Thursday, December 17, 2009

Things I learned in 2009 that scare me about 2010


Sometimes being scared is okay.  It gets you to pay attention.  Here are three things I learned in 2009 that scare me.   Not scare me in the sense of "this is the end of philanthropy as we know it" but scare me into thinking carefully about why I am scared and what giving up my fear can do.



Scary Thing One:  Where did the 100,000+ applications for the iPhone come from?  I remember just a few years ago smart people were saying that Apple was out of its mind trying to take on the cellphone industry.  Apple didn't know anything about cellphones.  Turns out, they didn't have to.  They knew enough about how people want information: form, format, and functionality.  Lesson Learned: I am just not smart enough to predict where philanthropy is going and how it will affect the nonprofit sector.  Neither is anyone else.

Scary Thing Two:  Matt Dunne, Head of Community Affairs at Google, spoke at the Philanthropy Day Luncheon in Charleston in early November.  He said the power of incumbency is fading.  The big nonprofits all want to look small.  Donors want to see deep inside organizations.  The more a donor's gift can be traced directly to the good being done the better.  This means that the more that small start-ups connect donors to people in need (think DonorsChoose) the more they will garner support.  It doesn't matter that Red Cross has been here for hundreds of years.  It doesn't matter that United Way is carefully measuring impact.  What matters is the connection between the gift and the child, the donation and the micro-loan recipient, the dollars and the individual scholars.  Lesson Learned:  Let the donor decide how the money is spent and take them out (physically or virtually) to see where and how it was spent.  (Sorta like Apple letting the App designers define "what is a cellphone."  We need to allow donors to decide what is worthy of a gift.)



Scary Thing Three:  Committees, crowds, and common folk are, in aggregate, smarter than I am.  We do not always agree but in the long term they will be right more often than I am.  Let them decide.  Create conditions where they will be able to make good decisions.  It will be okay.  Lesson Learned:  Listen.  Find new ways to listen.  Listen some more. Hire people around you who listen better than you do.

So what will 2010 bring?  You tell me.  Really.  Tell me.  Perhaps we, collectively, can figure it out as it happens (if not before).

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