globalgiving Posts

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – committed to ‘WOW’

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, former ‘GlobalGiver’ Eli Stefanski talks about her important learning while working at GlobalGiving…

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My key learning from working at GlobalGiving?

Call everyone back within 24 hours.

Maybe you were expecting something more exciting? Something about the democratization of philanthropy? Something about the birth and evolution of social capital markets? For sure, I learned a lot about those things. But, first, and most importantly, I learned to call everyone back within 24 hours. Which, of course, isn’t about a communications policy, it’s about empathy.

It was a Dennis lesson, a ‘Dennis thing.’ I learned fast to pay attention to it. It was not part of the culture I had been raised in. It was not the culture that Dennis and Mari had been raised in either. And, well, that is sort of the point.

Elizabeth "Eli" Stefanski, former Director of Operations at GlobalGiving

For a few short months, this is how it would work:

As GlobalGiving’s first Director of Operations (and first Chief Program Officer) I was busy: I was busy raising capital; I was busy developing the richest and most diverse portfolio of projects; and I was busy trying to figure out how to fund and vet 400+ projects without violating the Patriot Act (and therein getting Mari and I arrested). I was so busy, that I occasionally missed an email or phone call from the social entrepreneur that Dennis had met on a plane on the way home from somewhere – a social entrepreneur who had shared his passion and aspirations with Dennis, a social entrepreneur who Dennis promised I could help.

In reality, I didn’t really ‘miss’ the call. The truth is, I didn’t really know how to deal with that one lone social entrepreneur. If I had vetted him, I would have had to vet all of them. Systems needed to be built – systems that previously didn’t always accommodate the outlier. The lone entrepreneur didn’t ‘fit’ my model. And so, from time to time, I avoided the call.

I would pay the price for that, however. The entrepreneur would invariably send Dennis a “thanks, but I guess you can’t help me” email, Dennis would forward it to me and hold me accountable, and well, I would feel like a mountain of manure. Not only because I knew I was in the wrong, but also because GlobalGiving was better than that. We knew how hard it was to be a social entrepreneur. We knew how hard it was to build something new, something transformative that hadn’t been done before. We knew how hard it was to build believers, attract users, convince investors, and ignore the naysayers. And day after day, we got up and kept with it – because we knew in our heart of hearts that we were building something important.

So the lesson about calling everyone back within 24 hours wasn’t about anything other than empathy, and building an empathetic organization that puts the beneficiary at the center of the design process – building systems around their needs.

This is why we:

  • Built a feedback system that gave project leaders real time feedback about what was working and what was not.
  • Designed evaluation tools that, instead of requiring longitudinal studies, relied on storytelling – the tool our entrepreneurs have in spades.
  • Created open mechanisms allowing all social entrepreneurs to participate on our platform, because we knew first hand how inaccessible the modern funding streams were.
  • Bankrolled relief efforts after the 2005 tsunami in Thailand without requiring proposals, because we knew social entrepreneurs were responding with or without the funds (and this is why we’ve responded many times since).

…And we learned to return phone calls within 24 hours – even when we couldn’t directly help.

It’s a lesson that took me a short time to learn at GlobalGiving – but it is the lesson that makes GlobalGiving great, and it is probably the most important lesson that any individual or organization can learn in a lifetime.

-Eli Stefanski

 

GlobalGiving Gets More Money to the Ground with FXecute

It’s a great week to be a GlobalGiving nonprofit partner (and donor!). We’re excited to share the news that we’ve launched a new system of payment disbursements that will save most of our international partners a significant amount of money. Hooray!

GlobalGiving is now implementing a new donation disbursement method for our international partners called FXecute. When compared to a traditional bank wire transfer, FXecute promises to save our international partners collectively hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in wire transfer fees and currency exchange premiums, getting more of our donors’ dollars to the ground.

FXecute delivers local currency to our partners’ international accounts via their country’s domestic ACH system (similar to a direct deposit) rather than using the typical international bank wire transfer system. Avoiding the intermediary bank and the beneficiary’s wire department, we are able avoid typical wire fees of $55, and in some cases as much as $95, per transfer.

In addition to saving on wire fees, GlobalGiving will be able to reduce the currency conversion premium on international disbursements from 3-11% (typical international wire transfer currency conversion rate) to 0.3-1% (FXecute’s conversion rate).

What does all of this mean? It means that a $1,000 disbursement to a partner in Kenya would have cost that organization $105 in bank fees and currency conversions before now, causing the organization to lose 10.5% of the donations on top of our 15% fee.  Today, that same $1,000 will be disbursed as $995, costing the Kenyan partner $5 in currency conversion fees – making the total cost of  the transfer less than one percent.

We’re doing the best to continually add benefits that make the GlobalGiving system more efficient and more valuable to our nonprofit partners every day. We’re pleased to roll out this new disbursement program this week, just in time for the holiday giving season!

 

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.

Why 15% Makes Sense

People sometimes ask me why we charge a 15% transaction fee.  My cheeky answer is, “So I can be sitting here having this conversation with you.”  As Chief Program Officer at GlobalGiving, my job is to make GlobalGiving more valuable to more organizations around the world.  We work with thousands of organizations, qualifying them, supporting them, disbursing funds to them, monitoring their activities, and maintaining an online platform for them to connect with donors.  Work at this scale would be impossible with an all-volunteer team.  Without great people and robust systems working full-time, GlobalGiving does not work.

