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How to generate more light than heat

Posted by dennis on March 28th, 2008

I have spent the last several days at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. This year’s Forum has had an exceptional slate of speakers and panelists. As usual, much of the value of the conference comes from side conversations at dinner and in the hallways. But I particularly liked a new feature they had this year called Consultancy Clinics.In this format, the experts don’t just talk – they primarily listen and give feedback to people who have ideas for new social businesses or initiatives. In the session I went to, these ideas ranged from producing films on human rights violations to producing comic books developed by children and illustrated by up and coming artists. There were also ideas for how to better facilitate funding for small businesses in developing countries.

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I liked how interactive and real-life this format was. The people seeking feedback each got 5 minutes to describe their ideas, and they were not allowed to use powerpoint (thank heavens). Then the panel of experts (who had not previously heard the ideas) spent 15 minutes asking questions and providing advice and insights. The objective was to help improve the ideas, not simply judge them.Overall, this approach reduced elaborate preparation work and resulted in a far greater helpfulness-to-hot air ratio than usual. I was impressed.And if I were presenting an idea, I would be hard pressed to pick a better panel of people to give me feedback based on their experience: Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO; Clare Lockhart, co-founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness; John Goldstein, co-founder of Imprint Capital Advisors (and GG-UK board director); and Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot College in India. The panel was very well moderated by Bridget McNamer of the Skoll Foundation.

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As usual, Social Edge has excellent coverage of the Forum here. 

Welcome BRAC!

Posted by dennis on March 13th, 2008

Fazle Abed, BRAC Founder

“I am wondering whether you would consider adding BRAC projects to GlobalGiving?”

Would we?! We would love to. That is what I told my friend Susan Davis on the phone a couple of months ago. She was calling to say that she was helping BRAC launch an enhanced US presence.I get a lot of calls like this, but few that make me so happy. In my view, BRAC is one of the absolute best community-based NGOs operating in the world today. Founded in Bangladesh 1972, BRAC has helped millions of people better their lives through training, education, health programs, and job creation. They have recently expanded their programs to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda and Southern Sudan.

I like BRAC’s programs and impact, but I also like its high “impact-to-ego ratio.” The organization’s DNA comes from its founder, Fazle Abed. His exceptional competence is matched only by his modesty and quiet sense of humor. No grandstanding or flashy speeches with Fazle Abed – just quiet action, on a large scale, with a smile.

BRAC has two projects in Sudan listed on GlobalGiving. Check out this one: you can fund a child’s entire education for a year for only $100. And what’s best is that you know BRAC will be there to oversee the education and other services the child needs to grow up to be healthy, happy, and prosperous.

We don’t have it in stock, but they do.

Posted by dennis on February 5th, 2008

In the financial markets, there are rules that if a particular exchange is unable to execute an order, they must route that order to a competing exchange immediately.

This is from a nice blog post by Sean Stannard-Stockton. He points out that in the nascent philanthropic financial markets, there is no obligation to re-route donors to another philanthropic exchange under similar circumstances.

At GlobalGiving, we have informal agreements with a number of other exchanges, and we do refer donors to partners when it makes sense. This helps us meet our pledge to donors that they will be satisfied with their experience at GlobalGiving. It also helps our partners grow, and it generates goodwill for all involved, which pays off over the long term.

Together with a loose coalition of other philanthropic exchanges from around the world, we have been exploring whether it makes sense to develop a formal inter-operability framework. This framework might include common standards and the ability to automatically fulfill donations referred by other exchanges.

Sean is right: making the non-profit social capital market more effective means that this type of collaboration needs to be accelerated.

Guaranteed – Period.

Posted by dennis on November 16th, 2007

If I buy shoes from Zappos.com and they don't fit, I can send them back for a full refund — no questions asked. They even refund shipping costs! If I buy a coat from Nordstrom's and my wife doesn't like it, I can take it back to the store — no questions asked.
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But what would happen if you asked your favorite nonprofit or charity group for a refund? Margaret Su, one of our colleagues here at GlobalGiving, asked this question earlier this year. "We claim that GlobalGiving is a 'whole new way to give.' We place a premium on showing donors exactly where their money goes -– and the impact it makes. Why shouldn't we provide a refund if a donor is not happy?"

I told Margaret, as gently as I could, that she was naive: "That is crazy, Margaret. Philanthropy doesn’t work that way. We can't do that." I had a thousand reasons to blow her off.

But her idea nagged at me, and I couldn't shake it. I brought it up at the management team and then at the board. The response was always the same: "That's crazy, we can't do it, it's impossible, etc. etc."

Over time, though, we started to think that the idea might be not only possible -– but critical. And not just to donors, but also to the organization. A guarantee could compel us to put front and center questions of how to amplify the impact of our work, hold ourselves accountable to our partners, and ensure donor trust. Each and every day.

Today we’re putting our money where our mouth is with the announcement of GlobalGiving Guaranteed. Starting today, if a donor is not happy for any reason with his or her experience on GlobalGiving, he or she can get a refund. The refund comes in the form of a voucher the donor can use to give to any other project he or she wishes. (If the IRS allowed it, we would even refund donor's money in cash.) The guarantee will cover up to $10,000 per donor, per year, at the beginning, but we may increase this ceiling if it makes sense in the future.

We see GlobalGiving Guaranteed as a new way to demonstrate the confidence we have in our project leaders, who are good people making a big difference with a relatively small amount of funding. But the guarantee also brings direct market discipline to bear on us. We make promises about the speed at which donors' money will get to the field, and we promise donors that they will get regular updates from the field from project leaders. Starting now, the guarantee creates a feedback loop with teeth.

We also believe that donors deserve to be treated at least as well as consumers. After all, they are trying to help improve the world with their dollars. They have the right to know how their money is being used — and to redirect that money to a different purpose if they are not satisfied.

You may be thinking this is a real financial risk for a small organization to be taking — and you are correct. But we believe that ultimately the benefits far outweigh the risks. Study after study has shown that the positives outweigh the drawbacks for providers of guarantees.

Does the guarantee mean that all projects listed on GlobalGiving will succeed in terms of their objectives? Of course not. Most projects on GlobalGiving succeed in improving hundreds or even thousands of lives. But, like anything else in life and business, sometimes development initiatives fall short, for all kinds of reasons. We will, however, guarantee that from here on out, donors can play an active role in the conversation.

Months ago, I told Margaret that a donation guarantee was a crazy idea. That isn’t how philanthropy works, I said. But today, I believe that it is. What do you think?

Note:  This post can also be found on the Philanthropy News Digest Blog