How GlobalGiving Helps Nonprofits Become More Effective

This is our mission at GlobalGiving: catalyzing a global marketplace for money, information, and ideas.

In 2002 we began to build an online funding bridge between passionate individual donors—people whose gifts are often seen as too small to be meaningful—and smaller organizations whose impact has been all too easy to ignore because of their size or remoteness of their work.

Today that funding bridge has turned into a global marketplace where anyone in the world can support projects and organizations that they otherwise would never have known.

But democratizing fundraising was only the beginning.

Soon after we started GlobalGiving, we began providing feedback tools. The very same platform that revolutionized access to crowdfunding has also made it possible for us to collect and share information with our nonprofit partners. We soon found we could offer nonprofits the kind of feedback tools that would dramatically improve the quality of their fundraising.

For example, every nonprofit on GlobalGiving has a personalized dashboard that they see when they log in to the website. From the dashboard they can access details about their project page and fundraising progress:

 

We saw that our partners were hungry for this type of feedback, and they were eager to respond rapidly to new information if it helped them improve their work. Today, more than 2,000 of our nonprofit partners use our feedback tools to improve their fundraising.

The next step: introducing incentives

In 2011 we introduced the Partner Rewards system. Similar to an airline’s frequent flyer program, we give our nonprofit partners points for increasing their engagement with our platform and our feedback tools. Higher Rewards status (partner, leader, and superstar) translates to more visibility on the site (like being featured on our homepage, or our social media), and makes us more likely to refer an organization to our corporate partners. That extra visibility translates to more donations for projects.

In the same way that you might be motivated to purchase your next ticket from United because you’re only 1,000 miles away from Gold Status, we found that Partner Rewards levels motivated nonprofit partners to write that extra project update, or to rally a little harder for a campaign, because it would take them to the next level, ultimately driving more funds to their project.  

Our Partner Rewards Bonus Days are a great example of this. In June 2012 we introduced our first Partner Rewards Bonus Day where we offered different matching percentages for different rewards levels (donations to Partners were matched at 30%, Leaders at 40%, Superstars at 50%). One way for organizations to bump up their status is to submit a project report to fulfil the quarterly requirement. We saw a great increase in the number of partners submitting reports that month in order to qualify for the higher statuses. Clearly, the Partner Rewards System was a compelling incentive to drive behavior.

The cycle of progress: Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.

As we began to study the links between feedback, learning, incentives and effectiveness, it became clear that our nonprofit partners informally follow the kind of Listen, Act, Learn and Repeat behavior that defines the most successful entrepreneurial businesses. Which made us realize we can do even more to help our partners:

Cycle of Progress

  • Listen: we can help nonprofits access feedback from the people they serve, share best practices, and discover new ways to improve performance.
  • Act: we can provide training and one-to-one consulting to help each partner experiment and try new ways of working.
  • Learn: as they try new ideas we can offer them feedback on how well it is working for the people and causes they serve.
  • Repeat: once they achieve the results they are hoping for, we can help them integrate the new way of working into their operations, so the improvement is sustainable.

While many of our nonprofit partners join GlobalGiving for the access to financial resources, they stay and thrive because we provide something that is just as vital to their mission: access to knowledge. We can use our web platform and powerful incentives (money!) to drive learning, and ultimately, higher performance.

That’s why we’ve created the Effectiveness Dashboard, a way to track the listening, acting, learning, and repeating that our nonprofits engage in both on and off the GlobalGiving platform.  We give our partner organizations points for listening to their stakeholders, testing out new ideas, learning from the results of their experiments, and for integrating learning into their daily work:EffectivenessDashboard

This dashboard is in MVP (minimum viable product) stage of the build-measure-learn product development cycle. Initially the majority of the opportunities to earn points  have focused on fundraising effectiveness, but in 2014 we integrated several external feedback tools into the dashboard, allowing our partners to earn points for listening, acting, learning, and repeating that cycle on the ground.

