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October 24, 2023
Woodrow Rosenbaum
Reshaping Nonprofit Giving: Technology, Collaboration, and Impact with Woodrow Rosenbaum

Reshaping Nonprofit Giving: Technology, Collaboration, and Impact with Woodrow Rosenbaum

Show Notes:

In this episode, Woodrow Rosenbaum, the Chief Data Officer at GivingTuesday, discusses the challenges and opportunities in nonprofit giving. He emphasizes the importance of funders understanding the impact of the organizations they support and the need for nonprofits to set themselves up for long-term success. The conversation touches on the role of technology, specifically artificial intelligence, and the importance of collaboration with other stakeholders. Woodrow highlights the increase in giving in 2020 due to COVID-related needs and racial justice movements, but also notes the risk of over-reliance on large donors.

“We're about relationships over technology, so we're in many ways a tech company; but we build the technology on the relationships.”

Topics covered:

(00:06:32) Engaging More Donors

(00:12:57) Unlocking Donor-Advised Funds

(00:19:02) The Importance of Donor Engagement

(00:25:15) Understanding Generosity

(00:32:00) The Importance of Collaboration and Effectiveness Measures in Philanthropy

(00:38:36) Data interoperability and AI in the social sector

(00:45:21) Blind spots in the social sector

Links mentioned:

Guest links:

Episode Tags:

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00:00:04 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
We're about relationships over technology, so we're in many ways a tech company, but we build the technology on the relationships.

00:00:13 - Mike Spear
Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about the leaders, innovators and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear, and our guest today is a familiar figure in the cause and purpose world. Chief Data Officer At GivingTuesday Woodrow Rosenbaum. GivingTuesday needs no introduction, and Woodrow picks right up where he left off last season, talking about the nature of generosity around the world, what nonprofit organizations should be doing right now to set themselves up for long term success, and why it's so important for funders to understand the impact created by the organizations they support.

00:00:47 - Mike Spear
We talk a little bit about artificial intelligence and about the importance of collaboration with other stakeholders that align with your mission. Woodrow always delivers compelling insights with sophistication and class, so you may want to grab a pen and paper for this one. Hope you enjoy.

00:01:04 - Mike Spear
Woodrow, thanks so much for coming back on the show, man. It's been two years. It's good to hear your voice again.

00:01:10 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
It's amazing that it's already been two years. It's good to be here, Mike.

00:01:14 - Mike Spear
We covered a ton of stuff in our last episode, and some time has passed since then, but it still holds up as one of my favorites. I think we covered a lot of ground, and I really enjoyed the insights you shared. One of the things that stood out when I listened back to it, though, is towards the end, we actually kind of started making a few predictions about the next ten years of philanthropy, and I realized that in the intervening time, a lot's happened. COVID has sort of, like, started to wane. Russia invaded the Ukraine, crypto has sort of risen, NFTs became a thing, and that sort of crashed. And then, of course, artificial intelligence wasn't really part of the conversation then. So it's pretty obvious at this know, things didn't really go the way that we had thought they would. So I would just love to start with an update from yourself, what you've been up to over the past couple of years, how things have evolved for Giving Tuesday since then and what you're really focused on now.

00:02:07 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
It's certainly been a very volatile period, and I think in a lot of ways that kind of volatility and unpredictability is probably here to stay. And at the same time, we see some of the things that we were looking at when you and I first spoke. We have a much better sense of that now, and, for example, just the importance of all the ways that people give and the fact that that is quite diverse and robust that resilient to some of these more unpredictable events and situations within the greater ecosystem. But, yeah, it's been, I think, for nonprofits in particular, a really challenging period to navigate and we're seeing a lot of encouraging signs and opportunities and also some renewed challenges that are really at the forefront, I think, of where the sector is right now and how some of the things that were troubling indicators are now realities. And we need to really think about how we're going to navigate that.

00:03:08 - Mike Spear
When we last spoke, we were actually seeing a spike in giving. So what are some of those things that you're seeing and some of the opportunities as well?

