Friday, October 06, 2006

Don't Forget to Ask

The last decade has seen the rise of new financing tools for social entrepreneurs, and related, new ways for donors to give. Paul Newman's Supermarket Fundraising. Acumen's Investment Portfolio Model. Ashoka's stipend for up start Fellows. The GlobaFund for... women, children, human rights, environment -- the mutual funds of philanthropy. And of course, my personal favorite, the Global markets.

The markets aside, because they fundamentally allow personal choice, most of these models are attractive because they focus on the leveraged impact of each philanthropic dollar. Invest in health by investing in innovation. Invest dollars into financially sustainable models because your dollar with go farther. And, if you believe that each of these will contribute to the growth of a new financial service sector for nonprofits, as a donor you can buy into the value of building this infrastructure, along with making a social investment. The cost for the donor, of course, is personal choice and a personal connection.

The social sector, or the potential beneficiaries of this infrastructure, are embracing it. Many believe that the infrastrcuture itself is a cure-all to our resource needs. And to be sure, the infrastructure does address many of the ineffciencies -- capital going to the best sources and information flows that enable dynamic feedback loops (you know, the stuff of good markets).

However, for the time being, over 80% of the sector's resources are still going to come from individuals -- or put another way, individuals are still going to give directly to organizations, accounting for 80% the country's philanthropy. And to capture these resources, even with our fancy new infrastructure, we're still going to need to ask. This is the part of fundraising that makes nonprofits hate fundraising.

Asking people to part with their dollars. Most people find it embarassing. Others are afraid of the rejection.

Someone told me long ago that people want to give and if you ask, you're doing them a favor, you're making it easy for them to give. Having had to do a lot of fundraising in my short career, I've embraced that principle and, while it hasn't made me fearless, I've not not enjoyed the ask.

So this brings me to the GlobalGiving Olympics. A new competition we're running at GlobalGiving. Often, project leaders post projects; then, sit back and wait for their $1million check. GlobalGiving is building a market by finding ways to attract and retain a qualified donor base. But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of the tool.

- a project specific unit ensures donors where their funds are going
- project leaders are holding themselves accountable for specific activities and outputs
- any one donation is aggregated with others to increase the likelihood of project success
- costs of due diligence spread across multiple donations, utilized beyond just one transaction

The GlobalGiving project should be a tool as much for the project leader to use in 'making the ask' as it is for potential donors to make a contribution.

The GlobalGiving Olympics is designed to give 'asking' a competitive -- competitive like road races, competitive like Iron Chef. Competitive fun.

My hope is that the fun-factor could fun-damentally change the project leaders behaviors, get them seeing their own success.

My goal would be that they raise at least $75K amongst themselves.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From Tribeca to Tanzania

Wow. I'm actually a little shell-shocked having read this post, being a huge fan of both Keely's work, the Acumen Fund, and SocialEdge.

In short, on assignment for the Acumen Fund, Keely assumed the fake identity of a poor, pregnant, abused, single-mom; she went to New York Human Resource Administration in an attempt to procure social services (and was unsuccessful because she could not produce her fake social security card because she had left it behind as she 'escaped' her fake abusive boyfriend's house). After wasting an administrator's time to actually get this prognosis, she then went to a medical clinic to apply for a fake abortion. Unable to assist her, the medical clinic directed her to Planned Parenthood Federation who could not help her either. Not because her pregnancy was FAKE, but because she needed $500 of real dollars, which her fake identity did not possess.

Oh my.

Acumen's goal was to help Keely understand her clients -- the Poor.

Being in a position to understand your clients' perspective is not only noble, its critical for designing appropriate/relevant products and services. People learn to understand in many different ways and often experiential is the most effective.

There are, however, so many non-disruptive, ethical methods for gaining this experience. There are good immersion programs out there:

- Living with your constituency
- Managing for a day with the purchasing power of your constituency
- traveling without resources

Experiences like these help you learn desperation and helplessness. However, we must gain this perspective without abusing public resources, under false pretenses.

While Acumen's approach was creative for sure, it lacked the ethical fiber that I expect in any organization that understands the power of the social entrepreneur in social change. Social entrepreneurs are able to develop a broad base of support that is ultimately critical for changing behaviors at the individual level. To do this, they must be truly worthy of our trust; they must have the public's confidence.

Escapades such as Keely's is not worthy of our confidence or support.

It is disheartening and discouraging.