Author Archive

 

Farewell (But I’m not going far)

Posted by dennis on January 4th, 2011

After ten fabulous years at GlobalGiving, I fully turned over the reins to my co-founder, Mari Kuraishi, at the end of December.  This completes a transition that we began in 2008.

Although the decision to step down was hard, I feel that now is the right time.  We have proven the concept, established a world-class online platform, and made a big impact. When we started ten years ago, the idea of an open-access approach to aid and philanthropy seemed radical; it is now becoming the new norm.

To date, we have helped direct over $47 million to 3,000 organizations in 110 countries.  This funding has come from nearly 140,000 individual donors as well as from many of the world’s most innovative companies, along with their employees and customers.  We have been featured in over forty books and countless magazine articles, radio and TV pieces, and online media. Our success has spurred similar initiatives in other sectors and countries, and we now partner with some of these organizations to push the whole sector ahead.

Our accomplishments and momentum are the product of an amazing team here at GlobalGiving.  Our people are stellar, but more importantly they all work together like a finely oiled machine.  Our project team, donor team, business development team, tech team, finance team, and operations team work seamlessly. They can move new ideas, opportunities, and features from concept to execution and evaluation faster than any organization I have ever worked with.  I really am in awe of the people I have had the privilege to work with at GlobalGiving.

In late 2000, Mari and I left the World Bank to pursue a simple idea: that everyone in the world with an idea for improving their world should be able to have their voice heard.  We believed that any person, company, or organization should be able to support the ideas directly.  Not everyone would succeed, of course, but everyone would have an opportunity.  We had spent our previous careers in aid agencies that granted access to ideas and funding to only a select few.  We thought the time had come for   an open-access market connecting ideas with funding that provided a level playing field for all bona fide participants.

We also felt that with open access should come increased transparency and accountability – and an emphasis on continuous improvement. Our idea was that groups seeking funding should have their proposals displayed publicly, should be willing to answer questions from potential supporters, and should provide frequent updates on the site so that donors could see the impact of their support.  We felt that beneficiaries and others should be able to post reviews and comments on the site for everyone to see. We felt that organizations that learn and adapt should be encouraged and rewarded.  We felt that donors should be able to talk to each other about which projects and organizations they supported, and why.

Though we have not yet achieved everything we set out to do, the bottom line is this: For the first time in history, any group pursuing good in the world can now have its voice heard.  And donors of all sizes are empowered to make a tangible contribution to good in the world by connecting to those groups.  I could not be more proud of that.

Even as I turn over all day-to-day responsibility to Mari, I will remain very active in GlobalGiving.  I will be out there raising awareness, raising money, and advancing the mission.  I believe that over the last ten years we have laid the foundation for our next act, in which GlobalGiving’s impact will be ten times greater.  I intend to help make that happen.

In the first half of 2011, I plan to devote more time to writing and speaking on the general concepts behind GlobalGiving, which are applicable in many other sectors and endeavors.  During that time I will do some consulting for organizations that are looking to break down barriers so that they can unleash the potential of their own people, constituents, and customers.

Finally, I want to thank you for your encouragement and support over the years.  We could not have done it without you, and I am profoundly grateful for what you have done, in ways both big and small.

Urban Agriculture Challenge: Communities Helping Themselves (With Delicious Results!)

Posted by dennis on September 27th, 2010

Originally posted on Pulling for the Underdog on the Huffington Post

GlobalGiving nurtures bottom-up, community-based solutions to pressing social problems. We believe in the power of small over large, local over centrally planned and grassroots over top-down. This is why we jumped at the chance to partner with Bonterra Vineyards and Growing Power to support urban agriculture.

Urban farms help low-income communities access fresh food, generate employment, enhance food security, and improve quality of life. Rather than relying on fast food chains or large supermarkets, urban residents with access to a local farm can eat fresh fruits and vegetables grown right in their communities.

I grew up in Kentucky. It’s a great state. But parts of Louisville have been labeled “food deserts” due to the lack of accessibility to fresh food. Through its urban farms, Breaking New Grounds not only brings fresh produce to these underserved neighborhoods, but also provides agricultural training to local residents, and creates new, environmentally-friendly jobs.