00:03:16 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
We look at 2020. It's a really important period, I think, to continue to examine, because we had the only year in recent history where we saw an increase in the number of donors to nonprofits. And when we unpacked that year, we saw a lot of things that were driving that, but essentially giving moments were driving participation. And that was COVID related in response to kind of immediate need. It was sort of tangentially COVID related in response to the ripple effect of the pandemic, the first year of the pandemic, but also other things. Racial justice drove a lot of participation in course Giving Tuesday, which is even in that year of Lyft, the biggest day for donor acquisition. So we saw this reversal of the multi year trend of fewer people giving. It wasn't all good news, like it was a very winners or losers situation in 2020. And what we've seen since then is a very sharp return to the previous trend of fewer donors giving more money. And that was the story right through the first three quarters of 2022. And our concern in 2021 and into the following year was we know that organizations need a broad base of support to be resilient, that too many eggs in one basket is not good, that it leaves us vulnerable to economic shifts because those larger donors are more responsive to that economic change. And so the last quarter of 2022 really saw that risk become a reality. And the result was not just fewer donors, a lot fewer donors, 10% down year over year, but also less money. And that's where we are now. We had too many eggs in that one basket, and that basket got holes in it. So now that's the reality is that we have this system that was over reliant on large donor stewardship, and the result of that is the current risk. The key thing, though, and this is where I think it's important to think about this, not in terms of we are sort of unwitting victims of economic modes that we don't really have any control over. This result is not inevitable. So then really the question is what do we do about it? I mean, part of our objective this year is to be more prescriptive about what those opportunities are. In our latest look back at 2022, in that report, we've really tried to put in some ideas of what this means for how organizations can address some of these risks and opportunities in the market. There are really important opportunities. We also have some projects ongoing that we're calling collectively Insights to Action, which is really about driving to what are the specific best practices, what is the difference between success and not? How can we we're running some AB experiments right now so that by the time we're in the, quote, giving season, we really are able to more directly inform. But I will tell you sort of strategically at the high level, I think the key thing is we cannot wait to get a broader base of support and engage more people in our missions. If waiting until the giving season and Giving Tuesday is too late, we got to be doing that right now. We have to be going into the last month of the year with an already more broadly engaged public in our missions so that we have that asset, that more diverse set of assets to rely on when we get into that period. And then the flip side of that would be that we can bolster the top end. I think particularly with donor advice funds, there is more money in donor advice funds than ever before. They represent a proven opportunity to mitigate economic downturn across the sector. So I think what we're really saying is that grassroots engagement right now and a concentrated specific strategy to unlock some donor advised funds is kind of the dual approach that we need to take. And it's not just about mitigating the risk. It's about the fact that we continue to leave money on the table. Even in times when times are tough, maybe even especially when times are tough, people are motivated to give. We just need to be more open to more people being part of that mission.

00:07:53 - Mike Spear
What do you see as the major reasons for the decline and how are folks going to be able to reverse that?

00:07:57 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
I don't think trust is the key problem that we need to solve for. But in particular, I think we need to think about how we engage in ways that build trust differently than we have. So just to unpack that a little bit, first of all, yeah, trust in nonprofits and institutions as a whole is declining over the longer period of time. But trust in charitable organizations is actually comparatively resistant or resilient to that eroding. And what we know is that having trust is not a driver of donation. You need to have trust to get the donation. But we need to think about this more in terms of lack of trust as an obstacle. So people make emotional decisions to give. To some degree, this is an emotional act and we know that urgency is the number one driver of donation intent. We know that a personal emotional connection is absolutely critical. As a driver of the donation, then people need to have permission to take the action they want to take. And for that you need to have that foundation of trust, but it's actually not that difficult to get. And the good news is one of the ways you get that is by talking openly about the emotionally impactful stories of your mission, not by throwing numbers at people. And I think that that's part of the challenge is that this over indexing on trust as the issue leads us to messaging. That is not inspiring and that's a mistake.

00:09:22 - Mike Spear
The impact data that is available, do they not care at all or is it important validation that builds trust once you have the emotional anchor planted? What's the role of that aspect of it?

00:09:33 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Well, part of the answer to that is you really got to segment, right? I mean, there is no one answer for all donors, right? So having a little badge or an icon on a donation page is enough for some, right. Even if they don't know what that means or even if it is not necessarily meaningful, right. And for others they're more interested in how they're making an investment. One thing that I think we need to recognize is that there is a correlation between the donors that think about this stuff and the value of their donation. But that doesn't necessarily mean that that's the directionality of the causation. Right. It's entirely possible that the more people invest in their charitable giving, the more likely they are to think about those things as opposed to it being driven the other way around. Right. And this is why I think we haven't had a huge amount of success driving up numbers by trying to drive people to more information. The other thing is that there is a negative correlation between people who say that it's really important to do your research and their likelihood of being a giver. So we know we can complicate the message, right? And that complication adds friction and that's not necessarily a good thing. It's, I think, better to think about this in terms of inviting lots of givers at whatever level they're at and then giving them opportunities to explore more information and want to get more involved but not make that sort of some kind of obstacle, right. When we start saying, hey, giving is complicated, you got to worry about where you're giving and not all organizations are equal. Those things might be empirically true, but at the end of the day they're just going to add friction and reduce the conversion rate. So we need to give people an opportunity to explore rather than lecture them about how to think about their giving more intellectually.

00:11:29 - Mike Spear
That sounds like what you're saying is certain donors will sort of look at the data as rationale for not giving if they end up wanting to be cheap about it.

00:11:38 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Some, for sure do we definitely see that in our data, right? Like if the people who say it's important to do research into nonprofits are less likely to be generous, there is a correlation there, but you can't take one approach. Different donors had different needs and expectations, and some like to nerd out on the data. So great, those donors should have an opportunity to do that.

