Legendary technology publisher Tim O’Reilly is the speaker at today’s Media Lab Conversations with Joi Ito. O’Reilly Media is one of the best respected technology publishers in the industry, producing many of the books working programmers rely on to build their software and systems. O’Reilly is also an important convener – the conferences his organization hosts are important in shaping the dialog... about the internet and innovation. Tim opens his talk with two quotes, one from Oscar Wilde (“Quotation is a serviceable substitution for wit”) and a second from designer Edwin Schlossberg: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which others can think.” Tim suggests that where he has been most influential and powerful is around presenting big ideas that create context for how others fit. In practice, he publishes books and organizes conferences – in a larger sense, he’s constructing ideas and frames. He considers his first big success to be changing the framing around open source software. There had been a dialog around “free software” from Richard Stallman, which Eric Raymond helped push towards a discussions around “open source”. But Tim worried that these guys were just talking about Linux, and wondered why they weren’t talking about the web or about DNS. He realized that Stallman’s argument was primarily a political one, and that Eric had moved the narrative slightly, but fel that neither was creating a broader context that showed what the projects had in common. The internet itself is an example of open source software and open source thinking. A second success came from developing Dale Dougherty‘s term “Web 2.0″ The term was coined to make the case that, despite a crash in the tech market, the web wasn’t over, but would come back. Tim expanded the idea into talking about the web as an operating system, supporting subsystems like mapping and identity which can reside somewhere out there in the cloud. The specific term – Web 2.0 – doesn’t matter, but the shift in framing does. Tim cites Dale Dougherty’s work with the Maker movement as another form of shaping big ideas, connecting ideas that people previously saw as disparate into the same frame. The first Maker Faire featured Swapper Rama Rama, a group that recycled clothes by sewing them into new patterns and held a fashion show at the end of their session, and the Alameda/Contra Costa computer recycling project, which featured a biodiesel-powered linux supercomputer made of recycled PCs. Prior to the Maker frame, no one had seen these projects as interrelated. Recently, Tim’s activism around open government has been focused on trying to make another conceptual shift, from seeing government as a platform, rather than as a solution provider. We spend a great deal on government, Tim tells us, and it’s often not serving people sufficiently. We want government to be like our phones – we’d like to spend less and see more benefits, much as we went from carrying phones with a few dozen applications to a current world where we can choose from hundreds of thousands. If government is a platform, as the iPhone or Android are platforms, can we expect people to build hundreds of thousands of potentially useful applications? The process of framing big ideas can help people see what’s in front of them. We need to look with “soft eyes”, Tim tells us, considering what we see until a pattern begins to emerge. He offers two ideas that, for him, are still in the soft eyes phase: One is the idea that we’re building a global brain. He suggests that the companies that survived the Web 1.0 bust were those that leveraged collective intelligence. Google uses the signal of clicks to tune search algorithms, Blogger uses people’s participation to create content, Twitter creates value from helping people transmit information around the globe.
With ALEC, the argument is that the very organizational model is no longer acceptable, if it ever was. The vision of a "public-private partnership" that gives companies like Coca-Cola, State Farm, and AT&T equal weight as legislators is concerning in and of itself. In short, according to those who question ALEC's model, it sure seems a perversion of deliberative democracy, not to mention federalism, to have a few folks meet in a room to craft public policy that gets distributed nationwide without any meaningful transparency
What Can Philanthropy Learn from Moneyball? In order to succeed, philanthropies, like baseball teams, must rely on both objective and subjective analysis. SHARE PRINT COMMENT RELATED STORIES By Paul Connolly | 2 | Oct. 27, 2011 Moneyball, a popular book and now movie, describes how the Oakland A’s used sabermetrics—the sophisticated statistical analysis of baseball... player performance—to create a winning team cheaply. This approach came up during a recent webinar based on an article I wrote about balancing the technocratic and humanistic in philanthropy. Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest noted how both baseball and philanthropy must combine objective and subjective analysis to succeed: “If baseball scouts’ intuitions lead to outcomes, use them, and if statistics produce greater success, as Moneyball portrays, then use them, and if together they provide better results, mix them,” he astutely observed. Of course, while a baseball game can involve complex strategies, it is a more contained system than the nonprofit arena. It is governed by rules, which often fall short when tackling such pervasive problems as poverty. As Bill Veek once said, “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very disorderly world—if you get three strikes, even the best lawyer can’t get you off.” It is easier to quantify a pitcher’s accomplishments than the spirituality stimulated by a religious organization, or the joy and healing by an arts group. Nevertheless, sabermetrics offers constructive, as well as cautionary, lessons for foundations. Proponents have found hidden value by better forecasting player performance. Historically, scouts “knew” that the best first basemen were tall left-handers, yet through rigorous quantitative analysis, the A’s discovered that body type didn’t matter, so they acquired some fine—and affordable—ones who were stout and right-handed. Moreover, on-base percentage, a statistic that was