October 2009 Posts

Breakfast Event, Internet Salvation and Project Leader Honored

Earlier this month, I was invited to the Center for Nonprofit Advancement‘s Annual Meeting and 30th Anniversary Celebration, which was held this morning. I was invited through YNPNdc, not as an attendee or an honoree – but to Tweet the event. The Center has been making progress to reach more people, more networks and evolve, just like all of their partner nonprofits. So they recruited a small group of us to attend and do what we do – tweet.

It didn’t occur to me until I arrived that I was, in some respects, more of the media than an attendee of the event. It was my job to talk about the event and report on it to people who weren’t there.  Shoot. I wasn’t prepared. Who, exactly, were all these people in the program? What were their stories? Where did they work? Why were they being honored? I had no idea. *GAH*!

Good thing I had the internet at my disposal. Whew. Bullet: Dodged

It was only when I Googled all of the award winners and presenters to see if any of them or their organizations were on Twitter that I realize that I recognized one of them.

Aleta Margolis, Executive Director of the Center for Inspired Teaching, was honored as a 2009 EXCEL Award Honorable Mention. Aleta is a rockstar Project Leader with whom I’ve become more familiar because of all her Tweeting! We like to encourage Project Leaders to reach out on all different types of networks and find creative ways to fundraise, and Aleta her team do it with flair.

Congratulations to Aleta for all of your accomplishments and your award. Keep up the good work!

Check out the Center for Inspired Teaching’s project on GlobalGiving, follow them on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook!

Transparency on Trial?

[Reposted from the Huffington Post, 10/22/09]

A number of commenters have asked me to weigh in on the lively debate that emerged from David Roodman’s Microfinance Open Book Blog about transparency–not only on Kiva, but really about all attempts to make philanthropy more direct, starting with the pioneering efforts of Save the Children in 1940.

I’ve hesitated about weighing in–mostly because we have shared war stories, best practices, and worst moments with our friends at Kiva. We know that they are classy folks who know how to work constructively with feedback. And no one has written more openly than Matt Flannery has about the ups and downs of starting a new organization. So I have wondered what we could add to the debate.

Upon reflection, though, I do want to add a couple of things. It’s partly because, as I reflect on this nascent space of direct philanthropy enabled by technology–including GlobalGiving, DonorsChoose, GiveIndia, and others–I think we have a collective responsibility to keep pushing the envelope on transparency and authenticity of the experience.

Let’s face it: since the space is so new, we don’t always know what works. So we keep trying things, based on what we think will work. Sometimes we get it right, and often we find we can improve.

Overall, we provide an enormous amount of information and transparency to our users about the organizations and projects on the site. We try to put the salient information on project home pages and provide links to more detailed information. At the beginning, we provided far too much information on the home pages. Users told us they couldn’t see the forest for the trees – they felt overwhelmed and were paralyzed into inaction. Over time, we have gotten better in achieving a balance, and users tell us that they like our presentation much better now. Most of them feel we are giving them what they want.

But we can always do better.

For example, though the overwhelming majority of projects on the site are run by the equivalent of US 501(c)3 non profits, a few are run by self-help groups and community coops, which are sort of a hybrid type legal form. We even work with a handful of socially oriented for-profit companies that represent a new wave of entrepreneurs trying to leverage business principles to promote the common good. According to IRS guidelines, all of these different organizations are eligible to receive donations as long as they are carrying out a charitable purpose that is not possible under normal market conditions. Regardless of their structure, all are subject to our rigorous due diligence process. When these organizations list projects on GlobalGiving, we monitor their expenditures to make sure they are not making a profit from the donations.

We’ve received feedback that we should make this information more prominent on the project pages to make it clear to potential donors. That is a fair point, and we have in fact been considering making these categorizations visible, including a “for-benefit” category for these organizations that aren’t equivalent to US 501(c)3s. My guess is that we will find that some donors are specifically attracted to this type of organization.

One of the positive things about the web is that we can get feedback – and respond to it – much faster than we could imagine back in the 20th century. Case in point: we recently piloted getting beneficiary feedback (via text message) in Kenya. We ended up with an incredibly rich dialogue between beneficiaries and donors that ultimately led to the beneficiaries moving on to work with another organization, and the original organization closing up shop.

