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4Q4 Podcast, Interviews

Crowdfunding a Space for Civic Engagement

GivingTuesday's Asha Curran explains how the movement has inspired a new generation of donors.

Digital Impact 4Q4 Podcast: Asha Curran on GivingTuesday

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00:00 CHRIS DELATORRE: This is Digital Impact 4Q4. I’m Chris Delatorre. Today’s four questions are for Asha Curran, CEO of GivingTuesday. Launched in 2012, the global initiative mobilizes resources, unmeasurable acts of kindness, and hundreds of millions in charitable donations in the United States alone. This year, $511 million was donated on GivingTuesday. Together with offline donations, the total for 2019 is projected at $1.97 billion.

Last year, Asha joined us to talk about how the movement is collaborating across sectors to safeguard the data privacy of thousands of donors worldwide. A monumental task for a platform as distributed as this one. In fact, the distributed nature of GivingTuesday is the biggest factor driving its growth, in that anyone can participate. How will the global initiative make effective use of its data while also ensuring privacy and security for so many?

01:08 CHRIS DELATORRE: Asha, you’ve described the way people express their generosity now as fundamentally different, not just from a generation ago, but you say even from 5, 10, 2 years ago, you say that it’s changing all the time. You also mentioned the importance of peer networks and driving that generosity. With social networks like Facebook under fire for betraying the public trust, do you see any differences in how people are giving online this year versus last year, and how is GivingTuesday using insights about giving behavior to improve your digital infrastructure?

01:50 ASHA CURRAN: Yeah. First, well, thanks for having me back, Chris. I don’t know. It’s interesting, I don’t see the sort of existential concerns about Facebook or other big platforms filtering down in any concrete way, either on the donor side or on the nonprofit side. Certainly, I think there’s concern from nonprofits that they’re not getting as much of their donor data as they used to.

“We’re not creating a brand new model, we’re creating a new model for this industry, one that is desperately needed.”

I think what we’re really seeing in terms of people giving online is a continuation of trends that are amplified on GivingTuesday, right? So GivingTuesday sort of lifts up and spotlights things that are—trends that are happening anyway. So, people using social tools to come together, to give collectively, really strong theme with GivingTuesday, kind of the main thing that we think motivates and inspires people, donors then sharing their donation activity, so really bringing giving more kind of into the public square, that’s been on a real upward trajectory all of GivingTuesday’s eight years. More diverse giving to multiple causes, so no longer the sort of December 31st, sitting down at your desk, writing a check to the same old nonprofit year after year, but really spreading the generosity around. And then giving money as one reflection of a variety of generous behaviors and social media as a means of connecting those threads.

So, especially young people give—you know, they might give a donation they might give crowd funding, they might volunteer, they might march, they might be activists, right, their generosity is really spread around and it’s useful I think to see donation in the bigger generosity context.

03:37 CHRIS DELATORRE: The GivingTuesday Data Collaborative started with a simple idea, which was to understand how much money was being donated just in the United States, but you encountered a number of challenges. For instance, there wasn’t a centralized repository where all this data was held. A lack of collaboration in the social sector made it even more challenging. How are you working to encourage collaboration and transparency while also ensuring privacy for so many donors across the globe? Has the journey led you to new models of governance?

04:12 ASHA CURRAN: Absolutely. And in fact, at my Stanford PACS Fellowship was really sort of the place where we started thinking through a lot of those big questions and trying to figure all of these governance questions out, really prioritizing security and privacy, while at the same time, trying to build what essentially will be the sector’s largest global data collaborative. Which is essentially the same kind of analytics platform for the giving economy that all other industries have. So, we’re not creating a brand new model, we’re just creating a new model for this industry, one that is desperately needed.

“That’s where you start seeing individual citizens start to really understand the power of their own agency.”

And with that kind of data collaborative, we currently have over 60 partners, of both nonprofit and for-profit, you know, payment processors, different kinds of platforms. And with those kinds of tools and that kind of data, we’re able to collectively examine some of the questions and answers that commercial entities have been doing for decades. So, who gives to which causes? What motivates them to act? How can they be retained and engaged? Why do supporters stay? Why do they go? What other ways are they expressing their generosity? So, there’s a big opportunity here for the sector I think to look at our information, both qualitative and quantitative, collectively, and find information, find answers that benefit everybody, that benefit everybody in every corner of the sector.

