GlobalGiving’s Big Bet

Betting On Impact

How we’re using gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics for good.

We all want our donations to have the most impact possible. But how do we choose which nonprofits to support? And how does an organization like GlobalGiving, working with nonprofits in 165 countries, measure, compare, incentivize, and reward effective nonprofits doing everything from providing affordable housing in Nicaragua to restoring buffalo on Lakota land, to teaching organic farming to at-risk teens in Indonesia?)

Well, we’ve made a Big Bet about how we can do just that, and today marks a major milestone as we’re working to drive more money to more effective organizations. Starting today, the organizations on GlobalGiving that we believe are more effective—those nonprofits that are committed to learning—will be rewarded with more visibility and the chance for more funding through the crowdfunding community.

GG_Rewards_Logo_whiteWe’re using gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics to encourage organizations to listen to the people they serve, to act on what they hear by testing new ideas, and to learn faster and more efficiently. (We call this the Cycle of Progress: Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.)

The Cycle of Progress: Listen, Act , Learn, Repeat

We’ve created a new ranking system, which we’re calling GG Rewards, that helps us identify which nonprofits are climbing the GG Rewards ladder as Partners, Leaders, and Superstars. We’ve developed this system in collaboration with our nonprofit partners, with researchers, and peers. We’ll continue to improve as we learn more in the coming months. (In case you’ve been following our progress, the GG Rewards system is a big improvement on the Effectiveness Dashboards and Partner Rewards rankings we’ve been experimenting with for several years.)

GG Rewards Status

When our partners log on to GlobalGiving today, they’ll see their GG Rewards Status, a list of benefits their status affords them, and then they’ll have immediate access to tools and resources that can help them log more Effectiveness and Engagement points that will help increase their scores. Nonprofits not only get points for reporting to their donors, but they can also earn points for interviewing stakeholders, collecting community stories, or collecting feedback from the people they intend to help, for example.

We know that 40% of our partners log into our system every week, and we have data that demonstrates that they’ll take actions to improve their ranking because it leads to more funding, so we’re making sure those actions will help the nonprofits not only become better fundraisers but also more effective at meeting the needs of their communities.

As nonprofits demonstrate their commitment to learning and improving, they’ll now have increased visibility on GlobalGiving, and we’re confident that Superstars will reap tangible rewards. Stay tuned as we roll out ways for donors to search for and find effective organizations!

Versions of this article have also been published by GuideStar and Markets for Good

Unveiling GlobalGiving 6.0… Little by Little by Little

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Do we look a little… different to you?

Our team is hard at work re-designing the GlobalGiving website so that it’s faster, easier, and more fun for donors, nonprofits, companies, and everyone else around the globe. Especially for users on mobile devices! Today you’re seeing the first bit of it in place: the header and footer (with a few new pages in between.)

Rather than hiding away and working for years on a new design and launching it all at once hoping you’ll love it, we’re designing and launching GlobalGiving version 6.0 in sections. This helps us gather feedback as we go, allowing us to iterate to a much better design.

Thanks for bearing with us in the meantime, while the site looks slightly…er… Frankenstein-ish. (“Excuse me while I take this body copy from 2009 and pair it with a footer from 2015…”)  You can expect to see many more beautiful pages launching soon. In the next few months we’ll be rolling out new project pages and have a much better search experience for everyone, (especially you mobile web users!)

Please feel free to share any feedback you have, or any suggestions for how we can make GlobalGiving even better for you.

How We’re Building GG Rewards Together

Next week GlobalGiving will be launching the new GG Rewards Program. Here’s a post by Marc Maxmeister that provides a sneak peek into the work that’s gone into conceptualizing, building, and launching the program. 

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GlobalGiving‘s goal is to help all organizations become more effective by providing access to money, information, and ideas.

That is a lofty, aspirational goal. To everyone else, it might look like all we do is run a website that connects donors to organizations. But internally, I serve on a team that has met every week for the past 3 years to pour over the data, to find an efficient way to help organizations become more effective. We call ourselves the iTeam (i for impact).

GlobalGiving's i-team. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.

GlobalGiving’s iTeam. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.

It is hard to move thousands of organizations in one shared community forward. We use gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics to encourage organizations to learn faster and listen to the people in whatever corner of the world they happen to operate.

Before 2014 we used just six criteria to define “good,” “better”, and “best.” If an organization exceeded the goals on all six, they were Superstars. If they met some goals, they were Leaders. The remaining 70% of organizations were permanent Partners – still no small feat. Leaders and Superstars were first in line for financial bonuses and appeared at the top of search results.