In 2015 we’re focused on integrating the elements of the Effectiveness Dashboard into our main Partner Rewards ranking and search algorithms on GlobalGiving. Our partners are motivated to improve their Partner Rewards status, because it translates to more funding for their work. We believe that it will also translate to higher performance on the ground that is informed by feedback and data about what works in their communities.

This is how the Effectiveness Dashboard is a powerful tool to help us align fundraising with performance, by  channeling more funds to the nonprofits that demonstrate the greatest commitment to improvement, and have the highest potential to do the most good.

A Sneak Peek at GlobalGiving’s Brand Refresh

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Very exciting things are happening at GlobalGiving! Over the last several months, we have been working behind the scenes to refresh our brand and we are finally ready to share it with the world. Our main goal of this change is to make our outward appearance more accurately reflect who we are on the inside: hopeful, curious, enthusiastic, substantive, and human. We love the work that we do, and we want the world to feel the same. The launch of this new, fresh brand is symbolic of the many exciting changes being made this year at GlobalGiving and helps visualize the tremendous growth we are going through. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months!

A New Year to Build On

Happy New Year, GlobalGivers!  The last couple of months of 2014 passed in a flash of donation gift cards and year-end giving, and 2015 is off to an inspiring start.  As I have been reflecting on 2014’s passing and thinking about what is to come in 2015, I have been focused on the ways in which 2015’s accomplishments will rely upon and build upon all the hard work and generosity that took place in 2014.ProjectPhoto

A timely example of this compounding effect is the work GlobalGiving and the VMware Foundation have done together over the last few years.  In alignment with GlobalGiving’s goal to inform our nonprofit and donor communities so they can make more mindful choices and contributions, the VMware Foundation’s philosophy of Citizen Philanthropy focuses on individuals’ choices, contributions, and unique passions adding up to make an even more profound and meaningful collective impact than any one might on its own.

As the axiom goes, “every waterfall begins with a drop of water,” and VMware’s programs prove just that.  In 2011, the VMware Foundation and GlobalGiving began working together to provide milestone awards (in the form of GlobalGiving e-cards) to its new hires and employees reaching their one-year anniversaries at VMware.  The first batch of cards went to a mere trickle of 100 employees.  But over the years, GlobalGiving has sent more than 24,500 service awards to VMware employees.

Adding to the swell of support, the VMware user community helped the VMware Foundation choose which of 55 causes would receive $500,000 of funding in 2014 through the VMworld conferences in San Francisco and Barcelona in 2014. Each participant allowed giving to take flight by throwing a personally-designed paper airplane down a field, with different landing areas accounting for different donation amounts towards the participants’ causes of choice.  As the competition intensified and momentum built, each participant helped bolster the group’s collective efforts to a level none could have reached on her/his own.

The biggest waLandingPage Screenshotves of support have come during the last two holiday seasons, when each of VMware’s roughly 16,000 employees received a GlobalGiving “gift of giving,” similar to milestone awards but larger in size and scope.  Through these gifts of giving, VMware employees choose where they want to invest the organization’s holiday donation.  Each employee’s $100 gift of giving amassed to more than $2 million in concert.  2014’s gifts of giving alone supported more than three-quarters of the organizations on GlobalGiving.org at the time.  Such widespread support within such a generous contribution is a true testament to VMware’s Citizen Philanthropy in action.

GlobalGiving’s vision is to unleash the potential of people to make positive change happen.  And the waterfall of support over the last few years from VMware people has allowed more than 3,500 programs in 145 countries to continue forward progress in their communities.  As someone who could stand mesmerized by the power of a beautiful waterfall for hours, witnessing this “worldwide waterfall” has helped me start 2015 on an incredibly optimistic note.

The Popup Experiment: Effects from Unexpected Places

Part 1: Testing Upworthy’s Technique

I spend a lot of time on the Internet and I’m always looking for inspiration. In late 2013 I clicked a link to an article on Upworthy, a site always on the forefront of testing stickiness and psychological hooks. When the page loaded I was presented with this statement:

Upworthy's Modal Dialog

After clicking “I Agree” (because who wouldn’t?), I was asked to sign up for the site’s mailing list.

