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How they won: American Open Challenge Winner says “crowd-sourcing was the key to our success”

Posted by Marc Maxson on February 13th, 2013

Jared Schwartz of Frogloop (a nonprofit online marketing blog) interviewed the guys from Critical Exposure and have some excellent advice for nonprofits trying to succeed on GlobalGiving:

http://www.frogloop.com/care2blog/2009/9/7/how-a-small-nonprofit-used-social-media-crowd-sourcing-to-wi.html 

The goal was simple. Earn a permanent spot on the GlobalGiving website by raising at least $4000 online from 50 individual donors in three weeks. Win up to $6000 in additional bonuses for out-fundraising the 70 other participating organizations.

The challenge was daunting. How does Critical Exposure, a little non-profit with a small group of supporters raise more money than the dozens of other participating organizations, many of whom have a large, established fundraising base?

The answer was clear. Use an array of social media channels — including Twitter, Facebook and crowd-sourcing to turn our small group of tech savvy supporters into a powerful fundraising force.

What Critical Exposure Did

A Plan of Attack – The first step Critical Exposure took was to lay out a three-week communications plan, then we threw the entire thing out. Well, not really. As the competition heated up, we certainly had to adapt, but having an overall strategic plan helped make sure that every communication piece was ready to go when needed.

Message Saturation ­­- Critical Exposure sent repeated pitches and updates to our supporters via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, community listservs, our website, phone calls, and more. Heck, we’d have sent candy-grams if we thought it would help. There was certainly concern about over-messaging, but as our supporters became more invested in the competition, they actually wanted more updates from us.

Empowered Supporters = Emotionally Invested Supporters­ ­- The power of crowd-sourcing was the key to our success. We realized that Critical Exposure didn’t have the resources to win this competition on our own. However, our supporters are an energetic, dedicated group of people and we knew that if we gave them the tools to help us, they would more than meet the challenge.

From day one, we made it clear that we didn’t just need our supporters to open their wallets (our suggested donation was just $10). What we really needed was their ability to leverage their personal networks. Every message asked them to be our fundraisers, and we gave them sample e-mails, Facebook and Twitter messages to post. By the end of the competition, my Facebook page was full of nothing but status updates from our supporters, each stating their own personal reason for supporting Critical Exposure.

We regularly updated our supporters on the fruits of their labor and during the final weeks of the competition, we pointed our supporters directly to the real-time standings. Many of our supporters later told us that as the competition entered its final days, they wore out the refresh buttons on their browser keeping tabs on the competition. Our supporters were 100% emotionally invested in the competition and did whatever they could to help Critical Exposure win.

The Results

Our supporters were an unstoppable fundraising force. Critical Exposure needed to raise $4000 from 50 donors — we raised over $15,000 from more than 600! That was 120 more donors than the next closest organization, 400 more than 3rd place and good enough for $5000 in additional bonuses.

The larger organizations may have had more big donors (the other prize winning organizations averaged $85 and $200 per donation, respectively). But no other organization got more people involved than Critical Exposure, who raised comparable money while averaging just $25 per donation!

[Here is  a snapshot of the the current Open Challenge leaderboard – where each organization and its donors can follow progress in real time]

http://www.globalgiving.com/dy/v2/globalchallenge.html

Lessons Learned

It was an exciting three weeks and everyone who participated truly felt like they were part of something very special. And really, that is why it worked. Our supporters aren’t just faceless masses (or cash machines) on the other end of an e-mail chain, but they are people, many who passionately believe in our causes as much as we do and are looking for an opportunity to help make a difference.

Facebook, Twitter, crowd-sourcing — these wonderful tools were what enabled us to tap into our supporters’ personal networks, but ultimately, it was about getting our supporters emotionally invested in being part of something big that carried us well past our wildest expectations.

This aritcle was written by Jared Schwartz, a consultant who advises non-profit organizations on using digital communications and social media applications to engage supporters, raise funds and build their organization.

