• Kim Lanphear

    There is a “holier-than-thou” feeling to this article. I do agree that nonprofits answer to a societal good calling that is not driven by commercialism and returns. But I also know that nonprofits run from technology as if it will encumber their work. Undoubtedly, technology can enable as equally as it can cause havoc. But it is most definitely an enabler of efficiencies, increased capacity to understand our service markets, our donors and our constituents, and it is a great way to force us to more clearly define what it is that we expect to accomplish with our missions.

    I run a nonprofit that helps nonprofits integrate and understand technology. While not every innovative technology is right for every nonprofit, I see more technology solutions that are being ignored that could benefit the service parameters of the nonprofit.

    Rather than rail against the technology sector, and lump it into the ranting’s of an overly-self-aggrandized individual, why not step into the technology dialogue collaboratively. 90% of all data was gathered in the last 2 years – – – – imagine that exponential game changer. Why not be part of that sea-change and work to see what can enable our missions, discarding that which cannot? When I see the type of change that technology and global interconnectivity, to name just two, and the speed with which that change is being driven, I see it as a time to “lean in” to quote a trending phase, rather than an time to point fingers.

  • Peter Wilderotter

    A fantastic piece. Important, timely and honest. What a pleasure. Perhaps it will lead to a critical conversation—people matter!

  • Aria Edry, Edry and Associates

    Finally, a push back! Thank you! It’s really not so much about technology as about philanthropic attitudes, negative aspects of current ideas of strategic philanthropy, and the age-old problem of the arrogance of the rich. Am eager to hear others’ responses to this very timely and necessary article.

  • Steve Boland

    The reasons people give have always varied, and I doubt that better technology will change us all into spread-sheet wielding automatons giving only to causes demonstrating a specific ROI. I think some will make giving decisions based on this, but many others are using the new technologies to make giving decisions that are more social, less calculated.

    Crowdfunding technologies lower the barrier to entry for collaborative giving, and people give to causes of the heart, as well as those of the head, and even to those of the funnybone. A few gazillionaires will look for technological efficiency, but the majority of givers don’t respond that way even when reached with technology.

  • michael brand

    What’s wrong with attempting to rethink our business? I agree that much coming out of the mouths of the Techno-Philanthropists is pie in the sky….but isn’t that where we want our futurists to be? Keep in mind that most investments made by Venture Capitalists lose money….but some pay off….and a small few pay off royally

    The critique that “our attention is being drawn away to a glittery future world that is fantasy and not the world we live in is a valid one, but that’s nothing new either. How many nonprofits are guilty of the overhype that their latest program ‘offers a new paradigm” or is ‘transforming lives”. Fact remains that there are going to be very basic services (food, clothing, shelter) that will require more analog than digital. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be unleashing a whole new generation of bright young minds to rethink what we’re doing. While the model for much of our work is solid, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of nonprofits which could use a little disrupting

  • Tom Moberg

    I am all for provoking a discussion on these topics, which this article is certainly doing, but I am also with Kim in being a bit put off by the tone, especially the intergenerational aspects. I have personally seen older nonprofit leaders drive younger nonprofit staff away from organizations due to misunderstandings about style and substance. It seems like the main focus is on young west coast technology executives, but the themes they are voicing DO represent at least some of the feelings of a younger generation of people. I think the challenge is to take the best from both perspectives and keep moving forward.

    For a long time I have wanted to change the conversation so common when for-profit organizations talk to non-profit organizations. Instead of ‘oh you poor nonprofit, let us give you some free hardware/software/consulting’, I want nonprofits to say, ‘Hey you over there, we are doing interesting, important work and would love to have you join us to use the best tools available to meet our mission’.


  • Marian Conway Ph.D.

    Two points keep jumping at me on this new conversation regarding how we don’t do philanthropy correctly, but software can fix that. One is that the tech-philanthropy gurus seem to have a gaming view of people – that even if we don’t now, we can be made to all look the same, behave the way the software wants us to behave, and have predictable outcomes because there will be someone at the controls, financially and otherwise.

    The other point is that these tech people apparently don’t want to get their hands dirty. They expect nonprofit people to perform at some display, like hauling out the latest concept car. They want the mountain to come to them at their earliest convenience rather than going out and seeing the humanness of it all.

    The all tech philanthropy won’t work. You have to be present to fix some things. You have to swing a hammer for Habitat, read to a sick child, deliver the hot meals to shut-ins. If they are saying they can solve the problems that created the homeless and the sick, then they have to learn the variety of causes, and the variety of people. They have to see it, not stand on a stage with a laser pointer in hand. Software drones would really stink at the work of stopping the causes of poverty, hunger, and disease. And once you see that work being done, you reach in your pocket. The people doing that hard work don’t have time to perform for the tech people.

    What a shame. The tech-philanthropy people are missing the mosaic of human beings, the dynamic give and take of personal relationships, and the satisfaction of of doing the direct service work. We are each a unique individual, and words like “all” “always” “everyone” and “no one” cannot be applied to philanthropy any more than they can be applied to hair color or height. Tech philanthropy may work with some of the funding for some of the nonprofits/NGOs, but we cannot eliminate all the other methods.

  • Clark McCain

    While Nonprofit Quarterly is a trade publication, the fight Bill Schambra is picking is just too much “inside baseball” for me.

    Admittedly, I am a Gen X-er and nine-year foundation program officer who highly values many of the changes in philanthropy espoused by folks who entered the field about the same time I did. However, I’m also a dropout of Ms. Arrillaga-Andreessen’s MOOC who just couldn’t quite take the revolutionary gusto of her course offering.

    What we should all recall, though, is that charitable giving represents “merely” (if I dare to use that word) 2% of the adjusted gross income of Americans. This contrasts with, for instance, 27.3% which goes to taxes (Source: OECD tax statistics), 5.6% for entertainment (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics), and 2.5% for Starbucks coffee and other frivolities (Source: me, and probably a gross underestimate!).

    We need to encourage more individuals to participate in philanthropy and bump that 2% way up. If what inspires them is to become an Arrillaga-Andreessen Android, then let’s encourage them to do so and open their wallets. If, alternatively, they wish to be Simple Schambra Supporters, fantastic — welcome aboard.

    Lexington and Concord, now? So the tech titans are the redcoats? As I said, that’s a lot of inside baseball. Let’s put down our muskets and encourage as many folks as possible to just play ball.

  • Paul J. Quin

    Our business is changing and not all for the better. Tools are imperative but so too are a strong and credible case, a demonstrable outcome, and a societal impact. Look no further than Faith, Education and Healthcare/Human Services.
    In God we Trust, or is it Data!

  • Kim

    Brilliant. I believe our Foundation must be transparent in its dealings, honest in its transactions and just in its dealings. And we do attack the root of the perceived problem. We address poverty and gender equity by educating girls,and young women. It is a high returning but long term investment. One can compile data, as we do, but we cannot guarantee outcomes for any individual girl. Hypothetically, we might educate thousands of girls with no major discernible result and then one cures cancer. Unpredictable.

  • Peter Campbell

    Great discussion to start here, but the tone of this article is not very helpful. It is reasonable for donors to want nonprofits to quantify their effectiveness, and a charge that many nonprofits make poor use of technology is really hard to argue with. But, unlike soda sales at WalMart, our effectiveness can’t be reduced to simple numbers. What nonprofits do, and do with very limited resources, is inherently hard to measure. We do need to provide what metrics we can that speak to our impact, and we can do that by making better use of software and technology. But taking donors to task by making them look like the characters on HBO’s Silicon Valley is a bit unnecessary. Educating them is a betetr move than mocking them.