Archive for February, 2010

 

A Tough(er) Sell

Posted by bill brower on February 6th, 2010

Poor kids, sick people and threatened animals. As is the case in much of the development sector, projects that deal with any one of these tend to have an easier time raising funds on GlobalGiving. The problem is easy to grasp and a remedy is obvious (at least conceptually in the short run): Give food; provide medicine; build an animal rescue center. These are big problems that warrant significant attention. But a recurring concern as I meet with organizations throughout Southeast Asia is how to engage donors for everything else. Some NGOs are particularly frustrated because their projects address the root cause of the problems of or have an indirect benefit to the hungry, ill and furry. But that takes time to explain—something they’re not likely to get much of from the quickly browsing Internet user.

Lesley Perlman and Nick Marx of the Wildlife Alliance talk about how they have a relatively easier time raising funds for the care of tigers and elephants(!) than for the protection and restoration of their natural habitats. Jo Owen and Thomas Hansen of HOPE speak of the drop off in funding for orphans as they get older. Kim Sokuntheary of the Cambodia Health Education Media Service says it can be difficult to raise funds for TV shows like the ones her organization produces which seek to educate the public and prevent gender-based violence. An organization working after the fact with abused women would have an easier time, I would imagine (not to say it’s “easy” for any non-profit).

Before I left for Southeast Asia, I was heading up GlobalGiving Green for projects which address climate change in a sustainable manner. All of this reminds me of the financing available to climate projects. Carbon offsets and an alphabet soup of schemes (CDM, REDD, VCS) only provide funding to efforts that directly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. But there are so many necessary activities to which it’s impossible to assign an exact number of tonnes of CO2 because the impact is indirect. Educating children about the environment, training farmers in organic agriculture or helping youth start eco-businesses can have an enormous impact over time but such things are not eligible for the typical climate funding.

During the tea break of the workshop I held in Bangkok yesterday morning on online fundraising, Vena and Somkid of Foundation for Life (FFL) told me about the great work their organization is doing to empower the next generation by engaging young people from a wide cross-section of society and teaching them about leadership and the power and benefits of volunteering and service. I said, “That’s great. Now the challenge is to take that 10-minute conversation and distill it down to four or five words.”

Like President Obama, I think some organizations are rightfully reluctant to rely on a few words to describe the nuanced work they are undertaking to address complex problems. But messaging, particularly online, needs to attract busy eyeballs and be easily understood by a brain that’s quickly sifting through an enormous amount of information for anything interesting or relevant.

I wish I had an easy answer of how to accomplish that for the more nuanced projects. One approach could be to tie the primary pitch to the meta-goal and holding off on details of “how” until after attention has been grabbed. For instance, with FFL we took the title of their project on GlobalGiving from “Character and Leadership Training for Thai Youths” to something like “Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders in Thailand”. It seems catchier, but only time will tell if donors agree.

Gathering real-time feedback in haiti can improve disaster response

Posted by Marc Maxson on February 1st, 2010

Judging from some of the comments GlobalGiving donors have made on recent haiti updates, I gather that television news falls short of presenting a multifaceted view of the earthquake recovery effort. There is a mix of ongoing challenges with some successes. Last Friday someone wrote in:

Sent: Friday, January 29, 2010 4:36 PM
Project ID: 4559 / IMC provides medical care to Haiti
Project URL: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/haiti/

It gives me a first hand account of what medical relief is taking place as oppose to what’s being transmitted over the airways showing de-humanizing conditions with no relief nor help in sight!! They’ve aired trucks of food being returned to warehouse while Haitians are starving and waiting for FOOD!! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!! YOU ALL ARE IN MY PRAYERS!! IF I COULD GET THERE, I WOULD!! GOD’S PROTECTION FOR ALL OF YOU AND IMMEDIATE SALVATION FOR THE HAITIANS!!

We currently rely on our partners and their staff to provide eyewitness accounts of the ongoing work. But there’s no reason we couldn’t open it up to any eyewitness. Mobile phone texting may be an easy way for us around the world to get to know each other better. Great innovators like Ken Banks of FrontlineSMS and Erik Hersman of Ushahidi are turning phones into web 2.0 reporting tools. Highlighting this pressing need, Washington Post Writes:

“Much as truth is the first casualty of war, reliable information is one of the early casualties of natural disasters. Until fairly recently, disaster responders relied on their senses, and their common sense, to identify problems. The notion of measuring what you could see was viewed as an academic and slightly effete response to things such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

The survey this week didn’t ask questions of a random sample of Haitians in the way that a medical trial would. That would have been a huge and time-consuming undertaking. Instead, it sought out individuals expected to know what was happening to the people in their area: mayors, village directors, health officials. The places weren’t chosen randomly either. The designers chose fairly evenly spaced sampling sites, with extra ones in the heavily damaged Port-au-Prince area.”

What they [the CDC] found is that you can gather most of what you need to know to manage a crisis in real time with anybody, going anywhere, asking for feedback using a less formal system. To me, as a neuroscientist, it makes perfect sense. You need rigorous controlled trials to assess medical benefits that are small – like a 10% difference. But when the questions are knock-you-over-the-head obvious, like “who’s dying on this block” or “who’s handing out supplies?” and there’s no ambiguity from one witness to the next, you can do away with conventional sampling.

About a week before the electronic ink was dry on this Washington Post article, Ushahidi’s Haiti immediate SMS-based crisis response center had already logged hundreds of eyewitness reports from regular people about everything from looting to service delivery. See for yourself at haiti.ushahidi.com .