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Philanthropy in the Age of Networked Intelligence

Resource Center - Foundation

By Don Tapscott

Don TapscottDon Tapscott was the opening plenary speaker at Congress 2012.  This article first appeared on the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter blog and is reprinted with permission.

As we enter the networked age, philanthropy is going through a profound change. This has big implications for fundraisers and donors alike. In the old model, not-for-profits sought funds from individuals and institutions. Donors were courted, and if successfully seduced, they provided funds and were thanked. But today, because of a number of factors (most notability the Internet’s slashing of transaction and collaboration costs), charities can now build deep relationships with philanthropists.

Donors today can become more deeply engaged with causes. All parties become part of a network and therefore can view themselves differently. Donors become more like investors in social innovation and are looking for a return on their investment. Charities can view themselves as participants in complete networks for solving problems with more sustainable funding.

The theory for this perspective is outlined in my most recent book Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet (co-author Anthony D. Williams). In the book we describe how the industrial age is finally coming to a close and that the society we are passing on to today’s young people is seriously damaged. But from education and science to new approaches to citizen engagement and democracy, sparkling new initiatives are underway, embracing a new set of principles for the 21st century: collaboration, openness, molecularization, interdependence and integrity.

All five of these principles apply to philanthropy.

Consider the first principle collaboration. This is the antithesis of the industrial model of mass production, mass media, and mass education, where someone at the top controlled something (products, newspapers, TV shows, lectures) and pushed them out to passive recipients.

The new model is about collaboration, where the donor is engaged and part of the process. Don’t think of donors as external to your organization. They are part of your eco-system.

Charities should not just think of themselves as producers or as someone creating an initiative, product or service. Instead, become the curator—someone who creates a context or a platform that allows other people to self-organize and create things that are valuable, both for you and for them—and maybe even for the world. If you build a website, don’t simply load it up with static content. Instead, create the framework and tools for others to create their own content and build communities. Engage donors. Co-create with them. Co-innovate a better future.

Don Tapscott is one of the world’s leading authorities on innovation, media, and the economic and social impact of technology and advises business and government leaders around the world. He has authored or co-authored 14 widely read books and is the best selling Canadian management author ever. Don has recently created the Don Tapscott app – New Solutions for a Connected Planet, an interactive tool that explores Don’s thinking in a number of areas. It is available for download in the Apple Store. Follow Don on twitter @dtapscott.

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