The few well-known examples of foundations acting like Networked Nonprofits have become so oft-repeated that they’re almost cliches – the David and Lucile Packard Foundation using a wiki to generate new ideas for their nitrogen program, the Case Foundation’s use of their blogs to weave conversations, the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge to invest in next generation news businesses infused with social media. I began to wonder whether these examples were becoming the few exceptions in foundation world or harbingers for other foundations?
I asked Linda Wood of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and Elizabeth Miller of the Overbrook Foundation their take on the state of foundations and social media for this month’s Social Good podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The answer according to Linda and Elizabeth was unqualified: social media is the future of philanthropy. They both emphasized the risk averse nature of foundations that are just now inching their way into the use of social media and the early state writ large of social media. Linda has been blogging about foundations and transparency and using online videos to share the experiences of the foundation’s leadership program grantees. Linda said that she has couched the use of social media internally as “pilot” projects, which eased the potential fear of senior staff and trustees that social media would turn the entire foundation upside down.
Elizabeth has also written about philanthropy and transparency and said that the Overbrook Foundation was looking for discreet opportunities to test social media. One of my favorite moments was Elizabeth talking about how it feels to her to use Twitter as a foundation staff person. This is perhaps the most oft-cited fear of foundation staff that I hear, “I don’t want to be overwhelmed with requests and criticisms by being online.” Here is what Elizabeth had to say on this topic:
I think thatTwitter has helped me build relationships with existing grantees in a
major way, I’m able to RT their work, learn more about the individuals
working at the organizations etc. If anything it also exposed me to new
organizations that might be right for the foundation, and just generally
kept me up to speed in the issue areas that we fund, what interesting
articles are out there, what other foundations are doing the kind of
work we are, how to collaborate better, who to collaborate with.
There are occasionally people who will follow me or DM asking about
Foundation guidelines, proposals, how to apply for a grant (not as much
as you may think), but for me, I feel like answering those questions is
part of working for a Foundation. And if you’re being open/transparent
(like Linda talked about) then you can be clear about what you fund, why
etc. This might be skewed because I’m a program associate tweeting and
it’s not the official Overbrook Foundation Twitter feed, but that’s my
I love Elizabeth’s take on this – particularly that being accessible is part of her job! Hope others are listening.