Last week Claire Gaudiani wrote in the San Francisco Examiner about organizations such as the Greenlining Institute and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, who charge that today’s private foundations do not sufficiently meet the needs of society’s poorest and most marginalized populations. In other words, they think private foundations have a poor brand–often for good reason–and it needs fixing. Greenlining and NCRP have been advocating both for set percentages of funding (as much as 50%) for such groups, and also that foundations report the ethnic and racial composition of their boards and staffs.  In many ways, these actions could serve to increase the responsiveness of the foundation sector to people in need. In other ways, these goals could be counterproductive.

First, let’s take the diversity goal. When I work with nonprofit boards, particularly in the area of governance, I am always pushing for diversity. But what I often find is not so much a lack of racial and ethnic diversity as a lack of economic and age diversity.  Age, what’s that got to do with it, you say? Well, a lot.  When I poll boards before working with them, I typically find the bulk of members are within a ten-year age range.  While some boards skew older and some younger, in most cases they are missing members in their 20’s and 30’s and those in their 70’s and 80’s.  From the younger group they could gain a better understanding of the power of social media–with tools like social networks, web video, podcasts, and mobile technologies–to reach donors and service-users alike. (For example, mobile phone use is very high in so-called under-served populations.)  In the older group, they would find experience running organizations, managing investments, and excellent community connections.

In terms of the charge that private foundations should provide more grants to marginalized populations, one of the key stumbling blocks to this funding may be ensuring the readiness of grantees to actually manage the grant, with its reporting, communications, and financial responsibilities. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) provides a good model in the way it provides capacity-building grants to nonprofit re-granting organizations that act as bridges, helping communities and very small nonprofits learn to manage the funding process, build community-based solutions and improve their capacity, so that in the future AID can make them direct grants.  This is a model followed by many private foundations as well, and so the target measurements should take this into account.

There’s no question private foundations can improve their work, and their image. The question is how to do it in a way that benefits society, and builds more capacity within the donor organizations, too.

As a parent, I know that cyber-bullying has been a hot topic lately.  It seems everywhere we look there’s a PTA meeting about it, or consultant being hired to give us tips. And the most extreme cases have led victimized kids to suicide. Yesterday’s New York Times carried yet another wake-up call article for parents.  Among many frightening stories, it discussed a child who had no presence on Facebook, but whose peers had created a page using his name and images and were posting nasty comments, as if by him, about other kids. As a result, this child was shunned, taunted and ultimately physically threatened.

The idea that your child has a brand online is hard for some of us parents to imagine.  We have a hard enough time managing our own online brands, both personal and professional. Now, we are told, we should have Google Alerts set up for our kids. (It’s a good idea, when you think about it.)

So what can we do to protect our childrens’ good names?

We can teach them to be cautious about what they put online, including texts and IM messages, and consider it public.  We all know college admissions staff, as well as HR personnel, regularly look at websites and social media to do background checks. Which leads to my next point…

Let your kids know you watch what they do (and then actually watch). Some parents are putting keystroke capturing software on their kids’ computers so they can see where they’ve been.  I periodically review texts.  Kids should know that we’re paying attention to what they say and do in cyberspace, just like we do anywhere else.

Teach a healthy skepticism about both what and who is online. In a media literacy classes I teach in schools, I talk about how what you see isn’t exactly always what you get in terms of sources of content.  But we can extend this to the home communications environment. Kids need to know that every avatar isn’t necessarily who they say they are. And that any given text or Facebook post may not be from the person listed.  Impersonation is one a common occurrence in cyber-bullying. The lure of online postings–for both bullies and victims–is the anonymity. Dealing with someone directly, in person or over the phone, can take away some of that power.

Finally, we need to get digi-literate. I teach classes in online brand management and social media for professionals, and I’d say a good majority of my attendees have kids. Yet most are only touching the surface of social networking and online engagement. I’m starting to think I need to add a new call to action: If you don’t want to deal with Twitter, Facebook, IM, interactive tools, and texting for you, do it for your kids.