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The Philanthropic Web: Peter Deitz, founder of Social Actions

July 22nd, 2009 · 5 Comments · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

Yesterday, I attended the monthly meeting of the Ethos Roundtable (Cambridge, MA), a discussion group that focuses on initiatives aimed at holding a culture together, improving social connectedness as well as leveraging social capital, and was co-founded by Deborah Finn and Josh Shortlidge. The featured speaker was Peter Deitz, co-founder of a non-profit organization, Social Actions ( that provides an open, searchable database for actions that you can take on issues that interest you. Instead of checking over the web sites of 50+ foundations, go to Social Actions, type in your key words, and run your search.

When the sense of a mission enables entrepreneurs to build a real company in no time… Quite a few established commercial corporations are now intent upon seizing the field of social entrepreneurship and social actions to enhance their ideological standing or to create new sources of profits given that social causes can also be a huge money-making business. When you hear Peter Deitz speak, though, you are transported into a whole different world that’s by no means an extension of today’s e-commerce Web. His heart-felt sense of being on a mission to become a major orchestrating voice of the social, meaning-oriented, philanthropic Web is unmistakable — so much so that he and his team have been able to bootstrap Social Actions with just a few grants and prizes. In less than two years, Social Actions has become visible player in the field. Started in August 2007, with fiscal sponsorship from, Social Actions already aggregates over 50 foundations, many of them famous institutions (such as Kiva, PledgeBank, ChangingthePresent,, SixDegrees, VolunteerMatch, Modest Needs, Care2Petition Site,,, DemocracyInAction, GlobalGiving, Twitter to name a few), most operating as hubs for smaller organizations; some others initiatives are lesser known and only vetted (as much as they could) by the Social Actions team. For a complete list of these organizations:

In order to identify the causes that are of interest to you and the actions you can take (everything from volunteer opportunities to micro credit loans), you can make a search and you are presented with the list of the opportunities matching your criteria (in my example, I looked for all the new actions related to teaching children created last week).

Viral Open Source Strategy… Social Actions is all about making it easy to everybody (and not simply rich people) to spread the word, and make a difference. So instead of expecting people to come to their site only, Social Actions is doing everything to go to the people: Social Actions is not simply a destination site, but an Open Source Social Action Platform that any company, nonprofit, social network, blog, news media, or individual can leverage and embed on its site. Building up the Philanthropic Web is all about providing Social Actions capabilities everywhere and offering the ability for people to act where they already are. This year, the company created its own “Change the Web” competition to encourage social tech programmers to develop web applications that distribute the actions stored in the Social Actions database across the blogs, websites, social networks, and mobile phones that millions of people use every day. As you can very well imagine, the Social Actions’ approach is truly in line with all the Open Source strategies aimed at giving the Web back to the people and reinventing its purpose and meaning – i.e. enabling people to collaborate. The company is actively advocating for open standards for publishing and sharing actions, and proposed a format called Open Actions.

More about Peter Deitz… Peter holds a BA in History from McGill University and an MA in History from the University of Toronto. His passion is unambiguously philanthropy and when he landed in a large organization to pursue his dream, he experienced the same frustrations as lots of passionate entrepreneurs watching the inefficiencies of top-down organizations, however well-intentioned they may be. So, he left and went for a grassroots approach — which, in turn, revitalizes large organizations by transparently integrating them into the Philanthropic Web. He is a blogger at Social Actions, of course, and has also written multiple contributions on several other blogs, including Social Edge (, the Stanford Social Innovation Review (, or The Pop!Tech Blog ( A real expert in philanthropy-oriented initiatives and in social media, he also offers highly valued consulting services: “Over the last six months, Social Actions has been involved in a range of innovative consulting projects, trainings, and events. Our most notable paid consulting projects to date are the Social Entrepreneur API (Launching on August, 31, 2009) and Mozilla Service Week (September 14-22, 2009). We’ve also been doing work with Social Capital Markets 2009, The Case Foundation, The Skoll Foundation, TakePart, NABUUR, Music National Service, Consulting Within Reach, and Small Change Fund, ” Peter indicates on the site ( His low-key style makes him a remarkable public speaker that you simply want to listen to. No need to say that although he officially lives in Montreal, he is all over the place — and a lot in the United States. I haven’t met the rest of the team, but the little I know about them makes me think that they are amazing folks too!

Marylene Delbourg-Delphis

For more information:

About the Ethos Roundtable:

About Social Actions: see their Web site:

Also: an interesting post by Peter Deitz in June for Social Edge that you may want to read:

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Twitted by lexine_hansen // Jul 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    […] This post was Twitted by lexine_hansen […]

  • 2 jonathan // Jul 24, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Great contribution! You inspire and encourage more people to be better and caring ones.

  • 3 Robert Rosenthal // Jul 27, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Robert here from VolunteerMatch. Great profile on Peter, thanks for sharing with your community. As the article notes, Peter has been a leader in technology to help people take action for some time. From my vantage, Peter’s approach has been to organize and mobilize a wide base of grassroots support for open source technology initiatives — a sustainable approach that is sorely needed now that service and volunteering has become fashionable. Let’s all remember that the grassroots is where most change really happens. Keep up the good work!

  • 4 Joe Edelman // Jul 28, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Peter’s a winner. I try to emulate his calm, optimistic, deep listening style of leadership. I have a long way to go!

    We work in separate organizations, but it seems clear that folks like Peter, and like you Robert, and Marylene and I are all working together to create the community information systems the world needs.

  • 5 Christine Egger // Sep 2, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Marylene,

    Still very much appreciate this wonderful post about Peter and the work going on at Social Actions!

    Thought you’d like to know that the Social Entrepreneur API launched today —

    More information at the project’s website,

    Looking forward to keeping in touch as our work continues ~

    Social Actions

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