Monday, October 30, 2006

Power to the Peace Corps!

Did you know that there are about 200,000 returned Peace Corps Volunteers and staff? This is an extraordinary untapped reservoir of people who have lived in developing countries, understand the issues that local communities face, and have a passion for making the world a better place.

GlobalGiving has recently launched a partnership with the National Peace Corps Association that empowers former Peace Corps volunteers to band together to support high impact projects in the countries where they lived and worked. The Friends of Burkina Faso, the Friends of Thailand, and the High Atlas Foundation are helping launch this initiative.

Much of the credit for leading this belongs to Tony Gambino, a former volunteer in Congo. His blog is here - check it out.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Is it really just all about ME?

Is philanthropy really just selfishness? Tim Hartford writes about the "generosity" of Americans, who donate nearly 2 percent of total national income to philanthropic causes. This is twice as much as the British give away and fifteen times as much as the Germans give away.

But, Tim says, another way to look at this is that Americans are "98 percent selfish." Worse, he says that much giving is motivated by personal concerns for status or vanity.

Tim refers to an ongoing debate on Tyler Cowen's blog about whether it makes the most sense to give all one's money to a single cause or project, or whether it is better to spread the money around. He concludes that if people were really altruistic that they would give all their money to the single thing they think would have the highest impact. Since people don't act this way, they are therefore acting on other motives, he says.

Tim's conclusion on this front demonstrates just how far economics has not come in the last 20 years since I was in grad school. Back then, we were required to apply standard approaches to what economists call "utility" to come up with exam answers that plainly contradicted the way the world worked.

Despite many years of research costing many millions of dollars, no one has been able to figure out how to rank the impact of better education versus better health versus better roads versus better jobs. Which of these has higher value? The answer is, it depends. It depends on the place, it depends on the time, it depends on the circumstances, and it depends on the preferences of the individual people involved. The best outcome is one in which those preferences can be clearly described and efficiently pursued by both the beneficiaries and the funders.

Nonetheless, Tim's article does raise a much deeper philosophical debate. Why do - and should - people give away money? My view is that a very small number of people give money for purely altruistic reasons in a manner that makes them feel bad. It is true that some people give money out of guilt or because they are told to do it, against their will, by some higher authority.

But most people give because it makes them feel good on some level. I personally give money to good projects because it feels good to contribute something to a project that uses my money effectively to help other people. If that is "selfish," then so be it - I am proud of being selfish in this sense.

So altruism and selfishness are not mutually exclusive. And the two together, when practiced on a large scale by a large number of people, can power major social, economic, and environmental benefits.

Barry Gaberman gave a talk a couple of years back where he argued that all of the small givers in the US, when aggregated, undoubtedly have a greater impact than the large foundations everyone talks about. This was a pretty strong statement coming from the #2 at one of the largest of those institutions (the Ford Foundation).

This is why GlobalGiving exists - to provide a transparent, efficient way for donors of all sizes to choose the projects they think will have the highest impact in a variety of different ways.

[Update 10/28/06: To be fair, both Tim and Tyler are excellent economists and all around smart guys whose writings and opinionsi I respect highly and are worth listening to. The purpose of this post was only to demonstrate how (a) newspaper columns can require people to condense arguments to such a degree that they involve major leaps of faith (or at least logic) on the part of the readers, and (b) the degree to which economists and those from other disciplines will strain to make reality fit their standard models, rather than revising their models to fit reality, which is naturally much harder.]

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Katya Andresen : Get to the Point

When I lived in Madagascar, people would open the tombs of their dead relatives each winter, pull out the cloth-wrapped corpses of their loved ones and dance with them held aloft.

That is the first sentence of Katya Andresen's new blog. It is called Getting to the Point about the art of marketing for non-profits. She is by far one of the best voices out there on this topic. The blog has just started, but if her past writing, including Robin Hood Marketing, is any indication, it will be worth adding to your RSS feeds.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

West Coast vs East Coast - Yin and Yang

I continue to be struck by the difference in attitudes toward innovation on the west vs. east coasts. Recently, I have spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, and a lot of time in New York City.

A typical response to us from people on the West Coast is "You are underselling the game-changing potential of GlobalGiving. This thing could change philanthropy the way eBay changed shopping, Google changed search, iTunes changed music, and MeetUp and MoveOn have changed politics. We need to think much bigger about this."

By contrast, a very successful financier on the East Coast recently said "Send me all the numbers and let me look at it. I'll see if it makes sense to invest a little, or whether the whole operation needs to be cut down to size."

You can imagine what would have happened if an entrepreneur had pitched eBay, Google, Hotmail, Amazon, YouTube, or something similar in New York. They would have been "cut down to size" pretty quickly.

On the other hand, successful startups need finance from New York - to go public and sustain themselves in the big equity and debt markets. So to be fair, Silicon Valley and New York City are the Yin and Yang of the extraordinary innovation that emanates from the US.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

GlobalGiving Olympics - "And they're off..!"

Thanks to a very generous - and creative - donor, we have been able to launch a number of innovative contests this year. And I am happy to introduce what I think could be the best so far - the GlobalGiving Olympics.

The GlobalGiving Olympics is a competition for $75,000 in prize funding — $50,000 for the project receiving the most money from donations, and $25,000 to be shared by the country team generating the most donation volume. The competition launched on October 9 and will run through October 31.

I urge you to check it out, and to support your favorite project - or country.

FYI, here is what we told the current project leaders in a recent communication:

How to win

  • MOBILIZE your supporters to help your project or country win by making donations and telling their friends and colleagues to do the same.
  • COMMUNICATE to let everyone know exactly how they can put your project in first place. Use newsletters, websites, blogs, and email to spread the word about the Olympics and how people can participate.
  • ENCOURAGE existing donors to make a contribution to your project on GlobalGiving, and send them your project link so they know exactly how to give.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dave Johnson Blogs the Clinton Initiative

If you are interested in more detail on the happenings at the Clinton Global Initiative that I wrote about earlier, here is a good blog by Dave Johnson, courtesy of the Skoll Foundation's Social Edge.

Dave writes:

So have I been overly impressed? Am I a starry-eyed Clintonista, blind to the dark realities? I don’t live in the middle of philanthropy issues in my daily life, but I am not aware of a get-things-done conference like this, and especially of this magnitude, occurring before.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

An eBay for Philanthropy

Even before Peter Schwartz described GlobalGiving (then called DevelopmentSpace) as "an eBay for development" in 2002, we have been proud of our association with the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, and eBay's first president, Jeff Skoll.

Pierre has launched the Omidyar Network and Jeff the Skoll Foundation to support innovative initiatives that catalyze good in the world. If you hear of a really interesting new idea (or movie - Jeff Skoll has also been producing movies), there is a good chance that either Pierre or Jeff is behind it.

So I was especially pleased when Bill Clinton began adopting the same metaphor for his own Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). The CGI is remarkable for the fact that people who attend have to commit to actually DOING something - they can't just talk. Here is a nice clip from Clinton on the Daily Show, where he notes the power of the internet to allow basically anyone in the world to DO something - and the extent to which a lot of small $10, $20, or $100 donations can have a major impact. He observes that after the tsunami, 30% of Americans contributed $1.2 billion (50% of which was online) to the tsunami recovery.