Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Seattle Foundation Giving Center


The Seattle Foundation announced its new online giving site today. Community foundations have been rolling out this kind of information for several years now but this is different.

Disrupting Philanthropy is all about this kind of knowledge sharing. When we wrote On the Brink of New Promise in 2006 we said this kind of information sharing was going to be key. When I published Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets in 2004 I said this kind of information sharing was going to be key. When I first went to work for community foundations in 1990 I tried to find ways to share this kind of information.*

So why shout out about the Seattle site? It is not the first of these sites but it does do a couple of things right and worth noting:
  1. It is open to anyone - you don't need to be a community foundation donor to use the information. You don't even need to register or log in until you decide to donate.
  2. It is "social web" savvy - you can link to twitter, facebook, delicious, etc. from anywhere on the site. When you link to the organizations through Facebook, etc the links take you back to the Seattle Foundation Giving Center information. This should help donors, nonprofits and the community foundation spread information about their interests' quickly and using today's tools. It also positions the site to "power" all kinds of community driven, individually developed giving challenges, etc. It should help the information go viral.
  3. Each nonprofit profile (and I'm told there are 700) provides information on the organization, the strategies deployed, the financials and "similar organizations"
  4. It puts a donor's choices ALMOST all in one place - research strategies, read more about certain strategies, find similar organizations, check the financials, read Foundation staff evaluations of an organization, give through the foundation, create a fund at the foundation, or contact the Foundation staff. The only shortcoming - the "donate now" button doesn't take you directly to the nonprofit's site to make a gift. At this point you have to login as a Foundation fund holder for some organizations - for others you can make a credit card donation or login. I don't know why this direct donation feature isn't universal. This is too bad. Otherwise, the way this information is provided is key - it puts the foundation's expertise front and center - and recognizes and encourages all of the many different ways donors will want to use that information.
  5. Presents information on accomplishments - both in the organizational evaluation section and under each category of giving.
  6. Avoids jargon. Amazingly enough, the site is written in plain English.
Of course, I have lots of questions about what might be next steps from this good start. The front end interface seems well designed - with the exception of the "donate now" hoop which sometimes lets you make a credit card donation to the organization and other times requires you to be fundholder at the foundation -it is not clear why this is the case. The site should let you click through and make a donation directly for all organizations. It is notable that the Foundation is not taking a cut of the credit card transaction fees.

The momentum and success (as in so many things) are going to depend on how well the Foundation can encourage people to use it, share it, adapt it, refer to it, link to it, build from it. In other words, (as always) it's going to be about the community, not the technology.
  • I'd love to know what the Foundation's plans are for promoting this site - will they use community challenges the way The Columbus Foundation has?
  • How have they and how will they continue to work with the Kings County nonprofits to share the information, get support from key donors and board members of those organizations, encourage them to use and promote it, and generally make it a win-win?
  • How will they involve the community in updating, maintaining and adding information to the site? Might they partner with GreatNonprofits or other review sites to get some information from outside experts?
  • Will they encourage other foundations and funders to share their information - either through through this giving center or on their own sites? Microsoft gave the Foundation a grant to build the site - will they also share their information on nonprofits and community strategies through the site?
  • How might they connect this information with the terrabytes of information on nonprofits and community issues that Kings County, the City of Seattle, major corporate funders in the region, wealth managers, giving circles or other private foundations in the area might have?
  • Will they open up some of the datasets and encourage local programmers and developers to create new apps for the data? Or let the organizations on the site use the data to advance their work?
  • And the question all other community foundations (as well as other charity rating and information sites) are surely asking - how will they pay for the site over time? What is the business model?
This site is the best I've seen in terms of re-positioning a community foundation's assets. It leads with information and expertise - locally sourced, relevant, and highly accessible.

*Luckily, my first community foundation jobs were at places that actively shared information on nonprofits with their donors - using (gasp!) - paper and pencil. We may also have used HyperCard for Macs - or I may be having a senior moment remembering that.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the site Lucy. Even practiced donors want help with good context and ideas from trusted peers on effective programs.

I agree Seattle's site is a top example for community foundations. And, I definitely agree it could be a groundbreaking model if it incorporated content, ratings, viewpoints from other funders and resources in town. Too many CFs treat these types of sites as secret exclusive knowledge - a failing business model. Would be cool if Seattle also embed multimedia stories.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for the comment - and I agree, the suggestion for multimedia stories is a good one. Let's hope they take full advantage of what they've built to let the community use it and improve it


Fred Silverman said...

The site is definitely a breakthrough in the field. I'm curious about the evaluation info. Where there is content, it all seems positive (I didn't look at all of them.) Are they going to post negative comments as well? And, are the evaluations from foundation staff exclusivley?

Lucy Bernholz said...

Fred - great questions. I'm going to be following up with some of the Fndn staff about the issues and opportunities I raised above and will ask these questions as well. In my opinion, for this to work, it really has to keep going in the direction of community use, access, participation and contribution to content - that's what's cool about the platform as they built it and that is the direction I hope it keeps going.