Feb 22, 2007

are you ready for the revolution? e-philanthropy

A few days ago I mentioned a new form of philanthropy made possible by the internet. Called DonorsChoose, it allows people to fund micro-projects in classrooms all over the country. The organization acts as a facilitator, making it easy for teachers to post their needs, verifying their legitimacy, negotiating discount prices for materials, and even arranging for teachers to send thank you cards and digital photos of the gift in action, once their video cameras or lab equipment or books have arrived.

The benefits are obvious: you know exactly where the money is going and how it's being used. You can see an immediate impact. It's quick, easy, and understandable. To date, DonorsChoose has raised over $11 million.

I was contacted soon afterward by representatives of ChangingThePresent, an e-philanthropy foundation that brings together hundreds of national and global nonprofits all in one place. Finding a new charity is easy, and giving takes just a few clicks. You donate by choosing a particular good or service to give: a child's first book, an hour of cancer research, a surgery to restore sight. The varieties of opportunity are nearly limitless, thanks to the site's global reach.

Some differences:
  • DonorsChoose focuses exclusively on items requested by teachers, while ChangingThePresent covers a wide range of causes and organizations.
  • DonorsChoose sends goods directly to teachers, while ChangingThePresent grants the money to the nonprofit you recommend, earmarked for a specific use.
  • DonorsChoose emphasizes individual contributions, while ChangingThePresent is more about social networking, using wish lists, registries, printed greeting cards and other ways of making philanthropy a collaborative effort.
Robert Tolmach (via email) explains:
The receipt you receive from our site will indicate what you elected to fund. However, we cannot do what DonorsChoose does when they provide you with a receipt indicating the purchase of, for instance, a single slide projector or a single table. The first reason is that the nonprofits on ChangingThePresent are often providing services as well as goods, or some mix of services and goods, and so there simply is no single receipt to provide.

Second, nonprofits on ChangingThePresent are typically buying the goods in bulk and at large discounts. That means your money will go further, but that there’s no discrete receipt for them to send you. Would you rather have your $100 donation buy 33 books for kids at $3 each through First Book and ChangingThePresent or have it buy 11 books at $9 each through Donors Choose? Is it more important for you that the kids get the 22 additional books or for you to see a receipt for that purchase?
ChangingThePresent has stringent rules its associated nonprofits must follow, and makes every "reasonable effort" to make sure the money received goes to its intended purpose.

Though this post highlights many of the differences between the organizations, I must emphasize the overwhelming commonality: DonorsChoose, ChangingThePresent, and other e-philanthropies represent the promise of new technology to make giving easier. There are even nonprofits set up solely to help other nonprofits take advantage of the new medium, which, according to Tolmach, represents less than 2% of total giving.

In the end, though, it's all about trust and relationships. We're much more willing to give when we know the people who ask, and we can see how our gift gets results. Technology broadens our sense of community to encompass the globe, but our commitment to our local community is still as necessary as ever.

And, ultimately, there's one way to be sure your gift makes a difference: give time.

No comments: