Author Archive

 

We are listening: real-time feedback loops

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 16th, 2009

feedback loopIn the GlobalGiving office, people usually introduce me by saying “…and Marc does evaluations.” That’s not accurate. A truer story would be, “Marc facilitates feedback loops.” And over my first year here, we’ve been able to do more of that.

A feedback loop isn’t anything fancy. This is where someone tells you something, and you pass it on to the person who most needs to know, then you take what that second person says in response and feed it back to the first person. *I* don’t need to evaluate anything to ensure that people are hearing from each other. But these conversations are much more powerful than the most sophisticated super computer or all the analysis a team of experts can provide.

As a neuroscientist, I studied feedback loops in the brain, and feedback alone (copied 10 trillion times over) within a network is enough to provide humans with sentient intelligence.  Pubmed it if ye doubt the claim.

Today I am happy to announce that Mari Kuraishi, GlobalGiving’s president, is presenting a case study on the power of feedback, titled “Real-time technology aided feedback loops in international philanthropy” at the Skoll skollINTERNATIONAL SOCIAL INNOVATION RESEARCH CONFERENCE (ISIRC)

This case study follows one Kenyan organization that struggled to provide promised services to the atheletes’ satisfaction. How did we find out? First, I visited the organization and handed out bumper stickers that read, “What does your community need? Tell us: GlobalGiving.org/ideas.” We wanted the community to know that GlobalGiving is listening to them.

ideas sticker

I didn’t know at the time that a bumper sticker would start a chain reaction that would get people in the community involved with giving the organization greater direction. This dialogue between the organization and the people it aimed to serve took many turns and ultimately caused the founder to leave the city and a new organization under the leadership of the youth athletes themselves to emerge. After months of hard work, including 3 visitors who send in visitor postcards and 3 other people who were full time volunteers working with this organization, we can at least breathe a sigh of relief. Not because the problems are gone, but at least the youth have had their voices heard and are now trying to help themselves.

We don’t know if this new organization, the Manyatta Youth Resource Center will ultimately succeed, or whether the old organization, Sacrena, will re-emerge as a stronger organization, more responsive to the community. You can’t predict when or how social change will take place. All you can do is keep listening, and keep sending these messages back and fourth so that the people with the cash hear from the people in the grass of every grassroots project.

Speaking of which, the new Manyatta Youth Resource Center is temporarily being supported through one of our Global Open Challenge projects, the Amani Na Upendo Dev Youth Group, who I am afraid is currently unable to attract any donations online by itself. Such is the paradox of grassroots philanthropy. Many of the most responsive local village-based organizations lack the social connections and international exposure needed to raise money. We know about this problem, and struggle with it daily.

But if you read this case study and want to help – tell us. We’ll send your message back to them and start another feedback loop. Another way you can help is to give the Upendo group a donation.

I’ll summarize in another post the aspects of this paper that relate to how new technology makes it possible for the people to advise donors and implenters about progress with continuous feedback.

Note: You can read all visitor postcards on our site: http://www.globalgiving.com/projects/youth-sport-in-kenya/updates/ but I think the full paper summarizes the series of events more concisely, also available from the youth-sport-in-kenya (DOC FILE LINK) page.

I love hearing about community supported organizations

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 11th, 2009

I think the best sign that a nonprofit organization is worth your time is hearing stories of what the people it has helped are willing to do to help it. Perla Ni’s organization, GreatNonprofits.org is doing this. Yale professor of political science and economics, Chris Blattman, today brought Meeting Point, an AIDS hospice run by his friend Ketty Opoka, to my attention:

From the Times‘ Freakonomics blog:

When floods struck Meeting Point’s headquarters in 2007 …[they had to]… move to higher ground or risk further flooding, Meeting Point secured a plot of land from the local Catholic Church.

Opoka asked her clients to help clear the land. So many volunteers showed up that Meeting Point’s staff had to implement a rotating shift schedule for the land clearing. The local hospital’s doctors told Opoka that while the land was being cleared, Meeting Point clients showed up early for their ARV [anti-retroviral drug treatment] regimes, toting hoes and shovels and begging doctors to wait on them first so they could head to Meeting Point for their shifts.

You’ll Chris Blattmanbe hard pressed to find a worthier cause,” – Chris Blattman added.

We want to do our part, and there are ways Chris Blattman or anyone can help. He could have nominated this organization to join GlobalGiving at our open page, using the 3rd party nomination form. GlobalGiving will follow-up and hopefully get them into a new project challenge that will increase the chance someone reads about the organization and gives.

Tracking what matters in online fundraising

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 1st, 2009

John List at the University of Chicago studies fundraising strategies. In a recent article he said, “Especially in difficult times, it’s very important to learn what works and doesn’t work. I’m trying to change a sector that’s run on anecdotes into a sector that’s run based on scientific research.”

