10/30/2013 03:07 pm ET | Updated Dec 30, 2013

An Answer for Peter Buffett -- Part 2

Earlier this month in my first blog post, "An Answer For Peter Buffett," I highlighted the top five key issues facing the philanthropic industry, as a start to providing an answer to Peter Buffett and his recent New York Times op-ed. He described the industry as having a "crisis of imagination" and in need of a "new operating system."

The point was that any new approach must address those over-arching issues. Nonprofits often know WHAT they want to do, but they seldom know HOW to do it. Moreover, if a nonprofit does not effectively understand the interests of individuals and companies and their motivations for participating, then any efforts to involve them will fail.

For any related efforts by nonprofits, and for any new system to work, the interests of key stakeholders must be understood. The point is that charities and companies are using many different systems and these are not catering to what individuals really want.

There are different stakeholders within the philanthropic industry, and each faces different challenges with different needs. For the industry to become more efficient, these issues should be viewed and addressed holistically. In other words, any viable solution or platform has to address all of them; otherwise, it's like driving a car with one wheel that is the wrong size.

Here is a summary of what most stakeholders want and need:


Individuals are longing for a destination where they can become involved with multiple groups and causes at the same time. They want to explore, they do not want to be tied to just one organization, they want to see who/what else is out there, and what inspires them. They want to express their ideas and thoughts and express who they are as a person. They want to find like-minded people and organizations. It's about making this human connection that many non-profits fail to make, most individual-nonprofit relationships are based on the transaction, writing the check. They want it to be a place where they can track all of their donations and volunteering. They want a place where they can start new communities around issues they care about and foster serious discussions on those topics. In short, they want to have influence on shaping the society we live in.


Charities need a platform that offers them a full set of tools to meet their needs. They need those tools to be integrated and able to be used within minutes, without any IT assistance. Charities want a platform that aids them in recruiting new individuals to join their cause and become meaningfully involved in the conversation. It should be a place where those individuals can share their experiences, but which allows the organization to control who shares what publicly. Similarly, charities are in need of a platform that simultaneously allows them to readily accept donations, with detailed account and privacy settings.


Companies involved in corporate philanthropy want one place online to organize their efforts. It should be a multi-tiered platform so that different departments can be set up and employees can join. The platform should allow the company to easily track employees who donate and volunteer, while also encouraging them to share their stories of involvement with their colleagues. Companies want a place that gives them total control over what is shared. This platform can have certain areas open to the public for PR purposes, or be closed for internal use only. No IT or system integration should be required.

Collaborative Groups

Collaborative groups need the tools to enable like-minded organizations to come together in one place to address issues that are common. This entity should act only in the interests of the underlying groups or causes, while not interfering with those groups and giving them the freedom to leave at any time. This platform should give individuals within each nonprofit the ability to share their stories with the over-arching entity, ultimately generating awareness on a massive scale that can only be achieved by doing it together. The intent is to create credible go-to-destinations.

In part 3 of 5 of this blog series, I will stop being so theoretical and share an illustration of how one organization is starting to successfully meet the needs of its stakeholders by using the tools outlined above. I hope this will more clearly provide Peter Buffett the answer he is looking for.

In part 4 of 5, I will discuss a number of mindset issues that will need to be overcome. These issues, which exist within charities and corporations, are easy to identify, but less simple to change. Management needs to be put on notice.

In part 5 of 5, I will address some over-arching non-profit governance issues. Boards need to step up their fiduciary responsibility to ensure non-profit heads are responsible for WHAT their plans are, and also HOW they execute them.

The approach charities take will need to change, given the evolution of the Internet and people. Charities that think having a great website or phone app will help grow donations are living in the past. Their strategy for now and the future needs to reflect the fact that the individual, and their involvement, must be the center of their attention.

(Part 2 of 5)

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