impact Posts

GlobalGiving’s Big Bet

Betting On Impact

How we’re using gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics for good.

We all want our donations to have the most impact possible. But how do we choose which nonprofits to support? And how does an organization like GlobalGiving, working with nonprofits in 165 countries, measure, compare, incentivize, and reward effective nonprofits doing everything from providing affordable housing in Nicaragua to restoring buffalo on Lakota land, to teaching organic farming to at-risk teens in Indonesia?)

Well, we’ve made a Big Bet about how we can do just that, and today marks a major milestone as we’re working to drive more money to more effective organizations. Starting today, the organizations on GlobalGiving that we believe are more effective—those nonprofits that are committed to learning—will be rewarded with more visibility and the chance for more funding through the crowdfunding community.

GG_Rewards_Logo_whiteWe’re using gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics to encourage organizations to listen to the people they serve, to act on what they hear by testing new ideas, and to learn faster and more efficiently. (We call this the Cycle of Progress: Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.)

The Cycle of Progress: Listen, Act , Learn, Repeat

We’ve created a new ranking system, which we’re calling GG Rewards, that helps us identify which nonprofits are climbing the GG Rewards ladder as Partners, Leaders, and Superstars. We’ve developed this system in collaboration with our nonprofit partners, with researchers, and peers. We’ll continue to improve as we learn more in the coming months. (In case you’ve been following our progress, the GG Rewards system is a big improvement on the Effectiveness Dashboards and Partner Rewards rankings we’ve been experimenting with for several years.)

GG Rewards Status

When our partners log on to GlobalGiving today, they’ll see their GG Rewards Status, a list of benefits their status affords them, and then they’ll have immediate access to tools and resources that can help them log more Effectiveness and Engagement points that will help increase their scores. Nonprofits not only get points for reporting to their donors, but they can also earn points for interviewing stakeholders, collecting community stories, or collecting feedback from the people they intend to help, for example.

We know that 40% of our partners log into our system every week, and we have data that demonstrates that they’ll take actions to improve their ranking because it leads to more funding, so we’re making sure those actions will help the nonprofits not only become better fundraisers but also more effective at meeting the needs of their communities.

As nonprofits demonstrate their commitment to learning and improving, they’ll now have increased visibility on GlobalGiving, and we’re confident that Superstars will reap tangible rewards. Stay tuned as we roll out ways for donors to search for and find effective organizations!

Versions of this article have also been published by GuideStar and Markets for Good

How We’re Building GG Rewards Together

Next week GlobalGiving will be launching the new GG Rewards Program. Here’s a post by Marc Maxmeister that provides a sneak peek into the work that’s gone into conceptualizing, building, and launching the program. 


GlobalGiving‘s goal is to help all organizations become more effective by providing access to money, information, and ideas.

That is a lofty, aspirational goal. To everyone else, it might look like all we do is run a website that connects donors to organizations. But internally, I serve on a team that has met every week for the past 3 years to pour over the data, to find an efficient way to help organizations become more effective. We call ourselves the iTeam (i for impact).

GlobalGiving's i-team. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.

GlobalGiving’s iTeam. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.

It is hard to move thousands of organizations in one shared community forward. We use gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics to encourage organizations to learn faster and listen to the people in whatever corner of the world they happen to operate.

Before 2014 we used just six criteria to define “good,” “better”, and “best.” If an organization exceeded the goals on all six, they were Superstars. If they met some goals, they were Leaders. The remaining 70% of organizations were permanent Partners – still no small feat. Leaders and Superstars were first in line for financial bonuses and appeared at the top of search results.

In 2014 we unveiled a more complete effectiveness dashboard, tracking all the ways we could measure an organization on its journey to Listen, Act, Learn, and Repeat. We believe effective organizations do this well.

But this dashboard wasn’t good enough. We kept tweaking it, getting feedback from our users, and looking for better ways to define learning.

What is learning, really?

How do you quantify it and reward everyone fairly?

The past is just prologue. In 2015, GlobalGiving’s nonprofit partners  will earn points for everything they do to listen, act, and learn.

