Posted by: Nathaniel | August 19, 2008

Betterplace.org – reducing philanthropic barriers?

One of the questions that the wave of new philanthropic marketplace tools is how to control quality and ensure donor confidence in the organizations in which they invest. While people tend to be comfortable with brand-name humanitarian organizations like CARE acting as stewards of their donations, its less clear how your average individual donor becomes comfortable giving directly to small, locally-operated nonprofits around the world.

The issue brings up the question of metrics in that it reminds us that there aren’t broadly applicable tools for measuring social impact, taking that off the table as a way for donors to feel confident. Most of the marketplace philanthropies emphasize how much of the individual’s donation makes it directly to the organization,  but that’s more a measure of intermediary efficiency than of on the ground quality.

One of the more common strategies has been to add a layer of professional intermediaries. Kiva.org works with local financial institutions to ensure that borrowers can pay back loans. GlobalGiving.com projects have to be sponsored by a larger group which, theoretically, has vetted the organization and can help donors feel more confident. The problem is that there’s no guarantee that these intermediaries are actually doing their jobs and/or are, themselves, competent, efficient organizations. At best, its a good system, but no matter what, it adds an extra step between the donor and the recipient that the platforms are trying to break down.

Betterplace.org is trying a slightly different approach. They allow supporters to connect directly with global development projects, and allow people to take on different roles for supporting the project.

In their “web of trust”, anyone who donates time or money is a “supporter,” someone who has actually seen a project on the ground is a “visitor,” someone who can personally vouch for those responsible for the project is an “advocate,” etc.

While its still much more art than science, its a nice stab at bringing down the barriers for people who care about common issues to support one another, and if the community grows more robust, could be a nice platform for experimenting with more user-review tools for validating the impact of social change focused organizations. I would love to see someone figure out how to enable the recipients of aid or the participants in local programs to have a voice in reviewing the activities. That sort of “downward accountability” just doesn’t exist in any really coherent way right now.

Has anyone used betterplace.org? Any thoughts?

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Responses

  1. I’ve become a betterplace.org member but haven’t tried donating yet. One comment is that as a new user it’s hard to figure out how the rating system works. I’m not sure if I’m rating the projects against one another or what my rating guidelines should be.

  2. Oops… just realized that the guidelines (“that’s real change!” “support it” “worth watching” “not interesting” and “do not support it”) pop up when the mouse moves over the rating area.

  3. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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