Foundation Friday: Q: When is an institutional funder not a foundation?

A: When it is a social network Web platform (buzzwords, anyone?).  But a funder is a funder if it gives away money, so the Nonprofiteer draws readers’ attention to Razoo and its offer of a $10,000 grant to an organization bringing 100 new members to the Razoo site.  Presumably more than one nonprofit will accomplish this goal, so the winner (of the $10K and lesser second and third cash prizes) will be chosen by site members.  Deadline is October 1. 

Razoo, whose members choose causes and aggregate their gifts to support them (or create new on-line cause groupings of their own) may indeed be the future of philanthropy–donations bundled but not targeted because causes can be fragmented at will, grantees chosen by popular vote rather than by program officers and foundation trustees.  This system may even be better than the current one; but  plebiscites and their ilk make the Nonprofiteer queasy, because that style of decision-making rewards manipulation rather than reason.

On the other hand, these very approaches were a hallmark of the early 20th Century’s Progressive Era, and may signal a return to progressivism in the early 21st Century.  The last Progressive Era created the system of initiatives and referenda with which citizens take direct control of the government away from their elected representatives and restore it to themselves.  Razoo sounds like the philanthropic equivalent.

Again, though, caution is in order.  On the political side, referenda have doubtless produced some good results but are most notorious for their egregious mistakes.  California’s Proposition 13 has starved every one of the state’s public services, though it’s seriously to be doubted that the people who voted "Yes" hoped to send their children to second-rate public universities and condemn themselves to receiving health care at overcrowded and understaffed public hospitals.  [Note to our libertarian friends: your disagreement with this position is assumed; no need to reiterate it.]  And the people who’ve approved referenda allowing others to be fired from jobs or evicted from apartments based on their sexual orientation probably thought that they were merely preventing gays from receiving some sort of special consideration, though a relevant bumper sticker pointed out the real issue: "If gays have equal rights then everyone will want them."

Let’s hope for better results from ostensibly progressive philanthropy.

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