“Giving” today is less and less synonymous with “giving to a nonprofit organization”.
This is the challenge for groups like Holden Karnofsky’s GiveWell and Charity Navigator, which dream of a day when donors can consult objective rankings of charities’ real world impact (and, presumably, invest their charitable dollars accordingly).
The challenge, simply put, is that to start with nonprofits as a “given”–the de facto social impact vehicle–is an increasingly dicey proposition.
That’s because there are so many gradations of cause-focused networks today that donation-driven nonprofits are but one of dozens of organizational structures seeking to change the world. Asking the question “Which nonprofit should I give to?” presumes that giving money through a nonprofit is of course the way we impact causes.
But is it?
Check out the Synovate study of people’s changing attitudes towards money in the recession. 80% of the global survey respondents “believed their generation had a responsibility to leave their country better off for the younger generation, even if it involves dramatically altering their lifestyles”.
Before we nonprofits start salivating too much, keep in mind that nothing in that response indicates that those 80% believe that the best way to leave their country better off than they found it is to give to a nonprofit organization.
Astonishingly little research has been done to quantify the amount of giving that happens outside of nonprofit organizations…but in your heart of hearts, do you really doubt that it dwarfs the most optimistic calculations of the money that clinks and clatters through 501(c)(3)s?
Thus, I want to introduce the concept of the “cause cloud”. Drawn from the concept of cloud computing, “cause cloud” is an image that suggests that in the future, the concept of meaning mediated by discrete nonprofit organizations will be seriously outdated, replaced by the notion of individuals, informal associations, and nonprofits clustering around causes and making their impact irrespective of organizational boundaries.
This will happen precisely because individuals are increasingly seeking platforms to impact causes directly and personally, not nonprofits to which they write checks in order to impact causes indirectly.
Check out this description of cloud computing from wikinvest.com, blur your eyes, and see if you can see in it the cause clouds of the future:
Cloud computing allows consumers and businesses to use applications without installation and access their personal files at any computer with internet access. This technology allows for much more efficient computing by centralizing storage, memory, processing and bandwidth. Cloud computing is broken down into three segments: “applications,” “platforms,” and “infrastructure.”
Cause cloud applications? Participation projects.
Cause cloud platforms? Nonprofit organizations.
Cause cloud infrastructure? Participation/Engagement/Ownership charts.
Get ready for the cloud.