Mark Zuckerberg, Call and Response and the Tech Industry

When Mark Zuckerberg announced this past week that he and Priscilla Chan were donating 99% of their Facebook shares, the nonprofit sector took a collective and frenzied pause to consider the real-world impact of our charity practices.

Conventional nonprofit philanthropies are subject to rigid policies and protocols regarding solicitation, application and reporting. I’ve directed such a philanthropic organization and can tell you first hand that we’re super attached to this regiment. And there are lots of reasons for this — cultural, social, personal, financial, legal. So it’s important. But the legacy of this attachment, the resulting karmas are:

  • long-winded application processes;
  • a reliance on too many stakeholders with too many agendas;
  • diligent efforts to cap indirect costs.

The result? More often than not, diffused focus and an inability to address crises as they emerge. Most foundations cannot respond to actual reality as it unfolds. We’ve got a system, sure, but the system debilitates our efforts to skillfully address real-time dilemmas. Our efforts are well-intentioned, but also enervated and sluggish.

LLC philanthropies are being built on the foundations laid by the tech industry’s leading thinkers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation, for example, are charting new territory in this area. The fact is that these organizations simply have more space to engage in a kind of call and response relationship with reality. Their focus on responsiveness derives from their passion and experience — these people are driven to innovate and create great things that get sh*t done. Now. Conventional charities have a lot to learn about this epistemology.

New philanthropies still engage in long-term and pointed strategizing. Gates Foundation focuses on poverty, health and education, for example. Their digital presence reveals the urgency and grit of these issues as well as the innovative thinking that real change demands.

At any rate, it’s a new approach to philanthropy — a word which at its core and in the original Greek (philanthropia) indicates a “love of humanity.” If that’s the end goal, and the new philanthropy allows for that love to come into being, let’s indulge, wallow in it, innovate and make change happen.