GlobalGiving.org's Mari Kuraishi on personalized philanthropy driven by natural disasters

mari kuraishi.pngI just spoke to Mari Kuraishi, founder of GlobalGiving.org, about how the recent surge in natural disasters has affected donor behavior.

The vast majority of people are moved to give when there's a disaster going on. As ghoulish as it sounds, disasters mean a lot of people come to Global Giving. Haiti, the Chinese earthquake, the Chilean earthquake... the news really helps make what we do relevant for donors; the angle we add is that you're giving to a specific project undertaken by a specific organization, you'll hear back from them about what they did with your money. With some of the larger organizations, it's not always clear where it's going, what it's doing, or whether the money ended up there at all. I think this helps makes them feel like their $10 actually makes a diference.

We've got over 1000 projects in 96 countries. Our growth was a little short of expectations in 2009, but 2010 looks pretty good so far. There has been a lot of talk at this forum about changing capitalism, consumer behavior, and values. Maybe this is the beginning of that. You might choose spend to send someone else to school instead of getting that new Gucci bag. Maybe it's as rewarding and gives you as much status and as much instrinstic enjoyment as something tangible. Maybe, with the help of technology, we've made it something you can show off, whether that's on Facebook or on your Twitter feed.

The surge in giving we see around disaster is people who might not otherwise be giving to the developing world. In the US, overall giving is $250 billion, and only 5% of that goes abroad. There's a lot of good that philanthropy can do outside the US. That said, there's a big surge of giving after a disaster, but in places like Haiti, that's really not enough. Because the reconstruction needs will go on for decades, and people will forget Haiti. It's good but it's not enough.

Personally, I think we can do a better job of continuing to tell the thread of the story. All of our projects are tagged for natural search, so if you have a specific interest you can very well end up on our site. You could search for an organic farmer raising chickens in Guatemala, for example. When project leaders write back, donors can comment; so a Guatemalan farmer and his Oregonian organic farmer donor can communicate — they establish a human connection.

Before I founded Global Giving, I worked at the World Bank for 10 years. It was exciting and heady, but governments decide what to do with the money the World Bank lends, and there are so many organizations at the grassroots that we had no capacity of helping. It wasn't that easy for that woman in Oregon to find that Guatemalan farmer. We created Global Giving to make it possible for people to give directly to small grassroots community efforts all over the world. I figured if we could vet, qualify, and make it possible for funds to flow from that woman to the Guatemalan farmer, we can leverage the generosity of every day people to support all these small efforts. There isn't enough innovation in the development world; so much more innovation goes into things like consumer technology, and that happens because a lot start and fail. With social enterprise, there aren't that many opportunities to start, never mind fail. If, 20 years from now, we can say, hey we funded that guy [who changed that], that would be really rewarding.

You can donate to your favorite GlobalGiving project here.