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – do what makes sense

Posted by Marc Maxson on April 11th, 2012

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series asking current and former staff to speak candidly about what they have learned at GlobalGiving. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month Innovation Consultant Marc Maxson shares his one life-long lesson…

——–

I’ve been part of GlobalGiving for nearly 4 years. Last month I kept asking myself, “what is the one thing that GlobalGiving taught me that I will keep doing forever?”

Lesson: Do what makes sense.

This is easier said than done. Too often, doing “what makes sense” is not feasible for larger companies, organizations, and research labs because they are bound by a preexisting set of rules. But everything we’ve done has had a different flavor than everybody else because it has evolved out of what has made the most sense to us, rather than copying whatever others were doing.

When Dennis and Mari started GlobalGiving, they didn’t build it upon an established paradigm. They didn’t require that it function according to some preconceived worldview. They didn’t even require that it remain a fixed version of their own original vision – but rather it was free to evolve into what our clients needed most. They hired enthusiastic, thoughtful, curious people and told them to “do what makes sense.”

Being the only scientist they’ve ever hired, I think they took a risk on me. They gave me the freedom to do things in new ways because they made more sense than the old ways, so long as we had a clear reason for everything we did. (You’ll never find someone saying “…because that’s the way we’ve always done it…” at GlobalGiving)

Innovation = Listening

Marc Maxson, GlobalGiving Innovation Consultant (Nairobi, Kenya)

‘Fostering innovation’ is always talked about as if it is some kind of widget that falls off a well-oiled assembly line; but inside GlobalGiving, I see it as the product of long conversations and lots of listening to each other. Anyone, even the newest intern, can contribute an idea and be heard. If GlobalGiving was supposed to be a platform to let the world’s local community leaders pitch  their own ideas and get an audience with billions of potential donors, we had to start by listening to each other, right?

Well, here are some innovation milestones I’m proud to have been part of in the last three years:

  • Real capacity building : since 2008, we’ve held over 100 workshops in 20 of the poorest countries to prepare community organizations for social media fundraising. Thousands of people attended (because we teach stuff that “makes sense” for them to learn, of course).
  • Our open challenges work: Both as a means of testing what organizations have learned, and as a test of whether an organization truly means a lot to at least 50 people (“social vetting”).
  • Learning how to do community feedback on a massive scale: 36,000 stories collected in 2011 across Kenya and Uganda. Best of all, thousands of young people in these countries were directly involved in listening to each other and collecting these stories.
  • Organization background checks (due diligence): GlobalGiving is synonymous with the highest standard in fraud protection. Last month, we screened over 400 new organizations, entirely without printing a piece of paper.
  • Quick, error-free disbursements: We get all donations out the door, to more places, faster than any aid organization. And our partners can now see what’s coming in real-time.
  • Delivering excellence while reaching sustainability: Most of the public good done by the world’s nonprofits rely on subsidies from government and even larger funding agencies. GlobalGiving aspires to do it all sustainably, so that a lean funding year doesn’t wipe us out of existence.

Suffice it to say, I have the coolest job. They let me live in Nairobi, where I run a storytelling project that – when fully conceived – could transform the way that organizations listen and learn from what’s happening around them. Imagine if every day, instead of checking Facebook for the latest fad, every community leader could log into a site that gave them a report on yesterday’s community concerns. They could receive continuous evaluations about the root causes of complex social problems. They could tab over and read stories that relate to their projects. They could send a text message back to these storytellers to ask a follow-up question, or ping everyone in the village with an announcement about next week’s HIV clinic. By lunch, they could be planning next month’s community “baraza” (fundraiser) that would collect money directly by phone and show the total amount raised on their project page (as a form of community endorsement). And over time, what got done would align with what the community needed.

Together these four things: direct feedback (from communities to NGOs), instant SMS replies (from NGOs to the community), mobile money as a fundraising tool, and a global reputation system for NGOs – would transform the way that aid flows. I’m excited to get the ball rolling but we all need to chip in, because the “standard ways” of doing things aren’t good enough. They no longer make sense. We must take risks in pursuit of better, cheaper, and more democratic ways to serve the world’s people.

