Report on TAG and WINGS conferences on ICT - Nov 2007

I’ve just got back from 2 weeks in the United States, attending 2 conferences in my capacity as Manager, Communications & Knowledge at Philanthropy Australia, and generally steeping myself in philanthropy’s homeland. First up, in San Francisco, was the TAG (Technology Affinity Group) Conference. There were about 120 delegates at the TAG Conference, nearly all from foundations, but including people from the Council on Foundations and the Foundation Center.  Most were dedicated IT staff (W.K. Kellogg Foundation has 15 people in their IT department!). 

Following that was a fabulous WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support) Peer Learning Event in Boston, held at Associated Grant Makers (AGM) in Boston, MA.  There were 15 invited participants meeting on the theme of Communications Strategies for Grantmaker Associations, from the US and Canada, Brazil, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Philippines and Latvia. The discussions - exploring issues such as knowledge management and the use of technology for communications - were focused and intense, and very rewarding in terms of sharing knowledge and forging peer networks.

The 3 key learnings I took away from these meetings were:

1. Collaboration tools are big, and social networking tools are a part, but only one part, of the picture.

    Some foundations, particularly community foundations, are looking to restructure their grant-making as their new donors, generally younger people, don’t relate to the old models of giving, and want more control over their philanthropy and more active involvement. A more collaborative and flexible approach is needed.  However, transition is can be problematic and meet with considerable resistance as grantseekers are so used to being competitive rather than collaborative when it comes to grantseeking from foundations. Online collaboration tools are most useful for very specific and focused groups who are already working well together and have clear shared goals and an expressed need to share resources. For Philanthropy Australia, as a grantmaker support organisation, we have found some collaboration tools, such as our PhilanthropyOz Blog and the PhilanthropyWiki to be very successful, but they are not necessary tools that our Members all need to adopt wholesale for themselves. The key purpose of social networking technologies (also known as Web 2.0 - eg. blogs, Facebook, MySpace etc.) is to get people engaged and active. They should be seen as an online enhancements to personal communications rather than as organisational tools. Web 2.0 technologies, in the philanthropy context, are really only useful where they address specific problems which an organisation is focusing on.

2. Data is all important!

    We need to collect, analyse and publish data which shows what is happening now in philanthropy in order to obtain maximum support, influence and credibility. In doing so we need to be explicit, transparent and link to strategy. We can’t rely on asking our users what they want.  Henry Ford said “if I’d asked my customers what they wanted they’d have asked for a faster horse”!  Rather learn from your users by what they do – monitor their behaviour, track websites statistics, track how many subscribers actually open the e-newsletter.

3. Knowledge Management underpins everything we do.

    KM is not a project, but a practice which needs to be built into the culture and infrastructure of the organisation. KM is traditionally thought of as ‘collecting and connecting’ tasks. Most of us in grantmaker support organisations spend too much time accumulating the knowledge asset, and not enough effort connecting it to others, and others together. In reality most of our members would spend 90% of their time connecting, rather than searching for knowledge. This challenges our assumptions about our role. Pushing information out to our stakeholders is not enough.  We need to adopt a ’You tell us’ strategy. Instead of us publishing what we think our Members and others want or need to hear, and hoping it will be read, we should ask our stakeholders to tell us their view, to engage in dialogue, and in the process two-way learning occurs.

Both these events proved to be valuable, targeted and practical professional development, reinvigorating my work energy, fuelling my ideas bank and networks. It’s always great to meet new colleagues with whom you share challenges and can exchange stories of what worked and what failed, tips and tricks, and useful resources.  I look forward to putting some of my new insights into practice.  If you would like to see a copy of my trip report please contact me at

Nov. 27, 2007

 Tags: research & information, news, knowledgebank, it

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