The Center for Amazon Community Ecology began like many non-profit organizations – it had one person with few resources and a big dream about making the world a better place. I wanted to conserve the Amazon rainforest by helping native people to improve their livelihoods and communities by selling innovative non-timber forest products as alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. Our early work was supported almost entirely with the support of a few friends, family members and foundations.We gradually expanded our presence on the web, but did not get many donations through our website, Facebook or blog. So in 2012, I started exploring a variety of crowd-source platforms. Kickstarter seemed great for hot business ideas, but wouldn’t work for non-profits. Indie-gogo offered a space for non-profits, but these seemed lost in their mix, and every project had to meet a funding target with a short fixed deadline. Network for Good offers great resources to non-profit groups to raise their profile and funds, but it lacks a central site that attracts visitors interested in supporting a cause or project. Robin van Loon from a partner group Camino Verde told me that his group had received extensive support for his work reforesting native trees in southern Peru through the GlobalGiving network so I decided to give it a try.
GlobalGiving is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC (with a sister group in London) that provides a dynamic platform for other non-profits to raise funds for specific projects that benefit people and/or the environment. GlobalGiving keeps a 15% commission instead of the 5-10% taken by most other platforms, but being part of the GlobalGiving network offers a lot more than a simple mechanism to channel online donations. It offers its partners valuable tools and a place in a community that fosters open communication and mutually supportive relationships between the people in the group, the people that it serves, the people that fund its work, leaders of other groups in the network, and the people who work in GlobalGiving. Playing an active role in this community has significantly increased the number of donors and quantity of donations to our work in Peru and strengthened the quality of our communications and relationships with our partners in remote villages and supporters at home and abroad.
Getting onto the GlobalGiving platform is a multi-stage process that begins by proving that your group is a bona-fide non-profit organization with tax-deductible status (501-c-3) in the US or equivalent status abroad. An applicant also needs to describe its track record and provide several letters of recommendation. After passing this due diligence process, a group can take part in an Open Challenge to earn a permanent spot on the platform by raising at least $5000 from 40 or more donors in one month.The prospect of raising this much money from so many people in one month seemed very daunting to me, but I decided to go for it in a challenge that began in late November, 2012. I began by contacting everyone in my universe and asking them to contribute any amount they could. I sent appeals to high school classmates, former colleagues at Greenpeace, and family members far and wide. I arranged to do presentations at church groups and homes of a few supporters who invited their friends. I wrote short pieces and posted photos on our website, blog, Facebook pages, and Twitter. I asked a few prospective larger donors to make their contribution on Bonus Days when donations were given a 15% match. By December 31, I was thrilled that we had raised almost $8,100 from 65 donors and matching funds from GlobalGiving. When the challenge was over, I took some deep breathes and looked carefully at the data provided by GlobalGiving to see which outreach strategies had been the most effective for us. Not surprisingly, most of these funds came from my friends, family, or others I met through a friend. What was encouraging, though, was that many people who had known me and my work for years made their first donation to my group during this challenge. Being on GlobalGiving gave my group extra credibility and me the confidence to ask them directly for support for the first time. My friends understood that helping my group earn a spot on the platform would eventually give my group a good chance to receive support from many new people. While CACE raised far less than the top earners during the Open Challenge, my frequent questions to GlobalGiving via phone, email and webinars caught the attention of a few staff people. A partner associate soon asked me to share my experiences and analysis in a webinar with groups who were considering participating in the next Open Challenge. Since last January, I have participated in almost every webinar and special campaign that GlobalGiving offers its partners including a free two month long online fundraising academy. These lessons, contests, and feedback from GG staff have tremendously helped me improve the proposals, progress reports, thank you letters, photos, videos and social media posts we share with past and potential supporters. GlobalGiving also offers its partners great tools and encouragement to improve their communications and relations with the people they aim to serve. As we strive to increase artisan income with new products, we are learning how to better incorporate traditions and cultural realities into the process. A GG volunteer visited our most remote village in the Peruvian Amazon with us to see how we were doing. When she witnessed our project manager Yully in the thick of a difficult conversation with an artisan partner, she offered her empathy and encouragement rather than judgment. I am now looking forward to trying out the new GlobalGiving Storytelling tool with our partners in eight villages this summer. Beyond its standard offerings, GG has directly supported our sale of handicrafts made by our native partners in Peru. These efforts have included featuring our crafts in their Gifts for Good program, bringing back a batch of our crafts from Peru to the U.S., buying 125 hot pads which they gave to a group of special donors, welcoming us to sell crafts to their staff people in their office around Christmas and inviting us to sell crafts at a big conference about corporate volunteerism in Washington, DC.
GlobalGiving continually encourages groups on the platform to seek input from and listen to their supporters and beneficiaries, and it passionately applies this practice to their dealings it partners. Companies now routinely solicit feedback from their customers in surveys, but it is clear that GlobalGiving is not following a rote corporate mantra. As I participated in one webinar, campaign and Leadership Council meeting after another, it became apparent that every person I interacted with from GlobalGiving genuinely wanted to know how they could improve their site and programs and then actually used partner ideas to do so.
I now think of GlobalGiving more as a “they” than an “it” because GlobalGiving staff people including Alexis, Britt, Katherine, Sonja, and Mari seem to truly understand CACE and want to help us succeed. Their commitment has inspired me to try and help GlobalGiving help other groups do their important work as well.
As of We have now raised $25,248 for our Peru project on GlobalGiving. Crossing the $24,000 threshold gives a group “SuperStar” status on the platform which gives groups greater visibility, opportunities with corporate partners, and a 50% match on donations on Partner’s Bonus Day coming up on July 16. Thanks for contributing any amount you can to help us help our partners in Peru and save some Amazon rainforest? Check out our project on GlobalGiving at: www.AmazonAlive.net.