So what proof does a scientist like myself need to believe that we are making progress? When people are telling stories about it on a massive scale, without us even asking them about it.

-Marc Maxson

Below: Dennis Whittle at TEDxYSE explaining: “Do what makes sense.”

A Fundraising Success Story: Somali Survival Backpacks Project

Posted by Marc Maxson on August 3rd, 2011

A week ago GlobalGiving launched an employee giving portal for Eli Lilly & Company. On the first day, the Lilly Foundation and its employees contributed over forty thousand dollars to GlobalGiving projects within Lilly’s giving focus areas. One of these projects was an emergency project to provide Somali famine victims with “Survival Backpacks,”  run by Hot Sun, a film school in the Nairobi slum of Kibera. Hot Sun raised over $8,000 from 143 donations in one day, thanks to Eli Lilly employees.

This unexpected windfall is noteworthy for two reasons:

  • First, the organization was flexible in its mission and able to shift focus to disaster relief (when it had only managed a film school prior to this).
  • Second, the reason Survival Backpacks for Somali Refugees attracted all those new donors was because their team followed GlobalGiving’s recommended strategies – posting four project updates in 2 months, tweeting / facebooking heavily about the cause, and building personal relationships with donors in a variety of other ways. This helped them attract 76 donors, which gave them good visibility on our website. (Site placement is determined by a series of factors including donor numbers, reporting history, etc.)  Therefore, the Backpacks project had high site visibility on the day that we brought in 38,000 new donors; this led to  a significant overnight fundraising success story.

Fundraising is stochastic, meaning that each action does not guarantee results in a tit-for-tat fashion, but the sum of each incredible personal act does indeed add up. This example should inspire and instruct others in how to attract resources to any community effort, whatever the need, regardless of barriers.

Here’s a bit about the genesis of the project from its founder, Nathan Collett:

Long before this crisis hit, Somali filmmaker Ahmed Farah and I had been shooting a documentary about the Somali refugee camps in Dadaab. We felt we had to do something to fill the gap that large aid organizations are not filling. People need immediate help, before “official” help arrives, as they wait for days, even weeks, to be registered. This gave birth to the Survival Backpacks project. Famine now adds to war as the reason for their exodus. Somalis are crossing the horn of Africa on foot, arriving at Kenyan border camps, where they wait. This will help them survive until “survival aid” arrives, and allows them to keep moving if needed.

As filmmakers we also are working to raise awareness of the issue from a Somali perspective. In 2007 I shot a short film in Northern Somalia called “Charcoal Traffic.” Every time the country tries to get on a solid footing there is outside intervention, war, and attacks such as the Ethiopian invasion in 2008. Many of Somalia’s problems are self-created, but outsiders have made the problem worse. An African proverb says that ‘when the elephants fight, the ground suffers’… this is the case in Somalia. The people are suffering.

Our goal is to give something tangible and raise awareness. No filming or transport costs are taken out of GlobalGiving donations. The trailer for our next documentary “Dadaab: get there or die trying” was screened on Al-Jazeera English’s “The Stream” on July 27th 2011. We hope to continue raising awareness through you, and those whom you tell about us… but to not limit ourselves to that. People on the ground need help. We’ve seen their faces, we’ve experienced their suffering. We can’t just film anymore, we need to save lives.

Best,
Nathan Collett

If you’re interested in learning more about the story of the Somali Survival Backpacks project, here are some links to follow:

The crisis in the Horn of Africa is so immense, we’ll be watching to see what other innovative people and projects arise to help alleviate the suffering. Here are the drought/famine relief projects on GlobalGiving today: http://www.globalgiving.org/east-africa-drought/

You can find other tips and examples about successful online fundraising strategies on our Tools and Trainings Blog.

A crowd-sourcing experiment to improve beneficiary feedback loops

Posted by Marc Maxson on June 16th, 2010

Effort improved.png

I’m recruiting for a short-term crowdsourcing experiment we’re starting in three days at GlobalGiving. Do you know anyone who’d be interested?

The Question: “Can a crowd of readers reach the same conclusions as an eyewitness about aid projects?”