ignored, proved to be more predictive than traditional indicators such as batting average or stolen bases. Many donors, likewise, have determined that for calculating nonprofit effectiveness, programmatic outcomes are superior to administrative cost ratios and program outputs. Through enhanced perfomance assessment, they have realized that some legacy nonprofits are over-valued, while other innovative and evidence- based programs are underrated. Still, most foundations, especially smaller ones, underutilize strategy and performance measurement, diminishing their potential. Relying on untested “conventional wisdom,” they risk underestimating certain organizations by neglecting significant metrics such as program-related results per cost and the extent of their shared leadership, network connectedness, and reflective learning. The Hill-Snowdon Foundation, once a “charity-check-writing-around-a-family-kitchen-table” operation, has increased impact by strategically focusing its few million dollars of annual funding and using more data to inform decisions. Yet relying too much on metrics brings its own risks, as baseball amply illustrates. Franchises that have discounted team chemistry, clubhouse leadership, and player conditioning have paid a price. While Moneyball techniques helped the Boston Red Sox win championships in 2004 and 2007, they collapsed this season—and devastated my four-generation Red Sox fan family—as a result of disjointed teamwork, collective stress, and other unpredictable circumstances. In philanthropy, an approach that is overly rational, or too oriented around “command and control,” numbers and accountability can similarly backfire when inclusivity, responsiveness, and improvisation are overlooked. While particular nonprofits can benefit from control group studies, for example, most gain more from an iterative R&D approach to evaluation entailing real-time learning about cause-and-effect patterns and rapid program adaptation. Moneyball should not convince funders to go overboard and let algorithms, logic models, and cost-benefit and ROI analysis dominate. Like baseball managers, they must begin by selecting players with the greatest potential. The craft of grantmaking is crucial: Funders should authentically cultivate nonprofit partnerships, collaborate on agendas and strategies, and allow for experimentation. They need to share control and work organically within fluid boundaries. Just as baseball is both an art and a science, so can philanthropy benefit by deliberately tapping the dynamic tension between the humanistic and technocratic. A case in point is the Novo Foundation, which makes approximately $55 million in grants annually to empower girls and women. Foundation President Jennifer Buffett says that her father-in-law, Warren Buffett, advised her and her husband to focus their funding, take risks, be patient, and assess their impact. “In a field that works to build and support human capacities and change entire systems, it is not a good idea to fall into the trap of relying exclusively on metrics or a technocratic approach,” she comments. “We work in a very thoughtful way to equalize power relationships, build expertise on the ground, and listen and nurture…balancing and considering the head and the heart. That doesn’t mean we are not interested in sound structures, evaluation, and solid results. But, again, to us, solutions should always have a human being, a human voice, at the center.” Neither philanthropy nor baseball can afford to disregard the varied ways to create value. Moneyball advocates would be well-served to view empirical data as the beginning, not the end, and heed intangibles. And baseball traditionalists should appreciate sabermetrics’ insights more. Correspondingly, some technocratic philanthropies might benefit by not being as directive and rigid with grantees, “owning” the strategy less, drawing on values and intuition more, and looking hard for any blind spots causing over-confidence. And certain humanistic grantmakers could profit by providing further direction to grantees and holding them more accountable for outcomes. Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, wisely discerns that funders “need both assessment and morality” and “are morally obliged to seek to know how we are doing and what we can improve.” Fixed formulas for permanent solutions are unrealistic because the real world is not static. The way forward is intentionally intertwining the objective and subjective while diligently measuring shifting variables, creatively exploring how they influence outcomes and making meaning, and continually adapting strategies, tapping the wisdom of diverse stakeholders at every step. This emergent journey matters far more than the metrics. Whether you are striving to win the World Series or scale social innovation, you need to cultivate a symbiotic and vibrant interplay of logic and instinct, internal expertise and outside perspective. You need to follow the linear path along with the serendipitous one. SSIR blogger Paul Connolly is chief client services officer of TCC Group. Paul Connolly is chief client services officer of TCC Group, a 33-year-old consulting firm that provides strategy, evaluation, and capacity-building services to foundations, nonprofit organizations, and corporate community involvement programs. Tracker Pixel for Entry → This form is for US/Canada subscribers. Are you an international subscriber? Click here instead. Subscribe Now! Subscribers get premium online access (articles with a key) including 9-year archive, downloadable digital edition, quarterly print issues (optional). + GET STARTED COMMENTS Jennifer Landres, Analyst, Center for High Impact 's avatar BY Jennifer Landres, Analyst, Center for High Impact ON October 27, 2011 12:32 PM The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice also just posted a blog on Moneyball and its implications for the philanthropic sector, especially when considering issues of impact and of cost. We agree that it is often those intangibles – the “spirituality stimulated by a religious organization, or the joy and healing by an arts group” as you mention – that can drive donor decision making, and certainly cannot be quantified. We came to the conclusion that “many would argue that baseball is not just