08 December 2008

Review: CausedWired by Tom Watson

The best trend watchers are sharp observers of the present moment. They have a knack for assessing a trend as it's developing and making it come alive for the rest of us.

Think Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Faith Popcorn. Now add Tom Watson to that list.

Watson, veteran consultant, journalist, and entrepreneur, gives us CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World, published last month by Wiley. It's an important book. Why?

Because what Watson analyzes here is a trend that will effect the entire non-profit sector and has implications for how change will happen in the future.

His premise and central thesis of the book is very simple: "New technology and the human urge to communicate will create the basis for a golden age of activism and involvement, increasing the reach of philanthropy and improving the openness of politics, democratic government, and out major social institutions."

He's right. Just look at the fully wired Obama campaign, the success of donor-oriented web marketplaces, such as DonorsChoose, kiva.org, and GlobalGiving.org, or the popularity of Facebook, MySpace, and even LinkedIn.

People are connecting in very real ways and through every virtual means, and they are getting involved and taking action -- even if it is simply sending a strange plant creature to your Facebook friends.

Tom has had first-hand view of this trend over the years, first as a journalist and later as a consultant and co-founder of onPhilanthropy,com. His personal reflections speak to a deep engagement in the sector, which lends color to this book and makes for an engaging read.

And this work is, as he quotes Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, "...all about deep engagement--a lot of these viral campaigns, it's not just getting them to join, it's about deeply engaging them in the issues." The goal, Rattray tells Watson, is to "transform how nonprofit organizations engage with individuals, to improve the giving experience for thousands and thousands of people."

Another reason this book is important: this is truly cutting edge stuff. The sector, as Watson states in a late chapter, "is still being defined. It includes online social activism, nonprofit fundraising, wired social entrepreneurship, political organizing, flash causes, and digital philanthropy. It overlaps the larger worlds of organized charity and nonprofits, of politics and policy organizing, of consumer brands and marketing, even as it changes them."

And as the next generation of philanthropists continues to challenge the status quo and seek ways to be more engaged via non-traditional means, nonprofits need to become well-versed, if not downright sophisticated about this stuff. It is both an opportunity and a threat.

Tom Watson, however, provides an excellent road map of understanding about this new, wired (and wireless) approach to generating support. Anyone interested in the future of philanthropy should read this book, because the future has arrived.

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