john hecklinger Posts

Crowdsourcing Social Innovation, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Open Up GlobalGiving

At GlobalGiving, we’ve been effectively crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and crowdevaluating social innovation for years.  From early experiments with prediction markets, to collaboration with The Case Foundation and Network for Good on America’s Giving Challenge, to working with GOOD and Pepsi on design and implementation of the Pepsi Refresh Project, we’ve woven experiences into the core mission of GlobalGiving – creating open access to philanthropic markets for small and large organizations worldwide.

We just wrapped up our largest Global Open Challenge ever, an initiative started in 2008 which has become the primary way we find and qualify new organizations for the GlobalGiving marketplace.  Over 230 organizations headquartered in 38 countries serving beneficiaries in 55 countries participated and collectively raised $569,536.  Each organization, in order to secure a spot in the GlobalGiving marketplace, was required to raise $4,000 from at least 50 donors during the month-long challenge.   Over 75 organizations achieved this goal by mobilizing supporters to vouch for them with their donations.

This is not a public voting contest to determine which organization receives a grant, though every donation is a vote.  This is not simply crowdfunding a specific project, though specific projects get funded.  This is not a matching campaign, though there are modest financial incentives.  Using a design thinking approach, we fuse elements of voting, crowdfunding, and matching to identify and qualify organizations for participation in the GlobalGiving marketplace.  We’re using components of all four crowdsourcing models Beth Kanter describes in her recent post:  Creating Collective Knowledge or Wisdom, Crowd Creation, Crowd Voting, and Crowd Funding.

Why would organizations put themselves through this?  Every day, we receive online requests to be part of GlobalGiving, and our goal is to accept as many as can qualify.  We don’t want to turn away innovative, but unproven organizations.  Many of these applications are from individuals or organizations with questionable motivation and capacity.  Many of these applications are from great organizations that need exactly the kinds of tools and services that GlobalGiving provides – a safe, transparent and tax deductible way for donors to give, a set of donor management tools, ongoing trainings, and the possibility of connecting with new donors.  From the applications, it’s hard to tell the difference.

Intead of sorting through applications and having our team decide which organizations gain access, we throw the decision out to the crowd.  We invite every organization that passes our rigorous due diligence process to participate in a Global Open Challenge.  If an organization can mobilize enough funding from enough donors, it’s a good indication that they can use our platform productively and that their idea has support.  It’s hard to get 50 people to give money to a really bad or fraudulent idea.  We’ve gotten pretty good at predicting which organizations will succeed, but there are always big surprises.

This model has the added benefit of sustaining itself.  The transaction fees generated during this process support the large amount of due diligence, training, support, outreach, and disbursement work that goes into throwing a challenge of this magnitude.  We do not charge organizations a fee to participate.  We feel strongly that any organization working towards social change should have a shot at articulating its work and raising philanthropic funds to support its growth.  Manmeet Mehta heads up this initiative at GlobalGiving and has continually enhanced the strategy, the incentives, the processes, and the support to make this an effective and sustainable program for GlobalGiving.

How do organizations hear about GlobalGiving in the first place? A quick Wordle of all responses to the question, “How did you hear about GlobalGiving?” reveals the interplay of offline and online networks that drive participation.  “Friend” and “Internet” figure most prominently:

Wordle: How did you hear about GlobalGiving?

Organization responses to the question, "How did you hear about GlobalGiving?"

I’m proud of the continuous experimentation that has resulted in this method of opening GlobalGiving’s doors as widely as possible.  We’ve tripled the number of organizations using GlobalGiving, and we’ve kept disbursements per organization steady.  Our marketplace is becoming richer in feedback and more self-sustaining.  2010 is already GlobalGiving’s biggest year ever, with over $10,400,000 in donations.

GlobalGiving’s Storytelling Project

GlobalGiving has a modest budget and team of around 25 people, all in one room in Washington, DC, but we face challenges similar to those of the largest of institutions involved in philanthropy and international development.  One of the biggest is assessing the impact of what we are doing.  With over 1,000 organizations implementing small projects in over 100 countries, it is impractical for our team to study each project’s impact in scientific detail.

Beyond easy measures of donation flow and reporting compliance, how do we know whether the marketplace we’ve built actually accomplishes something of substance in the world?  Which organizations are doing great, and which are struggling?  How can we celebrate the former and assist the latter?  Does all the work we do in cooperation with our on-the-ground partners all add up to something?  Are we sparking and fostering innovation?  Are the organizations participating in the GlobalGiving marketplace different from other organizations in positive ways?

In cooperation with Rockefeller Foundation, Cognitive Edge, and independent consultant Irene Guijt, GlobalGiving has found an promising way to tackle this problem.  In Kenya, we launched the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project, which asked people to tell stories about community projects and the individuals, organizations, and government entities working to make change happen.   We gathered 2,700 usable stories from individuals primarily in Nairobi and the Rift Valley.

Using the SenseMaker® methodology of capturing people’s stories and asking those people to “tag” their own stories, we are able to see how thousands of stories relate to each other.   We can visualize patterns in the stories that help us understand how people see organizations working in their communities.  Our next step is to make this method available more widely, providing a toolkit that helps our project leaders learn more about how people see them by launching their own storytelling projects.  We want this to be a useful way for GlobalGiving, our partner organizations, and beneficiaries to .

This pilot has huge promise, not just for GlobalGiving but for the philanthropic and development sectors as a whole.  Much has been written about how the lack of quick feedback hinders development work.  See Owen Barder’s recent blog post.  Like marketers of soda or electronic gadgets, how can funders of development initiatives quickly measure performance and make real-time adjustments to meet real needs in efficient ways?  Our pilot is a promising way of establishing meaningful feedback to power this type of real-time learning .