00:12:03 - Mike Spear
Giving tuesdays, end of November, beginning of December. It's the kickoff to the holiday giving season, traditionally. But if we think ahead to like, November, October, September, August, even beginning those conversations, that's a long time to maintain engagement around giving. How do you sort of think about that communications arc and keep people engaged over that period of time?

00:12:25 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Yeah, we need to engage a lot more. And desasonalizing giving, I think, presents one of the biggest opportunities we have in the sector in terms of the plurality of givers and the total money that we can get into the system. That does mean we can't just come with the same old thing, right? And I think this is part of the challenge, is that our messages tend to be pretty generic, pretty transactional. What we know is and our recent report really shows this, I mean, builds on last year's report, we got some baseline idea of just all of the ways that people give. And now what we're seeing is that everywhere in the world and this is very true in the US. That people give in many, many ways and they want more opportunities to give, probably more true the younger you get. But just generally speaking, it's very rare for a donor to only give in one way. And so if we think about this as an organization, what that means is meeting people where they are, as you said, means giving them more of those opportunities to be involved in your mission. So the best way to get more donations and more donors is to not always be about the donation giving stuff. Like, there's just lots of thinking about all those ways that somebody can feel like they're part of your mission is increasingly important. And that's the answer to how we up that frequency and that engagement without it always seeming like, oh, they're just in my pocket again.

00:13:50 - Mike Spear
Larger organizations in particular tend to sort of dismiss grassroots, smaller individual gifts. And I've always felt like that was a huge mistake because that's top of the funnel. It's lead generation, it's paid lead generation. And then you can leverage those folks for volunteering or advocacy in due course. How have you seen organizations be successful in doing that? And why has there been a resistance towards it?

00:14:12 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Well, first I want to say there are practices that are problematic, and our system has been getting the outcome it's designed for, which is more money from fewer people. Right. Until you have an economic downturn like we're facing right now, and then it's less money from fewer people. But some of that is driven not by scarcity mentality, which is a problem, but by the actual circumstances. If your organization is under enormous strain five fold demand for your services compared to the previous year and you need a lot of money in the door next month. You can believe that the long term resilience of your organization requires a broad base of support, but you're still going to spend your time trying to get one person to write you a big check. I get that there's many ways that we don't have the incentives and the system is not aligned to kind of provide an environment for success. Now the problem with that of course, is that now we're in the situation where we cannot rely on those large donors the way we have. And so now it's not just an option we're not leveraging, but in fact a necessity that we have to get on board. So you ask, how do I see some success? Well, one is you got to desilo. You got to stop thinking about your storytelling, your communications, your marketing, your development as different functions. If you want to engage more broadly, you want to invite all givers, which is also an equity issue, then you need to think about the totality of that conversation with your constituents, not as siloed as it is. And then there's some other practices. Like I see some organizations breaking out of the mold of, for example, the best fundraiser. The path is toward major gifts officer. That's where your best fundraiser goes. Organizations that are more successfully leveraging this are seeing that they have to organize internally in a way that recognizes that these things are interdependent. Part of it is your future and part of it is we cannot like this idea that we're going to all just scramble for the dollars from a shrinking pool of donors is obviously not sustainable.

00:16:24 - Mike Spear
One area of opportunity that I know you and I are both focused on certainly driving more revenue towards high impact programs, certainly driving funding for more innovative programs at the foundation level. There's so much renewal of past grants that new guys have a hard time getting into the mix. But a big one you mentioned it earlier, is the $300 billion locked up in donor advised funds. And this is money that has already been given. People have already claimed the tax deduction. They can't get that back yet it just continues to sit there. What should our role be in unlocking that money and how do we create the right incentives and the right engagement to start freeing that up?

00:17:03 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
The main issue there is actually about the ask. I'm actually pretty hopeful that this year we're going to see an uptick, a substantial uptick in the money coming out of Dafts. I think that we saw grants out of Dafts being a substantial mitigating factor in the 2008 nine recession. I do think we're going to see if we've got those larger donors who are deploying less directly that they're going to be personally incentivized to grant out of their Dafts. I think that the challenge that organizations face is just like, how do I figure out where those donors are? It's telling that giving Tuesday has from time to time been a huge day for grants out of Dafts, regardless of whether the DAF sponsor is actually activating. And I think that actually points to where the missed opportunity is. Those donors are getting asked a lot and they've got this money and it's ready to go. And you want to be part of the fun, right? The urgency of Giving Tuesday as a moment drives you to want to take an action and hey, it's really easy because it's effectively free. And I think that it's not just Giving Tuesday that can kind of unlock that. There's perhaps twofold challenge there. One is how do you identify those donors? And the other is this sort of expectation that they're going to be different than other donors, right. That you have to make some sort of more substantial case and you have to only think big dollars. I don't think that's true. I think that, again, segmentation is key. We've seen the average size of those Dafts over the years come down, right? So they're being driven by a bigger kind of middle of the road size DAF. Both those things suggest to me that there's an opportunity for shorter term, more frequent gifting out of these Dafts. But that's not going to be driven by the donor. That's got to be driven by organizations approaching those donors.

