This is the final installment of our three-piece post examining what 2012 has in store for philanthropy. We’re taking our lead from Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012 which notes three big shifts in store for the sector this year. Today we’ll be taking a look at data and it’s role in creating the social good.
Data and the desire to accumulate it tends to fall in and out of fashion in Australian philanthropic circles. Opponents compare the collation with the chains of government bureaucracy or worse still, that overly self-indulgent practice of ‘naval gazing’. On the flip side of the argument you have proponents espousing data as a commodity every bit as important as the currency distributed through grants.
Gone are the days of data being considered simply numbers on a spreadsheet. The Blueprint paints a wonderful picture of the changing face of data and how we use them:
In reality, anything that can be digitized can become data. This includes items that start out digitally – photos, videos, cell phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and blog comments. It also includes things we convert to digital form – books, old newspapers, films, music, and the content of our file cabinets. Once this material is digitized and we can click on it, “like” it on Facebook, or share it via Twitter with friends we create another layer of data.
Data allows for the impact of our philanthropy to be captured, shared and understood in ways like never before. Equally we can better and more quickly measure the campaigns people respond to and as a result help to bring resources and effort to major issues more quickly. As individuals we can donate via text messaging (not as well as we should be able to here in Australia), crowd funding, Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, and an array of other web tools – all of which leave a trail of giving data behind. We respond and interact with data in today’s world – we are the creators the next role is to become the curators.
So has philanthropy in Australia responded to this changing landscape of data collection and use? In grantmaking philanthropists have long backed data collecting and building in the area of medical research but the sciences have a longer history of utilizing the power of data in their research and storytelling. For the community sector the sell to philanthropy is much tougher. Research, evaluation and data collection doesn’t excite philanthropists in the same way that getting tangible things done on the ground does.
The community sector is not alone in being under resourced to measure and understand its own impact. The philanthropic sector, which houses huge amounts of data, makes precious little use of any of it. The tide is slowly turning however. The Centre for Social Impact is undertaking mapping work, led by former Philanthropy Australia CEO – Gina Anderson, to examine where some of Australia’s major trusts and foundations are making gifts. Research at Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies is exceptional and building, while Swinburne University continues to grow its credentials in this space. All of these are positive advances but more can be done and is required.
Data is powerful. It helps us to tell our stories. To excite and teach us. Data helps us to build a picture of where we are as a society and where we might be headed. How we use and interact with data in 2012 has the potential to influence the trends we will be seeing in 2013. Is Australia’s philanthropic sector ready for this shift? I have my doubts but there is a slow movement occurring. Let’s revisit at the end of the year.
If you have not already done so, head to the Philanthropy 2173 Blog to get your hands on a copy of the Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012
You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the Blog via @3eggphil
As promised this post is going to continue to examine some of the trends for 2012 highlighted in Philanthropy and Social Investment Blueprint 2012 – the annual industry forecast produced by Lucy Bernholz. In my last post I looked at the first of three major shifts identified in the Blueprint, today I’ll be moving on to trend number two: the implications of the US Supreme Court‘s Citizens United ruling on philanthropy and social investing.
There is no doubt that grantmakers here in Australia have a lot to learn from philanthropy overseas. I am often reminded however that much of how and why we practice philanthropy is unique. By constantly casting an eye towards North America and Europe we risk failing to recognise and value the innovation taking place in our own backyard. So what can we here in Australia possibly learn from examining the potential implications of the Citizens United US Supreme Court decision?
Before I address that question in detail, it probably serves to give a quick rundown on what that Supreme Court decision actually amounts to. In short Citizen United removed prior restrictions on spending by corporations on election campaigns; in essence allowing these bodies the similar first amendment rights to free speech as everyday American citizens. These newly available dollars will certainly come into play in 2012, the first presidential election year since the ruling was handed down. Rather than promoting and opposing political candidates or parties directly, much of the funding from corporations is likely to flow via non profit organisations advocating on issues that serve their purpose. It is the implication of that funding process has some interesting cross over with Australia.
Around the same time that Citizens United was taking it’s case to the US Supreme Court, here in Australia an international aid watch dog called Aid/WATCH was taking its fight to hold on to its charitable tax exemptions to the High Court. In Australia, like in the US, the judges ruled in their favour. The decision asserted that Aid/WATCH, as an independent watch-dog examining how aid is distributed, may well be involved in political advocacy. Because the generation of public debate created by Aid/WATCH through their advocacy focused on the relief of poverty through foreign aid, the Judges ruled that it should not be excluded as a charitable activity. This ruling opened up direct funding of political advocacy by charitable trusts and foundations, ensuring that neither the donor, or the non-profit they were supporting, put their charitable status at risk. The Eggs have posted previously on the new place for advocacy in the Australian non-profit sector, but perhaps we have not explored the potential implications for donors in full.
In an environment more open to political advocacy from our non-profits, what are the potential implications on donors and ultimately donations? In the US, it’s likely that the Citizens United decision will lead to not only more political advocacy from non-profits but also more non-profits being created with a focus on raising money for or against their preferred candidates and issues. Here in Australia, the likelihood is that we’re gong to see a greater intensity of out and out advocacy. For some funders, the thought of seeing their long supported charities engaged in the political might be too much to bear. For other funders it will open up spheres of influence like never before.
I’ve spoken with people on both sides of the advocacy fence, those that find philanthropic support of political advocacy unseemly and those that see it as critical vehicle in mission based philanthropy. Not all philanthropic organisations in Australia believe or want to be mission driven, the warm heart of benevolence for many is still the greatest motivator. There will always be a place for both. I do sense however, that the new wave of youth and online philanthropy in this country will drive a new era of donor funded advocacy.
Should you wish to learn more about the trends in philanthropy and social investment for 2012, I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Blueprint 2012:
- Hard copies from Lulu
- PDFs at Scribd
- Kindle version from Amazon
- eBook from Smashwords. Also available for Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook and others.
You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil