Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 27, 2007

Online charity marketplace needed

The charitable world should create a centralized online “philanthropy exchange” that nonprofits, individual donors and funding organizations can use to share financial data and conduct the business of finding and giving away charitable resources.

The latest call for such a marketplace, long advocated by the Philanthropy Journal, comes from Paul Brest, president of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In the foundation’s new annual report, Brest says donors would benefit from an online marketplace that provided information comparable to the resources readily available to private investors.

Brest’s idea is on the money: When it comes to online data critical to making decisions, the commercial world makes effective use of technology to make data available and to transact business.

Individual charitable organizations have made effective use of online technology to publish specialized data on nonprofit finances, programs and needs.

But the charitable world as a whole has failed to rally behind creation of institutions like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and New York Stock Exchange to serve as a central source of comprehensive charitable data or provide a universal marketplace to handle charitable transactions.

Websites such as GuideStar feature financial data on nonprofits organizations, but those data are far from comprehensive and can be badly out of date.

Some community foundations have created spaces on their websites where donors can find information nonprofits post on their finances and needs, but that information can be spotty and reflect the needs only of a small set of local groups.

Other organizations like DonorsChoose and AidMatrix operate online charitable exchanges that let donors make contributions to address needs posted by teachers or relief organizations, but those sites target only specific kinds of causes.

On the demand side of the charitable world, 14 regional associations of grantmakers have spurred development of a common application form,” and some also use a corresponding “common grant report” form.

But as is only too painful to many nonprofit grantwriters, the job of seeking grants from multiple foundations can be a major headache, requiring hours of work filling out separate applications that all ask for the same information.

In a complex and fragmented world with no shortage of urgent social needs, the work of raising money and giving it away can and should be a lot easier and more efficient.

Organized philanthropy needs to invest now in the creation of a comprehensive “philanthropy exchange,” possibly consisting of a network of regional, state and local exchanges, that will provide the financial and operating data nonprofits and givers alike need to make smart decisions and transact business effectively.


  • At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Mark Pomerantz said…

    I've been saying for many years that there should be a online service that provides information to "social investors" of all stripes (not just foundations)about NGO's they might want to put money into. This information would include sustainability indicators [e.g., ratio of earned income to donated income, how well they serve a "triple bottom line" etc.] as well as indicators of mission success. The spectrum of supporters this would cater to includes people/organizations that want 0 rate of financial return but substantial quantified social return on investment to people/organizations that want some definite range of financial and varying amounts of social return.

    A few NGO's and intermediaries like Acumen Fund do have some information of this sort on their sites.

    Mark Pomerantz

  • At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Governor Scott McCallum said…

    We absolutely agree. As a nonprofit, Aidmatrix is founded on partnership and collaborations in the nonprofit world. Although no such exchange exists as posed by Mr. Brest, I will tell you Aidmatrix works in tandem with more than 35,000 nonprofits to bring humanitarian aid to those they serve. And, our efforts targeted to specific causes – Hunger Relief Exchange, Medical Relief Exchange, Disaster Relief Exchange – are just the beginning of the Aidmatrix scope of getting the Right Aid to the Right People at the Right Time™. Using supply-chain technology, not until recently available to the nonprofit sector, Aidmatrix has the scalability to offer this Exchange platform for a multitude of purposes. On the data and financial side, donors and potential investors should seek data from some of the collection websites you mentioned, but also review websites of individual organizations. Aidmatrix posts our annual report and 990 tax form on our website. We have a page for partners, funders and grantors. Creating an effective environment to offer financial data and business exchange is a great idea. Aidmatrix would welcome an opportunity to work with Mr. Brest, the Hewlett Foundation, and others. Our cooperative approach almost requires partners to participate in putting the solutions in place.
    – Governor Scott McCallum, Aidmatrix President and CEO


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