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Where We’ve Come From, and Where We’re Headed

By Tom Watson on January 15, 2009No Comment

As we embark on a new year of publishing onPhilanthropy, I thought it would be interesting to see what our articles tell us about the story of 2008. Of course, on the eve of the Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service as well as the inauguration of our next president, I’m recalling a forum hosted by ServiceNation where both presidential candidates spoke to their commitment to service. Appearing back-to-back before the campaign debates got under way, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain offered their views on engaging Americans in a renewed commitment to service. Fast forward to today, when ServiceNation is offering two free tickets to the Youth Inaugural Ball to whoever can amass the most Declaration of Service signatures on Facebook between right now and 5:00 pm on Sunday, January 18th. For complete rules, visit Be The Change online.

It calls to mind Tom Watson’s article last June, Facebook Generation: Will Social Networks Change the Nature of Philanthropy? Of course, Tom was in the process of writing his book, CausedWired, and has appeared at numerous conferences ever since to interpret the social online networking phenomenon for the nonprofit sector.

As we took a look back to see which articles attracted the most interest, we found it an intriguing way to see what trends and topics were on the minds of our readers. One of the most widely read was Sara Shroff’s review of a movie on the Aga Khan, AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. Among our global readership, it suggests an interest in developing a deeper understanding of diverse cultures.

While it dates back a ways, onPhilanthropy readers showed great interest in some job-seeking advice posted by Katrina Wilhelm, Surfing for Nonprofit Jobs. Given the prognosis for the economy, that may be an area we’ll need to revisit as the year goes on.

Not surprisingly, the economic picture was of major concern, even early in 2008, as evidenced by readership of Does Economic Downturn Mean Crisis for Nonprofits?, by Caroline Gallagher. Given that the picture has only gotten exponentially worse, we’ll be focusing intently on this issue in the weeks and months ahead.

The focus on the double bottom line in corporate social engagement was the topic of one of our most popular articles, From Local to Global, Measuring Corporate Philanthropy’s Impact, by Elisabeth Anderson and Tom Watson. Events to mark National Corporate Philanthropy Day ranged from awards for community impact to a discussion at the UN on how corporate philanthropy can help achieve the Millennium Development Goals

The issue of diversity in nonprofit’s own ranks continues to be an issue; Prescott Loveland’s article on the topic was picked up by Atlantic Philanthropies and continues to generate discussion. I get a lot of requests to reprint our articles (we’re usually happy to allow reprints, with proper attribution) and that provides a good barometer as to the appetites of the sector.

Dr. Susan Raymond’s articles, by far, garner the most reprint requests. Primarily, I’d say it reflects the sector’s thirst for more specific and accurate data. Indeed, many of her articles are based on original data she generates through her own research at Changing Our World. Where data are available from other sources, she usually serves them up to us with a generous helping of salt. Looking at the Giving USA report, she asked When It Comes to US Giving, What Do We Really Know?

One of our most popular features ever has been the series created by Dr. Lilya Wagner, Fundraising Nightmares and How to Wake up From Them. Top of the list in the series was Think Big or Else! We encourage our readers to continue to send in their own “fundraising nightmares,” solutions to some of these challenges, and ideas for future articles. onPhilanthropy is most valuable when it responds to our highly engaged readers, so continue to be interactive and take full advantage of this community of your colleagues. In the year ahead, we have to do our best to help each other!

Susan Carey Dempsey, Editor-in-Chief of onPhilanthropy, is Managing Partner of CauseWired Communications, a communications consulting firm specializing in nonprofits. She can be reached at

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