Archive for March, 2008


How to generate more light than heat

Posted by dennis on March 28th, 2008

I have spent the last several days at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. This year’s Forum has had an exceptional slate of speakers and panelists. As usual, much of the value of the conference comes from side conversations at dinner and in the hallways. But I particularly liked a new feature they had this year called Consultancy Clinics.In this format, the experts don’t just talk – they primarily listen and give feedback to people who have ideas for new social businesses or initiatives. In the session I went to, these ideas ranged from producing films on human rights violations to producing comic books developed by children and illustrated by up and coming artists. There were also ideas for how to better facilitate funding for small businesses in developing countries.

I liked how interactive and real-life this format was. The people seeking feedback each got 5 minutes to describe their ideas, and they were not allowed to use powerpoint (thank heavens). Then the panel of experts (who had not previously heard the ideas) spent 15 minutes asking questions and providing advice and insights. The objective was to help improve the ideas, not simply judge them.Overall, this approach reduced elaborate preparation work and resulted in a far greater helpfulness-to-hot air ratio than usual. I was impressed.And if I were presenting an idea, I would be hard pressed to pick a better panel of people to give me feedback based on their experience: Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO; Clare Lockhart, co-founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness; John Goldstein, co-founder of Imprint Capital Advisors (and GG-UK board director); and Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot College in India. The panel was very well moderated by Bridget McNamer of the Skoll Foundation.

What makes donors smile.

Posted by margaret on March 27th, 2008

Dr Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver and colleagues found that [experimental subjects] report significantly greater happiness if they spend money “pro-socially” – that is on gifts for others or on charitable donations – rather than spending on themselves. So…. the media has been reporting the last few weeks. At GlobalGiving we wanted to know what makes our donors happy so we asked a few of them.
Our donors confided that they too, feel better about themselves and the lives they lead each time they give to a project on GlobalGiving. The special happiness that GlobalGiving delivered had to do with the personal connection donors felt with the projects. They found the project, they figured out what impact their donation would have, they were able to take action immediately–all ways that made them feel like they had actually ‘done’ something at the end of the day. Though their giving budgets may be finite, finding a way to stretch the budget (skipping lattes, eating less, one less pair of shoes) and reallocating the dollars to a project that spikes their passion was reported as a great way to feel terrific. Now, that is cheap therapy!
While we can’t guarentee happiness we can listen to what our donors(and the scientisits) tell us and try to improve the happiness quotient in this world. ;)

Mac Users Are More Generous Than Windows Users

Posted by Donna Callejon on March 26th, 2008

As a web developer, one of the most interesting things that I get to do is see how people use GlobalGiving. We have a big screen display that gives us updates on daily donation totals and recent donations, and during peak traffic spikes, I’ll log onto the servers and watch what’s going on in real time. Like most web sites, we also collect aggregate statistics about our users so that we can improve our site. The other day I was curious to see which browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) our visitors are using and what it means for our design and testing plans. The results were surprising!

First, I took a look at which browsers our visitors use. Like most web sites, Internet Explorer is the most popular browser. GlobalGiving has a slightly larger Firefox user base than the general Internet, but it’s only a few percentage points higher. Safari comes trailing in around 5%. That’s all in line with general internet browser share statistics.

Then I took a look at dollars per visitor broken down by browser type. For people not involved in e-commerce, dollars per visitor is calculated by taking the total amount of money raised on your site and dividing it by the total number of unique visitors to your site. This gives you a rough idea of how much each person is likely to give/spend on your site. I expected that the dollars per visitor would be similar for each browser. After all, the desire to change the world isn’t related to your choice in technology… or is it?

As you can see, although the Safari users only account for a small percentage of our total visitors, they give a lot more. A Safari 3.0.4 user will give $3.42 while the normal IE 7.0 user will only give $0.74!!! (NOTE: We don’t yet have enough data on Safari 3.1 to include it in this chart.)

Since Apple recently released Safari for Windows, I thought I’d do a similar break down by operating system. Sure enough, the average Mac OS X user will give $2.53 while a Windows XP user will only give $0.97 and a Windows Vista user will give $0.58!

Why the big difference? Perhaps Mac users have more disposable income and are able to give more to charity. But if that were the case, I’d expect the Windows Vista users to be giving more than the XP users, since Vista requires an up-to-date computer to run well. Perhaps Mac users tend to be more internet savvy and are more comfortable with giving online, but I’d also expect anyone using Linux to be comfortable with the internet, yet they have one of the lowest rates that we’ve tracked.

It’s hard to say what it is about Mac users that causes them to give more. Perhaps they just think different.

Snap Picks and Skin in the Game

Posted by john hecklinger on March 21st, 2008

This week I got interested in college hoops again. Since my Wahoos were a major disappointment, I haven’t been following things as much as I usually do, or more precisely, I haven’t watched a single game or read a single article about a single team (save the bad news about the ‘Hoos) this season.

Still, I can’t resist participating in pools. I’m in the office pool and my book club pool for $10 each. I literally spent less than five minutes filling out both brackets with no research. After day one, I’m 14 for 16 on one bracket and 10 for 16 (ouch) on the other.

