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Philanthropy Has a Bright Future: Even in the Era of Justin Bieber.

3 September 2014 at 3:10 pm
Lina Caneva
Not For Profits need to stop trying to be unique and share their data if they want to get their messages across to those outside of the sector, according to an expert on information and data sharing.

Lina Caneva | 3 September 2014 at 3:10 pm


Philanthropy Has a Bright Future: Even in the Era of Justin Bieber.
3 September 2014 at 3:10 pm

Not For Profits need to stop trying to be unique and share their data if they want to get their messages across to those outside of the sector, according to an expert on information and data sharing.

President of the Foundation Center in the USA Brad Smith told the Philanthropy Australia 2014 Conference that it was time for the sector to move into the “world of big data”.

Smith started by showing the comparison between the number of mentions pop idol Justin Bieber gets on twitter in any given month with those of the largest philanthropic organisation in the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He found that Bieber was mentioned 32.2 million times while the Gates Foundation was mentioned only 3468 times.

“I tried this with a bunch of different months and it didn’t make any difference, every single month Justin Bieber outdid the Gates Foundation by about 10,000 to one,” Smith said.

“The Gates Foundation people gave me a call and said ‘well that’s really not fair because what if you put in Bill Gates instead?’

“So I tried Bill Gates and again I got 32.2 million to 171,000. So when you pit Justin Bieber against the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the undisputed champ is Justin Bieber.

“The difference is when you look at what Justin Bieber’s fans are tweeting about and then look at what the Gates Foundation fans are tweeting about.

“We can’t match a medium that is dominated by 1Direction or Justin Bieber, but what we have in our sector is quality.”

Smith said Not For Profits needed to start sharing data they had collated if they wanted to get their messages across.

“Philanthropy is an industry. In the US alone there are 86,192 independent foundations,” he said.

“They have $793 billion in assets and they give away about $55 billion every year.

“You’ve got Bill and Melinda Gates at one end that gives away $3 or $4 billion a year and has 1300 employees and then you’ve got a husband and a wife with a chequebook at the other end.

“76 per cent of these foundations only have four staff or less, and this shocked us when we actually did a search of this, only seven per cent have websites.

“Now you could say ‘why does a small foundation need a website if it doesn’t have any staff?’ But we looked at the large foundations that have assets over $100 million and we still found that 30 per cent of them didn’t have websites.

“We have a long ways to go as a sector before we enter into the world of big data.”

Smith also listed three things that organisations needed to stop doing; stop trying to be unique, stop developing custom grants management systems and treating data and communications as two separate things.

“There is no law natural or otherwise that says that foundations have to be unique,” he said.

“But because they see themselves as unique and they don’t have these kinds of market pressures, political pressures and fundraising pressures, they tend to make their own information highways.

“Foundations are pretty much free to label their programs and priorities however they want.

People who are trying to get access to resources in those foundations don’t realise what they’re missing.

“Philanthropy has created for itself the equivalent of a biblical tower of Babylon.”

He said sharing data could help organisations by increasing their validity.

“Today foundations are using blogs, they’re tweeting, they’re on youtube. 45 per cent of foundations in the US are engaged in some form of social media. Communications is changing,” he said.

“But what we also need to understand about communications is your data needs to support your message.

“When it comes to data you can’t be a glutton. You can’t only consume data. The way this works is you have to give data to get data.

“I think the biggest mistake foundations make is they don’t take really advantage of their information because they think well how can we capture all of this stuff.

“How can we create an information system and collect data on everything we do? Well you don’t have to.

“The most important thing before you embark on collecting and sharing data for your organisation is to know what questions you want answered.”

Brad Smith is President of the Foundation Center, a leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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