In Denver, while fresh food is available in summer, winter months often mean relying on food grown and processed thousands of miles away. Feed Denver catalyzes urban farms that can be operated year-round, giving urban dwellers access to high-quality food from January through December.

Until October 7, these urban agriculture programs — and several others — are participating in an online fundraising challenge on GlobalGiving, with the chance to win up to $20,000 in contributions provided by Bonterra Vineyards.

To further highlight the power of communities working towards a common goal, the Bonterra-Growing Power-GlobalGiving challenge features a collective group incentive. If each participant raises at least $2,000 from 25 or more unique donors, all will receive a $1,100 bonus from Bonterra Vineyards. As on a community farm, each participant’s individual effort will contribute to the larger good. I like the taste of that!

The democratization of aid.

Posted by dennis on July 29th, 2010

This piece on Mari and the inspiration for GlobalGiving is great. It explains accurately and concisely the rationale Mari and I had when contemplating leaving the World Bank to start GlobalGiving.

The article explains, “But Kuraishi had spent years working to change the world with a top-down approach and saw its shortcomings as clearly as its strengths. The idea of top-down is that if you can effect change in governments and economies, then you’ll naturally reduce poverty and improve lives. And while that approach works, Kuraishi decided there was also room for a bottom-up approach—especially in countries with weak or corrupt governments. ”

Indeed, when we left, that was the idea–an alternative model that would grant access to funding and markets to people and communities that were otherwise left out, whether because their government was too corrupt or they weren’t established enough to acquire high-level grants with big institutions like the World Bank or USAID.

That was and is our vision. But, as the article documents, our vision is also expanding with our success.

Tara Swords writes in the article, “Eight years later, the organization has raised US$29 million for grassroots charity projects in more than 100 countries. Perhaps Kuraishi’s former World Bank colleagues should reconsider.”

I won’t lie. I smile every time I wrap my mind around the extent of our growth and success (2,800 projects now funded, in fact). And you might wonder what thoughts cross my mind when I read thoughts like “Perhaps Kuraishi’s former World Bank colleagues should reconsider.”

What runs through my mind is hope.

Because our success indicates that this model is working, and will continue to work.

But what makes me even more hopeful is that as I realize the effectiveness, potential, and power of our model–now tested for eight years–I’m increasingly aware of the possibility that GlobalGiving will not only serve as an add-on to traditional aid structures, but actually can serve as a model on which to base their work.

My hope is grounded in reality.

The World Bank’s Urgent Evoke project, for example, is a brilliant concept that puts development entrepreneurship into the hands of, well, anyone.  And next month, they’ll be working with us to launch the funding component where the best, brightest ideas will have a shot at the GlobalGiving marketplace.

Graphic from the World Bank Urgent Evoke game

But the impetus and the seed money for this huge undertaking came from the World Bank.

This initiative is new, innovative, and smart. Not your standard World Bank funding fodder. I commend them for this type of open-access initiative.

I also admire their documentation of best practices and lessons learned, including what hasn’t worked. That’s brave and serves as powerful learning for the entire development community–exactly how it should work.

There are other hopeful signs out there of a shift in aid–that’s it’s moving, albeit slowly, to recognize that the true potential for change lies within the people and communities who are affected by the world’s problems, and not necessarily the people who write the most effective grant proposals.

So, when I hear others comment on our success, I’m hopeful. We no longer want to just be the guys who left the World Bank. We want to be part of a larger community of people dedicated to the democratization of the aid process. And it’s happening!

Dennis Whittle is Co-Founder and CEO of GlobalGiving.

It’s important to arm Nigerian girls, especially when the other guys won’t.

Posted by dennis on July 15th, 2010

It’s been obvious to me for a long time that the way to fuel sustainable, positive change in the world is to find, nurture, and fund local, grassroots solutions, like arming Nigerian girls…with the weapon of education.

So it’s always pleasantly surprising when I come across people who aren’t necessarily as steeped in the wonkiness of foreign aid and development as I am who completely get this intuitively.