00:18:51 - Mike Spear
You said there's a large challenge for nonprofits to identify who the DAF holders are and access them. And you also mentioned DAF holders being personally incentivized to start clearing those funds out. Is something going on? Is there legislation in the works? Where do you think that personal incentive comes from?

00:19:08 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Well, I think at the end of the day, what it comes from is wanting to have an impact. And I think one of the things that the research shows is that those DAPs actually move more quickly than people expect. And part of the reason why it's not as clear is because they've been growing like crazy and there is a lag, right? And so the result of that is it looks like they're more stagnant than they actually are. And then the flip side being that we saw a lot of Daft movement like Dafts were demonstrably mitigating factor over the last recession when there was a lot less money in those Dafts and there were a lot fewer fundholders. So I think the biggest missed opportunity is those fundholders just not being engaged frequently enough and a kind of expectation that a DAF fundholder always looks the same. It is always going to be thinking very long term. I don't think that's necessarily true. I think in a lot of cases you've got sort of mid sized Dafts that were started by somebody who had an immediate kind of tax incentive situation and wanted to take an opportunity to set themselves up to do some good and then it's sitting there because they're not getting engaged by enough organizations often enough.

00:20:17 - Mike Spear
It makes me start to think tactically about credit card donation forms and things, just asking the question if somebody has a DAF just so you can get that information and remarket to them later.

00:20:25 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
I mean, it is certainly like that identification. I mean, it's still a minority of people that have Dafts. Right? And it's one of the challenges actually in getting good research into DAF usage is because they're not well understood by even the fundholders themselves and that makes it challenging to get to some tactics.

00:20:44 - Mike Spear
What's your take on effective altruism? They've had a rocky couple of years as well and how do you think that that does or does not incentivize those larger gifts?

00:20:51 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
I think that if we think about this again in terms of donor segmentation, there are donors that they're going to be very motivated by really trying to investigate, where can I get what I feel like is going to be the most impact on the things I care about most and make an investment that is substantial, that's going to move the needle on that, and that's great. And I think that's perfectly valid. I don't agree that it's like and we need to move all donors that direction even if it means we get a lot less money overall. That kind of absolutism doesn't benefit anybody. I think that also what we find is that what is the biggest day of the year for people researching the finances and missions of nonprofits? It's giving Tuesday, and not by a small amount, by like orders of magnitude. So GivingTuesday lowers that barrier to engagement and donation. But the expectation that proliferation is going to reduce the inquiry into the sector and the causes and the organizations is in fact false. It is the best driver of inquiry and thoughtfulness around giving. So these are not mutually exclusive things at all. And I think part of the challenge is people thinking that they are. The other component of this is if we're going to really get into what is effective, we need to hear from the people who are impacted and too often those people are left out of that conversation and that's not okay. Right. Like, first of all, it's bad data. Secondly, it's inequitable. And those are two serious problems that ultimately undermine the entire effort. Right. And I think one of the ways we can kind of get at this is not just by looking at the quote, Beneficiaries, but look at the communities of givers. People give all the time, every day in lots of ways. Most giving does not involve a nonprofit. Most giving is not monetary. If we observe how people close to problems solve those problems, that's going to be a really good indicator of where you should make your investment, your financial investment in solving those problems as partners with the people in those community, as opposed to some sort of institutional approach that is going to magically know where the money is best spent.

00:23:18 - Mike Spear
As I've been embarking on this journey of altruist, a lot of people in the sector have asked why not just do GiveWell? Why not just be GiveWell? Or something like that? And to me, I think GiveWell is great. I'm a fan of what they do. I think it's a cool thing. But to your point, if you're only recommending a handful of organizations in a very narrow band of cause categories, it leaves a ton of people out of the conversation, both on the constituent side as well as on the donor side.

00:23:43 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Part of that conversation is the donations. Right? When we look at one of the things that's really clear from our look back is that we have this segment of generosity that's really having a problem and that's participation in nonprofit fundraising. But generosity more broadly is much more resilient, much more robust and not cannibalistic we're failing to engage. And that's not just bad for us, it also robs those people of agency. Right? If we're only paying attention to this shrinking pool of large donors, then those are the people who have more voice in how problems are solved and how the nonprofit sector evolves. If we invite more people into the conversation, part of that conversation being their money, then we give them more agency and frankly, they're already there. They're solving the problems. And if you're taking care of your community, you need the food bank less. So these should not be considered sort of disconnected or competitive behaviors. That scarcity mentality is exactly what's preventing us from tapping into this and it's unfair.

00:24:51 - Mike Spear
You spoke last time about don't just ask people for data, but ask what people want to learn about and be a partner in that learning. How have you continued thinking about that? How has that shown up in your work over the past couple of years? And how do you think that folks should be engaging with questions around impact, asking those right questions?

