Learning to share

By Todd Cohen

For all their talk about tapping new ideas, many foundations do not invest in sharing know-how and dollars.

The marketplace works best when information about supply, demand, prices and other economic indicators flows freely.

But nonprofit and philanthropic data can be fragmented, outdated, hard to decipher, kept from the public or not even collected.

Foundations can strengthen philanthropy and nonprofits by pooling dollars to create a network of online “civic exchanges.”

Voluntary entities akin to stock exchanges crossed with securities regulators, these civic exchanges would house data on foundation and nonprofit operations, finances and impact, and would handle grant applications and connect nonprofits, donors and volunteers.

The online exchanges would work only if foundations, nonprofits, donors and volunteers shared data about themselves.

Funders would need to support development and use of technology to help foundations, donors and nonprofits document and compare their impact and effectiveness.

The exchanges also would need standardized and easy-to-use online forms that nonprofits and funders could use to submit data about their organizations, to apply for and make grants, and to measure results.

Instead of hoarding power and know-how, foundations can spur civic progress and enterprise by making sure knowledge about philanthropy truly is shared.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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