We first describe a chain of processes that breaks the problem down along practical boundaries. Addressing particular aspects of each of the processes will result in a service that fills the gaps just outlined. In doing this, we present a couple of characteristics that either indicate or promote a viable solution.
Although we designed our service before making this abstraction, we are providing the abstract level here because we were able to use it to pinpoint where other solutions were falling short of our goals. We present the more concrete service description in the following section.
The solution we propose has at its core the ability for an individual to make a single, small payment that goes towards funding a large number of charities, but does not remove the individual entirely from decisions about the distribution of funding. The choices that donors can make about the distribution should be sufficiently intuitive that the solution is usable without in-depth knowledge of causes or charities.
Such a solution can be constructed from the following components:
- Donor presentation – how the wide range of charitable causes in scope is presented simply to a potential donor. Produce an intuitive and easily digestible categorisation of charitable causes.
- Donor expression – how donors can communicate to the service provider in a way that can be considered an authoritative mandate for distributing funding. Ask donors to convey preferences for one category over another, later informing how much money we should allocate to each. The goal is to move the bulk of responsibility for budget allocation from the board to the donors.
- Work discovery – how the service provider can locate potential recipients for mandated funding.
- Project selection – how the service provider chooses from a list of several potential recipients.
We can express all of the options described in the previous section in these terms. We take the National Lottery for example. Donor presentation is achieved by providing descriptions of a sample of the charitable projects that have previously received grants from them. There is no direct donor expression, because distribution targets are decided either internally or with regard to its licence. Work discovery takes the form of advertising for grant applications – straightforward these days, as the National Lottery is one of the best-known funding bodies. Project selection is also driven by internally-defined processes, details of which are publicly available through the operator’s website.
We explored several concepts while designing our service. A list of these can be found in the glossary in Appendix A. A couple of these concepts were either particularly important or not present in the other giving options, so we discuss them here.
In the same way that a wealthy benefactor chooses to give more to one cause than another, we felt it was an important aspect of empowering a donor to preserve this ability in some way. One basic approach is to ask “if you had a large amount of money, how much of it would you spend on each of these things?”
One characteristic we wanted was that twenty like-minded people should have a similar level of control and impact as one person with twenty times as much to give, or to look at it another way, there shouldn’t be a substantial difference between giving monthly and giving annually (or giving daily, in theory). This is important because it engages the donor and connects them to the same bigger picture as if they were wealthy benefactors themselves.
As noted in our problem statement, no current giving option has a high level of accountability to individual donors. Because it is unavoidable that each individual’s donations will be a tiny fraction of a charity’s total income, some kind of delegation and trust will continue to be an essential part of any solution. We note that even in politics, delegation on single issues by the general public is normal.1https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/donald-trump-republicans-democrats-poll_n_55e5fbb8e4b0c818f6196a82
When giving directly to a charity or through a granting body, a donor delegates key spending decisions to the charities’ management and any major stakeholders. Alternatively, a donor may delegate to an organised group of donors that may itself constitute a major stakeholder.
How delegation is organised determines what control a donor retains, which can be an important element in whether they feel comfortable donating. With household names in the sector not being free from major scandals, donors will typically want to ask questions about what sort of accountability structures are in place, how their interests are represented, and what appropriate recourse is available to them in such scenarios.
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