The answer could help us improve the communication with people on the ground and their donors.  The time commitment is 15 hours over the next month and we’ll share all the results with you. It’s virtual volunteering – so you never have to leave the comfort of your own home.

The Gist:  Read a bunch of project reports, which are written by project leaders in Kenya and sent to their donors to keep them in the loop. We’ll then ask you to provide context (no essays or anything, just sliding knobs around on 2-D spatial representations of the story elements). We’ve collected 4000 stories from beneficiaries on the ground about these organizations that we want to compare to this stuff.

Other than a huge thank you, you get a GlobalGiving gift card and a full debriefing on the analysis ahead of any papers or press releases. Use the gift card to support your favorite project on our site and then two organizations will benefit from all your hard work!

Let me know if this sounds like something you or someone you know would be interested in by Friday. (You can respond via twitter @marcmaxson, or skype:marcmaxson, or Marc Maxson on Facebook, or via email:mmaxson@globalgiving.org)

Social Media: Practicing What we Preach

Posted by Marc Maxson on March 4th, 2010

By Bill Brower (posted on his behalf by Marc):

As I travel around Southeast Asia for GlobalGiving, I’ve been holding workshops on online fundraising, a large portion of which I devote to talking about social media. I think to a lot of people working at NGOs here, many of whom are only hazily familiar with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, it can all sound like a lot of fluff. I can sense people thinking, “You really expect me to believe that my organization can make money through the website college kids use to post photos of their drunken escapades?” At first I was backing up my assertion with vague assurances that GlobalGiving sees donations coming in each week from various social media sites. “In one week in December we managed to raise $15,000 off Twitter alone!”

 

I now provide a textbook example of using a coordinated and dedicated social media effort to drive not only wider recognition but significant donations online courtesy of my wonderful colleagues back in D.C.

 

In the workshops, I tell people that the first step is just to get in the relevant conversations online: Alison, our social media guru, has done a great job of that; we have over 13,000 followers on Twitter.

 

Then I tell them to create interesting content: Alison recently riffed off the jokes going around online following Apple’s unveiling of the iPad:

 

“#iPad and #iTampon jokes are funny. But in #Uganda girls leave school for lack of sanitary pads: http://bit.ly/clXetd

 

Our CEO, Dennis Whittle, also posted a blog, which drew off the buzz surrounding the iPad.

 

I tell participants in the workshops that interesting information is easily passed around online: The number of people who had this Tweet pass through their Twitter feeds, either directly or when mentioned by someone else, was on the order of hundreds of thousands. Dennis’s blog was mentioned on another blog on NEWCONNEXTIONS.

 

And I tell people that most givers are motivated by family and friends: GlobalGiving staff posted the iPad message to their personal Facebook pages. It caught their friends’ eyes, they donated and told others that they did on their Facebook page. All told, about 40 people gave over $1,600 to provide sanitary pads to girls in Uganda from our iPad social media messages.

 

[tags social media, twitter, Facebook, fundraising, iPad]


Gathering real-time feedback in haiti can improve disaster response

Posted by Marc Maxson on February 1st, 2010

Judging from some of the comments GlobalGiving donors have made on recent haiti updates, I gather that television news falls short of presenting a multifaceted view of the earthquake recovery effort. There is a mix of ongoing challenges with some successes. Last Friday someone wrote in:

Sent: Friday, January 29, 2010 4:36 PM
Project ID: 4559 / IMC provides medical care to Haiti
Project URL: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/haiti/

It gives me a first hand account of what medical relief is taking place as oppose to what’s being transmitted over the airways showing de-humanizing conditions with no relief nor help in sight!! They’ve aired trucks of food being returned to warehouse while Haitians are starving and waiting for FOOD!! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!! YOU ALL ARE IN MY PRAYERS!! IF I COULD GET THERE, I WOULD!! GOD’S PROTECTION FOR ALL OF YOU AND IMMEDIATE SALVATION FOR THE HAITIANS!!