So, why bother? I guess I feel like my snap decisions are potentially as good as informed decisions. Unless you’re extremely well-informed, it’s tough to pick the surprises. But now, I have skin in the game and a reason to follow things.

For me the pleasure of the brackets is isolated. I don’t care that my decisions aren’t smart or the result of following players and trends and picking mismatches. I just like seeing how my brackets evolve, leaving things up to chance and ultimately caring about teams I would otherwise never have followed. Maybe I’ll even annoy my expert friends in the process.

I spoke with a donor this week who chose to fund two projects based on well-reasoned, but entirely self-defined criteria. Now that results are coming in, the donor is interested in seeing the funded projects in a larger context. How did the funding choices contribute to solving a problem in a specific part of the world? If funding were expanded how much greater would the impact be? Is there a chance to solve a problem for a whole community? A whole region?

The Wisdom of Crowds informs our thinking at GlobalGiving.  Individual decisions made with limited and imperfect information can add up to effective distribution of charitable funds – a compelling and hopeful idea. What donors might not be getting from us is satisfaction in knowing that donations are part of something bigger. A small donation can move a major problem closer to a solution, but it’s tough to communicate how that happens through this marketplace of different ideas and approaches around the world.

A challenge is to help donors see how $10 decisions contribute to the general good. Just like my $10 investment in the college hoops pool, now I care and want to see what happens in the end.

National Enquirer Here we Come

Posted by Donna Callejon on March 20th, 2008

Yesterday was a normal day at GlobalGiving. Each of periodically glancing up at our wall-mounted flat screen TV, which gives us a running update on donation volume, ticker-style updates of each donor/donation, and rotating pictures from projects on the website. Traffic seemed in the normal range. And then something strange happened. Traffic shot up. Not huge, but enough to notice. “What’s up?” asked our newest team member, Georg. So we checked it out. Yes, folks, Perez Hilton blogged GlobalGiving, sending about 7,000 new visitors to our site. For those of you over 40 who don’t read People magazine or watch Entertainment Tonight, is one of the top read blogs in the world. Generally posting on issues as deep as a Jessica Simpson/Tony Romo sighting or sexual proclivities of the stars, it’s great to see Perez also has a section on his blog called “Inspiration.’

His post, so far, has inspired about a dozen donors. Yesterday, Perez, tomorrow the Enquirer!

Becoming a locavore

Posted by mari on March 19th, 2008

As some of you know already, I looove food. I love to eat it, to cook it, and will go to great lengths to experience and learn more about it whenever I can. And lately I’ve been quite taken with the idea of becoming a locavore, of eating foods that are grown within a certain radius from where you live. It means you’re more likely to know who and how it was grown, and in theory you are reducing your carbon footprint by lowering transportation costs. I say in theory because aI recently found out in a recent excellent piece in the New Yorker, calculating carbon footprints are not so easy, and eating a lamb chop originating in New Zealand in London is actually more ecologically sound than eating a lamb chop bred and butchered in the English countryside.

So as I was musing on the aesthetic elegance and ecological complexity of being a locavore, I came across a very different slant on being a locavore as I visited this amazing social enterprise on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, courtesy of our good friends at HelpArgentina. The social enterprise is called La Juanita, and it’s a self-organized coop engaged in a number of revenue generating ventures, including a well-known bakery. Their most recent success has been to build a partnership with a prize-winning chef, and turning out baked goods that could be sold at a premium to companies and individuals in the wealthier parts of Buenos Aires. The thing that struck me though, was that the price they were quoting for their pan dulce was almost 3x the regular price of pan dulce—and they were charging that price 1) because it was for a holiday occasion, and the market could bear that cost, especially when consumers factored in the idea that their pan dulce purchase was in part a donation; 2) the pan dulce was that good; and 3) they needed to charge that price because this social enterprise needs to cross subsidize the sale of that same pan dulce to the local community as below market prices.

The last point is where I started muttering, “But, but … that’s crazy. They should absolutely charge what the market can bear, but they should charge a price that is sustainable and delivers a long-term stream of income that allows La Juanita to establish a clear brand in people’s minds, and they should sell all their pan dulce to their high-paying customers, not keep any of it back to sell at subsidized prices to their local community.” But before I could say this, their chief baker intervened. He said that often there are those that produce, and those that consume, and usually the twain don’t meet. And it’s really important for the impoverished community around La Juanita to have access to the top-quality baked goods that they produce so that they too can experience what high quality is.

Morality aside, as a cook and a foodie, I had to agree. Because, you see, cooking is experiential. And you can’t learn how to make great pan dulce unless you know what great pan dulce is, can visualize it, and smell it and taste it. And a lot of other things besides cooking are experiential as well. And perhaps taking a strict business or economics view glosses over that experiential gap that can develop when one community produces and the other consumes. Perhaps being a locavore isn’t a short-term logical choice, but at La Juanita, it might lead to some kid there becoming a committed foodie, or the new Iron Chef from Argentina.

(Re?) Connecting with Roots

Posted by alison on March 17th, 2008

I just returned from Japan, having participated in a Japanese-American Leadership Delegation trip sponsored by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, and the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles (highly recommended if you’re ever in LA). The purpose of the trip was to improve understanding and strengthen relationships between Japanese-Americans and Japan by meeting and exchanging information with leaders in politics, government, business, and culture. This is of particular importance given the history between the two countries, especially during World II when many Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in remote concentration camps in the US.

Despite the fact that my grandparents came from Japan, I had never visited, and to do so in a way that allowed such exposure and access was pretty amazing – we met with VIPs ranging from Prime Minister Fukuda to Princess Takamado to young (really young, like 30-year-old!) members of Parliament, and a host of others. My first few days were spent in a sort of “Lost in Translation“-style, jet lag-induced haze, and the packed schedule (7 official meetings on Monday alone) didn’t allow much time for acclimation, so I’m still processing everything we experienced. NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network, also followed and filmed us, and since I was the one “newbie” in the group of 13 delegates from around the US, they were always interested in what I thought, which made me a bit self conscious.

And what did I think? On one level, having lived in and visited other “great cities” of the world, Tokyo seemed like, well, another great city, albeit one where most people looked like me (although my inability to communicate was slightly disconcerting). But on another level, the opportunity to visit ancestral “roots” touched me in an entirely different way. Things seemed familiar, even though they were new to me, but I was also struck that the Japan I thought I knew was actually the Japan my grandparents brought with them when they emigrated to the US-I realized that I needed to update my perceptions about today’s Japan.

All of the people we met talked about connections-the need to build, nurture, and continuously renew ties between governments, institutions, and most of all, people. In the abstract, I couldn’t agree more. But it wasn’t until we visited the southern city of Fukuoka, where my maternal grandmother was born, and I caught a glimpse of the harbor where she first embarked on her journey to the US nearly a hundred years ago, that the idea of connection suddenly felt more important, emotional, and real.

GlobalGiving was founded on the notion that everyone in the world is interconnected. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to create this connection with my own family’s history, and to get a greater perspective on my place in the world.

Welcome BRAC!

Posted by dennis on March 13th, 2008

Fazle Abed, BRAC Founder

“I am wondering whether you would consider adding BRAC projects to GlobalGiving?”

Would we?! We would love to. That is what I told my friend Susan Davis on the phone a couple of months ago. She was calling to say that she was helping BRAC launch an enhanced US presence.I get a lot of calls like this, but few that make me so happy. In my view, BRAC is one of the absolute best community-based NGOs operating in the world today. Founded in Bangladesh 1972, BRAC has helped millions of people better their lives through training, education, health programs, and job creation. They have recently expanded their programs to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda and Southern Sudan.

I like BRAC’s programs and impact, but I also like its high “impact-to-ego ratio.” The organization’s DNA comes from its founder, Fazle Abed. His exceptional competence is matched only by his modesty and quiet sense of humor. No grandstanding or flashy speeches with Fazle Abed – just quiet action, on a large scale, with a smile.

BRAC has two projects in Sudan listed on GlobalGiving. Check out this one: you can fund a child’s entire education for a year for only $100. And what’s best is that you know BRAC will be there to oversee the education and other services the child needs to grow up to be healthy, happy, and prosperous.

Riding off into the sunset…

Posted by dana on March 11th, 2008

After three years, two months, and twenty-odd days, the time has come for my departure from the GlobalGiving team and I will be wrapping up my work here in the next few weeks. It has truly been an extraordinary experience working at GlobalGiving these past few years-more so than I could possibly sum up in one blog post. All I can say is that it has felt more like an adventure than a regular ol’ 9-5 gig, and for that I am immensely grateful. From our early days above the thrift store in Bethesda, to our current hipper than thou historic rehab digs on U St, we have grown a lot since I started working here…but I think (or at least hope) that we have maintained the “GG spirit” throughout. The passion, dedication, intelligence, humor, friendship and (at times) totally crazy commitment my fabulous co-workers have demonstrated over the past few years will stick with me for a long, long time.

In addition to the amazing co-workers, I also feel privileged to have been able to work on the supply team with all our fabulous project partners. There wouldn’t be a GlobalGiving without our partners doing courageous and important work on the ground all over the world, and I loved getting a window into their world and supporting their efforts even from thousands of miles away. And yes, that’s me riding a pedal-powered electricity generator from the project “Give Pedal Generated Light to Millions of Nepalis“!

I better cut this short before it devolves into a sappy highschool yearbook-esque farewell note…and while I won’t actually be in the GG office after next Wednesday, I’ll always be a GG alum, donor, and perhaps even project partner in my new role at the International Youth Foundation. GlobalGiving will also be hiring to fill some very important roles around the office, including Ping Pong Champion, Biggest Eater, Fastest Runner, and Doggy Clean Up Patrol…so let me know if you think you fit the bill!

The New York Times Magazine focuses on philanthropy

Posted by alison on March 10th, 2008

This weekend’s edition of the New York TImes Magazine focused on philanthropy.  There are a number of worthwhile analyses – a great read all around.