In 2014 we unveiled a more complete effectiveness dashboard, tracking all the ways we could measure an organization on its journey to Listen, Act, Learn, and Repeat. We believe effective organizations do this well.

But this dashboard wasn’t good enough. We kept tweaking it, getting feedback from our users, and looking for better ways to define learning.

What is learning, really?

How do you quantify it and reward everyone fairly?

The past is just prologue. In 2015, GlobalGiving’s nonprofit partners  will earn points for everything they do to listen, act, and learn.

LALR cycle-dark-bglalr-2015-explained

This week I put together an interactive modeling tool to study how GlobalGiving could score organizational learning. When organizations do good stuff, they should earn points. If they earn enough points, they ought to become Leaders or Superstars. But how many points are enough to level up? That is a difficult question. We worked with our nonprofit partner Leadership Council to get their ideas, and we also created some data models to help us decide.

Here is the data; the current distribution of scores for our thousands of partners, leaders and superstars looks like this:

learning_default_model

How to read this histogram

On the x-axis: total learning points that an organization has earned.

On the y-axis: number of organizations with that score.

There are three bell curves for the three levels of status. It is significant to notice that these bell curves overlap. It means that some Superstar organizations in our old definition of excellence are not so excellent under the new set of rules. Other Partner organizations are actually far more effective than we thought; they will be promoted. Some of the last will be first, and some of the first will be last.

The histogram shown mostly reflects points earned from doing those six things we’ve always rewarded. But in the new system, organizations are also going to earn points for doing new stuff that demonstrates learning:

new_learning_points

And that will change everything. “Learning organizations” will leapfrog over “good fundraising organizations” that haven’t demonstrated that they are learning yet.

old_vs_new_learning_points_model

Not only will different organizations level-up to Leaders and Superstars, everyone’s scores will likely increase. We’ll need to keep “moving the goal posts.” Otherwise the definition of a Superstar organization will be meaningless.

The reason this is a modeling tool and not an analysis report is that anyone can adjust the weights and rerun the calculations instantly. Here I’ve increased the points that organizations earn for raising money over listening to community members and responding to donors:

fundraising_focused_points_model

This weighting would run contrary to our mission. So obviously, we’re not doing that. But we also don’t want to impose rules that would discount the efforts organizations have made to become Superstars under the old rules.

So I created another visualization of the model that counts up gainers and losers and puts them into a contingency table. Here, two models are shown side by side. Red boxes represent the number of organizations that are either going to move up or down a level in each model:

status_change_table

We’d like to minimize disruption during the transition. That means getting the number of Superstars that would drop to Partner as close to zero as possible. It also means giving everybody advance warning and clear instructions on how to demonstrate their learning quickly, so that they don’t drop status as the model predicts. (We’ve talked this over with representatives from our Project Leader Leadership Council to get ideas about how to best do this.)

This is a balancing act. Our definition of a Learning Organization is evolving because our measurements are getting more refined, but we acknowledge they are a work in progress. We seek feedback at every step so that what we build together serves the community writ large, and not just what we think is best.

We’ll share more about the launch of our GG Rewards platform next week. This post is just the story of how we used data and feedback to get where we are. Here are a few lessons of what we’ve learned along the way:

Lessons:

  • Fairness: It is mathematically impossible to make everybody happy when we start tracking learning behavior and rewarding it.
  • Meritocracy: We will need to keep changing the definition of Superstar organizations as all organizations demonstrate their learning, or else it will be meaningless. The best organizations would be indistinguishable from average ones.
  • Crowdsourcing: The only fair way to set the boundaries of Partner, Leader, and Superstar is to crowdsource the decision to our community, and repeat this every year.
  • Defined impact: We can measure the influence of our system on organizational behavior by comparing what the model predicts with what actually happens. We define our success as seeing everybody increase their score every year, and earning more points each year than in the previous year. Success is also seeing a normal distribution (e.g. “bell curve”) of overall scores.
  • Honest measurement: I was surprised to realize that without penalties for poor performance, it is impossible to see what makes an organization great.
  • Iterative benchmarking: We must reset the bar for Leader and Superstar status each year if we want it to mean anything.
  • Community: We predict that by allowing everyone a say in how reward levels are defined, more people will buy into the new system.
  • Information is Power: By creating an interactive model to understand what might happen and combining it with feedback from a community, we are shifting away what could be contentious and towards what could inspire stronger community.