LALR cycle-dark-bglalr-2015-explained

This week I put together an interactive modeling tool to study how GlobalGiving could score organizational learning. When organizations do good stuff, they should earn points. If they earn enough points, they ought to become Leaders or Superstars. But how many points are enough to level up? That is a difficult question. We worked with our nonprofit partner Leadership Council to get their ideas, and we also created some data models to help us decide.

Here is the data; the current distribution of scores for our thousands of partners, leaders and superstars looks like this:


How to read this histogram

On the x-axis: total learning points that an organization has earned.

On the y-axis: number of organizations with that score.

There are three bell curves for the three levels of status. It is significant to notice that these bell curves overlap. It means that some Superstar organizations in our old definition of excellence are not so excellent under the new set of rules. Other Partner organizations are actually far more effective than we thought; they will be promoted. Some of the last will be first, and some of the first will be last.

The histogram shown mostly reflects points earned from doing those six things we’ve always rewarded. But in the new system, organizations are also going to earn points for doing new stuff that demonstrates learning:


And that will change everything. “Learning organizations” will leapfrog over “good fundraising organizations” that haven’t demonstrated that they are learning yet.


Not only will different organizations level-up to Leaders and Superstars, everyone’s scores will likely increase. We’ll need to keep “moving the goal posts.” Otherwise the definition of a Superstar organization will be meaningless.

The reason this is a modeling tool and not an analysis report is that anyone can adjust the weights and rerun the calculations instantly. Here I’ve increased the points that organizations earn for raising money over listening to community members and responding to donors:


This weighting would run contrary to our mission. So obviously, we’re not doing that. But we also don’t want to impose rules that would discount the efforts organizations have made to become Superstars under the old rules.

So I created another visualization of the model that counts up gainers and losers and puts them into a contingency table. Here, two models are shown side by side. Red boxes represent the number of organizations that are either going to move up or down a level in each model:


We’d like to minimize disruption during the transition. That means getting the number of Superstars that would drop to Partner as close to zero as possible. It also means giving everybody advance warning and clear instructions on how to demonstrate their learning quickly, so that they don’t drop status as the model predicts. (We’ve talked this over with representatives from our Project Leader Leadership Council to get ideas about how to best do this.)

This is a balancing act. Our definition of a Learning Organization is evolving because our measurements are getting more refined, but we acknowledge they are a work in progress. We seek feedback at every step so that what we build together serves the community writ large, and not just what we think is best.

We’ll share more about the launch of our GG Rewards platform next week. This post is just the story of how we used data and feedback to get where we are. Here are a few lessons of what we’ve learned along the way:


  • Fairness: It is mathematically impossible to make everybody happy when we start tracking learning behavior and rewarding it.
  • Meritocracy: We will need to keep changing the definition of Superstar organizations as all organizations demonstrate their learning, or else it will be meaningless. The best organizations would be indistinguishable from average ones.
  • Crowdsourcing: The only fair way to set the boundaries of Partner, Leader, and Superstar is to crowdsource the decision to our community, and repeat this every year.
  • Defined impact: We can measure the influence of our system on organizational behavior by comparing what the model predicts with what actually happens. We define our success as seeing everybody increase their score every year, and earning more points each year than in the previous year. Success is also seeing a normal distribution (e.g. “bell curve”) of overall scores.
  • Honest measurement: I was surprised to realize that without penalties for poor performance, it is impossible to see what makes an organization great.
  • Iterative benchmarking: We must reset the bar for Leader and Superstar status each year if we want it to mean anything.
  • Community: We predict that by allowing everyone a say in how reward levels are defined, more people will buy into the new system.
  • Information is Power: By creating an interactive model to understand what might happen and combining it with feedback from a community, we are shifting away what could be contentious and towards what could inspire stronger community.

We were inspired by what others at the World Bank and J-PAL did to give citizens more health choices in Uganda. What the “information is power” paper finds is that giving people a chance to speak up alone doesn’t yield better programs (the participatory approach). Neither does giving them information about the program alone (the transparency approach). What improves outcomes is a combination of a specific kind of information along with true agency – the power to change the very thing about a program that they believe isn’t working through their interpretation of the data.

The model I built can help each citizen of the GlobalGiving community see how a rule affects everyone else, and hence understand the implications of their choice, as well as predict how they will fare. If we infuse this information into a conversation about what the thresholds for Partner, Leader, Superstar ought to be each year (e.g. how much learning is enough?), this will put us in the “information is power” sweet spot – a rewards paradigm that maximizes organizational learning and capacity for the greatest number of our partners.