00:25:10 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Since you and I last spoke, we've kind of overhauled our methodology and our taxonomy for understanding generosity. And we really do believe that looking at all the ways people give is a really important indicator for impact. And we had to change our approach. And now, in fact, as we take those tools and we roll them out around the world, we're having to ensure that we adjust the approach so that we can be relevant in the different places and cultures that we're deploying these instruments and still comparable across regions, which is a whole challenge. But partly it just became deconstructing and trying to delabel these behaviors so we can see what's actually going on. Because if you ask people if they volunteer, a lot of them will say no. If you ask the people who say no about their behavior, they're all volunteering, right? Yeah. It's just if you ask them about volunteering, different people have different expectations of what that word means. And in some communities, giving in your community is just a first principle of citizenship. It's not even considered something extra you do. And so to untangle that, we really need to shift how we look at what that environment is. And that's really helped us to start to get at how people deploy their resources to make change. And that's a lot more nuanced and rich than how are people quote giving, which has in the past really been focused on how people are donating money to nonprofits?

00:26:44 - Mike Spear
Have you observed many differences culturally between regions of the world and how they contribute their resources?

00:26:51 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
For sure. And similarities. And so at a high level, one of the similarities is most people give in multiple ways everywhere in the world. And that means giving directly to people in need, means giving to nonprofits, it means giving through structured organized systems like mutual aid networks that are not necessarily incorporated. It means giving money, it means giving things, it means giving time, it means advocacy. And again, people are doing more than one of these things across both those dimensions. Now in different places, those things will skew more towards sort of formalized nonprofit giving or not. In some places things skew more monetary than others. And in some cases it's like if you're giving money, it's more likely to be directly to a person need. But if you're doing something else, it's more likely through a mutual aid network. Certainly there were nuances in that respect. But what's most interesting is just how everywhere it's multidimensional and not by a little, like by a lot. And we see this in the US. It's very rare for someone to be only giving money to a nonprofit. In fact, it's very rare for someone only to be giving money. Most giving in the US. Does not involve a nonprofit. Also, when we look at communities within the US. There are definitely communities and cultures within the American context where giving looks different. And some of those people are frankly less engaged, less likely to be approached and solicited or invited to participate by nonprofits for a whole bunch of reasons, some of which are just circumstantial. But ultimately we're talking about systemically. There's a bunch of people being left out of that engagement and yet that doesn't mean that those people give less. People are generous as we talk about.

00:28:45 - Mike Spear
So much of giving, being emotionally driven, as we talk about meeting people where they're at, having somebody volunteer or advocate for a cause, just as long as they're having a good experience. With the organization as long as you're engaging with them well and sending the appropriate asks and appropriate acknowledgments. Really? That deepens the emotional connection and the lifetime value.

00:29:03 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Yeah, for sure. You say it's intuitive. It is. And the data do definitely back it up that these behaviors are mutually. Supportive and not competitive, whether it's mutual aid versus giving to a nonprofit or giving to an individual versus some sort of organized cause. But there's a lot of scarcity expectation in our sector. And partly what I think, first of all, the data don't support that we're in a scarcity environment. Even when dollars and donations are down, there's more elasticity in that marketplace than we give it credit for. And the systems and the actions we take are tending to get us this contrary result. And part of what we've been saying to people who are unsure about how to kind of wade into that is just simply to think about what if you were in an abundance environment? What would you do differently if you thought there was abundance and not scarcity? How would your organization act? And interestingly, if the answers to that look a lot like what happens on GivingTuesday fewer barriers, more celebration, more people being invited on whatever terms, donor centric communications, partnerships between organizations and across sectors, like all of these things that demonstrably work to drive participation. And so as soon as we let go of that scarcity mentality, it unlocks all kinds of opportunity.

00:30:35 - Mike Spear
How have you seen collaboration evolve in this sort of uncertain world? Are folks working together well? Is there a renewed spirit of collaboration between organizations? How does it look today?

00:30:45 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
It's hard for me to say whether which way that is trending because I think it ebbs and flows. What I see that has been compelling in terms of what works is organizations who are thinking about what are other organizations, including not necessarily registered charities, but just other organized groups, complementing my mission in the same similar cause area. Thinking about people who give directly to people in need, not as that recipient as a competitor, but rather as an indicator of somebody who's likely to be supportive of your cause and what you do. Right. Like just flipping that frame of mind. Organizations who serve the same recipient group, but in different ways coming together. We've seen tons of collaboration like that on Giving Tuesday and then organizations with the same mission but different geography that often unlocks a bit of collaboration that otherwise you'd be worried about. And then, oh, it looks like in fact, we have a lot more opportunity when we work together. And then community based stuff, which is the obvious one, right? Like community movements on Giving Tuesday is a big thing. We see those, and this is true just on Giving days in general. It doesn't have to be giving Tuesday. That's often a catalyst for organizations to be like, oh, we can work together, and it tends to work out really well. Which I do think will tend to push the trend more in that direction. Again, though, the more you're focused on large donor stewardship and the short term need, the more likely you are to fall back into the sort of competitive scarcity approaches. It can be challenging to kind of maintain the momentum of those collaborations, but I think it's really critical if we're going to break out of some of these models that just are not delivering for us.

