Sunday, September 28, 2008

What’s online got to do with it?

On October 8, the Stanford Social Innovation Review will host a conference on online giving marketplaces. I’m thrilled to see these platforms are finally getting the attention they are due (and also delighted to be moderating one of the panel discussions). Over the years I’ve paid a lot of attention to these sites – which include GlobalGiving, Kiva, NetworkForGood, GiveIndia, HelpArgentina, DonorsChoose, GiveMeaning, and GreaterGood South Africa – and dozens of others, check out socialactions for a mashup of 30+ platforms.

But why do these sites matter? Is it is just giving as we’ve always known it, but faster, more global, and with multi-media interactivity? Or is there something else, something more transformative, going on here? Why are these sites proliferating and what differentiates them from each other?

Here are a few ways these platforms are important beyond just their speed and glitz factors.

  1. These sites enable small gifts to be aggregated – by the donors – and let donors manage portfolios of their giving. This is a baseline for ultimately getting to more strategic giving.
  2. Online giving platforms provide a potential source of data about giving trends and patters, in something approximating real time.
  3. They could provide a common backbone for donation transactions.
  4. They are positioned to gather real feedback and input from people within funded institutions, as well as beneficiaries of them (see GreatNonprofits for more on this possibility).
  5. They might serve as “early warning signals” about issues or giving patterns.
  6. There are already emerging connections between “online giving platforms” and “social investors” and “social stock exchanges” – it only makes sense that new metrics systems, reporting tools, and portfolio assessment tools will come next.
  7. These sites are specifically set up as marketplaces – with buyers and sellers connected by interests – a framework distinct from the way nonprofits and donors usually talk of themselves, and one that has both advantages and disadvantages.
  8. We have not yet seen real interconnectivity between online giving platforms and “offline” donor services – is this next and what might the results of such partnerships look like?
The speakers at Stanford, a list which includes founding executives and board members of several of the sites named above, will surely have more ideas to add to the list above. The conference has been moved to a larger venue as the original site sold out. Information on logistics is here. If you can’t attend, but have key questions you’d like to ask send them to me at lucy (at) blueprintrd (dot) com and I’ll do my best to get them asked, answered, and reported out via blog post.


bethp said...

Hi Lucy,

Your list of important factors provides a great analysis of the power of these social media platforms. I would go so far as to say that the "glitz" factor is relatively unimportant, though speed/ease of use is certainly a huge consideration. To add to your list, I've got a couple of fundraising pages up on Along with the points you mention, fundraising with Firstgiving eliminates the awkwardness of asking people for money.

A related note--I was reminded today of a tenant of fundraising: "People give to success, not to need" at the Extreme Fundraising Blog: I'm now able to create fundraising pages oriented toward opportunity and with a sense that something interesting and effective is happening, rather than raising a plea for help. The need is certainly there, but these platforms make connecting to that need more hopeful and accessible.

I also really appreciate the question you raise with #8. Online fundraising definitely has the potential to move from a niche to a primary source of income for NPOs, but in the meantime, coordination between online and offline donor services should invested in.

Jason said...

I'm excited about what the future of online giving will look like. With the current organizations that are already so highly innovative it will be exciting to see what happens next.