media sites that I dabbled in, even before my beloved, now defunct, Ma.gnolia. As a professional researcher and information addict, I loved StumbleUpon as a discovery tool. Through that portal, I encountered sites of interest that I would not have discovered any other way. At the time I thought of it as random and happenstance, and above all it was fun! Not to mention enlightening and useful.

With the evolution of other tools that have captured my attention because of my social network, I haven’t given my presence on StumbleUpon my attention over the last few years. This news about traffic and my continuing exploration of social media and research tools is making me take a second look.

It also causes me to reflect on what I think about methodology versus happenstance in conducting effective research. What are some of the other ways that I have found useful information by serendipity?

  • Reading hard copy newspapers or magazines. My eyes wander to other articles, and I flip the pages to browse what’s there. I am led to other sources of information I wasn’t even looking for.
  • Browsing the library bookshelves. When I look up a book at the library, I make a habit of perusing the books on the shelf around the one I was looking for to see if there is another one on the subject that might be equally valuable.
  • Reading footnotes, indices, citations, and resource lists in books and articles. This is research 101. It can lead to other sometimes primary resources that will be useful for whatever I am researching.
  • Getting sucked into the vortex of the Internet. Following the same principle stated above, checking out the links from websites of interest opens portals to useful information.
  • Social media. I’m biased, of course, but my friends and colleagues post really interesting stuff. A personal recommendation from someone I know and respect means a lot to me. They have already vetted what they post as valuable and useful.

Happenstance and serendipity are simply other research methodologies. To be an effective researcher, you must do due diligence and use all of your skills and all of your tools. This includes setting up your news alerts and searching for terms in all of your databases. But it also means being aware of your surroundings and knowing that information can come from where you least expect it.

As a researcher, sometimes I feel like a private investigator methodically looking for a specific answer to a specific question. Sometimes I feel like a baseball player in left field, standing at the ready to catch that random fly ball. Sometimes I feel like a fisher casting a wide net and never sure what I’m going to come up with. Whatever the means, it is important to always ready to receive useful information from a variety of sources.

You never know where you’re going to find the answers to your questions, so be open to all possibilities.

The Future of Social Bookmarking Tools

December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, some news was leaked that Yahoo would be ‘sunsetting’ Delicious, the social bookmarking site that they acquired two years ago. According to Yahoo, this was all a mistake, and that they plan to sell Delicious, not simply shut it down.

Nevertheless, the misinformation was met with panic, anger, and confusion, causing users to quickly export their files and try to find alternatives. So, like many others, I made my recommendation to friends for Pinboard, which I have been using for the past several months. Apparently I wasn’t alone in making that recommendation, and the poor folks at Pinboard were all but overwhelmed at the flood of new users. If you look at their blog, you can read about what’s been going on over there.

When Magnolia first crashed in 2009, many users lost some important information. Lucky for me I had linked my RSS feed there with Google Reader and FriendFeed, so I had a back up of everything. I hadn’t linked my accounts for that purpose, but it just happened to work out. After that, I did create an account at Delicious because it was the best alternative, and because I rely so heavily on my bookmarks and tags, I started regularly backing everything up.

Pinboard touts itself as an “anti-social” bookmarking site, which is kind of cute. And it isn’t truly anti-social in that you can still subscribe (though not easily) to other people’s links.I find it functional, simple, easy to use, and I like that you can link Google Reader, Instapaper and Twitter Favorites there, too. All of that integration makes for a rather busy feed, but that’s what tags are for.

One of the things that I liked best about Magnolia was the ability to connect with people to easily see what links people are saving. You could create groups so that users with like interests could easily share resources. I made connections there that I still keep on Twitter and Facebook, and I’m happy to keep up with people there. The link and resource sharing is just not the same, however.

So, with the demise of Magnolia, and the potential demise of Delicious, it makes me wonder about the future of social bookmarking, or other cloud-based sources that so many of us use on a daily basis. I guess the lesson hear for all of us is to back things up. Just as in research, you should always have alternative or additional resources.

I welcome connecting on Pinboard (and elsewhere, of course). If you’re there, give me a follow, and I’ll follow you back!

Ma.gnolia Is Back!

September 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’m thrilled, I tell you, thrilled! My favorite social bookmarking site is back! After a catastrophic data corruption last year, like a phoenix rising from the flames, Ma.gnolia has relaunched to much fan fare. At least by me.

Okay, perhaps that is a little melodramatic, however, I don’t feel that I can understate just how cool this site is. Ma.gnolia was the equivalent of my gateway drug, if you will, into the world of social networking. I made my earliest connections with, at the time, complete strangers, people who I have kept up with on Twitter and Facebook in places like Florida, Texas, New York, Vancouver and Australia. It all started for me on Ma.gnolia.

Oversharer that I am, life just hasn’t been the same since Ma.gnolia died. I missed the efficient information sharing, the groups where people with shared interests could jointly create a useful reference point. I have already uploaded all of my old bookmarks that I have been tracking in Delicious, connected with a few of my old followers there, and joined some groups that are underway there. I was pleased to see that someone already had created a group for Chicago links.

