September 2009 Posts

Reminded Why We Do This Thing Called GlobalGiving

Last Friday the GlobalGiving office looked like a college freshman boy’s dorm room, albeit with fewer beer bottles around. We were in this stacking, dumping, pizza-box mode as we prepared for a move to our new office space.  We are moving because we have outgrown our existing space – thanks to increasing donation volume, support from our capital funders, and because we have been able to attract an amazing number of free or almost-free “interns” who are in transition.

And into this chaos stepped Dennis Gaboury, one of the top finalists in our recent Global Open Challenge, and founder of ZimKids.

ZimKids is not a 501(c)3, and had never done any formal fundraising before last month.  Dennis is a sculptor whose wife was on a Fulbright in Zimbabwe when he started volunteering his time working with orphaned and sick kids…and morphed into an amazing social entrepreneur.    When they started the Challenge they just hoped they could find 50 people and $4,000 worth of donations and get on the site permanently.  What they ended up with was more than $30,000 and over 120 donors, and third place in the Challenge.

But the real gift of Dennis’ visit was not hearing about how they succeeded in the Challenge.  It was in hearing about his experience in Zimbabwe, and his love for the kids he works with.  Rather than being in constant survival mode these 160 kids now have a radically transformed day-to-day existence, lengthened life expectancies, and more chances for economic self-sufficiency.

Dennis is the type of social entrepreneur that motivated Mari and Dennis to start GlobalGiving, especially representing those who have no other way of raising tax-efficient charitable funds in the U.S., and his visit was a welcome break in the packing.  More importantly, it reminded us why we do what we do – whether in our old crowded dorm room space, or our new, slightly nicer home.

Per capita, Pitcairn Island is GlobalGiving’s #1 recipient in the world

As the metrics guy, oddities sometimes appear in the GlobalGiving database. For example, today I learned Pitcairn Island received $158 per resident through GlobalGiving project #996: Boat-Shed Construction at Pitcairn Island. When there are 50 people on one island, $7,301 has a major impact.

Pitcairn Island facts:

  1. These guys are the decendents of the Mutiny on the Bounty crew, and their Tahitian wives
  2. All are Seventh-Day Adventists
  3. They have their own Internet domain, “.pn”
  4. They now have a boat shed, built by GlobalGivers!

If you are interested, the top 6 countries supported through GlobalGiving per capita are:

  1. Pitcairn Islands (pop. 46)
  2. Liberia (pop. 3,317,176)
  3. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (pop. 116,812)
  4. Rwanda (pop. 7,810,056)
  5. Haiti (pop. 7,527,817)
  6. Kenya (pop. 31,639,091)

Sadly, support to the other countries comes to a mere 2 to 7 cents per citizen.

What it all means: The Global Open Challenge Leaderboard


Earlier today, Dennis Whittle was looking at the Global Open Challenge leaderboard over John’s shoulder.
“Can you believe it? This page is getting more traffic than our homepage!” John said.
“Naturally. This is where the action is,” I said.

Meanwhile, our accountant James has been clicking the refresh screen every 2 minutes. “Look, an organization just overtook the #5 spot!”
What does it all mean?” Dennis asked. “This is the most dynamic thing on our site. I was at a conference, and someone mentioned his experience getting on the site and this leaderboard in the same breath.”

I am realizing that it all adds up to something different than we ever expected.

Now, I think our impact comes by transforming nonprofits to be more effective, more responsive, and more successful in turning those million little earth changing ideas into a better world.

This transformation comes in the first 30 days, if it comes at all. We train organizations on social media. Some adopt the best practices. Then we test everyone.

Those who fail still gain, sometimes even more, because the staff come back with a new hunger for learning. That hunger is what the official aid guys have been struggling to create for decades. And we get it for free, because everyone wants to be noticed and validated on the leaderboard.

It takes failure before some realize that we mean it when we say that they own their success. The work they do determines the funds they raise, not some granting foundation. Regular people empower the organization, especially when the people see they are part of something meaningful, a community with a cause. This dynamic is why the leaderboard matters.

As a PhD neuroscientist and a teacher, I fully believe testing and failure is how we make progress. Scientific research is about learning through failure. The Open Challenge is a test of whether nonprofits have a sustaining community of supporters.

Winners like Critical Exposure who built that community during the open challenge can attest to being transformed in three weeks (from Jared Schwartz of Frogloop.com, a nonprofit online marketing blog):

  • “We regularly updated our supporters on the fruits of their labor and during the final weeks of the competition.”
  • “We pointed our supporters directly to the real-time standings.”
  • “Many of our supporters later told us that as the competition entered its final days, they wore out the refresh buttons on their browser keeping tabs on the competition.”
  • “Our supporters were 100% emotionally invested in the competition and did whatever they could to help Critical Exposure win.”
  • “They actually wanted more updates from us!”