This type of interface element is called a “modal dialog,” and I generally find them to be annoying, distracting, and intrusive. In this case however, the dialog made me smile, and even got me to click just to see what would happen.

That experience stuck with me and over the next few weeks I designed a way to take advantage of a similar psychological cue on GlobalGiving.

Our initial experiment (a minimum viable product)

We’re always looking for ways to build our newsletter list, and I saw an opportunity to let visitors to our nonprofit partners’ project pages subscribe to their quarterly email updates. I liked the fact that I was giving users a way to express their interest in and support for the project even if they weren’t ready to give monetarily.

Because of my dislike for modal dialogs (unless the message is critical), I looked for a way to catch the user’s attention without monopolizing it. Eventually I decided to have a small, unobtrusive box slide out from the page’s lower corner a few seconds after the it loaded, and make a similar appeal. Here’s my first attempt:

This project is doing great work

If the user chose to click “I Agree,” I offered them the opportunity to sign up for the project’s email updates and for GlobalGiving’s newsletter. I launched that to the site and saw a modest level of signups, so I knew I was onto something. But wanting to make the most of the opportunity, and doing my best to live our “Never Settle” core value, I decided to try to maximize the signup rate by testing a few of the assumptions I had made.

Experimental Variables

Variable 1 (Teaser): The point of this experiment was to catch people’s attention with the friendly language and statement nobody could possibly disagree with, then make the “big” ask of signing up for our mailing lists (using what’s known as the Foot-in-the-Door technique). Hopefully by first agreeing with the modest statement, the user would feel more inclined to sign up. But would people feel misled by this? Was I undermining their trust by posing a seemingly harmless question, then asking them for their email address? Would people not understand that they were being offered the option to sign up for the mailing list, and ignore the coy initial question completely? I decided to test dropping the pretense and just offer the user the ability to sign up for the mailing lists directly.

Variable 2 (Language): Relatedly, how would the playful language affect the user’s understanding of the offer? Would they be more likely to sign up if the language were more straightforward? I decided to test replacing the language above versus the direct but rather flat, “Sign up for updates about this project?” followed by the options “OK” and “No.”

Variable 3 (Timing): Finally, the duration of time I had chosen to wait before showing the offer was more or less arbitrary. I didn’t want the offer to pop up immediately, in order to give the user some time to digest the information they wanted in the first place, but could the time be too short, causing the offer to surprise, jar, or overwhelm the user? Could it be too long so that the user would already have left, or decided to take another action? I decided to test pauses of four and eight seconds before showing the offer.

Tables with Eight Cells Defined

I divided our audience into eight segments, and showed each segment a unique combination of those three variables. Over the course of about a month, we showed the offer nearly 80,000 times, and gained more than 1000 new subscribers.

Results

Analyzing the results, I learned that more people signed up for the mailing lists if they saw the “teaser” first; the Foot-in-the-Door technique worked! That was the only statistically significant result the experiment produced; waiting eight seconds slightly outperformed waiting for four, while the two different wordings were nearly a statistical toss-up.

Showing the teaser question increased the conversion rate from 1.10% to 1.57%

My team and I decided to make the offer permanent with “This project is doing great work” showing up after eight seconds.

Part 2: Tweaking the results

A few months went by, and our communications manager came to me with two observations about the offer. First, she explained that many of our website visitors are learning about these projects and their work for the first time, so the user would not be equipped to weigh in on whether or not the project is doing “great work.” This might make them less likely to respond to the prompt. Second, the statement parses oddly: the projects themselves aren’t doing any work at all, it’s the people that work at our nonprofit partner organizations who do the work.

She suggested an alternative wording that would remedy these issues: “This project is important.” We fired up another test.