Like Olivia Wilde, an actress who is currently on House. While I like the show, she really got my attention when she featured a GlobalGiving project on her blog.

Better yet, she explained why, writing, “Here’s the skinny: Small, grassroots organizations that focus on specific projects operated by the local community are often more effective and accountable than gargantuan, broad based, NGOs.”

Nice, Olivia.  It took you far less time than it took me to figure that out.

And now, I can only hope that with this kind of enthusiasm for the power of locally inspired projects and solutions ebbing up from all over–from Hollywood actresses to Alanna Shaikh–that eventually our major foreign aid institutions will follow suit and find ways to funnel more funding directly to them, as quickly as possible, and to allow the marketplace–not program officers or aid wonks–to decide what ideas should surface and which should sink.

So that instead of writing funding proposals and focusing on political relationships and attending meetings, the people with the great ideas can focus on doing what they do best: arming Nigerian girls with education and the like.

As Olivia astutely points out, that’s where the real effectiveness and accountability lie.

Dennis Whittle is Co-Founder and CEO of GlobalGiving.

More on gift-wrapped rats.

Posted by dennis on July 7th, 2010

Bill Schmick’s daughter gave him a rat for Father’s Day, and he was so happy about it that he wrote this blog post.

Getting to write sentences like that is just one of the reasons that I love my job.

Another one is providing a way for people like Bill, as he describes in his post, to make personal connections to projects and ideas around the world.  While I appreciated Bill’s post and his enthusiasm about GlobalGiving in general, my favorite part was his description of how he came to choose the projects when he redeemed his gift card from his daughter.

He wrote, “Well, I split my gift with the lion’s share going to HeroRATS…As many of my readers are aware, I have a deep attachment to Africa where I have traveled and conducted business for over 25 years…As a self-confessed animal lover and a Vietnam Veteran, I gave a donation to help feed 140 orphaned chimpanzees and the final third of my contribution to helping U.S. war vets suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…I have picked those projects which have inspired me personally.”

In addition to supporting projects and ideas that are changing communities around the world, a big part of why Mari and I started GlobalGiving was to create a way for people to make meaningful connections to those ideas and to choose what to support based on what was needed and would work given their own experience and wisdom.

Bill, you’re a great example of just that and I thank you for sharing your enthusiasm about GlobalGiving. We’re thrilled to have you as part of our community.

Dennis Whittle is Co-Founder and CEO of GlobalGiving.

Transactions that trade in more than dollars.

Posted by dennis on May 28th, 2010

It’s always nice when someone gets you.

Seeing this post by Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatch, about our work here at GlobalGiving gave me that sense.

He discusses how GlobalGiving uses the power of an “emotional transaction” to do good in the world—by allowing people not only to provide money to a cause, but to support an idea with which they genuinely connect.

This is the spirit we hope to foster through GlobalGiving: not only should we give to help change the world, but, in doing so, we should be engaging—intellectually and emotionally—with the people, ideas, and approaches that resonate with us and mean the most.

It is among those ideas—particularly when selected from among a vast marketplace—that we’ll find the most powerful ones (the “levers,” as Bill points out) to genuinely shift people and communities towards positive social change.

That’s what GlobalGiving is all about. Thanks, Kevin, for really getting us.

Dennis Whittle is Co-Founder and CEO of GlobalGiving.

For Profit, and More…

Posted by dennis on November 13th, 2009

There has been growing interest over the past few years in the concept of socially-oriented businesses.  This interest has been manifested in many different ways.  More and more mainstream companies are trying to do business in what they describe as a more ethical or socially conscious way.  Increasingly, they do this because it makes good business sense — it results in better products, happier employees, and more satisfied customers.

There is a movement to brand certain companies as “B Corporations” if they meet certain social and environmental performance standards.  Some states are even considering a new type of business entity called an L3C, which is sort of a hybrid for-profit/non-profit structure.   This structure is specifically for organizations that want to marry the advantages of the for-profit model (efficiency, scalability, and ability to attract capital) with the social mission of a non-profit.

The For-Benefit concept takes this idea even further.

