For me a lot of the GiveWell/Metafilter controversy hit home because I believe passionately in philanthropy. I also believe passionately in online community. I participate in both. Philanthropy pays my bills, since I’m a paid philanthropoid, but I also believe in its potential. I believe in what it has achieved. And online community – which I’ve participated in, in one form or another, since the mid 1990s – has been one of the most important and intellectually enriching factors in my life.
The Rise and Fall of Givewell at the Chronicle of Philanthropy – a really good post from Uncivil Society’s Jeff Trexler, who I feel is one of the nonprofit commentators who best “gets” the crux of the matter and understands the nature of online community. Jeff’s other posts on the GiveWell crisis are also good: check out my two favourites, Givewell Revisited and Hubris 2.0: Five Lessons of the Givewell Metafilter controversy. Uncivil Society is a great blog in its own right.
Charities Urged to Set Online Guidelines following One Group’s Lapse – this is a premium article available only to Chronicle subscribers, alas, but there’s a nice excerpt in Jeff Trexler’s blog above.
The faceplant that rocked philanthropy – good summary from Doing Giving Differently, which looks like an interesting blog which I’ll check out in more detail later.
N00bs in Philanthropy – a great piece from Allan Benamer at Non-Profit Tech Blog.
AstroTurfing burns. Be authentic or else – from Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog
Nonprofits should avoid astroturf too – from Issue Dynamics Inc. Nice and blunt – “It’s slimy, it’s pointless and it tends to backfire”.
What do I think about all this? That’s a longer post, coming up on my day off. I just wanted to link some of my favourite reading.
The ongoing post at MetaTalk is full of useful stuff as well, but there’s a lot of general blather there as well. There are some excellent comments made by Miko, in particular, as well as MeFi mods Jessamyn and Cortex. I’m going to quote two comments which have summed up my simultaneous frustration and delight about how this controversy has made my worlds of philanthropy/online community collide:
1. “I can’t cite any of this stuff, because no one will admit to it on the record. But I’ve had plenty of conversations with funders and recipients, and I’ve been on the (non) receiving end of this. I’ve been living it… The entire philanthropic “industry” has its head up its ass.” (quotee: nax)
2. “Metrics from one type of nonprofit (the symphony) will never be applicable to another type (the soup kitchen, or the fund to buy track shoes for poor kids, or the equine-therapy program). There is no way to compare apples to apples when you have apples, kumquats, plums, kiwis, bananas, durians, and all sorts of other fruit lined up side by side. All nonprofits are different, and differently funded. Each organization completes a constellation of reports to a constellation of organizations each year, but those organizations are all different, funded you for different reasons, and demand different outputs.
The GiveWell folks were looking for simple, comparable data. But because our funding sources are so diverse and divergent, simple comparable data does not exist. Which frustrates them no end, because they are unable to determine something they vaguely define as ‘impact.’ So they are asking nonprofits to provide them simple comparable data by dangling a carrot in the form of a small-impact grant. This is not different than what any other grantmaker does, with the exception that they are planning to share their documentation. The bigger question this raises for me is: where should the burden of transparency really fall?” (quotee: Miko)
More to come, eventually.