THE BLOG

What Philanthropy as an Industry Can Learn From Media

04/29/2007 08:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Foundation executives listened pretty eagerly to Arianna Huffington, Ian Rowe (MTV), Jay Harris (USC) and Maxwell King (Heinze Endowments) talk about new media at the Council on Foundations conference. Huffington went so far as to scoop herself, announcing via the blogs in the room that Tom Edsall of Washington Post will come lead the campaign 08 coverage for HuffPo.

Here's what this media model looks like:
Professional editor. Citizen reporters. Huffington's strategy - better reach, more feet on the ground to get the story - none of which will be held back by business costs or preferences of the advertising side of the media house. Professional editor brings experience, an eye for a story, and the ability to pull disparate stories and perspectives into compelling news.

But what is the philanthropy model?
Lets not forget that this is a conference about philanthropy. Turn the tables around and ask - what do the changes in media mean for philanthropy?

The first-pass answers to these questions, and the ones that dominated this morning's discussion, focused on foundations needing to partner with MTV or start blogging or watching what young people do. That's low hanging fruit.

Foundations need to go deeper and look at the behaviors and assumptions that have come to generational fruition with these new media tools. A short list of these would be:

  • rapid fire access to information,
  • always on, carry-anywhere access to information, friends, and media
  • new values about credibility and privacy
  • new ways of organizing to get something done
  • a great focus on the goal to be accomplished that don't assume certain bounds around certain sectors - blended sectoral solutions are a natural, not an exception
  • global reach means different structures for community building
  • fluid concerns about privacy and accessibility

If you take these assumptions as forces driving new media, you have to also ask yourself the harder questions about philanthropy. How will those steeped in these ways of thinking, these values think about organizing financial, community, and intellectual resources for social good?

Put it another way - when those whose core assumptions are shaped by the abilities of new media start to organize their philanthropy and voluntary action what will that action look like? Its not merely tinkering around the "Lincoln Logs" of existing organizations. Its building whole new connective materials and structures. When those of us who lead the current institutions think about whats coming we tend to assume its about improving what we've got - turning Lincoln Logs into LEGOs, for a metaphor. But for those who are building from what they know, its not about tinkering with the existing structures, its about new materials science and the creation of Magz.