There was no statistical difference in the signup rates between the cells with the two language variations after a month…or two months…or three months. After three months and 300,000 views, the two wordings were at a statistical dead heat, so we ended the experiment. We decided to stick with the “important” language if for nothing else than better grammar.

Even failed experiments (those without significant results) can result in learning, so I was prepared to accept these results and go forward with the knowledge that neither a project doing “great work” nor being “important” was more persuasive to our users in terms of convincing them to sign up for a mailing list. Perhaps there is other wording that would be more persuasive; perhaps there is a more effective UI treatment. Opportunities for further experimentation abound.

Part 3: The twist ending

And that’s where things would have ended, except there were other effects to consider. Newsletter sign-ups are not the primary goal for our partners’ project pages; ultimately, we want to help our partners receive donations. I had an inkling that our intervention might have some effect on users’ donation rates, so I compared the funds raised in each of the two cells, and the results speak for themselves:

Revenue increased 9.5%

Sure enough, users who are asked whether or not they agree that a project is “important” donate nearly 10% more money than those that are asked if they agree that it is “doing great work!” This was a statistically significant result.

I walked away from this experience happy that I found a way to increase donations, and humbly surprised that the biggest gain came from a source I hadn’t even considered. This experiment, well over a year in the making, serves as a reminder that by continually testing we can be continually improving, and to always remain open to positive effects from unexpected places. Plus it’s always a good idea to use correct grammar.

DataKind and GlobalGiving Using Data Science to Drive Funding to Effective Organizations

A DataKind DataDive team hard at work answering questions with GlobalGiving data

This is a guest post written by Miram Young, DataKind’s Communications Specialist.

At DataKind, we harness the power of data science in the service of humanity by bringing together data science experts with mission-driven organizations like GlobalGiving to work on projects addressing critical humanitarian problems. We have the honor of working with inspiring organizations around the world looking to use data to transform their work and are thrilled to be working on our second project with GlobalGiving using data science to drive dollars to effective organizations.

There is much that binds DataKind and GlobalGiving together. For one, as we discovered at our recent DataDive weekend in Nashville, we both have a knack for doing cartwheels down hallways (GlobalGiving was much better than we were.) Perhaps more significantly, we are bound together by our missions similarly dedicated to giving social change organizations access to powerful resources to amplify their impact.

The GlobalGiving DataDive team

The GlobalGiving DataDive team

As all of you know, GlobalGiving is in itself a tremendous resource for organizations and individuals raising needed funds to address critical issues around the world. GlobalGiving has another powerful resource up its sleeve as well: data.  Because GlobalGiving’s website tracks each project’s fundraising progress and each click of a potential donor, they have gathered a tremendous amount of data that can, in turn, be used to help people more easily find organizations they would like to donate to and help organizations fundraise more effectively.

But what exactly is data science anyway? Simply put, we at DataKind think of data science as the art of wrangling data to provide actionable information, predict our future behavior, uncover patterns to help us prioritize, or otherwise draw meaning from vast data resources. While there’s still debate about defining this profession, we think of a data scientist as both a statistician and a computer scientist. This combination of skills puts data scientists in a sweet spot of knowing not only how to obtain and transform the necessary data for an organization, but also how to understand what the numbers are–and are not–saying.

Our project with GlobalGiving started at our October DataDive with an initial analysis of data from their past projects to determine what factors lead to projects being successfully funded. DataKind volunteers found interesting trends, such as the fact that more specificity within a project description tended to lead to more donations.

Our DataKind team is now in the stage of using these findings to optimize GlobalGiving’s search ranking algorithm. By the end of the project, GlobalGiving will have a better understanding of which factors motivate donors to give, which will in turn be used to help organizations fundraise more effectively.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project over the coming weeks. If you’ll be at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in March, Will Frechette from GlobalGiving will be speaking on a panel that our Programs Strategist, Shubha Bala, is hosting on how nonprofits can use data science to advance their work. We’d love to see you there (and maybe even do a cartwheel or two with you down the hall).