john hecklinger Posts

Global Giveback Funding Challenge

This week we launched the final phase of a collaboration between GlobalGiving, InnoCentive, and the Rockefeller Foundation that began over two years ago as a way to connect our project leaders with technical know-how usually devoted to solving technical problems for for-profit entities.  As part of its Advancing Innovation Processes to Solve Social Problems initiative, the Rockefeller Foundation funded GlobalGiving to identify needed solutions to developing world problems that InnoCentive’s community of solvers could help make a reality.  Project leaders working in India, Uganda, Colombia, and Bolivia came up with technical challenges that were impeding their ability to provide solutions to community problems.

Here’s an example.  Fundacion SODIS has been promoting solar water disinfection in Bolivia.  It’s a great idea using readily available resources – water, sunshine, and plastic bottles.  If you leave a clear bottle full of water in the sunlight long enough, the UV rays will purify the water.  But, how do you know when enough sunlight has hit the bottle?  How do you convince people that this method works and give them an easy way to drink the water with confidence?  Fundacion SODIS thought a re-usable electronic device that changes color when the water has been purified would improve adoption and facilitate training.  Fundacion SODIS, in collaboration with InnoCentive and GlobalGiving, posted this challenge on InnoCentive’s platform, and dozens of possible solutions poured in.  Fundacion SODIS chose the solution that seemed most workable, but also invited two other teams that submitted solutions to send their pilot products for field testing.  The designs have since been developed even further, and these solutions are becoming a reality.

After initial lab testing, one of the five solutions to the challenges posted on InnoCentive was found to be nonviable, so the field testing of that pilot will not go forward.  Such is the nature of innovation – not everything works out as planned.  The four remaining projects are now up for crowdfunding on GlobalGiving.  The Rockefeller Foundation generously provided matching funds to help our partner NGOs raise the resources needed to fully test these solutions.  We’re calling it the Global Giveback Funding Challenge.  In this way, we crowdsourced the challenges, the solutions, and the funding needed to implement them.

We’re extremely excited to see these projects go forward.  GlobalGiving’s mission is to catalyze a marketplace for ideas, information, and money that democratizes aid and philanthropy.  This project advances all aspects of what we’re trying to achieve.  We’ve empowered individual technical experts to share knowledge with grassroots NGOs to make these NGO’s ideas a reality.  Individual and institutional donors are now collaborating to fund the solutions.  We did not know in advance what challenges would surface or if solutions would be found, but by catalyzing a free flow of ideas, information, and money, good things are happening.

Interested in learning more? Antony Bugg-Levine is managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s initiative on Advancing Innovation Processes to Solve Social Problems – he answers five questions about the Challenge here

GlobalGiving’s Disaster Response Approach

GlobalGiving was not originally established with disaster relief funding in mind. When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit, everyone at GlobalGiving was surprised when the website lit up, the phones started ringing, and donors began asking GlobalGiving to identify local organizations responding to the disaster. Since then, GlobalGiving has connected donors with specific relief and recovery efforts after natural disasters and humanitarian crises in China, Pakistan, Haiti, Australia, Chile, Italy, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, New Zealand, India, the USA, among others.

When we first learn about a natural disaster, we assess whether or not GlobalGiving is in a position to respond. In some situations, GlobalGiving project partners assess the situation, formulate a response, and spontaneously post relief projects. When this happens, GlobalGiving’s job is to connect them with donors, so we launch social media and corporate partner outreach.

Sometimes, project leaders do not immediately post projects, but it’s clear that help is needed, donors are willing to give, and NGOs are ready to respond. In these cases, GlobalGiving posts a disaster-specific relief fund to collect donations while we assemble a portfolio of specific projects.

In making the decision to mobilize, we consider the strength of our network in the affected area, the scale of the disaster, the number of people affected, the intensity of news coverage, and social media activity. In extreme situations like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the decision is easy. In other cases like Australian wildfires, and Missouri tornadoes, we’re less sure about matching needs with donors, so we wait until we see donor interest or an NGO response before launching.