about winning, and philanthropy is not necessarily just about impact. But if you care about winning and you care about impact, then the metrics that you look at matter.” We don’t advocate that donors should only look at metrics; however, when they choose to look to the data, to make sure that they are looking to the right data. http://blog.impact.upenn.edu/2011/10/27/moneyball-philanthropy-back-to-school-film-review-by-jennifer-landres/ Robert M. Penna, Ph.D. The Nonprofit Outcomes Too's avatar BY Robert M. Penna, Ph.D. The Nonprofit Outcomes Too ON November 7, 2011 10:26 AM It is interesting to see how “Moneyball” has sparked so many responses from the nonprofit field. A year ago I did an article with Ken Berger, the President and CEO of Charity Navigator, along much the same lines. Called ““Billy Beane and Outcomes: what baseball can tell the nonprofit world about measures and measurement”, it appeared in the August 2010 edition of the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal, and can be found at http://www.philasocialinnovations.org/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=199:billy-beane-and-outcomes-what-can-baseball-tell-the-nonprofit-world-about-measures-and-measurement&catid=20:what-works-and-what-doesnt&Itemid=31 Leave a Comment + COMMENT Related Stories Social Entrepreneurship Flux to Flex: Takeaways from the 2012 Skoll World Forum A new brand of social entrepreneurship is emerging. By Jason Saul | 3 Nonprofit Management Segmenting the Research Ignacio_Mas_mobile_money_SSIR_www.ignaciomas.com When does it make sense for NGOs to outsource their research to academics? 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Jennifer Landres This is the seventh in a series of “Back to School” book reports by members of our team. We selected books, and in this case, a movie based on a book, based on their potential to help us in our own work to identify high-impact philanthropic opportunities and help donors improve their philanthropic impact. We hope this series helps make some of our own learning transparent so... that others may benefit. This week’s “Back to School” film review is by Jennifer Landres, Project Manager and Analyst at the Center. Last week, I went to see Bennett Miller’s film, Moneyball, based on the book by Michael Lewis. I went to the movies as an escape after a long day at work, and philanthropy was the last thing on my mind. But as the plot of the movie unfolded, my mind kept wandering back to my work at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, and how the central premise of Moneyball directly relates to the work that we do. “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” So opines Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s—and I can’t help but agree. Baseball in America is a time-honored pastime, a sport laden with tradition connected to childhood memories of summertime, hotdogs and fireworks. It’s Field of Dreams: If you build it, he will come. These engrained traditions are precisely why Beane’s adherence to sabermetrics—specialized statistical analysis of baseball through objective, empirical evidence—so deeply shook up the entire MLB institution in 2002. In the “pre-Moneyball era,” baseball fans, scouts and coaches spent time tracking data such as batting averages and RBI’s, which Beane claimed—and proved—to be subjective, flawed, and ineffective indicators of success (read: winning games). Rather, the movie presents Billy Beane and Asst. GM Peter Brand (based upon the real-life Paul DePodesta) as a foil to the more “traditionalist” baseball scouts and executives, because they search for empirical measures of player performance that actually impact the game. Ultimately, by tracking metrics such as OBP (on base percentages) and numbers of pitches-per-at-bat, Beane and Brand successfully identified, recruited and developed “underappreciated” (read: cheaper) players and could therefore put together a winning team on a leaner budget than the large-market teams. Something about this fundamental tension between tradition and innovation, subjectivity and objectivity, gut-instinct and evidence resonated strongly with me. Philanthropy, at its core, is staunched in tradition. Whether it comes in the form of inherited wealth, multi-generational giving, supporting long-standing institutions within the community, or grateful recipient giving (e.g., giving to your alma mater), philanthropy has historically been guided by a wide range of motivations—often the least of which has been data and empirical evidence. Furthermore, when donors have tried to access information to inform their giving, oftentimes the only available data (e.g., overhead ratios, how good other donors felt, how much awareness and funds were raised) has not helped them achieve meaningful changes in the lives of the people they sought to help. Equally compelling data comes from the issue of cost per impact. In Beane’s case, the A’s cost-per-win during the 2002 season was $441,000 (based on the A’s team payroll of $41,942,665). In contrast, big-name franchises, like the Yankees, spent $1.308 million per win (based on the Yankees $133,429,757 payroll), for exactly the same number of wins that season! There are similar gains to be had in philanthropy, if you know where to look. For example, in the case of emergency food provisions, choice and/or bulk purchasing models represent a particularly efficient and effective strategy to get food to households in need. For as little as $16 to $37, a family or four can eat for a week. This is compared to the $150 to $220 that it can cost a traditional food bank to provide enough food for the same family for the same amount of time. That increases efficiency as much as four to fourteen times over. [For more on these models, please see our High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn guide.] The Center for High Impact Philanthropy exists to help donors develop a better understanding of the impact they seek and how to find cost-effective, evidence-based models to achieve that change. Many would argue that baseball is not just about winning, and philanthropy is not necessarily just about impact. But if you care about winning and you care about impact, then the metrics that you look at matter.
