10 Lessons in 10 Years: Don’t give in; Don’t settle; Love what you do.

Posted by Alison Carlman on November 15th, 2012

10 Year Anniversary of GlobalGivingTen years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving in the United States. 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 guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month’s writer, Steve Rogers, demonstrates how life lessons sometimes imitate baseball. 

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Seven years ago, when I joined GlobalGiving, I had just finished my (unsuccessful) stint at a technology start up during the dot.com bubble and bust.  I rode it out until I had nothing left to give, but the company had been acquired and taken over.  I started looking for new employment, knowing now that stock options were not the key to success or happiness.  I found GlobalGiving. They were a non-profit, but operating like a startup.  They had a small team and needed some technology leadership. Sweet!

When I walked in my first day, I found two dedicated individuals keeping the site running: Neal and Sombit.  They could write html, but knew very little of the inner workings of the site and infrastructure.  I felt my heart sink a little.  Turns out that I was an “emergency” hire. The previous leadership had left unexpectedly, as well as the Java coders responsible for the current state of the site. Sour!

I did not give in. I love a challenge. So, I opened my MacBook Pro (first one at GlobalGiving), and figured out where the code was (CVS), how it was deployed (OMG), and where a test server was, and how it got to production.  I set up a local environment, since Mac OSX runs on Linux. I started learning. That first year was almost all learning – the hard way.  I got a system (Project Entry) “working” – this was the site that was under reconstruction when the previous Java team left.  But I learned to figure things out, ask for help where I could, and I started to find the pain points and sketch a path to making things better.

Over the years, as I have been in charge of systems, websites, Information Technology (IT) and phones, we have moved offices twice, changed Internet Service Providers, changed our phone system, and moved our remote data center.  All this has been a challenge, but it was due to growth and improvement – and never settling.  Along the way, our staff has tripled (at least), and I have had the privilege to work with (and be challenged by) many super smart and dedicated people. I would not trade it.

As many of us who have crossed from the private sector for-profit world to the non-profit technology sector, I love the mission and while often being under-funded, under-staffed, and over-achieving, any frustration dissipates at the end of the day when I think of all the great social entrepreneurs and grassroots organizations that benefit from what GlobalGiving provides.

I have learned (and live) these lessons:

  • You can’t hit a grand slam if you don’t get some runners on base.
  • You can still score (and win) with several well placed “bunts.”
  • Incremental and iterative growth (a good leadoff) and change can lead to a “game changer” (stolen base).
  • Always be open to new ideas – encourage discussion; be inclusive. Take a seventh inning stretch to reflect and listen!
  • Never settle for, or give in to, the status quo. Don’t worry if that fly ball gets “lost in the lights”, track it, chase it down and make the play!

10 Lessons in 10 Years: Commit to Bliss

Posted by Alison Carlman on October 24th, 2012

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving in the United States. 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 guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month’s writer, KC Ellis Sledd, shares two of the most important lessons she’s learned. 

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“Donor Relations Specialist?” I asked.

“No, no, get more creative,” Kevin Conroy, Director of User Experience and Product Innovation, pushed me as I was creating a title for my new customer service position on the Unmarketing team at GlobalGiving.

I churned, wondering what kind of a title I could possibly invent that A) made sense for my never-existed-before job, B) wouldn’t look too silly on a business card, and C) made Kevin happy.

I studied my job description and parsed through the goals of my position. I recognized that I wanted my title to reflect our value of being committed to WOW. The other values are important, of course, but a commitment to WOW resonated with me most of all. A brand new position pioneering a devout love for customers felt like it needed to embody this value most ferociously out of the four that GlobalGiving holds dear.

Knowing that Kevin would never settle (value #3) for anything less than a fantastic job title, I iterated again and again on a series of possibilities, when suddenly, I remembered something he had told me in a conversation about his own role: “I’m like the Lorax; I speak for the users.”

With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to speak for our customers, too. I would fight for their needs and fight to make them happy. After all, without our donors, GlobalGiving couldn’t exist, and our partners wouldn’t be able to fundraise for the projects that help make our world a better place.

