One of my favorite things about my work is when someone I really respect and admire just gets it. That doesn’t happen very much, but today it did. Lucy Bernholz is an amzing scholar of digital civil society, and pretty much the smartest philanthropy thinker around. She doesn’t just look at the non-profit sector or the philanthropic sector as it exists. She puts those things, quite rightly, in the broader social context of private resources being used for public good: civil society.

She sets government on one side as public resources used for public good, and on the other side she sets the for-profit private sector as private resources used for private good. In the middle is everything we try to do to help each other, and while the existing formalized non-profit/philanthropic sector is part of that, it’s a really big mistake to take the part for the whole. There’s all sorts of stuff emerging, particularly in the digital space, that totally counts as “private resources for public good”, and has nothing to do with tax exemption. (This video from the other day is a pretty good primer if you’re interested).

For me, working in the non-profit/philanthropic sector, her work is a challenge. It’s a dare to live up to the amazing things being accomplished beyond old-fashioned institutions, and to try to bring the rest of the sector along, too. That thinking also leads Dr. Bernholz to pay very close attention to how ostensibly social institutions handle data, privacy, and consent in service of the public good. Short version: nobody really knows how to do that yet. But she’s working on it, and nobody is doing it better.

So seriously, go read her entire blog, and her annual blueprint. It’s a forecast about where the sector will go that really lays it on the line in a way not many scholars would dare to do. And at every step, she keeps describing this yawning gulf between the current professionalized social sector and the possible future of digital civil society. It’s a challenge that we in the sector should think about every day.

Today she wrote up a post about two organizations, including New Music USA, that are moving that ball forward, if very slowly. I’ve talked to a lot of people about what we’re trying to do at New Music USA and no one has gotten it so quickly, or seen so many of the future challenges and implications of what we’re doing, as Lucy Bernholz. Plus she’s just a delightful human being.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

NewMusic provides an online system that lets grantees host web pages, concert announcements, do outreach via social media and count all that attention that gets generated via these systems as their grantee reporting! Imagine that, a grants reporting system that is actually helpful to the grantee. Who woulda thunk?

So seriously, go check out the whole post. And follow Lucy Bernholz on twitter.

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