Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More on marketplaces and magic

Thanks to the folks at DonorsChoose for responding to yesterday's post - see their comments here. DC was responding to my assertion that part of the reason DC is so effective is that it supports causes to which donors can relate - schools, teachers, classrooms. Here are the data that DC sent over:

"53% of our donors do not have children. Of those with children, 73% attend or attended public schools. When asked "What about the DonorsChoose mission most inspired you to give?" only 25% cited education ("supporting teachers" or "supporting students") while 67% cited our giving platform ("Directing my dollars to exactly where I want to help," "Level of choice DC offers," "Level of accountability DC offers," and "Ease of giving via the Internet.") The remaining 8% said "Other".

So, my guess that having school-age children was a motivating factor for donors was wrong. However, the data above don't discount my point that donors can relate to the opportunities presented because they themselves went to school. Is it fair to assert that some significant percent of DC donors graduated from high school - thereby experiencing the full realm of K-12 experiences that the DC grant opportunities represent? Does DC have data on the educational attainment level of their donors?

The data above do point to the power of the platform itself as a tool - and DC is (and has been) roundly congratulated for that. I don't - and didn't - disagree with Alter on the effectiveness of the tool. My point is more fundamental, and I'm clearly not convinced that I'm wrong (yet). Donors motivations are not rational. Emotion, empathy, history, personal experience are all factors in what donors support. Technology can help increase their generosity, or direct gifts in ways that might otherwise not be feasible. I don't think technology is going to foster or create motivation where it isn't already present.

Parsing the data above a little more closely actually seems to support this point (of course, I'm good at convincing myself). As the data suggest, donors who use DC don't see themselves as driven by a desire to support education. Their interests in:
  • "Directing my dollars to exactly where I want to help,"
  • "Level of choice DC offers,"
  • "Level of accountability DC offers," and
  • "Ease of giving via the Internet."
are all possible because - at a personal level, informed by their own experiences - they know what a difference a teacher's video camera, classroom materials, field trips, etc. can make for a kid. Donors can use the incredible tools that DC offers because they implicitly understand why the gifts matter on the receiving end.

If this same system were set up to try to attract donors to support other issues - as Alter proposed in his Slate article - how would the technology facilitate that personal connection, the basic understanding and empathy that motivates donors?

There are experts in facilitating this more distant 'empathetic and quantifiable giving.' They include organizations such as GlobalGiving, SavetheChildren, and Heifer International. Online giving to disaster relief - the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and Pakistan earthquake all come to mind - also show that this can be done.

The experiences and success of these tools show how wonderful they are for episodic, event-specific, or one-time giving. Especially when hearts strings can be tugged. But there is nothing technologically magic here - those old magazine ads with Sally Struthers and a forlorn child, that we in the west could support for $12 /year - did the same thing. The technology saves us from having to clip the coupon out of the magazine. It makes the giving faster and more efficient, and in the case of directed options such as DonorsChoose or Heifer International, allows us to know exactly what percentage of a teacher's video camera or a milk-producing heifer we are paying for.

Technology is great - it facilitates, accelerates, and expands existing giving behaviors. What remains to be seen is what needs to happen with and to technology to change those behaviors.

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