My Social Actions

From collection to system: suggested next steps for social action platforms

A recent exchange on Sean Stannard-Stockton's Tactical Philanthropy blog gave me an opportunity to share some thoughts on the proliferation of social action platforms and the steps we could take that would transform that collection into "an open, coherent, & sustainable system."

Below is the comment I shared, but be sure to catch the entire thread, which includes comment-posts by Ami Dar of and Jacob Harold of the Hewlett Foundation.

Social Actions partners, what do you think? If you agree with the suggestions I'm making here that there aren't too many of you, and that stronger connections among you would be beneficial, what steps would you like to take (and see taken) in that direction?


Social Actions maintains a list of online philanthropy platforms of all shapes and sizes. It’s up to 200+ and continues to grow.

Like Ami in the previous comment thread, I applaud Jacob’s suggestion to “transform this (extraordinary!) decentralized innovation into an open, coherent & sustainable system that can serve our shared needs over the long run.” It begs the question: what would that require? What characteristics define a “coherent and sustainable system” and what steps can be taken to generate such a thing?

From my understanding of systems and network theories, healthy systems of the kind we’re looking at here — online networks dedicated to resource-sharing whether that resource is information, money, our volunteer time, etc. — share the following characteristics:

Diversity — in other words, it is OK to see a list of 200+ platforms and know the list is growing. Problematizing the number and variety of these sites, and calling for measures to reduce their proliferation would be counter-productive IF the goal is the system’s sustainability.

Redundancy — in other words, it is OK to see similarities among each of the 200+ platforms. Having multiple, even similar ways for resources to travel from point A to point B via an online philanthropy platform is OK. (Again, if the goal is to shrink the system because we’re carrying concepts about efficiency from other models into this one, that’s also a completely different list).

Strong connections between the points in this decentralized network — in other words, aggregators like Social Actions drawing attention to them collectively, and groups outside of the network studying and analyzing it, might be worthwhile (we think so!) but they don’t directly contribute to a sustainable system. In order for this collection of platforms to adopt that the platforms themselves must be connected, learning from and working with each other in some way.

These first two characteristics point to things we don’t want to do. The third points to a possible course of action (and corresponding investment): creating opportunities for online philanthropy platforms to work together. This isn’t a new idea (Tom Watson's been calling for it ever since he wrote CauseWired) and it’s one that’s been played out to a limited extent on small, invite-only stages for a handful of platforms from time to time. The role of the sector, to borrow Jacob’s term, would be to fund those opportunities, online and offline, as lightly facilitated and orchestrated as possible, devoting primary attention to promoting connections between platforms.

If that’s a direction we can move in together, add our name to the list after Ami’s.


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Tags: amidar, cdegger, christineegger, giving, hewlett, jacobcharold, microphilanthropy, online, philanthropy, platforms, More…socialactions, stannard-stockton, tacticalphilanthropy


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