Marc Maxson, GlobalGiving’s chief feedback loop instigator and impact assessment innovator, has pulled together online resources that show how our pilot worked and what we’ve learned.  We will add further resources as our approach evolves.  Our next step is to expand our work in Kenya and to begin working with organizations in Uganda and Tanzania.

Are you looking for a way to learn more about how people view your work?   Are you struggling to find an effective and inexpensive way to evaluate your impact?  Please contact Marc ( to learn more about getting involved.

Clean Water for Loonwa

[youtube][/youtube]Last month I had the rare and very moving opportunity to visit a village that had recently received a clean water plant with funds from The Eleos Foundation, implemented by the Naandi Foundation, with GlobalGiving acting as the matchmaker/intermediary.  I visited Loonwa, a town of 10,000, in India’s beautiful and historic, but environmentally harsh, Rajasthan state.  Loonwa, and many other communities in Rajasthan, have a three-fold water problem.  First, there just isn’t much water – imagine farming in Phoenix or Las Vegas.  Second, water contained in stagnant ponds during the rainy season is likely to be contaminated with bacteria and worse.  Third, due to an unfortunate geological situation, the groundwater is high in fluoride and other chemicals that leach into otherwise pure water from wells.  Just enough fluoride helps teeth grow strong, so they put it in our water and in our toothpaste.  Too much fluoride makes teeth turn very white, then they fall out, and it seriously hurts skeletal development of children.  Here’s a scientific discussion of the subject. Enter Eleos Foundation and Naandi Foundation.  Eleos wants to help the poorest of the poor get healthier around the world, and they want to do it through market-based solutions.  Naandi helps communities in India finance clean water plants, and then trains local folks to operate the plant and sell the water at affordable prices.  Through UV and reverse osmosis purification, the water is pathogen and chemical free.  And it’s available for about $18/year for a family.  Over time, the community buys the clean water plant with the proceeds and everyone is healthier.  GlobalGiving helped Eleos connect with Naandi, and now this community has a potential solution to this unique problem. As I pulled into Loonwa with Amit and the Naandi team, I wondered if there was a political rally going on.  It was election time in India.  No, it was a welcoming party for us.  I cut the ribbon on the door of the water plant, saw how the plant works, attended a community meeting where we were all welcomed very warmly by the leaders of the village, then toured a Jain temple.  I was overwhelmed by the sincere excitement about having access to pure water, and I was humbled and a bit embarrassed by the very, very festive welcome I received.  You’ll see my sheepish grin in this video. [youtube][/youtube]

Nothing like a cool diaper bag.

I have to say I love the diaper bag I got for my first Fathers Day. It’s a gray messenger style bag with a pocket for all essentials – sippy cup, emergency rations of Spaghetti-O’s and goldfish, wipes, diapers, changing pad, butt cream, and purel. It’s got room to spare for a change of clothes and a few books.

For gear heads, parenthood opens up a whole new world of possibilities – from the mundane details of which baby bottle works best for your infant, to the very important performance characteristics of a stroller, you can really go overboard on things. Still, with my Diaper Dude bag and my Bugaboo stroller (both provided through the unbelievable generosity of friends and family), my son and I are ready for just about anything.

Poop in a museum? No problem.

Haircut trauma? Got a music cube and lollipop for that.

Like a guy I used to wait tables with in grad school used to say, “Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail.”

I’ve been working closely with the great folks at JOHNSON’S® on the “Celebrity Hand-Me-Down Auction” that went live on eBay last night. Well known moms and a dad (Matt Damon) have donated baby gear for auction, with proceeds going to a selection of mom and baby-related projects on a GlobalGiving web site customized for JOHNSON’S®. The projects range from providing baby gear to families in the Bronx to helping teen moms in Kenya start small businesses.

Huge thanks to the celebrities who donated very nice gear, and a big thanks to JOHNSON’S® for choosing GlobalGiving as its charitable partner.

Snap Picks and Skin in the Game

This week I got interested in college hoops again. Since my Wahoos were a major disappointment, I haven’t been following things as much as I usually do, or more precisely, I haven’t watched a single game or read a single article about a single team (save the bad news about the ‘Hoos) this season.

Still, I can’t resist participating in pools. I’m in the office pool and my book club pool for $10 each. I literally spent less than five minutes filling out both brackets with no research. After day one, I’m 14 for 16 on one bracket and 10 for 16 (ouch) on the other.

So, why bother? I guess I feel like my snap decisions are potentially as good as informed decisions. Unless you’re extremely well-informed, it’s tough to pick the surprises. But now, I have skin in the game and a reason to follow things.

For me the pleasure of the brackets is isolated. I don’t care that my decisions aren’t smart or the result of following players and trends and picking mismatches. I just like seeing how my brackets evolve, leaving things up to chance and ultimately caring about teams I would otherwise never have followed. Maybe I’ll even annoy my expert friends in the process.

I spoke with a donor this week who chose to fund two projects based on well-reasoned, but entirely self-defined criteria. Now that results are coming in, the donor is interested in seeing the funded projects in a larger context. How did the funding choices contribute to solving a problem in a specific part of the world? If funding were expanded how much greater would the impact be? Is there a chance to solve a problem for a whole community? A whole region?

The Wisdom of Crowds informs our thinking at GlobalGiving.  Individual decisions made with limited and imperfect information can add up to effective distribution of charitable funds – a compelling and hopeful idea. What donors might not be getting from us is satisfaction in knowing that donations are part of something bigger. A small donation can move a major problem closer to a solution, but it’s tough to communicate how that happens through this marketplace of different ideas and approaches around the world.

A challenge is to help donors see how $10 decisions contribute to the general good. Just like my $10 investment in the college hoops pool, now I care and want to see what happens in the end.