Monday, December 14, 2009

New Research on Online Giving Marketplaces

I am delighted to share some new research - including a spreadsheet of data and an analytic memo - on online giving markets. The research was done by David Koken, a Coro fellow, while he was working at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Let's get the caveats out of the way right up front, as the report and database state:
“This report was researched and written by David Koken, a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, as a project for the Hewlett Foundation’s Philanthropy department. This work was discussed and overseen by the Hewlett Foundation; however, the final product does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation or its staff.”
The research looks at 55 websites that provide users with information and/or transactional capacity (gift making) for charitable activity. All of the information in the report was gleaned from public pages on the sites and an email survey (14 of 50 respondents).

Here is the Report on Scribd:

Nonprofit Marketplace Report (D Koken)

Here is the report on Google Docs:

The 55 sites are divided into three categories: information, investments, and donations.

The first type (10 sites) provides information only - transactions are not facilitated through the site. The second type (7 sites) allows for investments seeking both financial and social/environmental returns and the third type (50 sites) facilitate charitable donations only. The sites were categorized by primary and secondary functions (explaining the double categorization) since most of the investment and donation sites also provide information.

This categorization alone is useful and confirms our claim in the Disrupting Philanthropy paper that these markets are - individually and in the aggregate - important new information features in the giving ecosystem. SocialActions knows this best - working collaboratively to pull data from some of these sites (and others) to create a cloud of mixable actions.

While 55 sites were studied, 10 of the sites accounted for 80% of the traffic. These ten are compared according to several characteristics, ranging from the type of data they provide, to site functionality (user comments, social networking) to geographic/issue specificity.

The database is also available. Here you can find out more about each of the platforms, including the type of listings they offer (project, cause, organization), the geographic focus, and what types of data are provided for each listing. I'm including two links to the database because the spreadsheet formatting got a little funky.

Here is the database on Scribd:

The Online Giving Platform Database (D Koken)

Here is the database on Google Docs.

So have a look at the database and the report. You may find something in the data that is more interesting than any of the tidbits I pulled out - if so, please let me know. (Comment below or twitter @p2173 or to The Hewlett Foundation @Hewlett_Found). If you tweet me I may repost your tweet as a comment. You may disagree with some of the findings, or wish that they'd collected different information, or have other input on the database - please let us know.

What do you think about the proliferation of these sites? I wish the database included year of founding so we could look for rates of formation (and, eventually, rates of closure). What other data about the identified sites are missing? Do you agree with the "comprehensive" quotient that aggregates the features counted? Is there a better way to think about rating these sites? Given the number of sites, how does a user know which one to use?

Do you think 55 sites is too few or too many? Are there important sites that were overlooked? (I know there are sites missing from the database because if you sit still for 10 minutes new sites pop up and it took me 10 minutes to write this post). Will this research encourage new site developers to do something else, do something different, do something better? How many of the 55 sites can sustain themselves?

Do geographies or issues benefit from having their own sites or are general sites appropriate? What is key to distinguishing these sites from each other? Does the fragmentation that 55 sites represents speak to possibilities for cross-platform data analysis as we predict in Disrupting Philanthropy?

At another level, what do you think of a foundation sharing its raw data collection in this way? What are some uses for the data and report? Will existing sites use it? Those who are thinking of creating new sites? Innovators looking for the next opportunity on the information landscape? Other funders? What other examples are you aware of where foundations have commissioned something like this and then put it out into public domain for general use? What about doing it through a 3rd party (me, in this case)?

Here's my read on all of the above: this experience - being asked by Hewlett to share the data, reading the research and reflecting on it, and thinking about the role of this blog in the philanthropy information ecosystem.

1) Hats off to Hewlett for sharing this information - doing so fits with their well-publicized talk about improving philanthropy; their increasing openness on their own web site, sharing logic models, grant applications and the like; and their recognition that the data they collect for their own purposes may well be useful to others (After all, knowledge is a philanthropic resource too).

2) The data we collect reflect the questions we were asking. So you may well have other questions about the market of online giving marketplaces that these data don't answer. But now you have a starting place from which to move ahead. For all of those folks who've approached me over the last several months and years with their idea for the "next great" online marketplace for donors, I really hope you will use these data as baseline market research.

3) This may prompt other data sharing. There is other research on these markets - some of which is public, some of which has not been shared.

4) What does sharing this info through philanthropy2173 mean? I was honored to be offered the chance and saw it as fitting right in with what I use this blog for - sharing information, asking questions, playing with ideas, getting feedback, and making sense of (or at least tracking) data points, patterns, and trends. But what do you think it means, if anything?


Adin Miller said...

Lucy, this is such a great post. David’s report is exactly the type of overview I have been looking for. However, there are some additional issues that I think he ignores that should be recognized.

I raised a few of these issues briefly on the Chronicle of Philanthropy online discussion on 2010 trends last week and posted more on the subject this morning ( In short, many nonprofits do not even know their profiles exist on these platforms (and as your rightfully note, they seem to breed like rabbits). They, therefore, cannot even direct possible supporters to a particular service nor rightfully manage how they are profiled on the platforms. That might explain David’s conclusion that “many of the potentially important services provided by these platforms remain critically underutilized, which diminishes their value.”

Other issues I noted for nonprofits focus on how they can best identify and manage their profiles and social communities on these platforms. Specifically:

• How does a nonprofit (especially midsized and smaller organizations) identify and monitor all the online donation websites that have a profile of that organization?
• How does a nonprofit monitor and engage with the associated communities on online donation websites?
• How does the organization rightfully claim its profile on the online donation websites and manage the data?
• How will the online donation websites ensure that someone does not maliciously take control of the account by fraudulently gaining access to the nonprofit organization’s profile?

David’s report also does not look into the platforms’ relationships with GuideStar. Many of them extract the data directly, although its left unclear as to whether or not they have a formal partnership agreement with GuideStar. Last, David briefly touches on a different issue I encountered. There is a tremendous difference in how much platforms charge for an online donation. I looked at four platforms in depth and found four different fee structures ranging from 0% to 7.5%. Hopefully, the donor can identify which platform will provide the most funds to the intended charity.


Jocelyn said...


Thanks for this report! I'll dig in more and give you my comments.

On another note, I knew I made the right decision to move to Care2!

Warm regards,


Dog said...

Hi Lucy, I don't see any data on the traffic rankings among the top 10. If the top one or two of the top 10 get 80% of the traffic, listing all ten might be misleading, I wonder why he didn't show the rankings and compare between platforms if traffic is on the the main points of the post. Thanks for sharing this though, very interesting.