I predict that giving others this power (to predict and to set standards) will lead to a fairer set of rules for how learning is measured and rewards doled out. It ain’t easy, but it is worthy of the effort.

New Infographic: GlobalGiving’s Bet on Improving Nonprofit Effectiveness

Click to read about the impact GlobalGiving has in the world

Click to read about the impact GlobalGiving has in the world

You may be familiar with GlobalGiving as a way to help nonprofits raise funds from individual donors and progressive companies. But that’s only part of our mission. Our mission is to catalyze a marketplace for information, ideas and money, helping nonprofits access not only critical funding, but also critical tools and knowledge so that you can be as effective as possible with the resources you do have.

What do we mean by effectiveness? Well here’s what we’ve seen: whether in business, government or the nonprofit sector, the world’s most agile and adaptable organizations are learning organizations. They’re engaged in a continuous Cycle of Progress: listening, acting, learning, and repeating. (Sound a little like a core value you might have heard from us before?) These organizations are constantly honing what they do based on the best information they can get their hands on.

Check out our new infographic. that explains how we can make sure every dollar you contribute will have the highest impact possible, by helping you channel it toward the most agile and adaptive organizations in the areas that are most important to you.  

Landmine Clearance in Cambodia: A Tour of The HALO Trust’s Work

Gearing up for the field

This is a guest post by Jacqueline Lee, an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving. Jacqueline is currently making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

Today, across the world, governments, organizations, and individuals are commemorating International Mine Awareness Day. It is an important opportunity for victims of landmines to speak out, and for all of us to build awareness about the effects of landmines long after conflicts have ended. Here at GlobalGiving, we are proud to work with numerous organizations that are clearing minefields around the world, including The HALO Trust, an organization working to clear landmines in 13 countries around the world.

There are still hundreds of thousands of landmines in Cambodia; not only were they laid by the Khmer Rouge, a brutal regime that ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, but also the Vietnamese army, in its efforts to contain Khmer Rouge forces, and later, the new Cambodian army. Since 1979, there have been more than 63,000 landmine casualties in the country.

My Visit to The HALO Trust


Recently, my colleague, Alexis Nadin, and I had the chance to receive a real-life tour of a minefield being cleared by The HALO Trust’s field team in Cambodia. We visited a minefield that is part of the infamous K5, a large swath of densely-mined land stretching across 21 northern border districts in Cambodia.

On our way out to the field, Alexis and I were surprised by the number of yellow sticks we passed on the sides of the road. Stanislav Damjanovic, HALO’s Deputy Programme Manager in Cambodia, explained that each stick represents a destroyed landmine. I deemed them “life sticks,” what could have been tombstones are now indicators of lives that have been spared.

Cambodian Deminer

By the time we arrived at the site, HALO’s field team had already found 6 landmines that day. As we walked towards the makeshift field office, the local field officer signaled for us to wait for a blast. We were taken aback by the loud BOOM of a landmine being exploded by HALO’s expert field team in the distance. It was at that moment that Alexis and I looked at one another, thinking about what we had gotten ourselves into.

Alexis and I geared up, having received in-depth security and safety briefings, and then were off to experience a day in the life of a de-miner. We followed HALO’s staff as they navigated the field, weaving between yellow sticks, and being careful not to cross any red sticks, which signaled uncleared land.

Destroying a landmine...

Well-trained deminers, hired from local communities, were carefully scanning grids with specially-designed metal detectors. And as the afternoon sun beat down on us in our Kevlar vests and massive helmets, we began to truly appreciate the dedication and resilience of HALO’s team.

Stanislav asked Alexis and I if we would like to destroy one of the mines – so we had the opportunity of a lifetime to press the button that would prevent a future tragedy.  It was an intense thirty seconds waiting for the explosion… then BOOM, a loud jolt went off that shook even my camera while I was filming. This was a small mine – I could not imagine standing next to it when it accidentally goes off or even when coming across a larger tank mine.