The first round of super PAC annual filings came in yesterday, and we at Sunlight have been digging through them since. Our reporting team has been blogging the reports as we digest them. Below are five takeaway points, based on a Sunlight Foundation analysis of FEC filings for nine super PACs that raised at least $500,000 in 2011 and have spent money in the presidential election. (For a... complete list of super PACs, click here.) 1. It’s a few rich donors running the show Among nine super PACs that raised at least $500,000 and have spent on the presidential election so far, almost half of the itemized contributions (47.9%) came from just 22 donors who gave more than $500,000. And 90 donors who gave more than $100,000 accounted for 78.6% of the contributions. (See Table 1). Overall, these super PACS had only 714 itemized contributions (631 individuals and 83 organizations), though more than half (405) were under $10,000 or less. In other words, these super PACs are turning out to be vehicles for a very limited number of wealthy individuals and corporations to spend very large sums of money and take a blaring megaphone to the concept of political speech. Table 1. Donors by contribution size Total Donors Total Given Share of total contributed Cumulative Share More than $1M 6 $14,723,819 23.4% 23.4% More than $500K-$1M 16 $15,400,000 24.5% 47.9% More than 100K-$500K 68 $19,300,674 30.7% 78.6% More than $50K-$100K 81 $7,782,760 12.4% 91.0% More than $10-$50K 138 $4,748,700 7.6% 98.6% $10K or less 405 $936,856 1.5% 100.1% Total 714 $62,892,809 100% Table 2 provides a list of 17 individuals and organizations who gave at least $1 million in 2011. The Sunlight Reporting Group has details elsewhere on just who these big donors are, but for a quick look, see below. Table 2. Million dollar donors Donor Total given PACs given to Harold Simmons $5,500,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , WINNING OUR FUTURE Bob Perry $3,600,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Contran Corporation $3,000,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , AMERICAN CROSSROADS Jerry Perenchio Living Trust $2,000,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS Jon Huntsman $1,887,040 OUR DESTINY PAC Freedomworks $1,336,779 FREEDOMWORKS FOR AMERICA Whiteco Industries, Inc. $1,000,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS Robert Rowling $1,000,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS Eli Publishing Inc $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. F8 LLC $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Melaleuca, Inc. $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Rooney Holdings, Inc. $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Edward Conard $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. John Paulson $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Julian Robertson $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Paul Singer $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Robert Mercer $1,000,000 RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. 2. Most of the donors are individuals, but corporations are playing a big role In Table 2 above, we see that of the 17 contributions of $1 million or more, seven came from corporations, led by the Contran Corporation, which gave $3 million. Contran is run by the Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who also gave $5.5 million of his own money. Both gave to the pro-Perry super PAC “Make us Great Again, Inc.”. Simmons has since moved onto the pro-Gingrich “Winning Our Future”; Contran has moved onto the anti-Obama “American Crossroads.” Overall, of the 714 itemized contributions to the nine super PACs, organizations (mostly corporations) were responsible for only 11% (83) of the contributions, though they did give 29.7% of the total donations. Still, the giving is dominated by individuals. On average, individuals gave more ($70,024 vs $29,648), primarily because there were more really big donations from individuals. Table 3. Individual and organizational donations. Number Avg Donation Total donations Share of total donations Individuals 631 $70,024 $44,185,079 70.3% Organizations 83 $29,648 $18,707,730 29.7%3. Super PACs vary in their reliance on the very largest donors Figure 1 below visualizes the breakdown of super PAC donations by their reliance on different classes of donors. To see how much of each super PACs contributions have come in different sizes, read the figure vertically. To see the share of total super PAC spending coming from each super PAC, read the figure horizontally. Figure 1. The distribution of money going to super PACs graphic by Ali Felski While it’s clear that all of the super PACs are getting the majority of their donations from donors giving more than $50,000, they do vary in the extent to which they rely on donations in chunks of $500,000 or more. Tables 4 and 5 below provide some more detail. Table 4 shows that all nine super PACs have one donor giving at least $150,000, and five of the nine have at least one $1 million donor. It’s also important to note that five of the nine rely on a single donor for at least one quarter of all that PAC’s donations, and three of the nine get the majority of their funding from a single donor. Table 5 shows both the number of itemized donors giving to each PAC and the total number of donors giving $50,000 or more. Again, we see some variety. The pro-Paul Endorse Liberty has only five donors; the pro-Romney Restore Our Future Inc. has 258. Four super PACs got at least 40% of their contributions in $50,000 increments, and two got at least 60% (the pro-Perry Make Us Great Again, Inc., and the pro-Paul Endorse Liberty Inc.) Meanwhile, both the pro-Tea Party, anti-Obama Freedomworks for America and Obama’s Priorities USA Action collected more than 90% of their itemized contributions in less than $50,000 increments, However, Freedomworks for America did get two-thirds of its donations from Freedomworks, a 501(c)(4). Overall, one quarter of donations came in at $50,000 or more. Table 4. Top Donors of the Super PACs Top Donor Share Committee Total Donations 2011 Top Donor Top Donor Contribution RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. $30,175,653 10-way tie $1,000,000 3.3% AMERICAN CROSSROADS $18,185,675 Harold Simmons $5,000,000 27.5% MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC $5,360,174 Contran Corporation $1,000,000 18.7% PRIORITIES USA ACTION $3,121,625 William Little $150,000 4.8% OUR DESTINY PAC $2,680,290 Jon Hunstman Sr. $1,887,040 70.4% FREEDOMWORKS FOR AMERICA $2,161,567 Freedomworks $1,336,779 61.8% WINNING OUR FUTURE $2,080,250 William Little $150,000 7.2% ENDORSE LIBERTY INC $1,020,000 Peter Thiel $900,000 88.2% RED WHITE AND BLUE FUND $764,000 Foster Friess $331,000 43.3% Table 5. Super PACs by reliance on $50,000+ donors Committee # of total itemized donors Donors giving $50K + Pct giving $50K+ RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. 