Global Giving: The eBay of Philanthropy

Daniel Epstein November 5, 2009

What started as a bizarre assignment from the President of the World Bank turned into a grassroots marketplace for “a million little world-changing ideas.” In one of my favorite interviews to date, Dennis Whittle tells the story of Global Giving‘s beginnings, summarizes its impact to date, and provides some insights into what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. Check it out:

  1. What is Global Giving? (0:01-0:35)
  2. How did you go from the World Bank to starting Global Giving? (0:36-5:24)
  3. What’s Global Giving’s impact to date? (5:25-6:49)
  4. How does Global Giving evaluate the impact of projects it funds? (6:50-10:48)
  5. What’s the key to creating rapid scalability? (10:49-12:49)
  6. What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs? (12:50-14:18)

Global Giving Profile. Launched in 2001 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., Global Giving, is an online marketplace for philanthropy where anyone can post an idea and get it funded. The organization, a registered non-profit entity, sustains itself financially with a 15% optional fee on donations made to projects placed on the site.
In Action – Motorcycle Nurses in Zimbabwe. What kinds of projects does Global Giving fund? One of Dennis’ favorite examples was a non-profit organization that observed that health care workers in rural Africa were unable to treat as many people as they could because moving between villages was so difficult. To address this problem, they got funding through Global Giving to buy these healthcare workers (primarily nurses) motorcycles. Not only did these motorcycles enhance the reach of these nurses, it also boosted their credibility in the villages they went to visit by branding them “motorcycle nurses.”
Vetting Process. Global Giving relies heavily upon a “chain of trust” it has developed with partner organizations who work on the ground in over 100 countries. These trusted partners refer excellent projects to Global Giving, thereby ensuring a certain level of quality in project selection. These partners often, therefore, find themselves invested in the development of projects they refer, leveraging their networks to help support these ventures once on the Global Giving site. Projects on the Global Giving site must also undergo a fiduciary review process and are examined over time for how well they are able to make use of the Global Giving platform to leverage online contributions.
Dennis Whittle’s Bio. Dennis describes himself in college as “aimless,” ultimately going to graduate school in public policy because he didn’t have anything better to do. He joined the World Bank because he didn’t have any other job opportunities. He didn’t become a “social entrepreneur” until he became 40, since he was, in his own words, an “initially risk-averse and status-conscious bureaucrat at the World Bank.” When he’s not running Global Giving, he runs marathons, goes kayaking and hiking in West Virginia, and enjoys traveling tremendously. He adds “this probably makes me sound more interesting than I actually am.”

We are incredibly grateful to Dennis Whittle for taking the time to share his incredible story with us! Learn more about Global Giving at

written by: Teju Ravilochan (Unreasonable Institute)

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