After completing my year-end giving last year I found myself feeling surprisingly empty. Several of the gifts I made were to organizations working in parts of the country and world that I knew nothing about. Despite the ubiquity of open data, the organizations I gave to did not do much to inform me as a donor about some basic empirical facts. Simple things like poverty rates, mortality, and literacy would have gone a long way to make me feel more informed as a donor. Instead, I was left feeling like I gave to a nonprofit, rather than investing in creating change throughout the world.
And I’m sorry to say, a nonprofit is not a cause. Giving to a nonprofit is not remotely satisfying. As a donor, I want to feel like I’ve taken a position in the impact the organization generates. Instead, I was left feeling like I’d simply given money away, without getting any sense of impact in return.
Earlier this year I started working on a side project I call GaveTo. GaveTo is the Guidestar and Charity Navigator I always wanted. I created GaveTo so that I could be a better informed donor. GaveTo has the following features that have certainly made me feel better informed:
- Related facts – Nonprofit profiles on GaveTo contain the expected information such as a brief about statement and financial information. But GaveTo also surfaces related facts, such as the number of people experiencing homelessness over time for organizations that provide homeless services.
- RSS and social feeds – GaveTo subscribes to nonprofits’ social media and RSS feeds, surfacing this information on the nonprofit’s profile page.
- Where in the world nonprofits works – Nonprofit profiles on GaveTo include a world map showing where in the world organizations actually work, which is especially handy for nonprofits doing international work.
- Donor profiles and giving recommendations – Every year my friends and family ask me what organizations I recommend they give to. With GaveTo donor profiles, I now have a place I can send people to with my giving recommendations and rationale.
- Consolidated donor reports – Every month GaveTo emails a report with updates from all the organizations a donor has given to. These reports have been instrumental in my feeling far more engaged in what is happening with my charitable gifts.
Building GaveTo has been a lot of fun and it has met my needs as a donor incredibly well. I’m rolling GaveTo out slowly in an extended beta that might last forever. If you are interested in helping me test out GaveTo, login with your Facebook account here.
At launch there are very few nonprofits in GaveTo. If people join the site, I’ll slowly add the organizations that they care about.
Those who have followed my writing on Full Contact Philanthropy likely know I’m self aware enough to not only criticize the work of others, but to be critical of my own work as well. In that spirit, the rest of this post tries to address some tough questions I have asked myself about GaveTo.
Congratulations, didn’t you just recreate Jumo?
Jumo was a failed social network launched almost exactly five years ago that aimed to connect donors and volunteers with nonprofits. I have asked myself many times while developing GaveTo whether Jumo’s failure is evidence that GaveTo is pointless.
With GaveTo I’ve been careful not to try to create a social network. Rather, it is a tool for individual donors to track their own giving. Jumo needed nonprofits to create profiles on their site and to run a community there, while GaveTo as an aggregator doesn’t need nonprofits to do anything. Indeed, there isn’t even a way for a nonprofit to directly manage its data in GaveTo.
Why do we need GaveTo if we have Guidestar and Charity Navigator?
I like both Guidestar and Charity Navigator, but neither site meets my needs as a donor. Both sites focus a lot on financial data, which is important, but personally I just don’t care all that much. Guidestar is certainly pushing to become more useful and informative, and their new nonprofit profile pages are a vast improvement over what they had before.
Charity Navigator is trying to do the impossible. There is no one (or two, or three) metrics that define whether I should invest in a specific nonprofit. I don’t want anyone else to tell me where I should and should not give. I want the facts and I want to make my own decision.
GaveTo differs from both Guidestar and Charity Navigator in that it extracts information nonprofits are publishing in real-time and contextualizes what nonprofits are saying and doing with objective facts.
For example, every homeless service organization in the state of California insists homelessness is getting worse, a fact that does not jive with homeless counts provided by the Federal government. Now, just because homelessness is actually improving doesn’t mean I should not give to homeless service providers. As a donor, I should have all the facts then make my own decision.
GaveTo provides the facts, donors make the decisions.
Dude, donors don’t care about tracking the effectiveness of their gifts.
That’s probably true, but I care. Fundamentally I created GaveTo for me, and I’m happy to share it with anyone else who feels GaveTo might work for them as well.
What is the future of GaveTo?
I don’t know. GaveTo doesn’t cost all that much to run, and it meets a need I have as a donor, so at the very least I plan on running it as a service for myself for the foreseeable future. If others are interested as well, I might be persuaded to put more time into GaveTo, but in an era of infinite sites and apps fighting for people’s attention that’s a pretty big “if”.
Join the beta!
I would love to have you join the beta and help me test GaveTo. You can signup here and reach me with any questions, comments, or criticism on Twitter or via email.