258 104 40.3% AMERICAN CROSSROADS 131 22 16.8% MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC 58 35 60.3% PRIORITIES USA ACTION 37 3 8.1% OUR DESTINY PAC 18 8 44.4% FREEDOMWORKS FOR AMERICA 173 3 1.7% WINNING OUR FUTURE 37 4 10.8% ENDORSE LIBERTY INC 5 3 60.0% RED WHITE AND BLUE FUND 16 2 12.5% ALL 733 184 25.1% 4. Some donors are giving to multiple Super PACs It's also worth noting that there were 15 individuals and organizations that gave to at least two different super PACs, led by Perry Homes CEO Bob Perry, who gave to three (the pro-Perry Make us Great Again, the anti-Obama American Crossroads, and the pro-Romney Restore our Future). Bob Perry, of course, is no stranger to major political giving. In the 2010 cycle, he gave more than $7 million, making him the most generous political donor of the cycle. What this shows is that some of these rich individuals cannot limit themselves to just one super PAC, and probably will continue to spend widely. Table 6. Individuals giving to multiple PACS Donor # of PACs Total given PACs given to Bob Perry 3 $3,600,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , AMERICAN CROSSROADS, RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Harold Simmons 2 $5,500,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , WINNING OUR FUTURE Contran Corporation 2 $3,000,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , AMERICAN CROSSROADS Philip Geier 2 $750,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Kenny Troutt 2 $650,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , AMERICAN CROSSROADS Kenneth Griffin 2 $400,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. John Templeton 2 $350,000 RED WHITE AND BLUE FUND , AMERICAN CROSSROADS Jim Walton 2 $200,000 OUR DESTINY PAC , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Samuel Zell 2 $150,000 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Frank Hanna 2 $35,000 RED WHITE AND BLUE FUND , WINNING OUR FUTURE John Dowd 2 $25,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , AMERICAN CROSSROADS Thomas Sudberry 2 $20,000 MAKE US GREAT AGAIN, INC , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. James Stanard 2 $7,500 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. William Becker 2 $7,500 AMERICAN CROSSROADS , RESTORE OUR FUTURE, INC. Joyce Goetz 2 $1,500 WINNING OUR FUTURE , FREEDOMWORKS FOR AMERICA 5. Conclusion: It’s going to get worse These revelations should not come as a surprise. But what’s impressive is just how concentrated the giving is. Among them, these nine presidential Super PACs have raised more than $62 million. Of that money, almost half (48%) has come from just 22 individuals. We’ve already seen just how potent these super PACs can be in the first few Republican primary contests. As the electoral season moves on, super PACs will likely expand to House and Senate races as well. If what we’ve seen so far is any indication, more and more political fundraising will be dominated by the handful of super-wealthy individuals and corporations who can and will spend seven figures. These kinds of contributions can change the dynamics of a political campaign, which gives these individuals incredible potential power. It cannot be a good thing for our electoral process. Sunlight is advocating for improved super PAC transparency. To see out what we recommend, click here. 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New Tools to Improve Fundraising As fundraisers approach their work, this research provides insight into the psychology of giving and provides another tool in their tool belt. But as with any research, this body of work has limitations. First, as mentioned above, public radio is an interesting and important domain to investigate social influences. But with field experiments, generalization is... always a concern. Testing similar interventions in other nonprofit settings would be useful. Second, we have reported on two particular social influences on giving (social information and social networks). But there are certainly others that are possibly even more effective and have yet to be tested. The potential influences on why and how much donors give are important to those of us working to raise money for nonprofits. At minimum, however, this research indicates that providing information to donors can improve giving rates, and organizations can work to tailor and test these initial results to their environments.
Editors’ note: The following article was excerpted from the book The Science of Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity, edited by Danny Oppenheimer and Christopher Olivola. The chapter, entitled “Social Influences in Giving: Field Experiences in Public Radio,” by Rachel Croson and Jen (Yue) Shang, provides an approach to understanding the role of social information in fundraising.... While the public broadcasting environment in which the study was conducted may seem unique, we believe that this article holds implications for online fundraising specifically and also for individual donor fundraising in general.