Our response to more slowly-evolving humanitarian crises like the famine in East Africa is more gradual and organic. Projects from existing partners appear as our partners see emerging needs. Well before media coverage of the East Africa famine ramped up, we saw projects from partners already responding to the crisis. We also received inquiries from NGOs wanting to post projects on GlobalGiving for the first time. When it’s clear that the situation has reached a crisis stage, GlobalGiving mobilizes a response exactly like a sudden natural disaster.

As we make decisions about adding projects and making allocations from a disaster-specific relief fund, our priority is to support the work that the affected community believes to be most important. Generally, we believe local organizations are best-positioned to assess and to respond to needs, so we listen carefully to what they deem to be most critical. Our view is that locally-run organizations can nimbly and effectively provide for immediate and ongoing community needs. Getting funds to them benefits communities directly and quickly.

GlobalGiving has worked with thousands of NGOs in over 120 countries over the years. When a disaster strikes, some of these NGOs naturally begin responding, as was the case after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. We did not have a rich network in Japan prior to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, but we quickly identified key local NGOs through personal and professional connections. Japanese NGOs found out about GlobalGiving and reached out to us for help in connecting with resources. Ultimately, we were able to begin supporting local NGOs within two weeks of the disaster.

Large, international NGOs that specialize in disaster response frequently provide a necessary backbone and are in many cases best-equipped to provide initial support in affected areas. As we assemble a portfolio of disaster relief and recovery projects, we seek to balance efforts and to ensure a transition from large international NGO projects to local NGOs. Early on, most of the funding goes to projects related to relief efforts. Ongoing funds support more recovery and reconstruction work.

When making allocations from disaster-specific funds to specific projects, GlobalGiving acts more like a traditional foundation than we typically do. We’re accustomed to managing a marketplace of ideas, information and money, not an endowment. When placed in this decision-making role by a large outpouring of generosity, we use the principles articulated here as a guide. We prioritize funding local NGOs that demonstrate clear community ties and an ability to provide specific reports back to donors.

In early phases of a disaster, we disburse funds very quickly – ensuring that donor funds are on the ground, usually within a week of being received. Later, we disburse funds as needs develop, taking a more cautious approach, learning more about the situation, and carefully allocating funds to organizations demonstrating a clear purpose and a willingness to report back to donors on specific results.

After the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, we began disbursing funds weekly, until it became clear that immediate funding needs were being met by the international community. We could have quickly disbursed all of the funding we received, but we waited until local NGOs were able to identify specific recovery efforts. In this way we ensure that our donors’ funds support initiatives that local organizations feel are most important. Since then, we have been disbursing collected funds for specific projects emerging from our partners as recovery continues. We require every NGO receiving funds to report on activities at least quarterly, and we typically conduct site visits to check on the work being done.

For donors, GlobalGiving provides a way to help quickly and effectively without having to do a lot of research. Donors can support a specific relief or recovery project, or they can trust GlobalGiving by giving to the disaster-specific fund. All donors receive specific updates, so they know where their funds have gone and what has been accomplished. Many companies use GlobalGiving to track and match employee donations to disaster relief efforts, amplifying employee impact and driving further support directly where it’s needed.

Donor response in these situations varies widely. After the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, donor reaction was immediate and huge through GlobalGiving and other channels. Sudden, catastrophic natural disasters tend to capture donor interest more than slowly rising floods or gradually worsening famines. Sometimes, a diaspora community mobilizes in a big way, as we saw after the 2011 Van Earthquake in Turkey. The disaster received relatively little media coverage, but a committed group mobilized a lot of support through GlobalGiving.

In the future, as disasters and crises emerge, GlobalGiving will continue to prioritize working with local NGOs to respond to emergencies in their communities. In developed and developing countries, NGOs play a key role in initial relief and ongoing recovery efforts. We’ll make it easy for donors to give by posting disaster-specific funds while providing very specific options for donors interested in supporting unique projects.

