The launch of Google.org, the ambitious philanthropic arm of web-search behemoth Google that, as The Wall Street Journal reports, is an unusual hybrid of nonprofit and for-profit social enterprise, is good news for the charitable marketplace.
That marketplace is changing, thanks to a new generation of givers outside the mainstream of traditional philanthropy that want get involved in different ways and that want results that can be measured.
Many of those givers are applying to philanthropy the know-how and resources they developed in the information-technology sector and other emerging industries, and in some cases, like Bill Gates and Google, the magnitude of those resources is unprecedented.
And many givers, including those with modest wealth, are pooling their resources to create powerful assets for change.
All this is good news because the charitable marketplace needs new energy, vision and enterprise.
Nonprofits and givers are America’s unsung heroes, devoting their time, know-how, money, connections and passion to fixing social problems.
But because they are unsung, and often invisible, nonprofits typically struggle to deliver services effectively, secure the support they need, and sustain themselves financially.
Perpetuating that struggle is a rigid set of rules, created and enforced by foundations, and the nonprofit trade groups and consultants that depend on foundation dollars, that burden nonprofits with paperwork, make them jump through funders’ hoops, and limit nonprofits’ freedom to be innovative and enterprising.
While organized philanthropy is quick to pay lip service to change and collaboration, it typically fails to truly practice, value or encourage it.
Because of Google’s size and influence, Google.org may help to raise the sights of foundations, trade groups and consultants.
Blinded with the need to perpetuate its own legacy and its control of the charitable marketplace, much of organized philanthropy is stale and stuck in a rut.
But new philanthropy, like Google.org, is taking a fresh looking beyond business as usual to find the most effective ways of putting philanthropic resources to innovative and collaborative use to create smart solutions, often mixing nonprofit with for-profit and government resources, to heal and repair our communities.
The charitable marketplace is strong because it is diverse, giving a broad range of nonprofits and philanthropies room to test their strategies.
Because of the wealth it controls, organized philanthropy exercises market power that does not reflect its effectiveness.
The growth of new philanthropy adds vital competition and diversity to the charitable marketplace, increasing its ability to produce effective solutions to our most urgent social problems.