Imagine if the Internet worked the way the real world does – and that physical places still helped build connection and community. That’s the idea behind Place-Based Networks; it’s mobile, social technology to help you connect with people based on your shared interest in a place. “Geo-Tags” and “Geo-Fencing” Place-Based Networks rely heavily on geo-tags and geo-fencing, concepts you can learn... more about in my recent post, “Place is a Tag: How Our Phones Should Work.” Here’s the basic idea though: our phones will soon help us “tag” and receive information about places, in ways that are much easier and richer than is possible today. “Geo-tags” will enable us to create cyber perimeters, or “geo-fences,” to delineate spaces in the real world and connect those places to information on the web. Geo-fences can be mapped to electoral districts, cities, neighborhoods, and even a basketball court in a park, a nearby comic shop, or a specific bookshelf in your local library. The map to the left shows a geo-fenced section of a park near my home in Seattle. While the “Place is a Tag“ article focused on the places and things inside these geo-fences, this post is about the people inside them. More Grounded Networks Here’s the basic idea: most places in our world have people who are connected with them. Place-Based Networks expose those people, so you can more easily connect with them. Now, you might be thinking: What?!? I actually have zero interest in connecting with that screaming guy hanging out on the corner down the street. And so yes, this idea has many tricky issues associated with it, some of which we’ll get to in a moment. But first let’s look at what’s exciting about it. Because, like it or not, something like what I’m describing in this article is on it’s way. As a society, we need to get out front on this technology to ensure it evolves in ways that are good for us and for our communities. How It Might Work… I’ve learned over the years to never become wedded to one particular vision for how something might work. Software developers are hugely creative people who will consistently surprise you with their unique take on addressing a problem. So this is just a way of saying that I don’t have some exact vision for exactly how this technology will present itself to us. This is just one way of thinking about how you’ll interact with Place- Based Networks via your phone, laptop and other mobile devices. You know that little utility you have for choosing a Wi-Fi network on your computer and mobile devices? Well, imagine that, but instead of using it to choose a connection to the Internet, you use something like it for choosing your Place-Based Networks. The best way to describe this is through some examples. Geo-Fenced Classroom As our first scenario, imagine a college classroom with a geo-fence around it. When you open your laptop, iPad, or phone inside that classroom, you instantly see the above short list of social networks affiliated with the room. These are small networks, like all the students currently taking Biology 101 across the various time blocks in which it’s taught. Or it might be all of the professors who share that classroom, along with the AV department and people responsible for ensuring its upkeep. Or it might be an informal club, the “Bio-Geeks,” who tagged this room as a very focused way of recruiting new students into their group. The geo-fence for the classroom might be tied to a blog for the “Bio-Geeks” group or a Facebook group, so that when a new student clicks on the “Bio-Geeks” network for the first time, he or she is taken directly to the blog or the Facebook group to see who else is in the group and whether it looks interesting enough to join. Geo-Fenced Basketball Court For the second scenario, imagine a basketball court in a public park with its own geo-fence. How’d that geo-fence get there? Simple. Someone who plays there a lot either drew a fence around the court from their home computer using Google Maps, or simply plopped down four points defining a rectangle around the court using their mobile phone (see Place is a Tag for how). With that geo-fence in place, any of the people who play at that court can now get ahold of one another without the fuss and awkwardness of sharing contacts with one another. To connect with others around that court, the next time they’re at the court they simply choose the network named after that court from a list on their mobile device. If it’s a popular court, there may be multiple networks from which to choose. This particular Place-Based Network might be tied to a Google Group for easy email-based coordination. Or even better, it might be tied to an SMS group to enable its members to easily text one another and quickly coordinate a last-minute game of pickup basketball on a Saturday afternoon. And they won’t need a special app for that; it’ll just be baked into how their phones work. Geo-Fenced Conference Center For the last scenario, imagine you’re going to a conference in your chosen field of interest. You walk into the conference center, open your phone and immediately see a handful of available social networks associated with the event. One of those social networks is likely to be the official one run by the conference organizers and they may only give you access to it with your paid registration. The other social networks you see may be created by other attendees. Some of the speakers and roundtable participants may also set up smaller geo-fences just around the room for their breakout sessions, so participants can easily hone in on the communities of practice that interest them the most. Closer Than We Think Place-Based Networks aren’t far away. Once geo-tagging tools become widely used, it’s only a matter of time before people start connecting places to information on the web, and from there connecting that to collections of people is easy. Much of this will likely happen through existing social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, but I also believe Place-Based Networks will help catalyze social networks that will be independent of these services. One day very soon, we will have whole ecosystems of personal data storage services and one type of data we will manage through them will be our social graph, that map of all our connections with other people. In that world, we won’t necessarily need to keep track of these connections on Facebook and Google+ and Twitter. We’ll just do it once in our personal data store, and these services will then subscribe to our social graph. Place-Based Networks will connect us with a large number of place-based relationships that won’t be the result of us gathering together on the public square of Facebook. Instead, we’ll increasingly find these new connections based on where we happen to be standing, and that’s why Place-Based Networks are likely to play an important role in opening up the way we manage