Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Growing citizen philanthropy in Philadelphia and Detroit

July 26, 2012, 12:09 p.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller


Detroiters gathered at Crank Up the Cause to learn more about Citizen Effect's Detroit4Detroit initiative. Photo Credit: Khaaliq Thomas for Citizen Effect.

Growing up, Clarence Wardell cultivated a love of learning and technology at the Detroit Area Pre College Engineering Program. So when he came across Citizen Effect’s Detroit4Detroit, a platform that helps people find projects that meet their interests and raise funds to support them, he immediately joined to help send one student from the Detroit area to spend a summer learning about engineering at the University of Michigan.

Through the platform, which is supported by Knight’s Technology for Engagement Initiative,  Wardell was able to leverage his existing social networks to raise $2,000 for the program. He was the first of 150 people participating in Detroit4Detroit to meet his fundraising goal.

Citizen Effect, part of a growing citizen philanthropy movement that seeks to democratize giving, is expanding to Philadelphia with the Philly4Philly campaign. Knight caught up Citizen Effect’s Founder and CEO Dan Morrison to find out what excites people about being engaged in local philanthropy efforts, how he defines success and more.

What do you mean by the term citizen philanthropist?

D.M: When you hear the word "philanthropists," you think of Gates, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Ford and other titans of industry.  But that's a vastly incomplete definition. A citizen philanthropist may not have a lot of money to give, but they have the passion to lead a critical community project and raise the money from their friends, family and social networks.

What excites people about being engaged with Citizen Effect?

D.M.: Results. When a citizen philanthropist holds an event or sends an email that results in donations, they get excited because their fundraising strategy is working. And when they receive photos of and a report on their completed project, they feel like they can change the world, because they in fact have.

What are some examples of what people in each city are up to?

D.M.: Michele Whitehead, a Detroit native, is raising money for a reading program for low income youth with Wellspring. She’s raised $1,250 of $1,500 via a walk-a-thon and received in-kind food and water donations from local businesses. Gerard Smith, a rising senior at Gross Point High School, heard about Detroit4Detroit's Crank Up the Cause on WDET and asked his dad to take him. He signed up to raise money for a music therapy program for homeless kids and has raised $785 of $1,000. Eli Kahn, a fellow at LIFT Philly (a Philly4Philly nonprofit partner) is one of the first Philly4Philly citizen philanthropists. As a child, he beat cancer and since has raised over $100,000 for cancer research at John's Hopkins University by having people donate used printer cartridges and recycling them.


Meet Lena Groeger: @ProPublica’s newest news app developer

July 25, 2012, 6:12 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

As ProPublica’s newest news app developer, Lena Groeger is helping the investigative news organization expand its field-leading efforts in data driven news.   

lenagroegerDevelopers on the app team create software that lets readers interact with news stories, making them more relevant to people’s lives. Think of projects like the Dollars for Docs database, where people can find out if their doctors have received payments from drug companies.

Groeger was hired recently as part of a Knight-funded expansion that will not only allow the team to develop more apps across a variety of subject areas, but build the field by providing a job shadowing program for journalists nationwide.

In a conversation with Knight, Groeger shares what helped prepare for her role, some of her recent projects and what she thinks about the future of data, design and journalism.

What’s an example of a recent project you worked on?

L.G.: I worked with reporters Paul Kiel and Cora Currier, who were researching where money from the mortgage settlement was going in each state. Once we had the precise data (the five biggest banks agreed to pay over $2.5 billion to 49 states and the District of Columbia), we ultimately decided an interactive map would be a good way to visualize the information. It was a group effort where the process was just as interesting as the outcome. I wrote more about it in a blog post “How a Map That Wasn’t a Map Became a Map.”  

Another story looked at how different claims about drone deaths compared over time. Drone death estimates vary widely in the media, but one would think the government would keep at least a nominally "official" count. Apparently, they don't. The challenge in this graphic was to link together different aspects of the story in a coherent and understandable interface. After we laid out the claims, we decided that it would be helpful to "highlight" certain contradictory claims, so people could easily see what we were describing. We added the right-hand column, which also linked to Justin Elliot’s story.

How do you decide what kinds of projects to take on? What interests you?

L.G.: Sometimes I will pitch an idea I think would work best, or suggest a specific format for a project, whether it’s a map, a timeline, an interactive graphic or something else. Other times I have gotten paired up with a reporter already working on a data story. It’s been flexible and there have been a range of projects, that’s very characteristic of what goes on at ProPublica. Your role is less important than the way you can tell a story.

What’s your background? How have some of your existing skills been helpful in your new role?

Just a few days left - apply now to the Civic Data Challenge

July 24, 2012, 10:53 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Excited about civic data? Don't miss an opportunity to win prizes and money for your ideas to make it understandable and useful.

The Civic Data Challenge, sponsored by Knight Foundation and presented by the National Conference on Citizenship, is looking to turn existing civic health and community attachment data into beautiful, useful applications and visualizations to help build stronger communities. The deadline to apply to the challenge is 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday July 29. Designers, data scientists, researchers and app developers are especially encouraged to apply.

Participants who analyze and visualize data on health, safety, education and the economy will be eligible for various prizes. 

To enter The Civic Data Challenge, you must first join its Google group. After joining, participants will be provided with existing civic health and community attachment data sets to analyze. After identifying connections and correlations, participants are encouraged to create visual representations and interactive products to showcase their findings. These may include infographics, apps, animations, videos, or other content.

For each category, cash prizes of up to $10,000 will be available for Best Visual Representation and Best Interactive Product. Best in Show and Wildcard Winners will be eligible to receive $5,000. An individual can submit as many entries as they like and can submit one entry in multiple categories.