05:41 CHRIS DELATORRE: You were recently appointed new board chair of guardian.org. I’m thinking of the example of philanthropy and local journalism. Julie Sandorf recently wrote a piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review where she points to the need to draw on many different types of donations in order to build resilience, instead of relying too heavily on advertising. But this requires new strategies and insights, right? How can the data from GivingTuesday reveal good places or new strategies for regional movements to focus their campaigns and limited fundraising resources?

06:23 ASHA CURRAN: Yeah. So, obviously, that’s—that particular that particular thing, media, local media, local journalism, cause-related journalism, it’s all very near and dear to my heart because of my work with the Guardian. From a GivingTuesday perspective, it’s really interesting, right? One of the things that’s happened with GivingTuesday that we never expected that has only been going from strength to strength in the recent years is the rise of these regional GivingTuesday movements, so tiny towns, big cities, you know, entire states coming together to create this generosity movement that draws together all of the sectors of that community, the local government, for-profits, nonprofits, schools, houses of worship. And because of that or because of all of those sectors coming together in high, high levels of collaboration and civic pride and civic engagement, it really—one of the things that that has done, to your point, is to work to surface what issues are—what challenges, what opportunities are happening in those local communities.


The social sector has a lot to learn from the innovation network that has emerged from GivingTuesday.

Article by Asha Curran.

Now the truth is, data-wise, that’s still tough. It’s really tough to get hyperlocal with philanthropic data, but qualitatively, the stories that come out of those community campaigns are so strong that they really do work to amplify the unique challenges and opportunities of each of those local communities. And I do think it’s really important that nonprofits, in particular, collaborate with one another, much more than they are now, to form a sort of resilient and vibrant civil society in any regional community where everything is interconnected. And then also to form those relationships with other sectors of that local community. That’s where you start seeing really strong civic engagement and where you start seeing individual citizens start to really understand the power of their own agency—even if they’re not billionaires, even if they’re not holding elected office—that they really start understanding that they have significant power to impact where they live and the civic space that they share with others.

08:38 CHRIS DELATORRE: I want to lead this last question with something you said about the mission of GivingTuesday as it relates to local communities. You said, “We’re all driving toward a common goal, which is a more generous human society. And yet, GivingTuesday in each of these places really reflects the local identity and feeling of those different places.” Why is understanding digital technology so crucial to creating a more generous human society? What are some examples of how online giving looks unique from one country to another?

09:16 ASHA CURRAN: So, I think understanding digital technology is crucial because that is the means by which we are connecting all of these different threads right now. It is equally important to understand the dynamics behind the technology. Why is it the people are so attracted to movements now? Why is it that people want to co-create and adapt and co-own the things that they are passionate about and the causes that they want to—that they want to become involved in and make an impact in? And so, you know, understanding all of that, not just how to open a Twitter account, not just how to have a working donate button, but really the dynamics that underpin all of that all, of that is really, really crucial and the end sector is frankly still quite behind in rapidly adapting to all of those changes that we’re seeing.

So, I think one of the opportunities of GivingTuesday is that it’s a global learning platform, right? So online giving and giving, in general, and generosity, in general, looks different in South Africa and Brazil and Russia and Croatia, but all of those places have a massive amount to learn from one another. So, it’s also using technology as the means by which we, as social sector actors, connect with one another, and the intentionality that we bring to that. Are we using it to share best practices, to share ideas, to be transparent, and to be careful, and to be thoughtful, that’s where I think the game change in nature of this movement comes in.

10:49 CHRIS DELATORRE: Asha Curran, CEO of GivingTuesday, thank you.

To learn more about GivingTuesday, visit GivingTuesday.org and follow Asha’s work on Twitter @RadioFreeAsha and @GivingTuesday.

Digital Impact is a program of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Follow this and other episodes at digitalimpact.io and on Twitter @dgtlimpact with #4Q4Data.

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