And then it hit me. I could be more than a fighter, I could be a champion: a Champion for Customer Bliss (and yes, that is what is on my business card).

So, every day, I try to delight the crew of GlobalGivers who support projects on our site. It’s not always easy, but our donors (and even the folks who decide they don’t want to give through us) make each interaction worth it. They are our reason to be, and I am so grateful that I get to learn their stories, answer their questions, and help them give. Our donors are a pretty awesome group of people!

My lessons learned were twofold:
1.     Never doubt Kevin Conroy, and
2.     Unconditionally love your customer.

I have learned that if you truly dedicate yourself to your customers, your customers will love you back. Our donors and supporters humble and inspire me daily with their benevolence, their generosity, and their compassion.

To our customers reading this, I’d like to say, with unwavering appreciation, thank you. This whole operation hinges on you, and I am grateful that you give us the opportunity to help you find your little earth-changing idea. Thank you for letting me be your Champion.

Devotedly yours,
KC Ellis Sledd
Champion for Customer Bliss

10 Lessons Learned Over 10 Years: Launching GlobalGiving in the UK

Posted by Alison Carlman on September 17th, 2012

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving in the United States. 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 guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month’s writer, Rachel Smith, is the Programme and Operations Director at GlobalGiving UK, the London-based sister platform of globalgiving.org.  Rachel was part of the founding team at the organization. Below, she reflects on  her experience working in a small start-up organisation and how they were able to “achieve a lot with a little.”

As a young start up organisation, learning lessons is a constant activity for our team at GlobalGiving UK. The first few years are defined by figuring out how we work best and learning what doesn’t work so well. I often think that we must experience similar challenges and rewards that many of our grassroots non-profit partners experience. I hope this lesson will resonate and inspire others to ‘think big’ and bravely try creative solutions to bring a vision to fruition.

GlobalGiving UK has landed
Almost four years ago to the day, GlobalGiving.co.uk launched to the world. I’d never been involved in a tech start-up before so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘launching a website.’ Lots of preparations in advance and then at the point of launch…not much happens. At the switch of a button and we were live and online. It almost seems like nothing had changed from three seconds earlier.

Of course, there was more to ‘launch day’ than that. The GlobalGiving seed of something new had just spouted and on that day:

  • GlobalGiving’s online giving platform had launched for the first time in a new currency and market bringing additional benefits to GlobalGiving donors and non-profit partners around the world;
  • Our small team (then just two of us!) brought together more than 50 founding supporters and friends to begin our journey to engage the UK public and development sector (the highlight being a keynote speech from the then Secretary of State for International Development); and, also, not so conveniently…
  • Lehman Brothers collapsed sending the world in a turbulent global recession.

These were potentially not the most fertile of circumstances to launch an online giving platform! Although as we were starting from zero, the only way was up! We had to learn how to grow and respond to the environment we faced and take creative approaches to meeting our aims.

Lesson: achieve a lot with very little by being creative and open
Over the past four years, through testing and piloting, listening and learning, and developing partnerships and collaborations, we have (amongst other successes):

  • helped non-profit partners gain access to over £1.5m to fund projects around the world
  • supported more than 500 organisations with their online fundraising
  • provided a fundraising and communications training course to more than 100 organisations
  • and launched a skills-sharing platform – GlobalGivingTIME – providing grassroots organisations with access to skilled professionals such as those at Aegis Media.

Aegis Media’s online volunteering platform, GlobalGivingTIME

Success rests on many factors but I believe that one of the key factors for success for us has been leveraging everything and anything to make things happen. That is not to say that everything we tried worked, however! (A failed pro-bono partnership helped us learn to be realistic about what could be achieved, scaling our extremely ambitious plan back to something more manageable.) Some of our other keys to success have been:

