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Digital philanthropy: Part 1 – Electronic dreaming – Change for change agents

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By Todd Cohen

America is a paradox.

Our experiment in democracy has attracted people from all over the world and created caring communities while also breeding poverty, racism, intolerance, poor health, illiteracy and violence.

As we work to overcome these crushing social ills in the midst of unprecedented wealth, philanthropy represents society’s research-and-development arm, and nurtures critical change agents.

Yet philanthropy and nonprofits are poorly equipped to do the job they increasingly are expected to do of shouldering our biggest problems.

The profit-driven business world is transforming itself – along with our economy and society — by embracing computers and the Web.

But organized and individual philanthropy alike have failed to take advantage of these powerful tools for change.

Philanthropy, in short, is on the wrong side of the gulf between those who are making productive use of technology and those who aren’t – either because they can’t or won’t.

The good news is that by plugging into technology and integrating it into the way it does business, philanthropy can transform itself and do a better job of healing and repairing our communities.

The challenge for philanthropy is to adapt to new media by practicing traditional American principles of simplicity, common sense and resourcefulness – and embracing an entrepreneurial way of doing business.

A growing number of nonprofit and commercial resources are making tech tools and that know-how available to nonprofits.

The dream of the new philanthropy is nothing short of taking advantage of those tools and know-how to ensure that our information society is a civil society.

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