GlobalGiving’s second disbursement for Japan relief

Last week, I posted a blog detailing our disbursement strategy for donations to GlobalGiving’s Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.  We announced our decision to disburse  $725,000 from the fund to International Medical Corps, Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, Peace Winds, Japan Platform, and Lifeline Energy.  Including disbursements connected with specific projects, we announced a total of $814,820 in disbursements one week after the earthquake struck.

In the coming weeks we expect corporate donations, fundraisers, and auctions to become the main flow of resources to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. It has been incredibly gratifying to see how creative both individuals and organizations have been in contributing not only money, but their time, skills, and networks.  As of this writing, donors have given over $2,000,000 to the fund and over $450,000 to specific projects posted by International Medical Corps, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, and Lifeline Energy.

As I wrote last week, we intended to disburse a larger portion of the ongoing funds gathered in the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund to local, Japanese NGOs responding to the crisis, and this week we will do just that.  Britt Lake’s update contains more detail, but overall we are going to disburse a total of $825,000 to Japan PlatformPeace WindsJapanese Emergency NGOs (JEN)Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA)Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR)Civic Force, and Basic Human Needs (BHN).  We are not including International Medical Corps, Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, Lifeline Energy, Mercy Corps, and ShelterBox in this disbursement, as they are successfully raising funds through specific projects on our platform and through other sources, but we will disburse all funds we have gathered on their behalf.  In total, we are set to disburse $934,988.  Over the coming days, we anticipate that some of these Japanese organizations will post specific projects on GlobalGiving, but for now, our Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund is the way to support these local efforts.

Our team has been in touch with each of these organizations directly, we have defined how the funds will be used, we’ve agreed on reporting requirements, and we are ensuring that each organization meets international grantmaking criteria.  Our conversations confirm that there is indeed a need for an NGO response to the disaster.  These organizations are coordinating response among agencies, supplying medical volunteers, delivering basic supplies to shelters, producing English-language radio broadcasts, and generally responding to emerging needs.

What we are doing with funds collected for Japan

In the days since the earthquake in Japan, GlobalGiving has experienced an unprecedented outpouring of generosity from individual and corporate donors.  While overall giving has not been as swift or as large as the support to Haiti last year, giving through GlobalGiving is more than double what it was in the same time period after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Very early in the crisis we launched a general fund to collect donations, and we set a funding goal of $90,000, confident that one or more of our partners would assist on the ground.  After a major disaster, we typically set up a general fund, as it provides a convenient spot for first-responder donors, various partners, social media advocates, and traditional media outlets to send donors.  We disburse those funds among specific projects that emerge over the following days and weeks.

Over this week we have seen the donation flow accelerate, and after talking with our partners on the ground, we raised our funding goal to $4,000,000. International Medical Corps confirmed they were filling gaps in local infrastructure and supplies, and they posted the first specific project. Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, and Mercy Corps were next, posting projects specific to their roles in the relief effort.  As of this writing, donors have given over $1,400,000, and we expect at least a million more from corporate partner campaigns.

We now have an enormous responsibility to the people of Japan and to the donors trusting us to allocate the more than $1,300,000 collected in GlobalGiving’s Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund as of 3/17/2011.  Donors use GlobalGiving because we disburse funds quickly, and we find local organizations that would otherwise be difficult to fund.   The situation in Japan has been uniquely challenging for us, as we do not have an extensive NGO network like we have in the developing world.   Yet, in less than a week, and in a difficult communications environment, we are working with several local responders.  Their work will be available for funding alongside the international NGOs.

