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Technology seen transforming philanthropy

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Networked digital technologies are transforming philanthropy, making it easier for “donors and doers” to find, support and work with one another to address social problems, a new monograph says.

But inequities of access and capacity also keep many individuals and institutions from benefiting from information networks, says Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector.

“Philanthropy is an industry driven by passion and data, and networked technologies have the potential to harness that passion in ways we’ve barely begun to imagine,” Edward Skloot, co-author of the monograph and director of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, says in a statement.

The 53-page monograph, published by the center, looks at the ways networked digital technologies are “enabling donors and doer to access vast amounts of data from governments and the social sector, reshaping ways in which they connect with one another, and transforming how social change is produced,” the center says in a statement.

It also examines how networked technologies are affecting five philanthropic practices, including setting goals and formulating strategy; building social capital; measuring progress; measuring outcomes and impact; and accounting for the work funders and enterprises do.

“We believe the next decade will see explosive growth in networking for good, creating opportunities for creative solutions to large social problems,” says the monograph, written by Lucy Bernholz, CEO of Blueprint Research + Design, and co-written by Skloot and Barry Varela, who directs the Teaching Case Writing Program at the center.

Information networks – mainly the Internet and increasingly cell-phone technologies – are “overturning core practices of philanthropic foundations and individuals,” the monograph says.

“A decade of experimentation in online giving, social enterprise, and collaboration has brought us to a place from which innovation around enterprise forms, governance, and finance will only accelerate,” it says.

“We may be looking at the dawn of a new form of organizing giving, and governing that is better informed, more aware of complex systems, more collaborative, more personal, more nimble, and ultimately, perhaps more effective.”

While the ways donors will give and doers will get things done in the future as a result of new technologies are not clear, the monograph says, “we can agree not to fear, scorn, or ignore new technologies but to be open to learning about them, experimenting with them, and sharing the results.”

It also says the charitable marketplace should not “assume that the inequities of access and capacity that still prevent so many individuals and institutions from using these new tools of change will disappear on their own.”

A priority will be to set policies and programs “that will ensure connectivity for all,” the monograph says.

“We must grasp the authentic beginnings of what information networks have enabled, and be prepared for faster, smarter, farther-reaching, and more innovative opportunities,” it says, “for a philanthropy that’s truly effective.”

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