Last week in our post about philanthropy as a key principle of worldchanging work, we discussed the importance of charitable giving as a catalyst for change, and focused in particular on the need for philanthropy to become a more transparent, open process -- whether at the foundation level or among individuals -- so that the distribution of funds can be tracked and donors can be confident about their chosen recipients.
At the NetSquared Conference today, a new site has launched which aims to respond to this issue. Bring Light opens the sometimes opaque and confusing world of philanthropy through an online social network that provides donors with an interactive resource for learning where and how their money gets distributed, and lets charities share their progress as a result of philanthropic support.
Bring Light was created for people who want to feel connected to the result of their donations. The site features specific projects posted by charities that are first screened by Bring Light for legitimacy. Donors can see evidence of their impact with real-time updates and by chatting with others in the community, including the charity itself who is encouraged to report back on how the money was spent.
In partnership with the American Endowment Foundation, Bring Light also offers members "a donor advised fund, a type of charitable giving program that allows you to combine the most favorable tax benefits with the flexibility to support your favorite charities at any time."
There's an excellent running list of popular projects which can be followed and referenced to see where donations are flowing and why. The site supports a growing collection of individual member profiles, and numerous groups (with more being created continually) which members can join in order to communicate directly with others interested in the same causes.
It looks like an interesting model. Donor education is pretty minimal in most of the world of publicly supported foundations.
My concern about that site from an activist perspective is that (as the list of charities up there now suggests) it'll be so full of humane societies, etc., that social change groups will effectively be drowned out.
There's a lot to be said, also, for grantmaking decisions that are made by panels of activists, rather than by donors or professional foundation staff. Much of what limits organizations' ability to experiment is the need to bring donors along; activist perspectives can often help new and good ideas get support they can't get even from many progressive funding groups. Not, mind you, that it's so easy to get money for activist panels to give out, but activist-advised grantmaking is making headway in some smaller progressive venues.
Another company that seeks to connect motivated individuals with the organizations that they are passionate about is Firstgiving.com. Firstgiving is a website where anyone can create a free personalized fundraising page for practically any non-profit. After your page is created you can promote to your online community (MySpace, Facebook, Blog, etc) with badges or widgets. Firstgiving is about connection; connecting the people that support you with the organizations you care about. You can promote your page anywhere, and all funds will be sent directly to the non-profit.
Because isn't it better when everyone can participate?