Earlier this week, I had the terrific opportunity to participate on a panel at the US launch event for “Philanthropy and Social Media”, a whitepaper from The Institute for Philanthropy and The Indigo Trust. Download the full white paper or share it using this link: http://bit.ly/oii1Vr Below are notes from my remarks.

The internet is not new. The last few years, though, have been dramatically impacted by the real-time web. The real-time web is a paradigm based on pushing information to users as soon as it’s available, instead of requiring that they or their software check a source periodically for updates. Social media is one of the most tangible examples of the real time web. 

We want to share while we are doing and have people respond immediately. Why be in just one place when we can be in many? That might look like sharing a picture from a concert, while you are still at the concert. It could be checking in with people on a location-based social network. And so on. This focus on collective participation and 24/7 connectivity has impacted more than just our social lives.

In 2009, for example, two trapped girls in Australia chose to post to facebook for help rather than dialing emergency numbers directly. A similar example is that of an Atlanta city councilman who chose to post a message to Twitter asking for a medic to respond to an unconscious woman on the street rather than to dial 911 when his mobile phone battery was very low.

The real-time web has also revolutionized the way we support local communities in disaster. Ushahidi, an open source project originally deployed in Kenya to report post-election violence has since been downloaded and deployed for many other events and disasters, including Haiti, Chile, and Japan. Philanthropy has been able to move into the real time web, too.

Another great example is Epic Change. Their Tweetsgiving campaigns were fundraisers benefiting Mama Lucy’s school in Tanzania and connected the students to their supporters through Twitter. Donors could communicate with the students, and they thanked participants directly – building lasting relationships. Their To Mama With Love campaign also leveraged the power of our social ties online through “heartspaces” people could create with embeded video and photos, and then share with social media, donate, etc.

Impacts to Society

What does all this really mean for us now? I see three pillars of our real-time society emerging:

1. People believe in the internet. They don’t necessarily think they need an organization in order to make an impact. So, for an organization to really win over supporters, they need to do a lot more today than they ever have to earn their trust. Part of believing in the internet means that you know you can (or believe you should be able to) find out historical, operational, and financial information on the organizations or people you might support.

2.People believe in their contributions. Even if it is just $10, they really believe that it is enough. Maybe it isn’t even money, but feedback or advice, maybe an introduction or volunteer time. People want to be recognized for contributing anywhere along the spectrum.

3.People believe you should listen to them. Whether that “you” is the government, business, public services, other community members, or even philanthropists. The internet is an endless stage and platform, and when we are up there speaking, we expect you are all listening.

Impacts to Philanthropy

For any investors or philanthropists, I’ve probably just reinforced any fear you had about the internet with those three points. But what does all this mean for philanthropy?

1.We can’t only invest in new. There have to be other criteria for defining and evaluating innovation. You may laugh, but I’ve reviewed grantmakers and government funds where that was actually the only criteria, other than going through the process of filling out the application form. For many start ups and even nonprofit groups doing something truly innovative, they totally blow it the first time around. A mulligan fund for projects that completely fail, but pay attention to what went wrong and how to do it right this time around could be the difference between many more failed attempts over years and jumping to a solution today.

2.We can’t only invest in a product. Instead, we should put the problems first and invest in a project. For many developers, including many of the projects we funded through NetSquared Challenges, the ultimate tool or application that was created was vastly different than the one they originally thought of or thought would work. But we invested in the project of trying things out and iterating towards a solution.

3.We can’t focus just on money. Especially as philanthropists, whether it is you or your organization, you have so much to offer beyond money. For many project teams I’ve worked with, having an endorsement actually took them further than having a chunk of change. Maybe it’s an introduction or a recommendation, or just a place to sit and work and have meetings.

What do you have to share? What does your real-time philanthropy or social impact look like?

[Image credit: Philanthropy and Social Media whitepaper]

Philanthropy and Social Media: New Whitepaper from The Institute for Philanthropy