  • Leveraging networks. We developed collaborations between more organisations, investing in team creativity, and forming win-win partnerships. These were ways to get things done that didn’t require us to throw money around.
  • Promoting GlobalGiving.co.uk for ‘free.’  We have never spent any actual money on advertising the website. We have developed pro-bono relationships with Google and 77academy to help us spread the word, for example.
  • Bringing professional skills to non-profit partners anywhere. Spurred on by our vision to provide access to funds and resources to under-resourced grassroots organisations, we developed a long term collaborative partnership with Aegis Media and Sparked.com and launched GlobalGivingTIME connecting 1000s of professional online volunteers with our charity partners around the world (this project was honoured by the Guardian Sustainability Awards).
  • The power of the team.  Everyone in the team is valued and everyone can contribute to the ideas generation, planning, delivery and review and lesson learning. We bring the whole team together to ‘get creative’. We know this has also worked for non-profit partners too – PEPAIDS cited the value of their team in raising over £10,000 for their project: “Sharing the responsibility gives you confidence, momentum and helps you aim high”.
  • Partnerships that make the right connections. Our partnership with JustGiving.com – the UK fundraiser platform (think online sponsorship forms) – has generated over £500k from 1000s of people for GlobalGiving projects. Highlighting just some examples shows how working together with others from inside and outside the organisation and being creative (thinking ‘out of the box’) can yield marvelous things! You don’t need a lot of money: just a willingness to develop relationships, listen, try things out, be brave and accept when things don’t work out (and celebrate when they do!)

GlobalGiving UK remains a very small team but our partnerships, collaborations and team energy, creativity, and passion means that we are far more than the sum of our immediate parts.

10 Lessons Learned in 10 Years: Redefining the Status Quo

Posted by Alison Carlman on August 30th, 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 guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month Alexis Nadin, Senior Program Associate, shares three lessons she learned during her transition from an intern to a full-time team member.

Lesson 1: Ideas really can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime. (Even GlobalGiving interns!)

If you ask any of my colleagues about my personality, they’ll probably tell you that I’m opinionated and demanding. I know that GlobalGiving can make an incredible difference in the world and I want to make sure that our organization is doing the best possible job in supporting our non-profit partners and communities around the world. So I try to set the bar high, for myself and everyone I interact with here at GlobalGiving.

What my colleagues probably don’t remember is that when I first started at GlobalGiving in 2008 as a Project Team Intern, I was not the demanding, opinionated Alexis that they know (and hopefully love) today. When I started at GlobalGiving 4 years ago, I was passionate about the organization’s mission but I was fully prepared to be a fly on the wall. After all, as your average over-achieving university student in Washington, DC, I had had plenty of internships at other organizations and government agencies. I knew my place as an intern—I was a phone answering, stapler wielding, memo editing drone. Right?

Wrong! It was clear after my first few days at GlobalGiving that I was not going to be playing the role of a glorified photocopier machine.  The Project Team was interested in my thoughts, opinions, and ideas. I was invited to take ownership of projects and give feedback on the team’s direction. I don’t remember much about that first semester I worked with GlobalGiving (after all, I was attending school full time and nannying on the side) but I do recall the feeling of having my thoughts and opinions matter. I remember feeling like a part of the team, even though I was “just” an intern. After that first semester, anytime someone asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I always answered “work for GlobalGiving.”

Lesson 2: Don’t ever underestimate what passionate social entrepreneurs can accomplish.

I was lucky to start interning with the Project Team at an exciting time. GlobalGiving would soon be hosting the first-ever Open Challenge, in which organizations would aim to raise $3,000 from 75 donors to remain on GlobalGiving’s site. But, like many others, I was skeptical. I mean, come on, small, grassroots organizations in developing countries around the world could never really mobilize 75 people to give them $3,000. Right?

Wrong again! That first Open Challenge was a huge success. Twenty organizations from places like Nepal, Madagascar, Philippines, and Sierra Leone raised more than $3,000 and secured a spot on GlobalGiving. Since then, GlobalGiving has hosted more than 30 Challenges and over 500 organizations have secured a spot on GlobalGiving through this process. (I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Manmeet!)

Today, I am a huge advocate for our Open Challenge process. (Check out this blog post I wrote about the rationale for the Open Challenge.) Over the past few years I have learned that social entrepreneurs are a powerful and capable force. Time and time again we have seen organizations beat the odds and accomplish truly incredible things with a little bit of faith, love, and support.

