It was great to read this blog entry, “Paul Brest Needs a Blog,” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review email I got last week. (Paul Brest runs the Hewlett Foundation, the famous, 50-year-old, $7 billion foundation that makes huge awards to nonprofits of all kinds.)
The author, Sean Stannard-Stockton who wrote a book (Edit! Per Sean’s comment below, it’s actually a blog.) called Tactical Philanthropy, believes strongly in the power of blogs to not only increase the amount of data and information to donors by helping create a philanthropy information marketplace. But, he adds, the beauty of blogs – and really the Web – is that they allow for a two-way conversation. He notes, in particular, that the voice of the funder is rarely heard in any philanthropic conversations. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Funders, donors, and volunteers “talk” with their time and money, I suppose. By deciding where to invest their wealth, they let NPOs know what they feel are the most pressing needs. But that doesn’t seem to be a strong enough voice in the conversation. After all, you can only interpret a donation as being a vague show of support for an NPO’s mission. Maybe what they really want to say is a bit more complicated than a thumbs-up. Because a blog allows readers to comment and discuss posts, it can be a good place for donors/volunteers to engage in the philanthropic conversation.
When I think about the potential of GoodCause, the magazine we’re working on, one of the things that excites me the most is the prospect of giving donors/volunteers a voice. The magazine will be targeted at them, but it will also be about them and what they believe. Like Mando Rayo, I think that people take the first step toward civic engagement by educating themselves about the needs of their community, and many of them become donor/volunteers, and even civic leaders. As a result of all this education and engagement, I believe each of them develops a strong opinion about what the change they want to see in Austin.
So what’s going to keep this magazine from becoming preachy, sentimental, or maudlin?
The way I think about it, as someone who’s interviewed probably more than 100 very different people, is this: People’s passions make them interesting. If you ever think someone is boring, it’s probably because you’re asking them the wrong questions. When you find what makes that person get out of bed in the morning, what makes them sit on the edge of their seat when they talk, what makes them animated and comfortable… you’ll be amazed at how interesting that person can be. And interesting people – along with compelling stories and useful information – can make a great magazine.
I think there are a lot of people in Austin whose passion for good causes will make for an interesting read. And if it encourages other people to join in the conversation, all the better.
(IN FACT… I am lining up interviews with active Austin donors and volunteers now – two next week, so far – and I plan to write about these interviews here. Maybe even get a little video in, if they let me. If you’re an active donor or volunteer – or if you want to be one – let’s talk!)