Announcing Spark Camp :: Giving

How Americans contribute time and money to causes they believe in has changed dramatically in the last decade. Technology has made it possible — and worthwhile — to give donations as small as $5 with the click of a button. The likes of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and the Awesome Foundation have helped fundraise millions of dollars for upcoming and established causes and artists. Presidential political campaigns operate on billion-dollar budgets because they effectively corral billions in donations. Billionaires like Bill Gates have stepped away from the work that made their fortunes and set up foundations aimed to change American policy. Within hours of a tsunami or a natural disaster the Red Cross deploys a rapid-response fundraising campaign. It’s never been possible to raise and spend so much in so little time.

The changing dynamics of giving — philanthropy, charity and fundraising — are the focus of our upcoming Spark Camp :: Giving. The camp will be held at the Bakken Museum June 4-7, 2015 in Minneapolis.

Every Spark Camp begins with a carefully curated group. We plan to invite agents of foundations large and small; founders and makers of platforms for giving; philanthropists of many kinds, including venture and corporate philanthropists; fundraisers for nonprofits, political campaigns and other causes; scholars who’ve studied the science of giving; up-and-coming Millennial changemakers; and experienced hands with a grounding in trends and systems of philanthropy. As always, our group will be diverse in age, experience and background.

Before we finalize our invitational list, we’d like to hear from Spark Camp alum and followers. Which of your colleagues, acquaintances and friends should be invited to Spark Camp :: Giving? Expertise is an essential qualification. So are generosity, curiosity and openness. Please nominate people whose work is redefining giving as we know it.

We always start planning our camps with a set of questions in hand. We have no pretense, by the way, that we have got THE list of questions or that we’ll conduct THE conversation on these issues, but we do aspire to bring together a great collection of people that help each other sort through some complicated issues. The questions we use to focus our event should help you nominate the people you know who’d make the best candidates. For Spark Camp :: Giving, our questions relate to the institutions, trends and purposes of charitable giving.

* How are the motivations and mechanisms for giving changing?

* Among today’s philanthropic institutions are foundations, ‘limited life foundations,’ social movements, lottery philanthropy, donor-advised funds, start-ups like Kickstarter and billionaires’ trusts. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each mechanism? What vehicles for giving are underdeveloped?

* According to a recent study by The Chronicle of Philanthrophy, middle- and lower-income Americans give a greater percentage of their income than the wealthy. How are wealth and income patterns affecting how we give? How is philanthropic support being distributed, and who’s being left out?

* While it’s easier than ever to give money, economic inequality in the United States is at its biggest since pre-FDR. What’s the role of philanthropy in addressing the causes and effects of inequality?

* How does technology change the narratives fundraisers, beneficiaries and philanthropists tell?

* Millennials are more likely to give and care more about impact. How should institutions cultivate relationships with millennial donors? What kinds of institutions are designed to appeal to millennials?

* Does the Internet mean that we can more easily hold philanthropic institutions accountable? If so, how? To what extent are they accountable to themselves? Are there best practices for structuring gifts, creating feedback loops, recruiting applicants?

* Philanthropic institutions also need to innovate. Inside Philanthrophy recently interviewed Lori Melichar, a senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who has begun hosting TED-style talks within the foundation on a regular basis. “Many, many times, a speaker spurs a thought, spurs an interest, and it leads to innovative work across the foundation.” Which techniques — management, research, recruitment — are most successful at keeping today’s foundations up to date? How much of an institution’s operating budget and culture must be devoted to the pursuit of new ideas?

Invitations to this upcoming Spark Camp will be sent in a few weeks. If you or someone you know would like to attend, please complete the nomination form as soon as possible.

Additionally, if your organization is interested in partnering with us on this Camp as a sponsor, please contact Our sponsor-partners are involved in collaborating with us on the weekend, and they have the opportunity to meet with and address our Campers during and after Camp. Some of our previous sponsor-partners and co-hosts include Google, the Knight Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, the d.School at Stanford University, WBUR and Cox Media Group.