Lesson 3: It’s all about building relationships.

During that fateful first semester I interned at GlobalGiving, Marc (now GlobalGiving’s Innovation Consultant) announced that he would be testing out a new concept for monitoring projects.  He planned to identify select travelers to visit and verify GlobalGiving projects overseas. At the time I thought, “How silly of GlobalGiving, don’t they know that travelers aren’t qualified to visit their projects? That takes a degree and years of field experience.”

Despite my hesitations, I volunteered myself and my boyfriend, Brian to visit organizations in East Africa that summer. In two months, Brian and I visited 20 organizations in four countries. We met rats that are sniffing out landmines, paraded through the streets with 200 female microloan recipients, hung out with university scholarship recipients in Rwanda, and so much more.

During that summer, I learned the value of meeting face to face, of getting to know our partners’ stories and passions and concerns. I got to tell our partners that their feedback matters and that GlobalGiving wants to provide a platform that is meaningful and valuable (and of course, easy to use). And although I didn’t have a degree in M&E, I was still able to tell our partners that GlobalGiving is there for them–that there is a group of people in Washington, DC who care about their struggles and who want to help them and their communities.

Today, I am proud to manage GlobalGiving’s In the Field Program, which trains and sends well-qualified volunteers and interns into the field to visit our non-profit partners. Although the program has evolved since Brian and I were in the field 3 years ago, we continue to emphasize the value of relationship building. This is still one of the number one ways that GlobalGiving maintains close relationships with almost 2,000 partner organizations.

GlobalGiver Spotlight: Truth or Dare Mountain

Posted by Alison Carlman on August 13th, 2012

by Laura Vogler, Unmarketing Intern

GlobalGiving is putting the spotlight on some creative, above-and-beyond donors in this new blog series.  We encounter incredible people every day who are doing good in very unique ways – these are their stories!


“Truth or Dare?” That’s the question being asked by Beck, Kate and Fiona, three women taking on a challenge to make a difference. The trio will be participating in the Three Peaks Challenge, which consists of climbing in the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales all within 24 hours.


In order to drum up some support, the ladies have started project called ‘Truth or Dare Mountain’. They are asked to reveal truthful statements about themselves or tackle embarrassing dares provided by donors. The higher the donation, the tougher the dare.

What have they been asked to do so far? The trio has acted out funny children’s songs, asked for piggy back rides from strangers and even bathed in a tub of cereal and milk. We don’t want to give too much away but upcoming dares include chicken hats, Buckingham Palace and Donnie Darko!

Where is all this money going? Beck, Kate and Fiona have chosen to support GlobalGiving partner organization Global Grassroots, a group promoting education, literacy and social change in the lives of women in post-conflict communities.

Have an idea for a great dare?  Want to follow the story?

 

Well done ladies! Keep up the good work and we’re proud to call you GlobalGivers!

freedom starts at home

Posted by Donna Callejon on July 4th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Independence Day in the United States.  On this day we celebrate our freedom from oppression, tyranny, and our equality, our freedom of speech and, among other things, right to pursue happiness.  Often these freedoms are framed in an historic and military context, dating back to 1776.   And they are framed with an eye toward meta- or country-level independence, freedoms and rights.

And while the USA  is a great country in many many ways, we still have a lot of work to do.   We have much to learn from other cultures and countries.  We are – and will always be – a work in progress.  And we have miles to go before these concepts are a reality for all of our citizens and residents.

So today, I share with you some fantastic organizations and projects working here in the United States of America, fighting every day to ensure that the ideals we celebrate on July 4th apply to all:

War Vets Heal with Help of Shelter Dogs

Protect 250 Women Immigrants fleeing violence

Stop Homophobic Bullying in Schools

Provide School-based Healthcare for Poor Kids

Happy 4th.