00:32:29 - Mike Spear
I see a big trend towards two things that I fundamentally disagree with. One is the real data standardization of saying it costs one specific amount to generate a specific outcome across organizations and regions of the world. Can you weigh in a little bit on that? Like, how do you look at efficiency with an organization and how to determine who's being high impact versus not?

00:32:53 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
I mean, again, first of all, I think that there isn't enough deliberate, like, intentional conversation with the people that we're supposed to be serving as the primary data stream for whether whatever we're doing is successful. So I think that's really a critical component. Then the other thing is I think we should be thinking about these measures of effectiveness first and foremost in terms of how they serve the organizations that are trying to achieve their mission. The example that has been often given is here's a food bank in this place, and here's a food bank in a similar geography, and this one, it costs $5 per sandwich delivered. And this one, it costs three. So obviously the one in whatever, Michigan is more efficient. That's where your money should go. Well, no one gives like that, right? No one is going to be like, oh, well, I guess I'm going to help the people in Michigan and not where I live, because it only costs $3 per sandwich, right? Like, that is just not how most donors also what's going on there, right? Like, the most important thing there is not how do we use this information to direct donor dollars. The most important use of that information is what's going on. What's different? Because maybe there's just something different about delivering a sandwich in San Francisco that matters, that maybe that's another fundamental problem that some other organization has a mission to solve, right? Or maybe it's just useful context and also who's going to be most served best served by that difference, right? The best constituent to serve with that information are the people that are supposed to be getting sandwiches in San Francisco, right? Like, how can we help that food bank learn? Maybe there is something they can learn from that. And so if we think about our effectiveness measures as first and foremost in service to the mission, then first of all, we're creating a system where people might actually be incentivized to get good effectiveness measures. And secondly, we're actually going to be solving a problem as opposed to trying to create some kind of punishing free market marketplace that where only the Michigan homeless will get served sandwiches.

00:34:59 - Mike Spear
I had the pleasure of speaking with John Moore, who's the chief information officer over the MacArthur Foundation, and we spoke about the philanthropy Data Commons. I'm curious what the collaboration is like between the giving Tuesday data commons and the philanthropy data commons?

00:35:11 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
The Data Commons our mission really is to understand in actionable ways the entire ecosystem of generosity, which is a big remit. The theory of change here is that if we provide the organizations and the groups who are trying to do good with the data environment to make evidence based decisions and create evidence based interventions, that they're going to be able to more effectively serve their missions, which means more resilient social sector and better outcomes and thriving communities. Now, part of that is about measuring the ways that people give all of the time because that's what we need to understand better in order to essentially meet people in their personal missions. And so to do that, we kind of look at this in three areas. We look at the economics, the nonprofit economics and we have data assets and products for the social sector to really get high fidelity trends on that giving economy. We look at holistically like what are all of the other ways people give? And we're doing this on a really granular way on an ongoing basis. So we survey people every week about their previous week's giving behavior across many dimensions when we also look at what's motivating their giving and their values and their view of crisis in the world and a bunch of other stuff. And we have demographic data so it really helps us to get immediate understanding of how these behaviors intersect and interact and what moves the needle on this stuff. And then the third major sort of area of inquiry is just what are movement dynamics and learning and culture? How does that disseminate through a network like ours? And what does that teach us about how to deploy best practice more rapidly? Really looking at the Giving Tuesday network as the model for that, not just for our own cause, but for others like climate mitigation. And then we build infrastructure. We're building the technology that is necessary in order to achieve that. And we're doing that in an extensible way so that our various stakeholders can kind of plug into that and build their own pieces of that puzzle building that on top of our tech stack. I mean, our objectives are about more giving, more resilience in the social sector, enabling innovation and the agency of individual givers. And we have specific outcomes we're looking for in all of those categories. And I guess the other thing is that there are kind of three principles that we build this on. One is that we're about relationships over technology. So we're in many ways a tech company, but we build the technology on the relationships. And your comment about standardization, it's not about creating a data standard and a platform and asking people to participate. It's literally the other way around and ensuring that our various stakeholders get value out of this first and foremost. And that's how we get their help in achieving our mission. And then the second is what we call ruthless pragmatism. The idea being that the right answer written on a napkin is better than the wrong answer through the quote, perfect process. And so we believe in systems, we build systems. We want to clean up technical debt. We want to have process, we want it to be replicable. We want to have all of our data assets easily available and interoperable, but again, it's outcome focused in order to deliver on those relationships. And the third is what we call garbage in by design. Again, yes, standards, right. We implemented the Microsoft Common Data model across all of our financial stuff because we want to be interoperable. And that's a key way to ensure that people organizations are getting value out of our data assets. But we make the getting to standardization our problem, not on the input end. So we take the data however it comes. We do want to gradually improve that pipeline, but the idea is that the hard work of standardization, normalization cleaning is done on our end. So it's not an obstacle to participation. And again, we're not doing this. Hey, there have been a number of other attempts over the years to be like, we have a data standard. If everyone just complies with our data standard, then things will be great. We take the opposite approach.

