Moving Money Schemes

San Francisco     Being on the Tides board in its various forms is an emersion experience in a different culture and environment outside of the normal range where I roam. Even after 30 years of being on this board and my great pride in the growth of Tides that began in the most casual ways as Drummond Pike’s side drawer operation when we would hardly meet annually and do so everywhere from a boat cabin in Sausalito to the point of formality now of board rooms and color tabbed dockets, it still amazes me how unique and insular the philanthropic environment can be whether $50,000 is involved or $50,000,000. Our world is no doubt the same, but somehow our values and culture are so far outside of this silo that there seems little imagination of it and less a sense of the paradoxes. I often sit in the meeting with the strange feeling of being a visitor from another planet. One of the biggest differences is the transference of entitlements to the staff that seem to rub off of the wealth being served and the absence of any sense of end-use or constituency accountability. But that’s not really what I was going to talk about, so I better get away from there! Nonetheless it is like going to a foreign land….you learn a huge amount, hope to make small contribution, and are delighted to get home again!

Among the things that I learned though were about some different ideas beginning to emerge as “business models” for moving wealth from donors into “doing good” and we will leave it at that:

* Good Night An interesting effort in the hospitality industry that is offering guests at participating establishments the opportunity to pitch in another $4.00 on their bill that then goes into a fund. The fund moves money internationally among other things to health projects. Not sure how large it is, but it’s a fascinating concept and definitely goes past the Paris Hilton concept of giving.

* Geneva Global This is a for-profit outfit out based somewhere on the Philly mainline that claims to have moved $60,000,000 over the last 5 years. They take a huge chunk of the case to administer and identify the projects. It appears to be around 20% of the gross contribution. I looked at the website for the outfit while it was being discussed and the funding looks “mainline” with a little microcredit and this that and the other. Their hook though is on their web site they list a figure of over a 1,000,000 people having been helped by the investments in their projects, but the figure is very specific and gives the impression of having real substance and metrics. They tout the fact that they have a network of 600 “volunteers” and development officers, peace corps people, and whatever who are part of their network of referral and vetting of projects. They have some staff sprinkled around the globe that monitors and moves the money. Fascinating.

* Google This is a coup for Tides especially given the “no it all” Google-culture, but they have asked us to move their money to international projects. Hmmmmm…..

* Synergy On Tides it turned out that without fully realizing it, we found in looking at Tides Network synergy that we were granting about $8,000,000 in Africa and had projects based on that continent that were also spending about the same amount of money. Ellen Friedman, Tides EVP, ventured that without full recognizing it, we had become a significant funder in Africa. OMG!

* ActBlue And, though this had nothing to do with Tides to the degree the meeting forces my mind open it felt more like fate than a coincidence to read in today’s Times about a couple of fellows construction of a web portal called Act Blue that with 54000 web pages facilitates various fundraising efforts for a wide range of Democratic candidates and related projects. They have committed to assisting in raising $100,000,000 for this cycle and the claims of the story held that they were materially changing the way that money was raised. Definitely these electronic sweeps and transfers of resources were even challenging the way matching money is figured by the FEC and how to count these small, almost anonymous donations.

We have to create more capital to resource the work at so many levels, so these ideas on the brave new frontier of collecting and distributing money are worth watching closely to see what we can learn, copy, and even raise ourselves.

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