The down economy has resulted in some peculiar findings. List finds that phone marketing is more effective than direct mail, and door-to-door fundraisers get more people to open doors but with fewer donations:

 In one test, instead of knocking, they left fliers stating they’d be back during a specific time frame the next day. Before the economic meltdown, most people weren’t home or didn’t answer the door that second day. By early fall, however, people were more likely to answer the door, yet less likely to give. He concluded that most giving — more than 75% — is indeed driven by social pressure. It’s just that the economy provides a way out while still saving face. “Before the meltdown, if you answered the door, it was very difficult to say no,” Mr. List says. “But now people have a built-in excuse.” Source: www.chicagobusiness.com

One way we’ve tried to get beyond anecdote-driven fundraising strategies is by systematically collecting information about what works in online nonprofit fundraising and sharing that with our organizations. Take a look at our Global Open challenge.  It takes a different approach to raise money from a lot of people – a social media based strategy – and we are eager to join the conversation about what works. One way is to periodically link to other places and people whom we think you ought to know about, if you are trying to pursue funding for your little earth changing idea in a crowd-sourced way.

The other is to ask you what you think. Please submit comments!

Put on a Happy Face

Posted by Marc Maxson on August 30th, 2009

Recently, Science Magazine (August 21, 2009) described the findings of a recent survey by Richard Wiseman, who who asks what is the most potent trigger for happiness? Science Mag writes:

“[Richard Wiseman] divided his 26,000 [online] respondents – mostly young adults – into five groups. One was a control group. During a 5-day exercise, each of the other groups engaged in one type of upbeat behavior: being kind to others, dwelling on a happy memory, feeling grateful, or smiling.”

And the results over 5 days?

  1. Control: Half got happier, half didn’t (just as you’d expect of a large random sample)
  2. Dwelling on a happy memory from yesterday (65% got happier)
  3. Feeling gratitude (58% got happier)
  4. Practicing smiling (58% got happier)
  5. Trying to perform an “act of kindness” (50% got happier, identical to the control group)

So how do these findings map to what we do at GlobalGiving? I assume people get happy when they give to something they care about, which is an “act of kindness.” But just how happy do people get?

My girlfriend pointed out that performing an “act of kindness” is much harder than the others, so maybe fewer people succeeded, and so fewer got happy.

What do you think?

How do you interpret this survey, as it relates to GlobalGiving? Post a comment. Thanks in advance!

Beyond Good Intentions: Getting more visitor postcards from the field

Posted by Marc Maxson on August 28th, 2009

Tori Hogan at the Social Edge blog “beyond good intentions” recently wrote about the problems with getting reliable feedback from projects in international development, and what GlobalGiving has been doing to improve feedback. Here is an excerpt:

“My old stats professor will probably kill me for this, but what ever happened to good old-fashioned gut instincts? Do you trust anecdotal reports by people who have visited field projects and come away with certain perceptions?

I started considering this concept recently when Marc Maxson at Global Giving introduced me to a new project they’re running that allows people who visit any of their countless field sites to submit ‘postcards from the field. These blog-like reports written by non-professionals (mostly by interns and student travelers) have an open-ended framework and are only guided by the question,'”what would you tell your friends about this project?’ According to Marc, ‘gut feelings about recommending a project are broad enough to predict deeper problems.'”

Tori dug through our more than 70 postcards from 2009 and found that this new Visitor Postcards program still needs more volunteers to scale up. I quote again from that post:

“However, as I scrolled through the “postcards” I had a really hard time finding any that were critical of the organizations they highlighted. Are visitors afraid to report on problems or are these organizations actually as perfect as they sound? Marc informed me that, ‘most volunteers try to self-filter and only say good things publicly, but privately send in negative comments.’ Well, it’s not perfect, but at least it’s a start!”

This remains true. The vast majority of comments on projects are positive, although I can think of two organizations who hosted visitors this year that posted negative comments and triggered larger dialogues. But anyone doing a spot check on our postcards is bound to miss them because they are not a significant fraction. :)

Bloggers and the public are our advisors. I personally thank Tori and look forward to doing what I can to get more honest feedback from visitors onto the site. Visitor postcards have played a major role in the outcome of one organization, and we will be presenting a case study on this at the upcoming Skoll “International Social Innovation Research Conference.”

I replied to Tori’s post:

We think visitor postcards have been a major success because more people are getting a first-hand account of what projects look like. And (as our case study will show) it also works to reform a problem project. The power of real-time feedback loops was enough to cause the organization visited to dissolve and reform under new leadership of a group of underserved beneficiaries. This happened in spite of the “self-filtering” problem we discussed.

Visitors often don’t realize that they omit inconsistent (negative) details when they have good rapport with the people the meet. This is human nature, and affects tourists and evaluators alike. I urge you to read “The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice” from Science Magazine (March 2009), which shows that (a) strangers’ gut feelings are more reliable trust indicators than a set of facts and (b) most people DO NOT BELIEVE THIS even though they act on it.

I cannot underscore strongly enough that getting more people to walk through more  village-level development projects would transform the way that money is spent, for a variety of reasons.

I hope you’ll attend our talk at ISIRC in September, 2009 – Oxford!