Transforming Philanthropy with Universal Giving

Daniel Epstein October 8, 2009
I learned at The Feast Conference in NYC that 60% of Americans think we will not leave the world a better place than we found it.
Pamela Hawley is trying to change that.
Pamela is the founder of Universal Giving, a free, online marketplace connecting people with the opportunity to give and volunteer to the best, impact-driven projects from around the world. Her job, therefore, is to select the organizations that are most committed to and effective at creating social impact and support them through grassroots funding and service. Her ultimate goal is to make giving and volunteering a natural part of every day life.
What I love about interviewing people like Pamela and Elnor (of Innosight Ventures) is the opportunity to interact with people who come alive doing what they do. Pamela is relentlessly dedicated to Universal Giving’s mission and embodies the values she espouses in the video below with every fiber of her being. The remaining 40% of Americans who believes we will leave the world a better place than we found it ought to make their bets on her.

1.     What does Universal Giving do? (0:01-0:56)
2.     What are the biggest challenges to realizing Universal Giving’s vision? (0:57-3:47)
3.     How does Universal Giving measure its impact? (3:48-5:57)
4.     Is there a difference between Universal Giving’s outputs & outcomes? (5:58-11:06)
5.     What’s the key to achieving the impact Universal Giving has reached? (11:07-12:13)
6.     What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs? (12:14-14:03)
Universal Giving Profile. Launched in 2002, Universal Giving provides prospective donors and volunteers an online platform for supporting a select group of carefully-vetted, top-performing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the globe. Visitors to the Universal Giving site can search by country and focus area (e.g. poverty, health, microfinance, etc.), navigating 685 opportunities to donate internationally and 304 international volunteer opportunities. By providing people the a platform to connect with carefully selected opportunities for giving their time and money, Universal Giving moves toward its ultimate goal: creating a world where giving and volunteering are a natural part of everyday life.
Market that Universal Giving Serves. In addition to providing individuals an opportunity to give or serve with vetted projects, Universal Giving conducts a 10-stage quality assurance model of its non-profit partners. This process involves the verification of financial information, a review of track records and management teams, and confirmation of evidence provided by the organizations’ partners and sponsors. Non-profits benefit tremendously from Universal Giving’s stamp of approval, which has enabled them to receive over $2 million in donations and 10,000 volunteers through Universal Giving’s online platform to date. Check out Pamela’s response to Question 1 for more information on Universal Giving’s customers.
Financial Model. Universal Giving is incorporated as a non-profit, enabling it to perform an important service for the vetted projects and non-profits in its portfolio: 100% of funds donated through Universal Giving’s online platform goes to the intended recipients of the donation. Because it does not take a cut of the donated funds, Universal Giving has developed an alternative revenue stream providing Global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting to for-profits, which in turn support the vetted organizations in Universal Giving’s portfolio. Learn more about this financial model in Pamela’s response to Question 2.
Impact Summary. In a short time, Universal Giving has demonstrated a model that is highly scalable. Within 9 years, it’s broadened the scope of its work from 25 countries to nearly 100, raising over $2 million in donations through its platform (donations range between $25-$75 on average). Learn more about Universal Giving’s impact in Pamela’s answer to Question 3 and hear her explanation of the difference between Universal Giving’s outputs and its outcomes in Question 4.
Pamela Hawley’s Bio. After witnessing extreme poverty in Mexico at age 12, Pamela committed herself to a lifetime of international service, specifically interested in strategically addressing global poverty. She spent time working and volunteering with microfinance institutions in rural India, participated in crisis relief efforts in the El Salvador earthquake, led digital divide training in Cambodia’s Killing Fields, and worked on a sustainable farm in rural Guatemala. Before founding Universal Giving, Pamela Hawley worked on VolunteerMatch, which connected over two million volunteers with non-profits. Now she serves as a guest lecturer at the USC School of Business and thoroughly enjoys improv, dance, and spending time with her nephews and niece.

Thanks so much to Pamela Hawley for the time she took to sit down with us and tell us all about Universal Giving! To learn more, visit

written by: Teju Ravilochan (Unreasonable Institute)

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