Non-Governmental Imagination

Interplast, Creative Commons and “A Story of Healing”
April 18, 2007, 3:05 am
Filed under: Imagination, Interplast, Media

For months and months I have been working on getting “A Story of Healing” re-released under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). Today it’s official, and the film can be viewed on the Interplast website and blog.

I’ve wanted to do this in part because I thought the Oscar winning hook would give Interplast and CC some publicity, but mainly because I wanted to convince other nonprofit organizations to examine the licenses they give their media. We’re certainly not the first organization to use CC licenses, but if we can give the idea a little more credibility, then we’ll have done a good thing.

The film used to have legitimate commercial value. It ran on PBS stations across the country and we sold copies through Amazon. But the PBS stations lost interest and our Amazon orders dwindled to a trickle.

Then we gave it away to folks at open houses, salon events, etc. Steve Rhodes, a guy I met at a geek party a while back and only re-met last week, suggested I slap a CC license on it and host in online somewhere for free. I thought it was a great idea. After all, we were giving it away for free in person, we couldn’t we do the same online? I pushed the idea through with the hope that a few people who would have otherwise never heard of us might become interested in Interplast and spread the word. Or donate. Or both, preferably.

When I met with one of the Creative Commons guys, I asked if he thought that this was a big deal. After all, we chose the most restrictive license on a film that had lost all commercial value. It’s not exactly The Godfather. He said he thought that because it was an Oscar winner, it was a big deal, and maybe in a few years such a story would be un-newsworthy. Maybe in some small way this event will contribute to making CC licenses more commonplace. Or maybe it’s just two nonprofit organizations collaborating through mutual self-interest with the only real payoff being a couple of links from a few blogs within our respective echo chambers.

Either way, CC and Interplast could both use some more publicity, and hopefully this will allow our work and missions to reach a wider audience. In a few weeks I’ll analyze the results, and see if we got any bump in donations or page views.

If any of you work at or with NGOs who are interested in the ins and outs of convincing the powers that be that CC licenses do not open the floodgates of hell, drop me a line.

I’m show-and-tell-ing the film at the CC salon at Shine in SF tonight (Wed 4/18) from 7-9pm. If you want to see the film on the big screen and/or lob softball questions at me, come on by.

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National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Rocks Out Again
January 7, 2006, 8:36 pm
Filed under: Imagination, Media

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy rocks out again. They called Frist out on his pseudo-charity back when no one cared, and they are doing it again now:

“At the time, NCRP alone among the national nonprofits challenged Frist, though we hadn’t had even a peep of support from the supposed nonprofit leadership groups when we took on DeLay, Senator Blanche Lincoln, Senator Saxby Chambliss, or even Jack Abramoff for that matter. We suggested that Frist’s fundraiser, whether he intended it or not, would serve as a venue for donors to buy invaluable “face time? with senior Republican lawmakers, some 10 or so from the Senate to be the featured attractions at the World of Hope fundraiser. We criticized Frist’s pledge not to accept lobbyists’ donations as meaningless, since the corporations that hired lobbyists would be able to make the donations directly to buy access. We raised questions about the AIDS charities that Frist had preselected for support, noting one’s leadership by a pastor known for his high-profile support of President Bush’s faith-based initiatives, another run by the son of Rev. Billy Graham. And we noted that the Senator’s charity was run not by AIDS services professionals, but by Frist campaign operatives.”

Way to go, NCRP. Keeping an eye on the industry and calling it like you see it. You were absolutely right, and have thus earned a place in the hallowed halls of my blogroll. Keep going, and don’t back down.

Frist Scandal Taints All Charities By Association?
January 7, 2006, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Donations, Media

Arianna Huffington claims that all charities are tainted by Sen. Bill Frist’s pseudo-charity World of Hope:

“One of the worst aspects of this abuse of charity is the trashing of one of the best things in our culture, the charitable instinct. When people hear that Abramoff’s Capital Athletic foundation took in millions but spent less than 1 percent of its revenue on its purported purpose (with the rest funneled to Trader Jack’s pet projects, like overseas golfing trips with DeLay), or that a sizable chunk of the $4.4 million World of Hope took in went to Frist’s political cronies, it can’t help but cast a pall over the whole concept of charitable giving.”

I sure hope not. People are nosy. If they think that a charity is not legitimate, they poke around. Or at least they should. Whenever a scandal blows up about a charity being a front for bribery, terrorism or other nefarious activities, questions get asked about all NGOs. This is exactly the way it should be.

People need to probe NGOs to find out if what they are doing is worthwhile, effective, efficient and optimal. While a few big name organizations make oodles of money, most nonprofits are small and underfunded (at least if you ask them). Organizations get sharper when people ask how they spend their money, why they operate in this arena and not that one, how they are different from other organizations, etc.

Many people write a check to any group that sounds nice and has a touching newsletter or ad. That’s great, but the world is better served if people demand excellence from NGOs. The best, most efficient nonprofit organizations will be able to prove why they are the best, and they only get to answer those questions when people start asking them.

NGOs need money, but they also need involvement. Nonprofits love (or should love) feedback about ways they could improve, what is cool/uncool about the website, opportunities they may be unaware of, etc.

Whenever a bad apple arises, it presents a wonderful opportunity for legitimate nonprofits to prove that what they do is worthwhile.

In Praise of Craig Newmark
January 4, 2006, 8:45 am
Filed under: Media

SF Weekly recently published a petty, vindictive and biased article about They note that people are publishing ads on Craigslist for free rather than paying traditional newspapers (such as SF Weekly) to place a classified. As a result, newspapers are losing money and laying off staff, resulting in inferior journalism. That seems reasonable enough to me.

But then they get nasty. Sometimes they portray Craig as naive, while other times they portray him as an evil media baron. These attacks make the paper seem pretty juvenile, and they remind me of the eloquent insults I thought of only after the grade-school playground bully was long gone. It must not have struck SF Weekly as ironic that they subjectively attacked a man who they blame for attacking the objective media. But what really got me was their attempt to discredit the Craigslist Foundation:

“…the Craigslist Foundation, which trains other nonprofits in marketing, technology, and fundraising skills, but makes no grants, has no endowment, and charges for many of its training events.”

The events they are referring to are the Craigslist Nonprofit Boot Camps, one of which I recently attended. It cost Interplast $50 to send me, and I got the opportunity to attend lectures in fundraising, technology, public relations and so on by leaders in the respective fields. The founder of the Webby Awards talked for 90 minutes about what the internet is all about, and afterwards I got to pick her brain. I talked with and learned from some of the brightest minds on the net, all for $50 (not to mention getting three catered meals served on compostable plates followed by a concert). Just as useful as the lectures were the connections I made with other people who also have big ideas and small wallets.

I would have had to spend weeks digging around on the internet to learn as much, or paid hundreds of dollars to go to some fancy conference. Craigslist Foundation does an excellent job, and I can’t seem to think of the last time SF Weekly made a similar contribution to society.