In an interesting (and a bit older) article, “The Future of Philanthropy: Innovation, Networks, Thought Leaders and the Fringe” from Worldchanging.com, a key question is asked: if the innovative solutions are coming from the fringe but the majority of foundations and funding are mainstream, how do we fund and encourage innovation?

Basically, the author is addressing the fact that there is a large (and growing) amount of money amongst the cadre of foundation and funds – all earmarked for donation. However, most of these funders do not know how to interpret or react to the kinds of needs that they are now seeing in the field.

To properly respond to this dilemma, there are five questions we need to consider:

1) How do we find and encourage innovation?

2) We live in an era where change is powered by networks but we don’t yet live in an era where networks are funded by philanthropists. So, how do we connect the two?

3) Why have traditional activist NGO groups been aging so rapidly? Or, why are there so few young activists formally joining groups and engaging in philanthropy?

4) How do we support people who are really changing the world?

5) Where and how do we find our allies?

When asking yourself how to contribute real change to the world or where to put that $50 donation you’ve been meaning to send out to somebody (just can’t figure out who yet), these are certainly great questions to ask.

In fact, answers to these questions are already being tackled by various folks in some of the most curious and leading edge ways. Have we reached a place where we can put these questions aside? Absolutely not. Rather, we are entering into the heart of the matter where good ideas, big and small, quirky and mainstream are beginning to pop up to fill in the gaps we see amongst these five questions.

To give you an idea of some of the percolations among us:

1) How do we find and encourage innovation?

Look for organizations that encourage social entrepreneurism. A new “hot topic”, social entrepreneurism is cropping up in many unexpected corners. A general sketch includes organizations like Ashoka; foundations like the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and Skoll Foundation; and educational institutions like the NYU Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship and the Stanford Center for Social Innovation. Even private companies like Good Capital are getting in on the game. There are but a few and just to get the ideas rollin’.

2) We live in an era where change is powered by networks but we don’t yet live in an era where networks are funded by philanthropists. So, how do we connect the two?

Though I am wary of Google’s ever increasing authority in the internet domination game, they do provide an effective and free option for networking. Not to mention the power of Facebook, Razoo, and Just Means, among others. Just these tools alone prove that networks or the process of networking need not be funded. And for the skeptics out there, consider that there is a growing number of people using these online networks to meet people in real life too. Maybe this doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but it certainly brings us closer.

3) Why have traditional activist NGO groups been aging so rapidly? Or, why are there so few young activists formally joining groups and engaging in philanthropy?

Have they been aging so quickly? I’m not entirely convinced of this though there is evidence that suggests that Generation X and Y are politically apathetic. But with the emergence of new organizations, formal and informal, run by these younger folks I think we’ll see greater numbers engaging in philanthropy into the future.
4) How do we support people who are really changing the world?

This topic warrants its own article. There are so many new ways to use small amounts of money to affect big change.

Though I am biased towards the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund, there are other options if you are not NYC-based. For one, there are over 400 donor circles throughout the United States and likely one in every major city. These groups donate large sums to democratically chosen nonprofits using the pooled resources of group members.

Also, if you’re keen on affecting international change check out Kiva or Global Giving.

5) Where and how do we find our allies?

This is probably the trickiest question – I suspect it has to do with traditional, grassroots style networking: cocktail parties and open houses, or if you prefer a more modern take: Meetups and Facebook groups. But no matter how many friends or connections one might have online, nothing beats the face-to-face connection between two people. There is no ally like the one you’ve worked beside.

People are finding each other, creating networks and encouraging innovation in the most innovative ways yet. We are using networks whether it be in school, at work, or online to seek out and connect with other like minded folks who feel the current system of giving isn’t working.

I by no means have all the answers to these questions. The items I present here are intended as a springboard for thought and discussion. And real solutions are being driven by dialogue between and amongst all sectors – without this, we stagnate.

So what are your answers to these questions? How do we get ourselves out of the funding bind and towards greater solutions?

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