We were inspired by what others at the World Bank and J-PAL did to give citizens more health choices in Uganda. What the “information is power” paper finds is that giving people a chance to speak up alone doesn’t yield better programs (the participatory approach). Neither does giving them information about the program alone (the transparency approach). What improves outcomes is a combination of a specific kind of information along with true agency – the power to change the very thing about a program that they believe isn’t working through their interpretation of the data.

The model I built can help each citizen of the GlobalGiving community see how a rule affects everyone else, and hence understand the implications of their choice, as well as predict how they will fare. If we infuse this information into a conversation about what the thresholds for Partner, Leader, Superstar ought to be each year (e.g. how much learning is enough?), this will put us in the “information is power” sweet spot – a rewards paradigm that maximizes organizational learning and capacity for the greatest number of our partners.

I predict that giving others this power (to predict and to set standards) will lead to a fairer set of rules for how learning is measured and rewards doled out. It ain’t easy, but it is worthy of the effort.

Crowdsourcing Compassion from a Global Community

“The war in Liberia and the Ebola situation we are going through are enough to tell us what those people are going through.”  — Nelly Cooper, President, West Point Women for Health and Development

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After the devastating April 2015 earthquakes, Nepali communities are working to rebuild, and the GlobalGiving community has stepped up to respond with tremendous compassion. We’ve seen people giving from 111 countries around the world, including young children, grandparents, Nepali citizens, climbers who have summited Mt. Everest, and leading companies and their employees. Among this outpouring of generosity, one $200 donation and its accompanying message stood out to the GlobalGiving staff:

“We’re donating this money because we know what it is like to be in a situation like the one the people of Nepal find themselves in.  Many of us were so devastated during the war in Liberia; we lost everything, even loved ones. Now looking at what we saw on TV and on the internet about Nepal, really motivated us to help with the little we are able to give right now.”

The donation was sent by the grassroots nonprofit West Point Women for Health and Development, a GlobalGiving partner working in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.  Over the past year, Nelly Cooper, the organization’s president, and the West Point Women have played a vital role in the frontline fight against Ebola. Many volunteered to lead community education and advocacy efforts during the epidemic’s height, even as their own families were affected by the disease. The West Point Women have helped Liberia become Ebola-free, and they have a unique understanding of how such crises impact communities in the near and long terms.

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The West Point Women for Health and Development volunteer team were at the front lines in the fight against Ebola

You, as part of the GlobalGiving community, have played an important role, too. The work of the West Point Women has been funded, in part, by donations to GlobalGiving’s Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund. We’re so touched by their own generosity and desire to ‘pay it forward’ to other GlobalGiving partners.

This isn’t the first time that nonprofits in the GlobalGiving community have supported one another from across the world during times of need: New Orleans-based Tipitina’s Foundation is dedicated to helping at-risk youth access musical instruments and education. In March 2011, Tipitina used funds they had raised for their own program to purchase instruments for programs working with Japanese youth impacted by the tsunami. Noted Kim Katner, Managing Director of Tipitina’s Foundation, “I personally know that I would not have made it through the aftermath of Katrina if it wasn’t for music.”

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After the 2011earthquake and tsunami in Japan, kids from Tipitina used money they’d raised to buy their own instruments to send Instruments to Bright Kids Music Club of the Tagajo-Higashi Elementary School

Most recently, a team of Japanese and Korean volunteers, affected by their own local crises (the 2011 tsunami and 2014 ferry disaster, respectively), traveled to Nepal to build temporary shelters with IsraAID. The volunteers are also providing psychosocial support to earthquake survivors and sharing their own personal experiences with recovery and rebuilding.

“When we created GlobalGiving, we knew that nonprofits in our community would benefit from sharing ideas, information, and connections. But we never imagined that we’d see the community come together in this way, with Ebola survivors in Liberia or tsunami survivors from Korea demonstrating such generosity to earthquake survivors a half a world away,” said Mari Kuraishi, GlobalGiving co-founder and president.  “With GlobalGiving, it’s possible for anyone in the world to make a meaningful, positive difference, especially after a tragedy.”

Special thanks to Menaka Chandurkar for her collaboration on this article. 

Using Data to Drive Donations: key findings from our work with DataKind

By Alison Carlman, in partnership with Miriam Young from DataKind

Recently we worked with DataKind to analyze project data from our website to learn what our nonprofit partners can do to maximize their potential for donations.

