Author Archive

 

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>