our social connections with one another. The risks: This technology has great potential for good - and it holds a large number of risks, ranging from the socially awkward to the down-right dangerous. On the awkward side, I think back to my initial experiences playing around with Color, an early (and largely failed) foray into using place to connect us. Using the service made me uncomfortable. I just wasn’t used to seeing online representations of the people standing around me. Part of this discomfort centered on the design of that particular service, but there are some more generic problems worth considering. Think, for example, about the low levels of discomfort we experience when someone fails to friend, follow or circle us back on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These social setbacks are fairly subtle and relatively easy to ignore. But when someone attempts to connect with us in a Place-Based Network, in most cases they will be very near us. Turning them down will inevitably be more awkward than on other types of online social networks. Think about a poor young woman just trying to do her grocery shopping at the supermarket, having to constantly turn down requests to connect from eager suitors. You don’t have to think all that hard to find situations that move from awkward to dangerous. Someone in a bar might use the physical intimidation of their standing right next to you to persuade you to connect when you might otherwise think it a bad idea. It gets worse. Way worse. Think about identity thieves setting geo-fences around your home, or child molesters setting up geo-fences around the local playground. Clearly, any movement forward in this technology would need to be accompanied by some serious factoring-in of social and security considerations. We would need, for example, the ability to cloak ourselves when so desired. We would also need different personas corresponding to varying levels of disclosure about ourselves, starting with anonymous and moving up from there. Why This Matters Place-Based Networks are part of a broader category of technology that I call Place-Based Software. This technology has the potential to reinvigorate our attachment to place and build stronger connections with our communities. These local connections are connections that really matter to our happiness as individuals. These are the places where we work and live, and technology that helps us build stronger connections in these places is technology that really can make the world a better place. We just need to make sure that’s the way it gets built.
Today, Jan. 30, 2012, is a uniquely strange day in the history of American democracy. It's the day before Florida's Republican primary, and the gap between the million dollars in outside spending and the possibility of transparency through technology is, quietly, bigger than it has ever been in the history of the republic. "There's really two phenomena here," says Commissioner Ellen Weintraub of... the Federal Election Commission, "the creation of the super PACs and the compression of the primary schedule." We'll add a third: the blurring of the line between coordination and independence. They add up to mean that, when it comes to campaign spending, at this very moment we know only a fraction of the information we have the ability to know. Of course, Citizens United, decided by the Supreme Court two years ago this month, threw out restrictions on campaign funding by corporations and unions. But it was SpeechNow.org vs. FEC, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two months later, that opened the doors to unlimited spending by groups of individuals, as long as they're not in cahoots with campaigns. The two decisions together created "super PACs," largely unfettered political-spending vehicles with comically oblique names like Restore Our Future and Winning Our Future and Priorities USA. But these new groups weren't free to do whatever they pleased. The courts threw their weight behind the idea of transparency, singing of the Internet's ability to keep the system sane. "A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today," the Supreme Court said in its Citizens United decision. But, "with the advent of the Internet, transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages." The lower court affirmed the validity of disclosure. But it hasn't exactly played out that way. And January 2012 in presidential politics in particular has conspired to show how far we are from the Supreme Court's wired utopia. When it comes to timing, the key here is that while campaigns and super PACs alike have to disclose what they're spending on "independent expenditures" right away -- that's how we know, for example, that super PACs have already dropped $44 million on ads by super PACs this cycle, and that information is quickly put up online at FEC.gov and used by groups like OpenSecrets, MapLight, and The New York Times API -- super PACs are allowed to disclose who is paying for those ads at a far more leisurely pace. And, in December, clever election lawyers at super PACs associated with Romney, Gingrich, and Huntsman switched filing from four times a year to once a month. (It was barely a formality; the pro- Gingrich superPACs letter was all of 19 words.) "Normally, switching from quarterly to monthly is a good thing, because you're getting more disclosure," says the FEC's Weintraub. But here, it had all the grace of breaking up with your girlfriend right before her birthday. If you file four times a year, you see, you also have to file before each primary. Monthly filers, though, can skip that step. The filing schedules are decades old, dating back to when primary season stretched far longer. And in the pre-Citizens United era, no one thought much about it. "There's only so much influence you can buy for $5,000," says Weintraub. What all that calendar shifting meant, in practice, is that the super PACs bought themselves until tomorrow to file with the FEC for the first time this year. What's more, that disclosure will only cover who gave what through the end of December. We won't know until the end of February who funded advertisements in the front-loaded portion of primary season -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. By that time, Nevada, Maine, Colorado, and