Archive for March, 2013

How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

I met up with the brilliant, genuine, and always engaging Trista Harris on a trip to Minneapolis earlier this week. I love our conversations because she’s so smart about philanthropy and so savvy about how to make it more responsive to communities.

We talked about authentic engagement with stakeholders, the astonishing racial achievement gaps in the Twin Cities, “Minnesota nice,” how to leverage modest grantmaking budgets through targeted advocacy, and many other topics. I walked away inspired. One idea we cooked up is that foundations should be like app makers: put a lot of behind-the-scene effort into creating a “technology” (literal or metaphorical) that enables connections between actors and information, or actors and each other, that the actors can control themselves and that make their lives better. And then get the hell out of the way, and let the magic happen. Sometimes this is as simple as a convening in which groups that don’t talk to each other but should get a chance to connect.

Sometimes it can be more literal. We talked about disaster grantmaking, and how it shapes people’s perceptions of the nonprofit sector. She shared an experience working on response to the highway bridge collapse in the Twin Cities a few years back, and how people’s wonderful generosity in donating goods and toys was at a complete disconnect with people’s actual needs. And the thing is, it’s cash that people need most in a situation like that. But people often want to make it most personal.

So our idea for an app was, you’re a ninth grader in Iowa who reads about the bridge collapse (or Sandy, or Katrina, or what have you) and you want to help. The app lets you choose a good to donate – a teddy bear, some clothes, canned goods – that you can personalize as much as possible; that good gets donated to a local shelter; and the equivalent amount of cash gets donated to people directly in the disaster situation of your choosing. You get the feel-good; the local person gets the good; and the far-away person gets the cash they can use most.

All right, someone go make that happen! Mazel tov and God bless.

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