Democratizing philanthropy while empowering high-performing non profits

A talk with Leap Ambassador Mari Kuraishi, President of GlobalGiving, on how technology-driven philanthropy can help increasing the effectiveness of social sector organizations

Democratizing philanthropy while empowering high-performing non profits

GlobalGiving is a crowdfunding community that connects nonprofits, donors, and companies in nearly every country around the world. Since 2002 the platform has transferred more than $258 million to vetted nonprofits that GlobalGiving supports to build their capacity and rewards for their commitment to continuously learn and improve the social impact they create.

I had the chance of discussing the platform’s model and its approach to support effectiveness with Mari Kuraishi, co-founder and president of GlobalGiving and Leap Ambassador.


Let’s start by presenting the goal of GlobalGiving. Could you highlight the motivation that led you to creating this platform and explain how it works?

We founded GlobalGiving at the end of 2001: after having worked for many years in international development with a top-down approach at the World Bank, we figured out that, if you want to support community development, sometimes finding effective non profit organizations with great leaders could be a more effective solution than dictating what they should do.

So we looked at the world outside: we wanted to give people the opportunity to find on one platform these amazing organizations, already vetted, and facilitate donating to them. That was the idea for GlobalGiving. In 2002 we launched the first platform and we started working with companies, like Hewlett-Packard and VISA, who had a global workforce and wanted to let employees donate globally. Now corporations represent a major part of our donor base, with corporate giving that – depending on the year – can be up to 50% of our whole work. Along the way we were funded by both foundations – such as the Hewlett and Packard Foundations–and philanthropists – such as Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omydiar.

We operate through a model that vets organizations all over the world. We currently work with about 3000 organizations from 165 Countries and last year we transferred about $41 million to support both organizations and specific projects. With the earthquake in central Italy we started supporting Italian organizations and we are always looking for new ones to come in since we are well represented in many areas for the world but not so much in Western Europe.


“We wanted to provide people the opportunity of finding, on one platform, effective non profit organizations that they could rely to and support with their giving”


There are a lot of crowdfunding platforms currently available. What is the key characteristic of GlobalGiving and how do you work to support high-performing organizations committed to creating social impact?

What we continuously work on is to have a system where each of our 3000 organizations has a system called the “effectiveness dashboard”. The concept is that many donors just check the first page when researching a project they want to support: people often go fast, they don’t’ look at all the information and that’s why we help them by showing those who have worked to prove their impact.

So what we try to do is to make it possible for organizations that commit to effectiveness and impact to get more funds. Basically we perform a rigorous due diligence to admit an organization on our platform; after that, on an on-going basis, we favor those working better: we offer them a bunch of tools and want to see they engage in continuous learning. Organizations who commit the most obtain points and the number of points you have determines where you appear on the website: the more points you have, the higher you appear on searches, thus increasing your chances to obtain resources.

We don’t impose anything: you can get points if you develop a Theory of Change, if you improve your financial management, or if you collect beneficiaries’ feedback. It’s like a menu on which organizations can work. It includes tools they need to have, and tracks their continuous learning. The logic is that as you improve what you do on the ground, working on your most important issues, you raise your chances to obtain funds. In the past year GlobalGiving drove an extra $8.1 million to partners that learned and improved.


“We prefer that organizations spend time in demonstrating they are growing their commitment, their effectiveness, their understanding of what works – rather than on choosing the best picture to show to attract more attention”


There are many commercial crowdfunding platforms, but I think our point of strength is that we spend a lot of time thinking about impact. This is a strong pillar of our work. Also, we are one of the few organizations in the US vetting non-US organizations: those represent more than 50% of the subjects on our platform.


We often tend to focus on philanthropy in the western countries but given your global approach you have a privileged vision on many other areas of the world…

I think China is experiencing a strong growth of philanthropy, with a lot of High Net Worth Individuals emerging who want to channel both money and time into philanthropy. The regulatory regime around philanthropy and NPOs is changing a lot – so that makes the picture a little blurred – but probably that’s one of the reason players like the Gates Foundation are focusing on the Giving Pledge, going all over the world to get new signatories. That said, it’s very hard to fully understand how the new regulatory system will work; it’s still an uncertain environment for people who desire to become active in philanthropy, but there is interest and large potential.

India is changing rapidly, too, and the recent requirement that companies must spend a portion of their profits in philanthropy is giving a strong boost to the philanthropic landscape. At an individual level people incline to religious giving, but I think they are starting to broaden their horizons and looking at nonreligious opportunities and to begin to ask how what they are supporting leads to impact.


“Basically you see philanthropy changing in the countries where wealth is changing. The fastest growing economies are experiencing the biggest changes in philanthropy.”


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