 

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – always open/never settle

Posted by Donna Callejon on June 26th, 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 guest-written by former and current staff members. Each will speak candidly about their experience at GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month, our Chief Business Officer, Donna Callejon, writes in honor of her 50th Birthday…

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I’ve been struggling with what to say on this blog post.  A love letter to Mari & Dennis?  Something about second chapters?  Something about turning 50 (me) and turning 10 (GlobalGiving) in the same year?  Argh…writer’s block.

Last week my friend Anna suggested I subscribe to something called “The ListServe.”  Here’s what it says on their one-page website: 

“This is an e-mail lottery.
One person a day wins a chance to write to
the growing list of subscribers. It could be you.”

The next day I got my first daily email.  It was kind of a mess and seemed like a waste of 30 seconds, so I sent Anna a snarky note underscoring my impatience.   To which she calmly replied, “Hang in there.”

 

 

The day after that I got this:

[The Listserve] Just Do It:  “That idea you have? Stop putting it off. Will it be difficult? Probably. Will you want to give up? Absolutely. But don’t. You have to persevere.

What about failure?Learn from it. Try again. Be smarter this time. Make new mistakes. There’s a story I heard once: it took Edison more than 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb. He remarked to a reporter that he had not failed, he had simply found 1,000 ways to not create a light bulb.

How about luck? You’ll need it. But don’t let that stop you. You can’t get lucky if you don’t even try.

Get started. Change something. Do something.
- Phil Crumm (undergrad at UCLA)

Thanks, Phil, Anna, our values, and this little exercise, for summing up what life has been like for me at GlobalGiving.

 

Stopping a crisis before it starts

Posted by Alison Carlman on May 30th, 2012

By Shonali Banerjee and Mattie Ressler

Right around this time last year, you might have heard about the famine in the “Horn of Africa.” The Horn of Africa comprises much of northeastern Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea. In 2011, incredibly poor rainfall in the Horn and neighboring Kenya and Tanzania lead to small harvests that didn’t produce enough food for the local people. These climate conditions, combined with some man-made political and economic factors, drove the region into famine. The United Nations declares a famine when 20 percent of households face extreme difficulty in finding enough to eat, over 30 percent of people experience acute malnutrition (a life-threatening state), and two nutrition-related deaths occur per day per 100,000 people.

Last year, thousands of GlobalGivers contributed nearly $600,000 to GlobalGiving partner organizations in response to the Horn of Africa famine. People like you provided food, clean water, emergency supplies, and medical services. We have no doubt that your contributions saved countless lives, for which mothers, fathers, and children will be forever grateful. Read our Horn of Africa fund updates for photos and updates about  how those donations were used.

Unfortunately, as we head into the summer months in the northern hemisphere again this year, we’re hearing about struggles in the Sahel.  The Sahel encompasses sections of many countries bordering the famous Sahara desert, stretching like a belt across the widest part of Africa.  Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and Senegal are all part of the Sahel–a brutally hot, drought-prone region.

This spring, the Sahel received insufficient rainfall: meaning that there is not enough water to sustain crops, livestock, and people. Although the Sahel often struggles with food insecurity, this year’s circumstances are far worse. Combined with other man-made factors, the Sahel has entered the early stages of what could be a terrible famine.  Sahel droughts endanger over 15 million people throughout various nations. That’s about three times more people than were impacted by the 2004 Indonesian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.  Many humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Association are sounding the alarm about the dangerous circumstances that are already beginning, due to the recent coup d’état in Mali and soaring global food prices.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake recently reached out to the international community at large, saying, “we are appealing, all of us, for an end to global indifference we have found so far.  I know there is a certain fatigue… but by acting vigorously and properly now, we can head off future crises.”

We here at GlobalGiving wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Lake and UNICEF’s belief that proactive measures are often better than reactive responses; prevention truly is better than a cure. For example, preparing water sources for 80,000 Ethiopians before a famine costs $900,000 and prevents death and suffering, but trucking water across the desert for 5 months costs $3 million, more than three times as much.

GlobalGiving partners with numerous organizations working to prevent disaster-like humanitarian conditions in the Sahel:

Famines are not high-profile emergencies like recent tsunamis, earthquakes or floods. The widespread concern with this type of humanitarian crisis is that it takes time to develop into a full-blown disaster, meaning that many fail to recognize the severity of the situation until thousands of lives are lost.