We currently rely on our partners and their staff to provide eyewitness accounts of the ongoing work. But there’s no reason we couldn’t open it up to any eyewitness. Mobile phone texting may be an easy way for us around the world to get to know each other better. Great innovators like Ken Banks of FrontlineSMS and Erik Hersman of Ushahidi are turning phones into web 2.0 reporting tools. Highlighting this pressing need, Washington Post Writes:

“Much as truth is the first casualty of war, reliable information is one of the early casualties of natural disasters. Until fairly recently, disaster responders relied on their senses, and their common sense, to identify problems. The notion of measuring what you could see was viewed as an academic and slightly effete response to things such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

The survey this week didn’t ask questions of a random sample of Haitians in the way that a medical trial would. That would have been a huge and time-consuming undertaking. Instead, it sought out individuals expected to know what was happening to the people in their area: mayors, village directors, health officials. The places weren’t chosen randomly either. The designers chose fairly evenly spaced sampling sites, with extra ones in the heavily damaged Port-au-Prince area.”

What they [the CDC] found is that you can gather most of what you need to know to manage a crisis in real time with anybody, going anywhere, asking for feedback using a less formal system. To me, as a neuroscientist, it makes perfect sense. You need rigorous controlled trials to assess medical benefits that are small – like a 10% difference. But when the questions are knock-you-over-the-head obvious, like “who’s dying on this block” or “who’s handing out supplies?” and there’s no ambiguity from one witness to the next, you can do away with conventional sampling.

About a week before the electronic ink was dry on this Washington Post article, Ushahidi’s Haiti immediate SMS-based crisis response center had already logged hundreds of eyewitness reports from regular people about everything from looting to service delivery. See for yourself at haiti.ushahidi.com .


What do NaNoWriMo and GlobalGiving have in common?

Posted by Marc Maxson on October 14th, 2009

nanowrimoIf you’re not one of the more than 100,000 giddy writers who eagerly looks forward to writing a novel in 30 days, let me explain.  NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month. Each November I (and many others) take a stab at writing a 50,000 word novel – not because I expect to get published – but because the process itself is satisfying. In fact, part of the joy is diving in to the challenge together. My fellow writers and I use the social networking site to monitor our progress against our peers, as well as to converse about sticky points in our manuscripts. This reminded me of GlobalGiving itself. Here are other points of similarity:

  • Both sites are designed to foster competition against oneself, with specific time deadlines. (We use the new project challenge to kick-start new organizations)
  • Writers get weekly  “pep talks” from famous writers. (Granted, we’re not “famous” at GlobalGiving, but we try to give good pep talks!)
  • Writers provide regular updates to their pages on progress, and send “nano mails” to peers. (GlobalGiving helps projects keep donors updated on progress regularly)
  • We chart our own progress towards 50,000 words daily, and follow each other’s chart on profile pages.
  • We do it out of love, with only a handful of writers realizing that it takes money to keep the platform humming along. NaNoWriMo depends on donations, just like GlobalGiving.
  • Everyone can win by writing a NaNoWriMo. On their “about us” page, they say they “value enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft.”
  • Creates a strong “we’re in this together” mentality.

National Novel Writing Month is all about getting people to take their first plunge into writing without risk. I look to them as a model for the sort of friendly environment we hope to foster for the world of nonprofits. GlobalGiving is a safe place to start a relationship with people from a distant country or just down the street, by giving as little as $10 to a cause you share with them. You never know – relationships like these might lead to that great idea for a novel.

There are only about 15 days left to sign up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve already learned a lot about myself through writing. Join Me!

Number of Africans with cell phones now equals population of US

Posted by Marc Maxson on October 6th, 2009

4 billion cell phone usersThe New York Times reports there are now as many Africans with cell phones as there are people in America. This is something that we are very aware of at GlobalGiving. In fact, my biggest project over the next 6 months is to figure out how to make GlobalGiving more SMS-accessible for those 300 million Africans who have cell phones, but not necessarily electricity or running water.

