The old paradigm was about few people controlling value generation and distribution; as a result, those few gate-keepers governed the dominant patterns that our culture experienced. In the early days of the Internet, though, we dis-intermediated the distribution and as we matured into "Web 2.0", we also started to dis-intermediate the value generation. One-to-many lectures now became many-to-many conversations, scarce blockbuster hits turned into abundant long-tail niches, and producers became consumers as consumers became producers. We revolutionized the way we organize.
Conventional newspapers, music, books, video were all disrupted into a new paradigm. But unfortunately, philanthropy never had its turn.
Traditional philanthropy is rooted in mistrust. Its top-down, bureaucratic, and transactional processes means that Ford Foundation's cost-per-transaction is $50,000. When any grant, no matter how big, costs $50K, it doesn't make sense for them to make small grants. And this implies that innovation -- which often comes from small and unexpected places -- is completely stifled, and social change is reserved for the elite and powerful.
Is it possible to leverage the networked power of Internet to disrupt philanthropy into a new era of innovation? Just as we are blurring the lines between producers and consumers, can we smudge the gap between giver and receiver? And can we truly empower everyone as an agent of social-change?
We don't know, but this is one experiment that says "yes" to those questions.
A while back, CharityFocus received an unexpected, unsolicited, and anonymous check for $7500 -- a group of people sat together in silence, each wrote a number on a piece of paper, and sent us a check for the averaged number. Not only were we completely blow away, but the offering felt deeply sacred.
A month or so later, three Sufi women asked -- "So if you had to design a new model of philanthropy, what would it look like?" A spontaneous response led to an online document. An executive of a trucking company happened upon that document and sent in some more money. No questions, no strings attached, no explanations. "Do it with it, whatever you wish," the accompanying note read.
Soon enough, the gifts from the "Shaman, Sufi, and a Trucker" added up. For an organization whose 2006 operating budget was $6500, this was a rather significant paradigm shift! Staying true to our non-accumulation ethic, we decided to give away it away. It was almost as radical as a homeless monk doing philanthropy!
So now, the question was: how do you give away money?
Instead of a ready-steady-go business plan, we do what rockets do: blast off first, then hope to steady, and arrive whenever the universe self-organizes the conditions. With that initial gift, we launched a "radical experiment in generosity" in Upper Hudson Valley of New York. That broaden into a global virtual experiment with a $100 Contest. And most recently, we've started localized philanthropy, that is rooted in physical community.
Let's see what happens next. :)
If you have any questions or comments, we encourage you to contact us anytime.