Lucy Bernholz has been thinking deeply about virtual worlds and philanthropy over the past few months. (see her post about the virtual philanthropy simulator) She shares some thoughts about what she thinks may happen after June 22, 2007 when The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation becomes the first foundation to leave behind the limitations of physical space and fly into virtual worlds.
Nobody asked me, but here are some things I hope we see as the Foundation and its partners at USC role out in this experiment:
- Inclusive decision-making by avatars;
- Avatars with time-limited decision making power (so they have to switch roles);
- Resource support that aligns with, and remains true until, the identified goals of the work are achieved;
- Allocation decisions and offerings that can rise above a lot of noise in order to attract attention; offer inherent value; be flexible enough to adapt to unfiltered ideas and criticism; and fun and engaging, regardless of how serious they also are, to maintain the interests of avatars who can not only ‘vote with their feet,’ these folks can simply fly away.
- It would also be a great way to test out the virtual philanthropy simulator ideas I wrote about earlier; or
- Even a place to bring together Google and SalesForce to create a virtual social-enterprise AppExchange, as I pondered here. (It would be called SecondGoogForce. Or maybe GoogForceLife...)
Why do this virtually? Well, experimentation is easier, cheaper, and (perhaps) more telling in these environments. Some things just work differently (remember the money trees....) And perhaps, good new things learned In World will be brought out, to the real world and real world problems.
What would failure look like for the Foundation? I can’t speak for them. However, I'd guess that part of the experiment is to learn about how virtual worlds shift discourse and decision making. To see which functions communities ‘assign’ to their voluntary sector and which to a ‘public role,’ if they get to build from scratch. It will also be interesting to see how resource allocation works in a land of virtual real estate. What about property ownership – for real and intellectual and design property? Are virtual worlds viable, even perhaps necessary, platforms for first world nonprofits and fundraisers? Or are they a passing fancy?
Rik Riel has been both a nonprofit applying for funds, a funder, and has spent a lot of time inworld. Naturally, he has some thoughts on this:
Non-profits struggle with how to apply for funds in a way that is meeting the criteria of the funder without compromising on their basic mission. Often they have difficulty, in an uncertain environment, promising specific and verifiable results in a short period of time. Meanwhile, funders seek to invest their resources among a wide range of projects that hopefully will lead to larger systemic changes. They want their funding to go towards work that is likely to result in deliverable products that fulfill the funder's mission in concrete ways. And the funder usually doesn't want to be stuck with the bill forever, hoping that the non-profit has a longer term, sustainable support model.
Hypothetically, web2.0 technologies and social networking applications can play a role in mitigating these misunderstandings and increasing knowledge of the other sector's perspective. But that hasn't really happened, partly due to the wide open nature of the web and sensitive nature of these concerns. What might be more helpful would be to create a safer, moderated space for funders, non-profits, and engaged citizens to talk honestly about their concerns, priorities, and plans, and then let new conversations, relationships and projects bloom out of that more organically. Something like the NetSquared open call for projects that happened last month, but mapped to a virtual world.
More thoughts from Rik Riel here