Could we find a large donor to fund operations, making the ongoing transactions free?  Maybe, but we believe a transaction-based fee is a better idea.  Funders like Skoll Foundation, Omidyar Network, Hewlett Foundation, Packard Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Kellogg Foundation have invested in our effort to make the transaction-based model work, and we’re almost there.  The model gives GlobalGiving a strong incentive to invest in the performance of our marketplace, which aligns nicely with our partner organizations’ goals and the needs of donors – the more funds flowing, the greater the social impact.  We are motivated to build better tools for donors and project leaders, we aggressively court corporate partners, we attract donors through a strong social media presence, we offer free training and development opportunities to our project leaders, and we find innovative ways to demonstrate results.  We strive to earn our 15%, and GlobalGiving only works if we deliver the value.

So, why do organizations decide that 15% is good value?  We connect them with new donors, we provide donor management tools, and for some organizations we save the expense of maintaining a transactional web platform.  For international organizations, the ability receive tax-deductible contributions in a secure, transparent platform is worth the 15%.  We do not charge organizations an up front fee to participate in GlobalGiving, so fees only exist when donations flow, and we’re careful to explain the fee to all prospective organizations.  Donors should feel good giving to organizations on GlobalGiving, because each organization calculates that our platform is worth 15%.  Donors always have the option of covering that 15%, and over 50% do just that.  Donors should expect to receive quarterly updates and can exercise the GlobalGiving Guarantee if the experience doesn’t meet expectations.  We just finished our best year yet, delivering more funding to more organizations than ever before.

That said, our 15% does not work for many organizations.  For organizations that maintain a web site with transaction processing, or have a staff dedicated to donor management, or do not like to accept project-specific funding, GlobalGiving is probably not a good fit, and that’s fine.  If a donor simply wants to fund general operations of a US nonprofit, that donor should give through that organization’s web site or a portal like Network for Good, both of which have lower fees.

Our commitment to this model holds us directly accountable to the donors and organizations connecting on our platform.  Organizations and donors do not have to use GlobalGiving  If we are not worth our 15%, people will stop transacting, and GlobalGiving will not survive.  If we are worth our 15%, more transactions will happen, we will continue to improve the platform, and we might just improve the efficiency of giving to the most effective organizations worldwide.

Farewell (But I’m not going far)

After ten fabulous years at GlobalGiving, I fully turned over the reins to my co-founder, Mari Kuraishi, at the end of December.  This completes a transition that we began in 2008.

Although the decision to step down was hard, I feel that now is the right time.  We have proven the concept, established a world-class online platform, and made a big impact. When we started ten years ago, the idea of an open-access approach to aid and philanthropy seemed radical; it is now becoming the new norm.

To date, we have helped direct over $47 million to 3,000 organizations in 110 countries.  This funding has come from nearly 140,000 individual donors as well as from many of the world’s most innovative companies, along with their employees and customers.  We have been featured in over forty books and countless magazine articles, radio and TV pieces, and online media. Our success has spurred similar initiatives in other sectors and countries, and we now partner with some of these organizations to push the whole sector ahead.

Our accomplishments and momentum are the product of an amazing team here at GlobalGiving.  Our people are stellar, but more importantly they all work together like a finely oiled machine.  Our project team, donor team, business development team, tech team, finance team, and operations team work seamlessly. They can move new ideas, opportunities, and features from concept to execution and evaluation faster than any organization I have ever worked with.  I really am in awe of the people I have had the privilege to work with at GlobalGiving.

In late 2000, Mari and I left the World Bank to pursue a simple idea: that everyone in the world with an idea for improving their world should be able to have their voice heard.  We believed that any person, company, or organization should be able to support the ideas directly.  Not everyone would succeed, of course, but everyone would have an opportunity.  We had spent our previous careers in aid agencies that granted access to ideas and funding to only a select few.  We thought the time had come for   an open-access market connecting ideas with funding that provided a level playing field for all bona fide participants.

We also felt that with open access should come increased transparency and accountability – and an emphasis on continuous improvement. Our idea was that groups seeking funding should have their proposals displayed publicly, should be willing to answer questions from potential supporters, and should provide frequent updates on the site so that donors could see the impact of their support.  We felt that beneficiaries and others should be able to post reviews and comments on the site for everyone to see. We felt that organizations that learn and adapt should be encouraged and rewarded.  We felt that donors should be able to talk to each other about which projects and organizations they supported, and why.

Though we have not yet achieved everything we set out to do, the bottom line is this: For the first time in history, any group pursuing good in the world can now have its voice heard.  And donors of all sizes are empowered to make a tangible contribution to good in the world by connecting to those groups.  I could not be more proud of that.

Even as I turn over all day-to-day responsibility to Mari, I will remain very active in GlobalGiving.  I will be out there raising awareness, raising money, and advancing the mission.  I believe that over the last ten years we have laid the foundation for our next act, in which GlobalGiving’s impact will be ten times greater.  I intend to help make that happen.

In the first half of 2011, I plan to devote more time to writing and speaking on the general concepts behind GlobalGiving, which are applicable in many other sectors and endeavors.  During that time I will do some consulting for organizations that are looking to break down barriers so that they can unleash the potential of their own people, constituents, and customers.

Finally, I want to thank you for your encouragement and support over the years.  We could not have done it without you, and I am profoundly grateful for what you have done, in ways both big and small.