A project page on GlobalGiving.org

 

If you’ve ever visited more than a few pages on GlobalGiving, you’ll know that our project pages are the main hub of all fundraising activity on the web platform. Project pages are the pages where organizations describe their needs and give their best pitch to attract potential donors. We recently worked with a team of DataKind volunteers to analyze our data, helping us identify what impacts a nonprofit’s fundraising success.

How can organizations maximize their donations on GlobalGiving?

We already use data to drive our work (after all, our chief core value is Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.), but we wanted to go deeper using data science (and some excellent data scientists) to uncover what leads to nonprofits successfully reaching their fundraising goals. We hope to use this information as we refine our search algorithm to help donors find projects they’re most interested in and also help nonprofits maximize their ability to attract donors.

Data science uses statistical and computational analysis to turn unwieldy amounts of data into actionable information to guide organizational decision making. Think of the many online services you use like LinkedIn, Netflix, or Amazon. These companies already use data generated by users on their sites to better serve their customers – making recommendations to help you use their services more effectively. We’re doing the same thing, using the same data science techniques that companies use to boost profits to advance our mission.

We first participated in a DataKind weekend DataDive, supported by Teradata, last October to do initial analysis of our project data to determine what factors led to projects being successfully funded. The team then handed off its findings to another team of DataKind volunteers – Jon Roberts, Ana Areias, Tim Rich, and Nate MacNamara – for a multi-month project to uncover insights about donor behavior that would help optimize our search ranking algorithm.

So what do nonprofits that fundraise successfully on GlobalGiving have in common? Many things: they get high traffic on their project page, they have a strong social media presence and a broad base of followers outside GlobalGiving. We wanted to hone in on the component it we could influence the most – the project page. Improving the project page itself with even minor tweaks, or providing nonprofits with tips backed by data can have a huge impact on fundraising success over time.

The DataKind volunteer team worked closely with our tech team to analyze which aspects of the project page led to higher conversion rates for donors. Looking at data from more than 4,000 project pages that had at least 100 visitors each, the volunteers looked for patterns and useful insights that could help us guide partners on best practices for maximizing donations.

Key learnings

The DataKind team looked at a variety of features of the project page, including project title, funding amount, number of donors, photos, length and content of project summaries. What impact, if any, did these things have on the project reaching its funding goal? The team found a few factors that had a clear influence on a project’s conversion or donation rate:

1. A “call-to-action” in the project summary 

There is a 14% higher conversion rate for projects that included a call-to-action in the project summary. Surprisingly, however, putting a call-to-action in the project title did not appear to make an impact on a project’s conversion rate. Titles may be important for getting traffic to a project, but it appears the project summary is king when it comes to inspiring people to give on GlobalGiving.

2. Longer project summaries (30-35 words)

Going against the traditional wisdom that short and sweet is always best, the team actually found that a project’s conversion rate increased with project summary length. To a point. But there is a sweet spot of 30-35 words, as summaries longer than 35 words encountered diminishing returns.

3. Specific language

At the DataDive, volunteers did text analysis of various project pages and found a correlation between specificity of language and a nonprofit’s project fundraising success. For example, nonprofits raised less money when they used generic words like funding for the “arts” versus a specific project like “a photography exhibit.”

4. Higher fundraising goals ($25,000-$50,000)
There seems to be a sweet spot of $25,000-$50,000 being correlated with increased conversion rates. This implies organizations should set their project goal in this range where possible and, if more funds are needed, launch a second project in the same range instead of simply increasing the original project’s requested amount.

Now, as any good stats student knows, correlation is not causation. All of these findings were based on inferential analysis of GlobalGiving’s existing data, which means we don’t know if these factors actually caused increased conversion rates. Nevertheless, the findings offer powerful information for our team to experiment with as we make recommendations for our partners going forward.

Start your journey

This project might also get you thinking about what hidden learnings are in your data. Data is everywhere. Your organization may have a web platform ours where you’re constantly generating data, or may have other sources like program intake forms, surveys or social media analytics. And don’t forget the wide range of publicly-available data provided by government agencies and others that can shed light into how your organization can maximize its impact.

If you’re interested in learning how your organization can tap the power of data science to improve your efforts, check out NTEN’s Data Community of Practice, Data Analysts for Social Good or reach out to the DataKind team at contact@datakind.org for advice on how to get started. If you think a data science project might help you scale your work, apply on the DataKind website for support!

All data science journeys begin with a question. What question will help your organization move the needle on the issue you care most about? DataKind love to help you answer it.