There are over 4 billion people with cell phones in the world today.  Others, like TxtEagle founded by Nathan Eagle, have already started exploring how Africans with basic $20 mobile phones can be put to work. In the US, the Extraordinaries distribute an iphone app with the same goal in mind – crowd-sourcing simple tasks to anyone with 5 minutes of free time and a valuable skill, such as translating text from Swahili.

Why would there be a big demand for swahili translators? Because some day people in Africa might want to send text messages about their lives to others.

I met with the FrontlineSMS guys recently to see if they might help GlobalGiving get those SMS text messages from people in African villages directly onto our GlobalGiving project pages. If you have ideas on how we can do this, or want to help us test various approaches, please let me know by commenting.

Per capita, Pitcairn Island is GlobalGiving’s #1 recipient in the world

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 24th, 2009

As the metrics guy, oddities sometimes appear in the GlobalGiving database. For example, today I learned Pitcairn Island received $158 per resident through GlobalGiving project #996: Boat-Shed Construction at Pitcairn Island. When there are 50 people on one island, $7,301 has a major impact.

Pitcairn Island facts:

  1. These guys are the decendents of the Mutiny on the Bounty crew, and their Tahitian wives
  2. All are Seventh-Day Adventists
  3. They have their own Internet domain, “.pn”
  4. They now have a boat shed, built by GlobalGivers!

If you are interested, the top 6 countries supported through GlobalGiving per capita are:

  1. Pitcairn Islands (pop. 46)
  2. Liberia (pop. 3,317,176)
  3. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (pop. 116,812)
  4. Rwanda (pop. 7,810,056)
  5. Haiti (pop. 7,527,817)
  6. Kenya (pop. 31,639,091)

Sadly, support to the other countries comes to a mere 2 to 7 cents per citizen.

What it all means: The Global Open Challenge Leaderboard

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 17th, 2009


Earlier today, Dennis Whittle was looking at the Global Open Challenge leaderboard over John’s shoulder.
“Can you believe it? This page is getting more traffic than our homepage!” John said.
“Naturally. This is where the action is,” I said.

Meanwhile, our accountant James has been clicking the refresh screen every 2 minutes. “Look, an organization just overtook the #5 spot!”
What does it all mean?” Dennis asked. “This is the most dynamic thing on our site. I was at a conference, and someone mentioned his experience getting on the site and this leaderboard in the same breath.”

I am realizing that it all adds up to something different than we ever expected.

Now, I think our impact comes by transforming nonprofits to be more effective, more responsive, and more successful in turning those million little earth changing ideas into a better world.

This transformation comes in the first 30 days, if it comes at all. We train organizations on social media. Some adopt the best practices. Then we test everyone.

Those who fail still gain, sometimes even more, because the staff come back with a new hunger for learning. That hunger is what the official aid guys have been struggling to create for decades. And we get it for free, because everyone wants to be noticed and validated on the leaderboard.

It takes failure before some realize that we mean it when we say that they own their success. The work they do determines the funds they raise, not some granting foundation. Regular people empower the organization, especially when the people see they are part of something meaningful, a community with a cause. This dynamic is why the leaderboard matters.

As a PhD neuroscientist and a teacher, I fully believe testing and failure is how we make progress. Scientific research is about learning through failure. The Open Challenge is a test of whether nonprofits have a sustaining community of supporters.

Winners like Critical Exposure who built that community during the open challenge can attest to being transformed in three weeks (from Jared Schwartz of Frogloop.com, a nonprofit online marketing blog):

  • “We regularly updated our supporters on the fruits of their labor and during the final weeks of the competition.”
  • “We pointed our supporters directly to the real-time standings.”
  • “Many of our supporters later told us that as the competition entered its final days, they wore out the refresh buttons on their browser keeping tabs on the competition.”
  • “Our supporters were 100% emotionally invested in the competition and did whatever they could to help Critical Exposure win.”
  • “They actually wanted more updates from us!”

What it means:

A community based organization in Zimbabwe can now compete with a 501(c)3 nonprofit in New York City, if enough people care about them. What matters is how passionate their supporters are in advocating on behalf of the great work the organization is doing.