Of Ice, Buckets and Philanthropy…

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My second article for the European Foundation Center’s Effect Magazine ‘ask the experts column.’ (www.efc.be)

While we were enjoying this year’s philanthropy ‘pop’ sensation (a.k.a. the Ice Bucket Challenge), something interesting happened in a tucked-away corner of Transylvania. Something that might offer a bit of insight into how foundations could add value in the erratic – yet increasingly influential – world of crowdfunding.

That ‘something’ was Give-Get-Do (www.give-get-do.ro), a crowdfunding platform launched by the Odorheiu Secuiesc Community Foundation in Romania (www.szka.org). One of a couple crowdfunding platforms launched in Romania last year, Give-Get-Do differentiates itself through a unique blend of crowdfunding and grantmaking.

Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Give-Get-Go channels NGOs through a grantmaking process, complete with a detailed fundraising plan. In a part of the world where consumer philanthropy (online or off) is still nascent, the application process in and of itself helps NGOs think more effectively about how to engage potential donors. If the application is approved, NGOs fundraising on the platform receive 1:1 matching grants, plus access to the foundation’s respected social media channels.

Another differentiating factor is that Give-Get-Do works pretty well: NGOs were able to raise funds, thanks in part to leveraging the foundation’s trusted brand. Within a matter of weeks, three initial projects were fully funded and on their way to implementation. More have been funded since then, and new calls for proposals are in the pipeline.

The bottom line is that Give-Get-Do successfully engages citizens in thoughtful philanthropy. Matching grants spur fundraising, which is complimented by ‘direct-to-your-inbox’ reporting. Ultimately, this should build trust and seed a culture of small-scale, citizen-centric philanthropy – which, in turn, may inspire the donors and foundations of the future. The site helps build a market for more engaged philanthropists while doubling the amount of resource available through matching grants.

In a Western European context, the citizen-trust-through-engagement aspect of Give-Get-Do may well be less rare, or less relevant. This does not mean, however, that ideas on Western crowdfunding sites have thought deeply about their project, as they would be required to do in a well-designed grant process. Less scrupulous crowdfunding platform’s questionably-designed projects are sold to a donor audience that may or may not have tools to accurately assess potential impact. People often have a pretty keen sense of what might work (“a good idea”), but a grants officer would likely have more insight into considerations such as what has worked/not worked before and if others already serve a particular need.

Give-Get-Do’s combination of grantmaking, capacity building, and crowdsourcing has begun balancing quality thinking and quantity giving in an increasingly dis-intermediated, quixotic, online philanthropy marketplace. To be clear: I use those words lovingly. I love crowdfunding’s collective intelligence, and its potential to drive more imaginative projects. The Ice Bucket Challenge did, after all, catalyze a lot of good intentions, raise a lot of money and awareness for an important cause, and offer the recipient flexible financing they would be hard pressed to find in a grant. Not bad for a ‘pop’ sensation.

If nothing else, such sensations should challenge us to rethink the boundaries of thoughtful philanthropy. We can learn a lot from how crowdfunding mobilizes constituencies, if not for our own benefit, then for that of our beneficiaries.

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