00:39:43 - Mike Spear
Do you guys work at all with.

00:39:44 - Mike Spear
The philanthropy data commons?

00:39:45 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Yeah, we've been talking to those guys a lot, offering a variety of ways that we might support that work. I mean, it's a great example of an effort that we may have assets that can support that, but we don't need to own anything. We're quite happy to kind of fill in gaps in the infrastructure where it exists. And I think what I like about the way those guys are thinking right now is they're thinking the output is some standardized tools, but the thought process is about how is this actually useful to users? That sort of incentive piece has got to be first and foremost because otherwise, again, it's just one more standard nobody's going to care about.

00:40:31 - Mike Spear
How do you see AI playing into the social sector? What have you observed as the opportunities and the hazards there? How has your work evolved since AI developed?

00:40:40 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
So, yeah, our Generosity AI Working Group is officially launching end of October, and we got a bunch of partners. I mean, there's more than a thousand organizations already involved and Microsoft supporting kind of helping to bring this initial convening together. We're thinking about it in two ways. First of all, we want to lend our convening power to the discourse because what we observed very quickly was there were kind of two camps and not much in between. We need to take two years and write up some responsible AI use guidelines that everybody's going to use. And the problem with that is it's the right idea, but nothing we do that's going to take two years or a year or six months is relevant right now. This is moving way too fast. So we do need some guidance. Like, we need responsible AI use and we need to ensure that we're talking about this stuff, but it has to be much more agile. So we're looking to help solve that without going to the other extreme, which is the other thing we're seeing, which is like, well, I'll just ask Chat GPT where to deploy my life saving resources and whatever it tells me will be right. Like, we definitely need to be thoughtful and intentional and transparent and careful and have guidelines. But one of the things we need to avoid is the nonprofit sector being left behind on yet another technical revolution. On the other hand, there's real harm that could be done and we need to ensure that we're doing this in a way that absolutely mitigates that harm. And so we're looking at helping to provide a forum for some meaningful discussion and guidelines coming out of this from that, which will be officially launching last week of October. The other part of this is actual tools and resources for the sector. So we're using this stuff, we're developing things. I mean, in some ways, some of the promise of these new technologies are enormous for an organization like ours who has really vast but very disparate data assets, that we've got a roadmap for how these things gradually come together and start to be interoperable. And we've made some good progress. But some of these tools provide the potential to unlock this extraordinarily rapidly. And we imagine in the short term, very short term, a situation where you'll be able to ask our data questions in natural language. Now, when can we do that? We're like weeks away, maybe days away from being able to do that. When will we get accurate answers? Not so sure. So we're creating an environment where we can bring in engineers and technologists and researchers into our sandbox and get access to our data, get access to the tools we're creating to iterate on in a transparent but sandboxed environment where we'll have some of these sort of fundamental things like query libraries, training text right? Like these things that we can help work on together. And all that's getting launched in October. And it's not just us. This is going to be many different organizations and researchers working together. We're just looking to ensure that the parts we're doing are maximally extensible.

00:43:56 - Mike Spear
What's next for you guys over the maybe slightly longer term? Five to ten years?

00:44:01 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Yeah. One of the major changes for us since the last time you and I spoke is the growth of Giving Tuesday through our geographic hub. So we're now 97 countries in the Giving Tuesday movement. And one of the ways that we started to support that distributed network of leaders is with these hubs. So India, East Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean, us and Canada. And looks like we'll be launching something in Europe soon. So this has been a really effective way for us to catalyze growth in those areas and support those regions in doing more as well as informing each other, like cross cultural learning, like really accelerating that substantially. So I think that for us that's going to be certainly for the data commons and also just for our other initiatives. We're really leaning in hard into that strategy, which is going to mean increasingly global view of all of these things where our latest report certainly takes a step in that direction. Now we really have the ability with teams on the ground to take these approaches and make them more relevant and expand in scope all around the world.

00:45:19 - Mike Spear
What's one thing that everybody in the social sector believes to be true? That's just not and what are the biggest blind spots right now in the sector?

00:45:27 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
I think it probably comes down to scarcity. I think that we keep looking at the evidence and the data from the most negative possible viewpoint. We are not in a scarcity environment. There is an abundance of generosity and I don't think that notwithstanding various suppressing effects here and there, the fact is that's the prevailing environment is one of abundance.