Minnesota will have wrapped their candidate selection, too. "There's been some concern," says Weintraub, "that this whole thing could be over before the reports have been filed." Other factors of modern politics are critically important here, too. The information-saturated, media-driven political landscape has changed what it means for a super PAC to run independent of a campaign. "The court has put more weight on that distinction between coordinated and independent than that distinction can bear," Weintraub says. What counts as coordination is a fuzzy question when candidates and their surrogates are constantly laying out their talking points in countless tweets, debates, interviews. The Obama campaign has, for one, made a specialty of distributing online strategy-briefing videos. "Why," asks Weintraub, "do you need to have a conversation to figure out what would be useful for them?" Moreover, these are groups run by buddies and funded by friends. Winning Our Future, the Gingrich-backing super PAC that has been in the news much was formed last month by Becky Burkett, who worked for a PAC founded by Gingrich. We learned that casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife had given $10 million to the group only because of energetic reporting and because Adelson seems to like to talk. The pro-Romney Restore Our Future is run by former aides. Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Obama, was created by former White House spokesman Bill Burton and other allies. They had no choice, the Democrats argued. "We will follow the rules as the Supreme Court has laid them out," Burton said, according to the L.A. Times, "but the days of the double standard are over.” "When you read the bare facts," says the FEC's Weintraub, "it makes people scratch their heads and say, 'In what sense is that not coordinated?' Super PACs are functioning as alter egos of the candidates' committees, and are being run by their friends." Who, I ask Weintraub, has the responsibility for policing coordination? "We do, I suppose," she says. Then she sighs. While super PAC critics argue that citizens deserve to know who's funding third-party ads -- that the information that Adelson seems motivated in large part by Gingrich's stance on Israel, for example, is needed before they make an informed judgment on its contents -- critics of campaign-finance restrictions say they find that silly. Paul Sherman is a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and co-counsel on the SpeechNow.org case. He argues against data deluge; revealing who's funding super PACs risk swamping citizens with useful information. At worst, it's voyeuristic. "People who want to go out and vote for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney aren't going to be persuaded to do so based on who's funding an advertisement," says Sherman in a call last week. "It's ultimately up to the voter to view an ad and make a decision on it. Groups that are just talking to the public shouldn't have to deal with this nonsense, and people should be allowed to be anonymous." Of course, the Supreme Court has seen things differently, and said so strongly in Citizens United. For many on the free-spending side, though, the bloom has gone off the idea of transparency through technology. "A lot of Republicans used to say, 'Let's have instant, terrific disclosure," says Weintraub. But, with that case and SpeechNow settled, "suddenly, having a lot of disclosure isn't as appealing as it used to be." With the FEC seen as moribund and powerless, campaign-finance advocates are looking to Congress to make super PAC transparency more than a dream. The DISCLOSE Act of 2010 died in a storm of controversy over its NRA-carveouts and bans on contributions from government contractors and TARP recipients. Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is making noises about reviving DISCLOSE. But also getting attention is the Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections from Ruining Public Accountability in Campaigns Act, drafted by the Sunlight Foundation. The SUPERPAC Act is a pared-down DISCLOSE Act, limited to just its disclaimer and disclosure provisions. Donors would have to be reported to the FEC alongside expenditures, and stand-by-your-ad requirements mean that top funders would be identified in the advertisements themselves. The bill would mandate that data would move in and out of the FEC in digital, standardized formats. "It's not that hard," says the Sunlight Foundation's Lisa Rosenberg. "It's all online. You type in a few numbers and hit 'send.'" Sunlight has put its working version of the SUPERPAC Act up on PublicMark.org so that anyone might comment upon it. Will Congress actually move on writing tech-enabled super PAC transparency into the law? They might be newly motivated to, says Rosenberg. She points to the Massachusetts Senate race, where Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren announced a pact last week meant to limit third-party spending in their race. For every dollar spent by an outside group in on-air or online ads, the supposed beneficiary has to donate 50 cents to the charity of his or her opponents' choice. Such a thing is difficult to police, especially where micro-targeted online ads are concerned; Brown sent out an email on Wednesday telling supporters that if they should see "any pro-Warren online advertising," they should let his digital director know. "Candidates ought to be afraid of this phenomenon," says Sunlight's Rosenberg. "Either they've lost control of their campaigns or they're coordinating and breaking the law." When all is said and done, the Weintraub and Sherman might not agree on much, but they do agree on... Stephen Colbert, and his (Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen) Colbert Super PAC. The comedian, says Weintraub, is doing a great public service by focusing attention on campaign spending. Sherman concurs, arguing that what Colbert is really educating the public on is the fact that, in the United States circa 2012, the rules that govern spending by candidates and spending by super PACs differ tremendously without any logic explaining why that is the case. "Unfortunately," says Sherman, "the situation looks absurd." That seems to be true no matter where you're standing.