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LearnPhilanthropy: Q & A with Dara Major

June 27, 2012

Our multi-perspective, evidence-informed approach.

“Field Experience” is one of three sources of evidence we use to help donors with their decision-making. Earlier this year, our Center was invited to participate as a content provider and prototype tester for LearnPhilanthropy—an online, field knowledge aggregator and learning tool for grantmakers, started by the Council on Foundations and the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.

After completing a demo of the LearnPhilanthropy Beta site with Dara Major, who led development of their taxonomy and collection of resources, I asked if she and her team could provide us with more information about their goals and criteria, as well as stories to share on lessons learned.

To start, what’s the goal of the LearnPhilanthropy site?

Major: Our goal  from the outset has been to make it easier for grantmakers of all  kinds (staff, donors, trustees, volunteers) to find what they need to  improve their practice.  We don’t want to duplicate what others are  doing… we want to shine a spotlight on it!

What is your criteria for selecting Content Providers?

Major: We’ve started small, with some of the sector’s leading providers, but with a big vision: going forward, we’ll cast a wide net to include Content Partners that are for-profits and nonprofits, foundations and other grantmaking entities. All will meet three basic criteria:

Accessibility — At least some of the resources each organization lists must be available for free;

Currency — Content Partners must be willing to work with us to keep information about their organization and resources up-to-date;

Relevance — Resources must focus on philanthropic practice, not nonprofit practice generally. So this includes: foundation leadership and operations, skills and competencies related to good grantmaking.

We’re thrilled to have CHIP on board as a Content Partner!

As you talk to more and more organizations and people, can you share some common frustrations and/or stories of success?

Major: Our initial research revealed that many individual learners are spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find what they need to learn — and many providers are struggling to develop and extend the reach of resources that are responsive to the needs of the field. As one grantmaker told me, “When it comes to my own development, I feel pretty alone — and don’t even know the right questions to ask!” We found this to be as true for new program officers as it is for many seasoned donors, CEOs and even learning professionals in philanthropy. Lots of sunk costs, in terms of time, money and effectiveness. Though we’re still in beta mode, early feedback indicates that the LearnPhilanthropy “hub,” for an open community of learners, is adding new value to this space — we’re already helping to drive new traffic to our Content Partner sites!

What other sites did you look to for examples of what to do/what not to do?

Major: We’ve looked at dozens of sites to clarify what’s most important for LearnPhilanthropy: high-quality, searchable content; clean, beautiful design; and clear signals of social adoption and sharing. The platform’s critical “user profile,” “comment,” and “like” features are enabled and continuously being enhanced.

What not to do? Get too far out in front of our users. We partner to provide an infrastructure and content that is responsive to their needs. Our motto is: by the field, for the field.

Are you building for mobile (e.g., apps, sms/text)?

Major: Yes! LearnPhilanthropy’s prototype platform is being developed using Drupal, an open source software, with an application programming interface (API) that will enable LearnPhilanthropy to collect, categorize, search, and share data and content with other communities and users in multiple locations and via multiple platforms — including mobile web browsers.

Anything you’d like to add?

Major: There’s a whole lot of collective intelligence in the philanthropic community. How can we, together, get better at tapping into and using it? This is still very much a work in progress! We invite your readers to get involved: visit LearnPhilanthropy.net, create a profile, join the conversation, meet up with the LearnPhilanthropy team which includes Marcia Sharp (team leader), Jessica Bearman, Barbara Demarest, Allen Gunn, and Dara Major.

A final thought

If you’re a donor who is interested in what institutional funders are using and learning, visit learnphilanthropy.net and feel free to contact the LearnPhilanthropy team for suggestions on what it can do to help you achieve more impact.

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