00:45:56 - Mike Spear
What is the most important cause that humanity can be tackling today? What would it be?

00:46:00 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Yeah, so I mean, one of the things I'll say is one of the themes that I heard when I was at a sector event in Uganda last year. One of the themes was that women and girls, climate change and social equity, all problems are those three problems. Intersectionality is a real thing, right? That said, think about climate change is becoming an increasingly acute problem. That's a good example of something we don't solve without some broad systems change and that's going to mean lots of different things. There's no such thing as just attacking climate change and just doing climate mitigation. You can't get there without lots of other systemic change. I was at an event where I'm talking about climate change at Harvard, their Gem event, which is a really interesting conference. And I was really struck by people talking about much of Africa is without electricity still and that isn't okay. And so to just impose a climate neutral approach to those people who are without electricity in those communities, without electricity, without thinking about what that means for their right, we can't just solve one problem or the other, that's just not going to work. First of all, it's not fair. Secondly, it's just not practical, it's not pragmatic. So yeah, climate change, if I had to pick one climate change and all we need to do to fix climate change is fix all the things when.

00:47:35 - Mike Spear
You'Re ready to retire or move on to another adventure or go travel or whatever the case might be. What's something that you would like to look back on this part of your career and feel proud to have accomplished?

00:47:49 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Part of our mission is to really modernize this industry and provide really foundational infrastructure. The lack of that infrastructure has real human cost. Right. It's not just about organizations being good at fundraising. It's about the fact that organizations aren't as able to achieve their missions without this fundamental infrastructure. So if I were to look back after I retire in three years and say, yeah, that we were successful, it would be that that fundamental infrastructure is in place and that this entire sector around the world has turned the corner on its ability to make evidence based decisions.

00:48:33 - Mike Spear
Who's somebody in the space that you're connected with or that you've just observed out there in the world that you really respect and admire their work.

00:48:41 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
So, first of all, we've got a couple of board members who I've just learned so much from austin Quadrat at the Kennedy School. Really, really fascinating thought leader on Global Development, Rob Reesh, of course, who's our board chair. I've learned so much from those two. That's been really valuable in the been lately. But most recently, I really appreciate Tim Sarantonio at Neon one who's been really thinking about, he would probably say influenced in part by GivingTuesday, really thinking about collaboration as a force multiplier as opposed to reducing their competitive advantage. And it seems to be doing really well for them. I'm very impressed. Actually, another platform leader that I really admire is Saraya Alexander at Classy and GoFundMe, because I think the thought that she's brought to that merger has been really inspiring. Could have gone a bunch of ways. And I really appreciate how she's bringing that organization to think about. Again, outside of the scarcity mentality, what are the ways we can connect organizations serving causes and individuals doing good with individuals again to get more. And there's some really interesting research opportunities and it does come from that abundance mindset and I think is going to unlock a lot of good things as.

00:50:17 - Mike Spear
Folks want to engage more with you and with GivingTuesday, where do people find the most recent report? Where do people engage with the data commons? How do people access and support the work?

00:50:26 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Yeah, so slash Data is a great place to go as a first stop. You can find our stuff there and lots of other resources, of course.

00:50:35 - Mike Spear
Woodrow, thanks so much for coming back on the show. You're welcome anytime. Really enjoy the conversation and enjoy collaborating and learning from you and the work that you're doing.

00:50:44 - Woodrow Rosenbaum
Always a pleasure. Thanks.

00:50:48 - Mike Spear
That's our show for this week. Big thank you to Woodrow and his team for making this episode happen. You can learn more about his work and find all the information you need to take advantage of the amazing opportunity GivingTuesday If you enjoyed the show, please follow subscribe or leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts and share the link with any friends or colleagues you think.

00:51:07 - Mike Spear
Might find it valuable.

00:51:08 - Mike Spear
We have a bit of a two for one next week with the co founders of an incredible India based nonprofit, karya Manu Chopra and Vivek sashadri talk about Karya's work elevating the economic prospects of India's poor while helping some of the biggest names in artificial intelligence improve the effectiveness of their products. Manu and Vivek, along with their third co founder, Safia Hussein, are recent graduates.

00:51:30 - Mike Spear
Of Fast Forward's Accelerator program and are.

00:51:32 - Mike Spear
Already out there driving some incredible impact. Until then, Cause and Purpose is a production of On behalf of myself, Woodrow and our entire team, thank you so much for listening. We look forward to speaking with you again soon.

People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Woodrow Rosenbaum

Woodrow has a long history of building top consumer brands, which he applies to his work as Chief Data Officer with Giving Tuesday. His insights have helped organizations and brands define strategies, develop new business, and expand their markets. In the nonprofit sector he has conducted research and analysis of individual giving behaviors; engaged with thousands of charities regarding fundraising strategies and trends; and has engaged millions of donors on topics related to giving and volunteering through traditional and social media.


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