Later in the day, we traveled to one of the many fields that The HALO Trust has not been able to clear due to funding limitations. We stood in the backyard of a small family home and looked out into a minefield. It was here that the true implications of HALO’s work sunk in. Although The HALO Trust has cleared over 17,350 acres and destroyed more than 245,700 landmines, the risk is still high in rural Cambodia.

Standing in the backyard of a family home looking out into a minefield...

Children still play and walk to school on paths that wind through uncleared minefields. Parents and grandparents still take daily risks, farming on land that has never been cleared.

Our day with HALO was incredible. The work they are doing on the ground in Cambodia is crucial to the continued development of the country. Having witnessed for myself the harmful impact of minefields first hand, I would like to invite you to help clear another landmine in Cambodia this Mine Awareness Day. Consider making a donation to HALO Trust’s project in Cambodia.

Check out GlobalGiving’s other mine clearance projects:

Learning from one another – curating dialogue on Facebook

Do you remember asking a classmate to help you with your homework? Perhaps they owed you a favor because you’d helped them with something else? There are many intellectual, cultural and social reasons for asking friends and colleagues for help, but what is quite fascinating to me is the manner in which we respond to one another. When we engage with others’ success and failures, we learn. Development experts have a buzzword for this type of peer learning; they call it “collaboration.”

At GlobalGiving we crowdsource new partnerships with non-profit organizations that have expressed interest in working with us. Typically we work actively with 500-600 organizations over 2-4 months, through group trainings and individual consultations to help organizations map and grow their networks and building an online fundraising plan. We then invite them to post a project on the site and implement their online fundraising strategy raise funds for their projects. If an organization meets a threshold of raising $4000, from at least 50 donors they are invited to join the GlobalGiving platform. We call this an Open Challenge.

In addition to the trainings and individual consultations for Challenge participants who we call Project Leaders (PLs), we host sessions with fundraising experts and other social entrepreneurs who have successfully leveraged our tools (aha! The peers!).  Several years ago it suddenly struck us – what would happen if we made it easier for organizations to talk to one another?

Facebook turned out to be the lowest common social media denominator amongst Challenge participants, so we created a private Facebook group, first time in December 2010.At first we used it primarily to share fundraising resources, and encouraged people to ask questions about the design and other details of the Challenge.  It was gratifying to watch the conversation start to emerge – people asked and answered questions, others made suggestions  and shared fundraising ideas.

But it wasn’t quite vibrant. We tried something different for the next group we set up for the last Open Challenge we hosted. Here’s what we did differently:

  • Every day during the Challenge we posted relevant content– fundraising tips, links to resources and suggestions for raising funds
  • Regularly asked a variety of questions of the participants
  • Engaged participants that had shown interest by inviting them to share their opinions on a particular question
  • Responded to every single post by a member, with a relevant response
  • Celebrated accomplishments big and small

These tactics were driven by some of our core philosophies:

  • Intention: curating the conversation, and facilitating interaction
  • Relevance: sharing irrelevant information is a waste of time
  • Celebration: fundraising is hard work. 4 out of 10 participants had never raised funds online before, so we celebrated all types of victories
  • Recognition: by acknowledging contributions to the group we encouraged more participation. The emerging dialogue seemed to draw more comments.

Take a look at what happened. In comparison to a Facebook group organized for the previous Challenge in April, relevant posts (i.e. posts that were not just links to their projects, and websites) increased from 8% to 33%. The number of Facebook posts from participants increased from 6% to 24%.

In addition, the content of the conversation changed. The posts and comments covered a range of subjects from ideas for fundraising, potential solutions for questions posed, and reactions to fundraising resources that had been posted. Three out of four posts entered by the organizations resulted in two or more comments.

Wow.  People were talking with each other, and they seemed to find the conversation useful! It was exciting to watch people begin to collaborate instead of just compete. It is heartwarming to see the group celebrate milestones – projects submitted, funds raised, thresholds met.

We will continue to experiment with the way we facilitate these conversations by  making it fun and interesting for members to talk to each other with the upcoming Winter Global Open Challenge. This idea of creating a space for interaction to happen is central to GlobalGiving’s core philosophies. We believe that expertise should be decentralized, and that the possibility of learning from each other is immense.

If you have any experience in facilitating content-driven dialogue online, please do share your thoughts with us. We’re going to keep experimenting, and keep learning.