What can Philanthropy learn from Zipcar?

photo_zipcar_mini_4Posted by Katy Moore

If you’re anything like me, you don’t own CDs anymore because you buy single songs on iTunes. You get around using Zipcar and Capital Bike Share and your house is full of furniture from CraigsList and FreeCycle. Heck, I don’t even go out to eat or to the hair salon unless I’ve previously purchased a Groupon or LivingSocial deal. What I didn’t realize was that by taking advantage of all of these options, I am one of the millions of consumers who are contributing to the rise of the shared economy.

As I began thinking about this concept (also called “collaborative consumerism”), I began seeing similarities between the shared economy and what’s happening in the field of philanthropy. Dozens of communities around the country are attempting to apply this “shared economy” approach to large-scale social challenges, including Cincinnati’s Strive model, Richmond’s Bridging Richmond initiative, and the District’s Raise DC. These large-scale, cross-sector, collective impact systems, while still relatively new, have the potential to make significant inroads in deeply ingrained social challenges.

My question is: Why isn’t Northern Virginia on the list of communities who are attempting this type of BIG change initiative? We’re one of the most innovative, well-educated and well-resourced areas of the country. We could do this and it could have HUGE impact on our communities.

A few initial steps towards collective action have already begun in Northern Virginia with projects such as the soon-to-launch Connect Northern Virginia (an online community platform designed to drive resources to community needs), the Community Foundation’s collaborative funds (the Future Fund, Loudoun Impact Fund and Innovation Fund), and the Community Foundation’s community-wide scans, like the one on Children & Youth, which could serve as excellent starting points and road-maps for collective action. So again, I’ll ask: What are we waiting for?

If, like me, you’ve worked in the philanthropic or nonprofit communities for any length of time, you’ve asked yourself: “with so many people contributing their hard work and millions of dollars, why do persistent problems such as poverty, homelessness, and hunger still exist?” Answer: None of us can do it alone. Without the alignment of dollars, actions and outcomes, the quest for change will remain business as usual. Don’t you think it’s time we aligned our efforts?

Additional resources:

For more information about collective impact, check out John Kania and Mark Kramer’s articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2011 and Jan 2012).

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2 thoughts on “What can Philanthropy learn from Zipcar?

  1. Thanks, Katy, great post and I completely agree. I think one of the big challenges is governance related and that’s why it is so interesting to see some working being done in the area (a recent Nonprofit Quarterly issue was focused on this area). While these collaborations are needed (and we need more of them) we are ultimately legally and ethically bound to our boards of directors. One of the really tough issues can be enforcing accountability across the collaboration in a way that respects the board role while committing the organizations to long term goals and outcomes. But I think these challenges can be addressed and look forward to seeing NoVa nonprofits form (and grow existing) collaboratives for impact.

  2. Reblogged this on Naeema's Notes and commented:
    There are many similarities between the shared economy, also referred to as “collaborative consumerism” and what’s happening in the field of philanthropy. Dozens of communities around the country are attempting to apply this “shared economy” approach to large-scale social challenges, including Cincinnati’s Strive model, Richmond’s Bridging Richmond initiative, and the District’s Raise DC. These large-scale, cross-sector, collective impact systems, while still relatively new, have the potential to make significant inroads in deeply ingrained social challenges.

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