Interesting thing now is that there is an opportunity to keep the spammers out more efficiently. In order to join, you must jump through a few more hoops to prove that you’re human. Hopefully, this will keep the quality and caliber of the users high. It bodes well.

Ma.gnolia is useful, facilitates new relationships, and is pleasing to the eye. I have high hopes that the vibrant community will rebuild again.

Well done, Larry!

Following the Economic Crisis

February 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

Since I study finance, wealth, and people for a living, I have a great deal of exposure to tools and information that help people understand the economic crisis. You can find my bookmarks on Delicious.

While all of the sites that I bookmark there are worthwhile, there are some that I think are exceptional:

  • Planet Money: Their blog and podcast offer unconventional and innovative reporting on the financial crisis. It’s entertaining and informative, explaining complicated concepts in terms almost anyone can understand. Some of their stories are featured on numerous NPR programs, so if you’re an NPR geek like me, you’re certain to have heard them. They also encourage audience participation. Upload a photo to their Flickr page, post a question to them through their Facebook group or Twitter, subscribe to the blog in your RSS feed, and listen to the podcasts. You’ll better understand these complicated economic times and how they could be effecting you.
  • IGM Forum: A web resource started by faculty members from the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Busines. The University of Chicago has long been known for its intellectual leadership in the world of finance and economics, and this crisis is no exception. Faculty members are regularly consulted by the media for thier analysis of the credit crisis and what it means for the future. While this is not a website with the intent to breakdown complicated economic policy like Planet Money, it is probably one of the primary resources that Planet Money would consult.
  • Speaking of Faith’s Repossessing Virtue: The wonderful radio program Speaking of Faith (SOF) launched this series on the economic crisis in the fall of 2008. Producers of SOF have gone back to interview previous guests to hear their responses and analysis of the financial crisis. This series offers thought provoking commentary regarding the spiritual and emotional side of this crisis and what it means for us. What’s offered here are lessons of mindfulness, responsibility, and values that can help us make economic choices that are sustainable and ethical.

As always, I’m interested in more resources, so I encourage readers to share their favorites.

Appreciation and Hope for Ma.gnolia

February 8, 2009 § 2 Comments

As all Ma.gnolia users know, the wonderful social bookmarking site suffered a “catastrophic data loss” on January 30th. The first thing I thought of when I first learned this was “poor Larry!” Larry Halff, the founder of Ma.gnolia is a friend of mine from college, and Ma.gnolia is his life’s work, a real labor of love. I’m sure that his heart was breaking.

At first I assumed that like so many others, I had lost most of my bookmarks. Fortunately, between FriendFeed and my experiment with Delicious last summer, I have all of my bookmarks, and I have only lost tags and notes from everything I have saved since July of 2008.

Lesson learned here: Keep your own data backups. I’m going to continue to use Delicious even after Ma.gnolia relaunches (I’m optimistic that it will), just so that I know my bookmarks are saved somewhere else, and I will also do a periodic download for my own files.

I know that there are many users out there who are going to have trust issues when it is relaunched. I am confident that Larry is learning some hard lessons that he will carry forward into the Ma.gnolia 2.0, and he will take all precautions to ensure that this will never happen again. I am optimistic and hopeful for the return of Ma.gnolia.

Even at the moment I believed that my bookmarks were lost for ever, I was hoping for the rebirth of Ma.gnolia. While I am grateful that I have an alternative in Delicious to track my bookmarks, right now I am really missing the lovely design of the social networking features that are Ma.gnolia’s greatest strength. I was following and corresponding with some very interesting people with eclectic interests that were reflected in their saved bookmarks. The groups that I was following introduced me to even more people, resources, and ideas.

In addition to discovering interesting new websites and people, I learned many new things there, including Getting Things Done, which is an organizational and productivity method that I now employ, and the concept of tagging as an emerging method of information management, and the inspiring community of activists and professionals that are using social networking tools to foment positive social change, which is the theme of this blog.  Ma.gnolia opened a door for me to a world of resources and people who are promoting sustainable living, citizen journalism, civil rights, and getting people together for actions and projects, or just to have fun. I know that I likely would have encountered much of this without social networking tools, but it was facilitated with greater efficiency and speed.

I credit Larry and Ma.gnolia with my introduction to this world. I already had a penchant for it, but for me, it was Ma.gnolia that really clicked and made me appreciate how valuable these tools are for gathering and sharing information. Through Ma.gnolia, I was emboldened to try Facebook and Twitter among others, which have since become invaluable to me.

I have been using social networking tools since 2006. In 2007 I moved from the Bay Area to Chicago, and it immediately became apparent to me how useful these tools would be for me to keep in touch with old friends, make new ones, and even find long-lost friends I never thought I would hear from again. It has been a real gift, and it is only getting better as more and more friends and colleagues are starting to use them.

I wish Larry and his colleagues the very best, and I am anxiously awaiting the rebirth of Ma.gnolia!

Resolution Tools

December 31, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now is the time where many of us look back and take stock of the previous twelve months and set goals for the year to come. My beloved and I have a tradition of sharing our individual objectives and making plans together on New Year’s Eve, so I am now making preparations. With my penchant for research, I have discovered the following resources that can help give shape to making New Year’s resolutions:

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2009 be peaceful.

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