Giving Online, Click by Click

Technology is fundamentally changing the philanthropic landscape.

Online marketplaces, in particular, are leading the way by increasing transparency, enhancing interactivity, and reducing costs. Technology is permitting both donors and grantees to implement a host of new ideas and approaches. In some cases, these innovations merely make the current system more efficient. But in other ways, these innovations may well revolutionize the current relationships between donors and grantees.

In particular, the new philanthropy marketplaces are drawing in large numbers of new donors by enabling them to make a direct impact anywhere in the world. Thus, these marketplaces pose a real challenge to the existing top-down systems and the role of the so-called ‘expert’ in making decisions and allocating funding. In the long run, these bottom-up marketplaces may prove to be more effective than current approaches to philanthropy.

In the United States, two of the oldest and best known online marketplaces are Global Giving and Kiva. And within the Jewish world, JGooders recently launched. This week, a new initiative with a different approach premiers, Everywun, founded by San Francisco resident Dan Jacobs. Jacobs is part of a movement spearheaded by bloggers, young philanthropists and social entrepreneurs who are using the Internet to promote their favorite causes, specific needs and to raise money and awareness through viral networking.

All of these endeavors, and others, have a common thread – the use of social networking to promote the causes they believe in. Influence – and thus power – is moving to the consumer (donor) where both collectively and individually they have the ability to build their own personal networks. In the past, these individuals were likely to be influenced offline not only by family, friends and professional colleagues but by traditional and distant sources of authority. (The original Federation model, among others). Today, there is a definite, and accelerated, movement to closer and more personal sources of contact which in addition to the former include shared interest networks.

The Internet and other forms of social media have made these connections, these self-selected communities, far more accessible. It is this twist that allows every small donor to make a personal choice. That in-and-of itself is radical.