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Americans donated more than $410 billion dollars to charities in 2017, according to Giving USA. Yet hundreds of well-run nonprofits still struggle to raise money because many would-be donors simply don’t know where to begin when it comes to backing a particular organization. In fact, the initial struggle in selecting a cause to support represents the biggest barrier for people willing to donate, according to the 2018 U.S. Trust Study of High-Net-Worth Philanthropy.
Even for donors who can commit to a cause, only half have a structured, budgeted giving plan—the most influential factor in defining our sense of philanthropic fulfillment, according to the survey. Without such a plan, we tend to take a much more scattershot giving approach that leaves us unsatisfied and therefore unlikely to make future donations. And while we tend to think through gifting strategies only in the context of tax laws and deductions, more meaningful, values-based philanthropic plans that align with financial goals can create a much more powerful sense of engagement and purpose.
Rob Hansen has spent more than 20 years helping nonprofits succeed. As a development director, Rob raised funds from leading New York City foundations and ultimately joined the Robin Hood Foundation, where he worked for five years. Having learned the power of donor engagement, Rob created Goodnation, a personalized advisory platform that matches donor values with organizations that are most effective at serving those in need. I sat down with Rob to talk about how Goodnation continues to help every donor find more meaning in making a difference.
Zach Conway: You started your career focused on getting dollars to important causes. At what point did you realize you needed to become a matchmaker instead of a fundraiser?
Rob Hansen: There was actually a very clear moment. I was working in the Bronx for a very effective youth development organization focused on helping young people get high school diplomas and jobs. Then a major government grant was cut. So I worked with the board and staff to raise a lot of money, but it wasn’t quite enough. I came to understand that every organization faces a “network limit.” And I started to think about how we could get beyond that limit. That’s where the matchmaking idea began. On one side, there are organizations doing fantastic work all over the country. And on the other side, we have a country of very generous donors. To create the bridge between the two can prove incredibly powerful. That’s what we do at Goodnation.
Zach Conway: A lot of us sit on the sidelines because we don’t know where to begin. How does Goodnation ease donors into the process?
Rob Hansen: We make it easy and enjoyable because we think so many people are willing to donate that just haven’t taken that first step. We created an easy-to-use online platform that assesses your core values in a short survey and then provides matches to causes and organizations involved in those causes. If there’s a cause you want to explore that’s not on our platform, we can build it for you. We also provide philanthropy advisors who you can call and meet with in person. They will facilitate that important first family meeting.
Zach Conway: Families often have a tough time aligning on a cause. How does Goodnation work with multi-generational donors who might have differing values?
Rob Hansen: We start by accepting that reality and recognizing that there’s value in different perspectives. If we start by discussing a particular organization, a family will find plenty of reasons to disagree. So we discuss values first. We want to hear each family member talk about what he or she cares about most. If I prioritize a value of human dignity, it may not be your top value, but it’s difficult to say that it’s something not worthwhile to believe in. Still, complete alignment isn’t possible, so families may choose to share multiple gifts, and we empower each family member to take the lead on each of those donations.
Zach Conway: In what way do you think connecting with a cause improves a donor’s own financial well-being?
Rob Hansen: When you first determine what’s meaningful for a donor, the overall financial plan can better align with and facilitate those specific charitable goals. Then the donor can drive the change he or she wants to see in the world. Too often, we see the opposite, where people are reacting and responding to things like the big ask from the alma mater rather than setting up a long-term strategy. With a plan, you can instead assess the potential big gift in a broader context and respond accordingly. You eliminate the risk of giving a gift that’s too big or not well-timed.
Zach Conway: What do you think most determines a donor’s satisfaction?
Rob Hansen: Every donor is unique. It’s about connecting to something that’s personally meaningful and deciding what kind of change one wants to see in the world. That’s the first part. The second part is selecting the organization that can actually create that change. It’s great to connect to a cause, but you need to find the group that’s most effective in addressing the cause. Then it’s about seeing the impact of your gift. Goodnation built in a feedback loop so donors can see the change as it’s happening, which drives satisfaction.
Zach Conway: A lot of large donors make giving decisions based on misleading spending ratios and data like the overhead costs of a nonprofit. How does Goodnation redefine the way we assess organizations?
Rob Hansen: Ratios can tell you how dollars are spent, but they don’t tell you about impact. Two organizations could spend the same amount of money and have totally different outcomes when it comes to addressing the cause. I understand the temptation to look at ratios because it’s so difficult for donors to try to pick one of the roughly 87,000 organizations in the U.S. that have a budget of $500,000 or more. At Goodnation, we look to the top 10 professional foundations, like Robin Hood—where I used to work—or the Gates Foundation, Bloomberg and so on, that spend more than $1 billion on due diligence, research and monitoring to find and fund the best and most impactful organizations. By following that guidance, the Goodnation platform can dramatically narrow the scope so donors can focus solely on high-performing organizations that have the biggest impact regardless of ratios.
Zach Conway: What’s next for Goodnation?
Rob Hansen: We’ve debuted something called charity angels—people who become ambassadors for charities on our platform. Each angel is someone who understands and advocates for a particular organization. If you’re a donor who wants to talk to someone about the details of an organization, you can speak with the charity angel who can provide that on-the-ground perspective. We think that as donors get to know organizations, they too can become charity angels and advocate for the group they care so deeply about. We’re also excited to learn from donors and their giving experience so that we can create even more change.
December 27, 2018 at 11:06AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs