March 2008 Posts

How to generate more light than heat

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.

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

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

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

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!