Philanthropy Goes Direct, Part II

In our last installment, we discussed our client’s successful GoFundMe campaign as one example of the rise of crowdfunding which connects causes directly to donors, bypassing the middleman. In particular, we reviewed how relational giving has evolved most recently through social platforms like DonorsChoose.org, the first of two game-changers, which is “connecting the public to public schools.”

But relational giving’s evolution didn’t stop at social media. Meet the donation game-changing app.

Game-Changer #2: DonorsChoose.org

With social media, donors can “choose,” but now an app lets them “see” as well: an app called DonorSee helps international aid-workers raise directly immediate funds for specific situations. DonorSee is the brainchild of one humanitarian worker, Gret Glyer, who lived in Malawi for three years after leaving a fast-track job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car for something he felt was more “fulfilling” than being “really good at renting cars to people.”

He also had done aid work in Haiti, and, between the two experiences, his view of traditional philanthropy seems a bit, well, jaded. He complains that international humanitarian institutions like World Vision waste far too much money, are too slow and bureaucratic and lack both transparency and accountability.

The vast majority of charities are blowing your money. I say that as someone who lived in a third world country for three years and was on the other side of the world when that money was supposedly being spent. So, I was there when the executives of these big charities were coming and staying in nice hotels, eating really nice meals. And I was there when I saw tons of shoes…that were never distributed but they were reported as distributed. There’s no accountability whatsoever, there’s no transparency….

No stranger to institutions, Glyer has, in fact, founded a Malawi girl’s school as well as HOWMs, a company to crowdfund Malawi multi-family residences. But in January 2016 Gret Glyer had an idea to streamline the donation process be enabling donors to directly fund projects through an app resembling Instagram. It would allow users to scroll through a series of pictures representing specific fundraising needs, with descriptions underneath each.

Like DonorsChoose.org, these individual needs, often on behalf of a single individual or family, would be relatively low cost. Instead of building a hospital, a particular cause might be to pay an accident victim’s $100 doctor bill or purchase a wheelchair or replace a roof. But DonorSee would emphasize transparency and accountability: donors would be able to log in after each project closed and see a picture or video of their funds in action.

Glyer developed a business plan and mockups and hired for his “life savings, basically” of $7000 a Ukrainian developer to build a low-cost prototype he showed to investors. Upon Glyer’s return to the United States last July he had generated enough interest and funds to launch DonorSee with a development team and began partnering with local aid workers across the globe.

After only four months, DonorSee was raising funds for 40 countries. The expansion continues: you can “follow” different aid workers to get notifications on their latest projects; you can promote projects of special importance to you on DonorSee and other social platforms; and Glyer predicts a “YouTube-like” recommendation engine by the end of this year.

As a for-profit enterprise, DonorSee tapped venture capital which facilitated the rapid expansion. The site touts itself as “proudly NOT tax-deductible,” but with fees of “a flat 4%…20% less than both GoFundMe and Kickstarter.” The FAQ continues: “Our focus is on getting your money to their respective needs in the most efficient and direct way possible. If you want a tax write off, DonorSee is not the right place for you. If you want to make an impact in the lives of real people, give through DonorSee!”

But not everyone is impressed. According to the National Review, the Peace Corps not only rejected the app, but threatened to fire any employee using it to raise funds, saying only that using the app violates the organizations’ rules. We wanted to know why more direct crowdfunding through an app would pose problems, so we contacted the Peace Corps’ press office in Washington, DC, but, despite two separate assurances that the press team was working on a response to our questions, the Peace Corps has still not commented as of press time.

Game-Changer #3: Bots

But crowdfunding’s evolution continues. Social media was ten years ago, and apps were five. This year the technology gaining prominence for streamlining information exchanges is bots, programs that engage in rules-based conversation like Siri, Cortana or the 12,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger.

Each enables users to engage in (mostly) natural dialogue, without the need for a human on the other end, to acquire information, products, services—and, now, to give back through crowdfunding. As DonorSee develops its recommendation engine, DonorsChoose.org’s data science team analyzes giving patterns and donation-request trends and thousands of other experts review the increasing wealth of philanthropy data, bots’ sophistication will only grow.

charity: water claimed to be the first organization to accept donations on Messenger upon the launch of its bot last Summer. While still buggy, according to both our own testing and others’, it’s a great first step and paves the way for many more. Just consider the ability of bots to search through policy initiatives, funds allocation data, campaigns and donor history to provide stakeholders the specific information they need through instant messaging, instead of painstaking searches across multiple websites.

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About NSI Partners

A digital marketing company with almost two decades of experience, NSI Partners helps clients achieve robust results in search marketing, social media, and other digital marketing spaces.

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