We support this type of experimentation.  Though the vast majority of projects on GlobalGiving are run by non-profits, we have had a handful of projects run by for-profits.  For years, IRS guidelines have permitted for-profits to accept donations for activities that have a charitable purpose and that cannot be carried out under normal market conditions.  We welcome such projects as long as they comply with IRS guidelines and our due diligence processes.  Making the world a better place requires a combination of for-profit companies that generate wealth and jobs along with non-profit organizations that make sure that public goods are provided for everyone, and in particular, that the less fortunate have a fair chance in life — i.e., that the poor are able to participate in wealth creation and employment. Donations to these projects are fully deductible for tax purposes.

Giving the growing interest in this concept, we are now going to specifically highlight projects on GlobalGiving run by for-profit companies.  Though there are currently only two projects on the site run by for-profits (Building a Library in Morocco and Building a School in South Africa), there could be more in the future.

Look for the following text in the project description:

This project is being run by a socially-oriented for-profit company.

From time to time, GlobalGiving posts projects run by socially-oriented for-profit companies, whose work includes charitable activities in the public interest. ALL projects on GlobalGiving have a bonafide charitable purpose, and are required to submit extensive documentation for due diligence. GlobalGiving reviews all due diligence, and vets the projects to ensure they are legitimate, well- run, and satisfy IRS guidelines for international grantmaking as well as the new voluntary guidelines for anti-terrorism set forth in the Patriot Act. Provided projects meet all these criteria, the IRS allows public foundations such as GlobalGiving to make grants in support of this work.

Projects in this category are required to undergo an expenditure review – meaning they must detail the charitable activities for which they are requesting funding, and provide an actual review of how the funds were spent.

Transparency on Trial?

Posted by dennis on October 22nd, 2009

[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…!)

Dream it and you can do it (sometimes).

Posted by dennis on July 31st, 2009

There is a lot of schlock out there in book stores on the personal motivation and business shelves.  “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” is a typical title, with many books assuring you that if you just take the first step, the world will rise up to meet you.  These books do serve a function:  they motivate people to be more entrepreneurial and give them permission to follow their dreams.  And, of course, I would not have spent the last nine years of my life working on GlobalGiving if I were not optimistic about the ability of a small group of people to change the world. 

But many of these books are recipes for major disappointment and backlash down the road, because they fail to set expectations.  In that context, here is a very nice talk by Alain de Botton at TED.  His key messages are: 1) Success and failure have a huge random component. 2) Idealizing meritocracy results in an attitude that the poor are losers and deserve it, and 3) Promoting the idea that “You can do anything if you put your mind to it inadvertently leads to a lot of low self-esteem among the many people who try hard but fail.

Here are my takeaways from this:  a) Work hard in life and try to follow your dreams, but realize that randomness in life often trumps all, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t succeed; b) If you are fabulously successful, be modest, and realize that luck probably played a big role (in addition to your hard work, vision, and intelligence); and c) given the importance of randomness, avoid putting all your eggs in one basket – maximize your chances for success by doing lots of experiments and ventures over time.

The 2/3 : 1/3 Rule

Posted by dennis on January 6th, 2009

With the new administration coming to power in the US, there is a flurry of new proposals on how to reform the aid system.  However, few of them propose real change.  Instead, there are proposals to increase aid to such and such issue or country.  Or to strengthen such and such agency – or to appoint a strong new leader.

None of these proposals gets at the root of the problem.  As Bill Easterly has pointed out, we have spent more than $2 trillion in aid over the past fifty years with not enough to show for it.

The problem is the centrally planned, expert-driven, top-down nature of the current aid system.  Just like under the Soviet regime, this approach does get things done.  But the quality is bad, shortages are common, and the people have little say in what gets produced.

So let me propose the 2/3 : 1/3 rule.  Henceforth, 2/3 of all aid resources will be allocated through an open-access, bottom-up, market mechanism, while 1/3 of the resources will be allocated through existing top-down approaches.

I will write more about how the marketplace system would work in coming posts and columns.

<a href=”http://technorati.com/tag/[GlobalGiving]” rel=”tag”>[GlobalGiving]</a>