Knowledge Philanthropy: Cheap and Uber-Valuable

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July 18, 2012; Source: Scientific American

Writing for Scientific American, Hilda Bastian issues a call to arms, telling readers that they should get more active on sites like Wikipedia where their contributions of knowledge are needed. She points out that participation in editing/writing for the site peaked in 2007 and that there are fewer women than there should be represented among the editors. There are plenty of opportunities to contribute; Wikipedia makes it fairly easy if you have a decent knowledge base. Bastian points out that if you use Wikipedia a lot, you will still see that there are some woefully incomplete or inaccurate postings.

“The worst entries can be quite catastrophic,” comments Bastian, adding that “an article has to be truly egregious to be deleted. Those really bad entries are marked ‘stubs’, and they’re kind of begging for someone to come and do something. To see what this means, go to the WikiProjects page, pick one of the 2,000 topic areas you’ve got expertise in, and find the list of ‘stubs.’”

NPQ thinks, as you might well imagine, that this kind of crowdsourced activity is an excellent way to contribute to the world. There is enormous value in building collective knowledge in any number of situations and the more willing we are to put some time into that, the wiser citizen action will become. NPQ would love to be one of the recipients of your knowledge philanthropy as well. For instance, we are always looking for newswire writers that will help us as we try to bring the acts of making history and writing it together. –Ruth McCambridge

  • Annastasia Palubiski

    Hi Ruth,
    When I read your title, I was devastated to see the word “cheap” next to “knowledge philanthropy”. One of our own volunteers began using this term to describe what we do more than 7 years ago. Since then we’ve been working with not-for-profit organizations to create new structures that support this type of people engagement. Because like you, we know there is tremendous potential here that has yet to be mobilized. Wikipedia is a great example of a not-for-profit that has been able to harness the power of people to a greater extent than any multinational corporation ever could. And this is a huge success.
    Calling the contributions of people’s skills and expertise “cheap” is a poor choice of words in my opinion. The myth that talent engagement is cheap keeps community organizations from investing the right amount of resources in building structures that allow knowledge philanthropists to contribute in meaningful ways. In order to leverage the talent of people (salaried staff and knowledge philanthropists), you have to invest in governance, planning, leadership development and good people processes. In the end you will deliver superior results with greater mission impact, but let’s not confuse this with being cheap.