Foundations and Web 2.0

On Friday I posted about a grantee that had embraced Web 2.0 techniques and platforms. Well, the Web 2.0 experience is not just limited to grantees, in fact, some of the most important developments in the internet have as much an effect on Foundations themselves. Along that line I thought I’d post a bit about a new report called, “Come On In. The Water’s Fine. An Exploration of Web 2.0 Technology and Its Emerging Impact on Foundation Communications”.

The report, which was released in time for last week’s Communications Network Conference in Chicago, was written by David Brotherton and Cynthia Sheiderer of Brotherton Strategies. The two spent a year exploring how foundations are using (or not using) new media. The report is one of the first systematic explorations into Foundations and their uses of technology. The Executive Summary shows that many foundations are in fact already embracing new communication tools, everything from “interactive Web sites to podcasts to blogs and wikis to social networking applications.”

There are some great tips for Foundation’s including in the report; they include assessing your organization’s appetite for innovation, recognizing and garnering the resources required, leveraging the great work of others (most of the best Web 2.0 tools you need have already been build and employed by other organizations), and to go slowly and build on successes.

Every foundation should take the time to read the report, and make sure they are part of the adoption of new media tools, even if they require cultural or operational shifts. It’s no secret that sometimes new technologies can raise concern among Foundations who are worried of losing control of their own messages, but the use of new media applications and tools is crucial to engaging new audiences, and building stronger alliances with potential partners. Perhaps most importantly, it can bring greater transparency and accountability, two things which traditionally haven’t been the strong suit of Foundation’s.

The report, which was made possible by support from The California Endowment, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is an important first step into the exploration of how Foundations will adapt and change to the 21st Century.

For Overbrook, we’ve started slowly, trying to figure out what makes the most sense given the Foundation’s size and programmatic interests. Web 2.0 is certainly not a one size fits all method. We started our blog earlier this summer as a method of communicating about the work of the Foundation and its grantees. We are also having fun connecting with others on Twitter, a social networking and microblogging service that uses instant messaging, SMS or web interfaces (you can follow me at ElzbthMllr). This is just the beginning of the changes that technology can bring - we’re just trying to keep up.