So, here is our strategy for allocating the funds collected in our Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.  On March 18th – one week after the first tremors –  we will disburse $725,000 from the fund to International Medical Corps, Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, Peace Winds, Japan Platform, and Lifeline Energy.  Including donations to specific projects posted by several of the above organizations, as well as Mercy Corps, we will disburse $814,820.  These organizations are helping on the ground right now, coordinating local NGO response and providing direct relief and supplies.  We are not disbursing all of the funds we’ve collected, because the situation at the nuclear plant may further complicate matters, and we want funds to go to organizations best positioned to help, striking a balance between speed and caution.  We will continue to disburse funds weekly, and each donor will receive disbursement updates and progress reports from the field.  Over time, we expect in-country Japanese organizations to receive a larger portion of ongoing disbursements.  We welcome feedback on our approach, and we are committed to complete transparency.  We designed our web site to spark dialog about the work being done, so please provide feedback to GlobalGiving and the organizations implementing the projects in Japan.

It’s clear to GlobalGiving that NGOs have a role in relief and recovery in Japan, and it’s clear that donors are willing to support these efforts.  Japan is the nation most prepared to deal with this type of disaster, but the situation is unprecedented and evolving.  Just as the US government was not fully equipped to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and NGOs continue five years later to play a role in recovery, all indications are that the scale and complexity of the situation in Japan demands a citizen-led response to complement government efforts.  We are honored to be part of that response.

Update: You can also view the project report that we posted on this at

Why 15% Makes Sense

People sometimes ask me why we charge a 15% transaction fee.  My cheeky answer is, “So I can be sitting here having this conversation with you.”  As Chief Program Officer at GlobalGiving, my job is to make GlobalGiving more valuable to more organizations around the world.  We work with thousands of organizations, qualifying them, supporting them, disbursing funds to them, monitoring their activities, and maintaining an online platform for them to connect with donors.  Work at this scale would be impossible with an all-volunteer team.  Without great people and robust systems working full-time, GlobalGiving does not work.

Could we find a large donor to fund operations, making the ongoing transactions free?  Maybe, but we believe a transaction-based fee is a better idea.  Funders like Skoll Foundation, Omidyar Network, Hewlett Foundation, Packard Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Kellogg Foundation have invested in our effort to make the transaction-based model work, and we’re almost there.  The model gives GlobalGiving a strong incentive to invest in the performance of our marketplace, which aligns nicely with our partner organizations’ goals and the needs of donors – the more funds flowing, the greater the social impact.  We are motivated to build better tools for donors and project leaders, we aggressively court corporate partners, we attract donors through a strong social media presence, we offer free training and development opportunities to our project leaders, and we find innovative ways to demonstrate results.  We strive to earn our 15%, and GlobalGiving only works if we deliver the value.

So, why do organizations decide that 15% is good value?  We connect them with new donors, we provide donor management tools, and for some organizations we save the expense of maintaining a transactional web platform.  For international organizations, the ability receive tax-deductible contributions in a secure, transparent platform is worth the 15%.  We do not charge organizations an up front fee to participate in GlobalGiving, so fees only exist when donations flow, and we’re careful to explain the fee to all prospective organizations.  Donors should feel good giving to organizations on GlobalGiving, because each organization calculates that our platform is worth 15%.  Donors always have the option of covering that 15%, and over 50% do just that.  Donors should expect to receive quarterly updates and can exercise the GlobalGiving Guarantee if the experience doesn’t meet expectations.  We just finished our best year yet, delivering more funding to more organizations than ever before.

That said, our 15% does not work for many organizations.  For organizations that maintain a web site with transaction processing, or have a staff dedicated to donor management, or do not like to accept project-specific funding, GlobalGiving is probably not a good fit, and that’s fine.  If a donor simply wants to fund general operations of a US nonprofit, that donor should give through that organization’s web site or a portal like Network for Good, both of which have lower fees.

Our commitment to this model holds us directly accountable to the donors and organizations connecting on our platform.  Organizations and donors do not have to use GlobalGiving  If we are not worth our 15%, people will stop transacting, and GlobalGiving will not survive.  If we are worth our 15%, more transactions will happen, we will continue to improve the platform, and we might just improve the efficiency of giving to the most effective organizations worldwide.