What it means:

A community based organization in Zimbabwe can now compete with a 501(c)3 nonprofit in New York City, if enough people care about them. What matters is how passionate their supporters are in advocating on behalf of the great work the organization is doing.

New Read: Half the Sky

This week at GlobalGiving many of us are reading the new book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer- Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

While exposing the horrors women in the developing world face on a daily basis—gender-based violence like honor killings and genital mutilation, the sex trade, and high rates of easily preventable maternal mortality—the book also shows how changing the circumstances of just one woman can have a powerful ripple effect on her family and the community at-large. Through the work of our GlobalGiving project leaders, we’re lucky enough to see the effects of empowering disadvantaged women first hand.

Consider this update posted earlier this year from a women’s collective in Bihar, India who is looking to raise funds to help support their sewing centers that provide a community space and help women learn a valuable trade: “I was married two years ago and I am lucky because my husband is kind to me and gives me permission to go to the market and sewing centre. But some other members are not so lucky, but under pressure from all of us we get their husbands not to object to their wives coming to the centre. Here we are learning a useful skill but this is the only place we can meet as women in friendship and in mutual support. We are now stopping drunken behavior from the men, we have patrolled the village with 35 of us forcing the local drinking shop to close, now drunken beatings are a thing of the past and our village is more peaceful and we feel more secure.”

We’re so pleased that Kristof and WuDunn have brought this important issue to the forefront, and are humbled to be included in the book under “Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes.” Right now we’re featuring a great promotion; donate $100 to any GlobalGiving project and receive a copy of Half the Sky for free. Check out our Half the Sky page for some pre-selected projects that relate to the book.

If you’ve already had a chance to read the book, please share your thoughts! What story did you find the most compelling? Where do you think change needs to happen most urgently, and through what means?

We are listening: real-time feedback loops

feedback loopIn the GlobalGiving office, people usually introduce me by saying “…and Marc does evaluations.” That’s not accurate. A truer story would be, “Marc facilitates feedback loops.” And over my first year here, we’ve been able to do more of that.

A feedback loop isn’t anything fancy. This is where someone tells you something, and you pass it on to the person who most needs to know, then you take what that second person says in response and feed it back to the first person. *I* don’t need to evaluate anything to ensure that people are hearing from each other. But these conversations are much more powerful than the most sophisticated super computer or all the analysis a team of experts can provide.

As a neuroscientist, I studied feedback loops in the brain, and feedback alone (copied 10 trillion times over) within a network is enough to provide humans with sentient intelligence.  Pubmed it if ye doubt the claim.

Today I am happy to announce that Mari Kuraishi, GlobalGiving’s president, is presenting a case study on the power of feedback, titled “Real-time technology aided feedback loops in international philanthropy” at the Skoll skollINTERNATIONAL SOCIAL INNOVATION RESEARCH CONFERENCE (ISIRC)

This case study follows one Kenyan organization that struggled to provide promised services to the atheletes’ satisfaction. How did we find out? First, I visited the organization and handed out bumper stickers that read, “What does your community need? Tell us: GlobalGiving.org/ideas.” We wanted the community to know that GlobalGiving is listening to them.

ideas sticker

I didn’t know at the time that a bumper sticker would start a chain reaction that would get people in the community involved with giving the organization greater direction. This dialogue between the organization and the people it aimed to serve took many turns and ultimately caused the founder to leave the city and a new organization under the leadership of the youth athletes themselves to emerge. After months of hard work, including 3 visitors who send in visitor postcards and 3 other people who were full time volunteers working with this organization, we can at least breathe a sigh of relief. Not because the problems are gone, but at least the youth have had their voices heard and are now trying to help themselves.

We don’t know if this new organization, the Manyatta Youth Resource Center will ultimately succeed, or whether the old organization, Sacrena, will re-emerge as a stronger organization, more responsive to the community. You can’t predict when or how social change will take place. All you can do is keep listening, and keep sending these messages back and fourth so that the people with the cash hear from the people in the grass of every grassroots project.

Speaking of which, the new Manyatta Youth Resource Center is temporarily being supported through one of our Global Open Challenge projects, the Amani Na Upendo Dev Youth Group, who I am afraid is currently unable to attract any donations online by itself. Such is the paradox of grassroots philanthropy. Many of the most responsive local village-based organizations lack the social connections and international exposure needed to raise money. We know about this problem, and struggle with it daily.

But if you read this case study and want to help – tell us. We’ll send your message back to them and start another feedback loop. Another way you can help is to give the Upendo group a donation.

I’ll summarize in another post the aspects of this paper that relate to how new technology makes it possible for the people to advise donors and implenters about progress with continuous feedback.

Note: You can read all visitor postcards on our site: http://www.globalgiving.com/projects/youth-sport-in-kenya/updates/ but I think the full paper summarizes the series of events more concisely, also available from the youth-sport-in-kenya (DOC FILE LINK) page.