More Than Money
Issue #26

Effective Giving

Table of Contents

“Respect & Dignity A Grantee's Perspective - Thoughts from Kavita Ramdas”


When I think about effective giving, I go to the root of the word effective. Effect means to bring about a specific outcome of one kind or another. From our perspective at the Global Fund, our role as donor is to effect a certain outcome: women's ability to have a voice and to increase choice in their lives. Our definition of whether our giving is effective or not comes out of that understanding.

Giving effectively is all about intentionality. It's very important to be clear and specific about what you're trying to effect. When you're not really clear, the actual effect is hard to measure. If you thought, for example, that the primary mission of the Global Fund is to decrease infant mortality, you might conclude that most of our programs are not effective. But once you understand what we're trying to do, you would probably think we are very effective. Women's groups in 150 countries get ongoing support, and all our activities help make sure women's voices will be heard.

Respect and Trust

The concept of giving effectively comes out of a corporate mentality that nonprofits feel we have to fit into these days. Donors ask us, "What are the numbers? How many women have more choice? Can you see and measure real outcomes?" When you're dealing with the kinds of complex social issues that we are, like extreme poverty, the outcomes are not easily defined. You can't just count how many people came to a soup kitchen. While it's important to care whether your giving is effective, it's as important to be concerned with the way in which you give. Are you giving with respect and trust? It's the process of giving that empowers both the giver and receiver.

From a grantee perspective, most giving that is trying to be effective comes with strings attached. Donors think they can somehow control the outcomes. They give project-specific funding, or money for this many pencils and papers, but not lights or electricity. Grantee organizations, however, understand how important general operating support or flexible funds are. In general, as donors, we don't take a hard look at ourselves and have enough conversation about effective giving. The less we base our giving on trusting and respecting our grantees to do what they do, the more we put restrictions on our funds. But there is a fine line between accountability and useless bureaucracy.


We must start from a premise of some humility. Just because we're in a position of giving away money doesn't somehow endow us with mystical knowledge. We have a culture of awe around who has the money. Grantees find it hard to challenge the donors. We need to acknowledge the power dynamic there. Most grantees would love to see more flexible funding; most donors are hesitant. They see it as losing control over their resources and as losing an opportunity to effect a specific outcome they're looking for. The new entrepreneur donors want to be hands-on. That's great, but then you need to be willing to say, "I'm going to set up a nonprofit and direct it and put money into it"-as opposed to "I'm going to make you dance to a different tune."

Valuing Each Contribution

Unlike most nonprofits, we do not categorize our donors by level of giving. In our annual report, all our supporters are part of a network that cares deeply about what we support; they are all reaching to the edge of their capacity. We don't list categories of givers, because we believe very deeply that philanthropy is not just a privilege of the wealthy, but an opportunity for us all to participate in social change. Anyone who cares can make a difference, not just by their activism, but also through their philanthropy. A little girl who sends us $25 from her bat mitzvah check is making as much of a stretch as someone who sends us $25,000. If each donor is giving to the maximum of his or her capacity in order to change something he or she believes in, that is effective. It creates a constituency of informed and caring advocates for change.

Modeling and Multiplying the Giving

A few years ago we made a grant to a woman in Uzbekistan who was starting a health clinic. Last year the Goldman Foundation honored her with a $125,000 award. The next day, out of her award check she made a $5000 donation to the Global Fund, when she desperately needed it herself. We asked her why and she said, "You gave me money when no one else would. There are a hundred others like me who need a start right now." That's effective giving. It models giving for a much broader constituency. The Global Fund mantra is, "To give is as important as to receive. To receive is as important as to give. All those who give also receive." To us, effective giving is modeling and extending the giving, so it keeps multiplying. You don't want to limit it to a few who have the right or opportunity or the duty to give. The women we fund are themselves so generous about giving.

--from a conversation with Pamela Gerloff

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