We need a new philanthropy. That's because the old philanthrophy, like the old media and the old industries and businesses are going by the wayside -- in fact they've been very much connected. In the old days, you huffed and puffed, made a grant proposal, spent a lot of your organization's and your own time trying to frame and pitch it and get the grant, do it, then report on it, and all the way hope you can get in the newspaper or on TV to prove that you have the influence and reach that the foundation wishes you to have. Enormous amounts of staff time get spent on the getting, spending, and reporting of grants, and it takes away from the substance.
We could get a new philanthropy by using new social media and virtual worlds, but it's worth treading carefully so as not to fall into the tarpit of the cycle of the old philanthropy and media -- trying to appeal to foundations' brand spanking new "digital arts programs" and get the hits in the old media. Sure, there aren't metrics developed. But if you can't tell whether you've accomplished something to make the world a better place, then you haven't framed your mission -- or maybe you shouldn't have one.
I've made a hugely long and rambling podcast about all this, but I'll sketch out some theses here.
There are at least 10 ways a new kind of philanthropy could get started with the combination of social media and virtuality in worlds and games.
1. Micropayments. Micropayments are what people are prepared to give; they are prepared to spend their time online monetarizing their presence and attention and using the proceeds not only on entertainment and consumption and goods but also charity. This has been amply proven, but it's not interesting unless it becomes a new paradigm not merely about fund-raising in some snazzy environment. Micropayments aren't to be scorned; they can be aggregated, and they aren't about total amounts so much as participation, learning, influence, accountability. They are markers of all those things and more. Harvesting micropayments might be a good thing for a Tides Foundation sort of entity that can exercise the expenditure accountability, especially overseas expenditure accountability for those lacking 501-c-3 non-proft status -- both to take in funds and redistribute them. They can do this only if they are willing to provide the interactivity and communication that has to go with effective micropayment schemes.
2. Accountability. A good deal of time is wasted on reporting, inspections, follow-up, witholding of the second part of grants until a narrative and financial report comes in, etc. etc. If the frictions to meeting and communicating are removed and more and better and cheaper meetings can happen within and around virtual worlds, it ads to the comfort level for accountability, especially with many numerous asynchronous troubleshooting chores that happen in email but often get misunderstood in email and could possibly be achieved more effectively in virtual worlds.
3. Participation. So often, campaigns like One are about a group of the famous doers culling the donations of the masses and then going and doing something interesting without them -- with people who are largely faceless, except for some of the poster kids. The givers are supposed to give and shut up. The poster kids are supposed to pose and shut up. The givers can't come along for the ride. The receivers can't stay on the ride. If the givers were to come, it would be too expensive or dangerous or pointless. If the receivers spoke up, it might not look right or be pretty. So people don't get involved in giving, especially less-famous, less-geographically-advantageous wealthier people because they don't get to do anything. Directors, on the other hand, know how awful it is to have to take a clueless donor or board member along for the rid on a complex mission. Virtual worlds offer ways of representing data, enlisting interactive involvement, replicating scenes, creating oportunities for exploring and asynchronous interaction -- doing all kinds of things that can help solve that "what to do with them" problem. A lot of organizations spend 40 percent of staff time/financing on membership, and trying to cook up stuff to do for people who have no clue, but want to help. A virtual world offers more for them -- and it works both ways. A project in a service like kiva.org could come to life if its participants, or the narrators who have visited them, can re-enact or connect through a virtual world.
4. Solicitation. It's always hard to make the pitch, to fill out the forms, to get attention, to claim attention. The ability to make effective builds, represent data, interact, meet, provide a larger surface area for activity -- all of this is enhanced with Second Life and the other kinds of platforms and media.
5. Combinations. Some groups are getting so caught up in learning about new media and tearing off to produce podcasts and vlog and create blogs and such that they get very strung out. Who consumes what is produced? What's it all for? The virtual world with its sense of place can knit it back together, park it, show it, link it. It's the nexus for what makes a lot of the social media coherent around a theme or activity or action.
6. Feedback/Correction. The course of old media and old philanthropy was always about decision-makers behind walls, sometimes without accountability, making policies and "putting something over" on the masses, the readers/watchers. It's important for those congregating around new media and virtual worlds not to repeat that paradigm where they just think up various gimmicks for how to exploit the flocking of many people to these places and grab their attention "to put something over on them" or to "sell them". Advertising can no longer sell, it has to play. In the same way, philanthrophy can no longer assume it is only about a set of values/precepts "to be put over". Ideologies in causes can't be using social media so effectively for "putting over" either -- if a guy says everyone should forego one bottle of water a week to make it possible for Africans to have water, then real Africans will pipe up and ask "what about the kleptocratic governments not investing their oil revenues in water" and then ordinary bottled water drinkers will ask, "but what's the mechanism for accountability, getting this bottle to that person?"
7. Presence. Different than participation, presence is knowing that someone is out there and listening and might get involved, or might not, but they are to be considered. It's about not assuming you can put on a panel with, say, Bishop Tutu, when a Zimbabwean is in the room and wants to ask him some pointed questions about South Africa's disturbingly inactive role regarding the crisis of human rights and democracy in its neighbour. You can't natter on about how wonderful the Cuban health care system is when droves of people who can tell you how medical information is surpressed are *right there* -- or reachable much faster than they used to be. You can't speak on behalf of a constituency that will manage its own presence.
8. Narrow Bandwidth. You don't like everybody. You disagree. You have different ideologies -- that's a good thing. You don't get along. But you don't have to, because there might be that one niche, or that one broad substrate, or that one narrow question around which you are willing to collaborate, and that can be presented and acted upon from behind the safety of the avatar, asychronicity, micropayments, other features of virtual worlds.
9. Broad Bandwidth. The intensity of the emotional experience, immersiveness, deep relationships and such in virtuality can be harnessed to causes, but it's a volatile thing to be "harnessing". Either the cause merges with that emotional experience or it doesn't; it can be explored. Perhaps it's only about an eloquent and silent witness. What works: seeing the actual humble desk and chalk board that a small micropayment may actually go to support in the replica of a desperately poor school. What works: the RL photograph and notes or taped voice of a teacher in Africa on a bulletin board that you can fly up to and listen to when you're ready. What doesn't work: the jarring effect of seeing an affluent-style Westerner's campfire with robust crackling wood in a replica of a Darfurian refugee camp. What doesn't work: a photo exhibit of Darfur incongruously mounted on billboards in the sky for avatars to fly up to -- but with no notecard, nothing to interact with, nothing built to scale they can *feel*. What doesn't work: facile messages like "let's all have world peace and send a letter to Bush". Causes and charities use mass media to do mass stuff with mass messages. They will have to adjust to the fact that social media is niched, long-tailed, *social* (that's why they call it "social media") and requires more granularity and particularity.
10. Preservation. An awful lot is lost in real life these days due to the ephemera of email. Crashes routinely lose hugely important archives for people. They often don't take care to save what they think is so easily saved and copyable. Virtual worlds are storehouses. They're always on. They have back-up servers. The avatar is a storehouse, of experiences, and also goods. He can receive things even when not online, and have notecard givers and vendors that can give things when not online. The pictures and builds and notecards of conversations can remain persistent, especially in a group with shared inventory.
That's just a start.