From 1990 to 1997 I worked on staff for a number of community foundations. This was the early days of email, the heyday of the Mosaic (then Netscape) Internet browser, and few of us had cell phones. The hip kids who did own mobile phones aspired to own a Motorola Razr. One community foundation CEO I know owned an Apple Newton and the PalmPilot was introduced toward the end of this period.
It was clear to me then that community foundations had more information on hand than they knew what to do with. My colleagues and I - both donor service and program folks - spent lots of time in community meetings. Our board included local activists, representatives of wealthy multi-generational cornerstone families, local newspaper officials, bankers, and public sector officials. They were involved in a wide swath of community life. Every day the mail came filled with proposals about what was going on, what needed to be going on, and who wanted to do what. We used all the data we gathered to make the best grant decisions we could and to connect and weave together all the projects, organizations and individuals we could. We did our best and at the end of every day it felt like we had been pushed back to shore by the incoming tide of information.
This professional experience was a second formative* step in my obsession with communities and information. In 1994 I published an article in the (now defunct) Foundation News and Commentaryabout the need for community foundations to structure themselves around their information role and coined the term "knowledge foundations." Little did I realize then I was off and running on the core issue of the next 16 years of my professional life.
Lots has changed since the early 1990s. Smart phones are everywhere, Netscape begot Mozilla, and email is yesterday's technology, replaced by IM, texting and Facebook. Community foundations still have tons of information. Having roamed the halls of the annual community foundations meeting I can attest that these folks are now as iPad, smart phone enabled as the next set of conference goers. I'm also pleased to say many of these organizations are getting much better at organizing information, using it, sharing it, and directing it back to the communities from whence it came and to whom it is very useful. A few highlights:
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.