Charitable Giving Redesigned

By: Ben Bryan Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Business

An Interview with Dennis Whittle

Dennis Whittle Tough times exist in the world of philanthropy and charitable giving. The New York Times reported a 5.7 percent decline in U.S. charitable giving in 2008, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently documented an 11 percent decline in giving to the 400 largest U.S. charities for 2009. Nonetheless, GlobalGiving, an innovative online marketplace for philanthropy and charitable giving, saw a 9 percent increase in dollars channeled through them, to the more than 1,000 pre-screened social enterprise and charitable projects they present to donors.

Dennis Whittle, the CEO and a co-founder of GlobalGiving, attributes this success to collaborative leadership – not within his team, but rather collaboration between GlobalGiving and the leaders of progressive corporations that have turned to GlobalGiving to design “giving” programs for their companies and employees.

Leadership Gap

Management experts like Peter Drucker have written about a paradigm shift in how people gauge personal satisfaction. In the past, Drucker and others argued, the gauge was the acquisition and accumulation of material goods, but increasingly it has shifted to finding meaning in one’s workplace and in every day choices. Whittle believes that it is the progressive corporate leaders who not only understand this, but are acting on it by integrating it into their corporate mission.

This paradigm shift plays out most directly, Whittle goes on to explain, with today’s high quality workers. With more choices, they increasingly prefer a workplace where their values concerning social good are aligned with the values demonstrated by an employer. When this alignment is present, the employee is five times more likely to promote their employer and its mission to others. Retention of quality employees at these companies is demonstrably higher.

Consumers have more choices as well, and increasingly they are choosing products from companies that promote social enterprise. Whittle cites PepsiCo Inc. as one such company. Through its high profile Pepsi Refresh Project, the company is contributing $20 million annually to small scale, community-based social enterprise efforts chosen by consumers.

Whittle sees a clear “leadership gap” between those corporate managers who have embraced this new “value-oriented” paradigm, and those who haven’t. Progressive corporate leaders know that engaging their companies and employees in social enterprise efforts pays off—internally by attracting and retaining high quality workers, and externally with positive impacts on their brand.

GlobalGiving’s Business Model

Whittle also credits the GlobalGiving business model as contributing to the company’s success. The company’s mission is to, “Build an efficient, open, thriving marketplace that connects people who have community and world-changing ideas with people who can support them.”

The company evaluates and prescreens social enterprises and charities around the world, many of which are entrepreneurial and innovative. Then, they are presented on the GlobalGiving website so that individuals can select ones that they wish to support. They make a “direct connect” donation online through GlobalGiving’s charitable foundation, a registered 501(c)3 organization. Donations given through GlobalGiving go straight to project execution, and the company provides transparency to both the donor and the recipient organization throughout the process. Donors receive updates regularly on projects they support. GlobalGiving charges a 15 percent fee for its work.

Although individual donors remain a significant focus of GlobalGiving, increasingly, corporate leaders seeking social enterprise channels have turned to the company because of the same attributes that have made it attractive to individuals: confidence that recipient organizations have been thoroughly vetted, the “direct connect” donation concept, transparency and feedback.

The Origins of the Marketplace Concept

The idea of a marketplace for donors to connect directly with social enterprises and charities originated in work that Dennis Whittle and his GlobalGiving co-founder, Mari Kuraishi, undertook with the World Bank, where he spent 14 years. In 1997, they were asked to develop innovative ways to combat poverty. So to generate ideas and solutions, they conceived a contest for social innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world to compete for World Bank funds.

The two day contest “changed my life” according to Whittle who was impressed by the energy, creativity and commitment of the contestants. Their solutions to seemingly intractable problems were not just somewhat better, but “were orders of magnitude” better. What emerged was the concept of an ongoing, virtual marketplace for these social innovators and entrepreneurs so that they could access and compete for donor and charitable funds on an ongoing basis. Whittle and Kuraishi left the World Bank and became entrepreneurs themselves, launching GlobalGiving as a start-up company with all the attendant challenges that entrepreneurs face. This experience has given Whittle a “visceral” appreciation for the work of entrepreneurs and is a key factor in GlobalGiving being a robust champion of social entrepreneurs.

As the name of Whittle’s company, GlobalGiving, implies, its scope and reach is worldwide and has attracted global companies such as Google to its platform. Through GlobalGiving’s platform, these companies can now easily access projects around the world.

But the changing landscape of philanthropy and charitable giving, empowered by technology and particularly the internet, means that a company no longer has to be big to have an impact on social issues. Small and medium companies can now be participants, and in the words of Dennis Whittle, “can really turn the dial on social, economic and environmental issues.”

GlobalGiving can work with small and mid-size companies to develop custom programs with a local or national orientation, or that target specific areas of social, economic or environmental interests. Such programs can include simple features like gift cards for employees and customers or more complex and tailored giving programs with communication tools such as company-unique web pages.

The New Collaboration

The tough times that the philanthropic and charitable sector is experiencing have accelerated another and very important collaboration, Whittle points out. Traditional models for both receiving funds and delivering services have been supplemented in recent decades by the work of social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs have been using business principles to solve social problems and deliver social services – business principals that oftentimes are investor driven and therefore can include a monetary profit for investors and management.

As a result, a continuum now exits in this sector, from the traditional charity based models such as United Way, to social entrepreneurship efforts, like those of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who pioneered the micro-finance movement through Grameen Bank. All along this continuum, organizations are now interacting to achieve common goals, and this collaboration is driven from both directions. “This is the exciting future in the world of giving,” says Whittle.

While GlobalGiving brings a technology driven, market-oriented platform to the world of giving, Whittle himself brings an energetic, visionary and open approach to the management of the company. It is an approach that promotes collaboration while projecting the kind of leadership that creates success, particularly in tough times.

Dennis Whittle will be in Colorado on December 7 as the keynote speaker at two events, a breakfast and luncheon, which are part of the 4th Annual Business/Social Entrepreneurship Day co-sponsored by the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) and other business and academic organizations. He will be elaborating on many of the topics covered in this interview. For more information on Dennis Whittle’s visit to Colorado on December 7, 2010, please contact Capital Investment Management Company at 303.221.1000.