We’re constantly looking for more ways to get that feedback more quickly, and from more people. We even put in place what may be the first-ever philanthropic guarantee – the GlobalGiving Guarantee. This give donors a powerful way to tell us if they are unhappy in any way, and signals to them that we are serious about listening. And it gives us a chance to address the issue not only for that donor, but for all donors.

I admire how Matt and Premal have responded to the debate over at Kiva. Their response sets an admirable standard for speed and transparency. (And in that context, if you have any ideas about how we could get more feedback from more people faster, please let us know…!)

International Day of Climate Action

As you may have heard, this Saturday is the International Day of Climate Action. Thousands of imaginative activities are planned in the U.S. and over 100 countries around the world. There will be a huge rally in Washington D.C., tracing of the new waterline given a 1 meter rise in sea levels in Santa Cruz, tree plantings in Ghana and much more. Check 350.org for activities near you.

Getting creative in the streets is one way to show your solidarity with people all over the world for global action on climate change. Another important approach is supporting projects in communities around the world working to encourage new, low carbon paths to sustainable development. GlobalGiving Green projects are making significant contributions to reducing emissions, promoting new clean technologies and helping communities adapt to local manifestations of climate change. Consider taking time out from your underwater scuba-assisted protest to donate today!

What do NaNoWriMo and GlobalGiving have in common?

nanowrimoIf you’re not one of the more than 100,000 giddy writers who eagerly looks forward to writing a novel in 30 days, let me explain.  NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month. Each November I (and many others) take a stab at writing a 50,000 word novel – not because I expect to get published – but because the process itself is satisfying. In fact, part of the joy is diving in to the challenge together. My fellow writers and I use the social networking site to monitor our progress against our peers, as well as to converse about sticky points in our manuscripts. This reminded me of GlobalGiving itself. Here are other points of similarity:

  • Both sites are designed to foster competition against oneself, with specific time deadlines. (We use the new project challenge to kick-start new organizations)
  • Writers get weekly  “pep talks” from famous writers. (Granted, we’re not “famous” at GlobalGiving, but we try to give good pep talks!)
  • Writers provide regular updates to their pages on progress, and send “nano mails” to peers. (GlobalGiving helps projects keep donors updated on progress regularly)
  • We chart our own progress towards 50,000 words daily, and follow each other’s chart on profile pages.
  • We do it out of love, with only a handful of writers realizing that it takes money to keep the platform humming along. NaNoWriMo depends on donations, just like GlobalGiving.
  • Everyone can win by writing a NaNoWriMo. On their “about us” page, they say they “value enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft.”
  • Creates a strong “we’re in this together” mentality.

National Novel Writing Month is all about getting people to take their first plunge into writing without risk. I look to them as a model for the sort of friendly environment we hope to foster for the world of nonprofits. GlobalGiving is a safe place to start a relationship with people from a distant country or just down the street, by giving as little as $10 to a cause you share with them. You never know – relationships like these might lead to that great idea for a novel.

There are only about 15 days left to sign up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve already learned a lot about myself through writing. Join Me!

Earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, flooding: What a tragic week

Last week saw a string of disasters wreak havoc around the Asia Pacific region. Starting last weekend, a typhoon/tropical storm caused damage and flooding as it ripped across the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. (Check out a video of the flooding from a GlobalGiving project leader in Laos.) Midweek an earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the Samoan islands and Tonga and another hit off the coast of Padang in Indonesia. Indonesia was then hit by another quake the next day and another tropical storm led to more flooding in Southeast Asia. It was tragic to see these areas hit by a disaster just as they were digging out from a previous one.GlobalGiving is partnering with some great organizations that are working to provide relief and hasten recovery in affected areas. In addition to providing basic necessities, PUSPEM, a local Indonesian organization, is setting up emergency schools to ensure children have the opportunity to continue their education despite the destruction caused by the earthquake. Water Missions International is providing probably the most essential need-clean, safe drinking water. CHF International, experienced in disaster relief in the area, is providing another basic necessity, shelter.

In the Philippines, the Disaster Management Response Program at De La Salle University is currently collecting and distributing relief goods, and will be transitioning from initial disaster recovery to helping communities rebuild in the coming days and weeks. In Laos, SEDA is also providing basic relief with an eye toward long-term recovery.

We’re happy to have such a strong network of project leaders around the world who are able to quickly and effectively bring relief when these terrible disasters hit.