We’ve created a Sahel Relief Fund in order to provide support now before the situation becomes a full-blown disaster. It’s our hope that we, as the GlobalGiving community, will respond with our heads now to prevent suffering, rather than waiting for gut-wrenching images to move our hearts only after such suffering has taken place.

Thank you for being such a thoughtful, caring, and generous community. We are so grateful.

 

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – love at first click

Posted by Kevin Conroy on May 16th, 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 guest-written by former and current staff members. Each will speak candidly about their experience at GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month, our Director of User Experience and Product Development, Kevin Conroytalks about his learning while working at GlobalGiving…

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A little over five years ago I was working for a large, multinational consulting firm. I had a good job with a steady paycheck and incredible view from my 38th floor office. However, I wasn’t satisfied. I felt like I could be doing so much more with my skills. My wife suggested that I look for a nonprofit job.

I scoffed at her idea. The nonprofit world? I loved the idea of doing good, but didn’t think that my programming abilities would be of much use in the nonprofit world. You can’t code a new water well in Africa. Fixing bugs doesn’t help a poor child in India go to school. And planning a software project timeline certainly doesn’t address underlying societal and economic issues that created these conditions in the first place.

Despite these rational objections, my wife wouldn’t take no for an answer. She walked me to the computer and looked over my shoulder as I went to Idealist.org, typed “programming” into the box and skeptically clicked “search”.

The first result was for some nonprofit in Washington D.C. called the GlobalGiving Foundation. I clicked on the website and after about 30 seconds of browsing I turned to my wife and said: “This website is horrible. I have to work here.”

It was love at first click.

Kevin Conroy, Director of User Experience and Product Development

I could see from the website that GlobalGiving was doing amazing, innovative things to help small, grassroots nonprofits around the world. But they needed help. The outdated website used at the time needed to be better, faster, stronger. It needed to highlight  the incredible work that the grassroots projects were doing. It needed to let people easily search for a cause that the cared about. It needed to tell the heartwarming updates of change and deep social impact that was being made. And it needed to have a way for the people benefiting from the projects to have a voice and tell their stories.

I applied and when I went to the interview I was thrilled to discover that everyone at GlobalGiving already shared this vision. They saw GlobalGiving as more than just a website – it’s a platform for creating, discovering, and learning about social change. They wanted it to become a place for donors to find incredible projects and for people in communities anywhere in the world to join together to address the problems that they’re facing without waiting for the government to step in.

Needless to say, I accepted the job offer.

Five years later I’m pleased to say that with the help of my incredible co-workers we’ve fixed all of the problems on the site that I saw on that first click and have improved it in ways that I didn’t think were possible then. We’ve gone from helping a few hundred nonprofits at the time to helping more than 5,000 grassroots projects in 140+ countries.

My code may not build a well, but it can help the communities in Africa that need clean water get the funds that they need to build one. Fixing bugs won’t send a child to school, but it makes sure that tens of thousands of people can support projects that do. My project plans don’t even attempt to address the underlying, systemic problems of poverty, but we have planned and built tools that let people tell us the stories of the problems facing their communities, and from that, people have been able to create new programs and projects that address some of these underlying problems.

For me, the most important thing that I’ve learned these last five years isn’t stored in a source control tool, a binary executable, or even a database. It’s in the passion of my coworkers, our project partners, and our donors. No one is content to settle for the status quo. We are all passionate about improving our website, our projects, our organizations, and ultimately the world. No matter how much room for improvement we still have, it’s our ‘never settle’ attitude that created ‘love at first click’ for me, and is the most important thing that I’ve learned.

-Kevin Conroy

PS: If you’re a programmer looking for a way to make a bigger impact in the world with your skills, check out the nonprofit world. There’s a lot more going on than you’d think. If you’re interested, drop me a line. And if you’re interested in other opportunities, here are some amazing jobs from our friends at DonorsChoose and Kiva, plus many more on Idealist.org.

 

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…

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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.”