Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Archive for April 2007

Reality Charity

leave a comment »

I’ve just come across a web site which aims to become the ‘eBay of philanthropy’, disintermediating the process of donating to charity and voluntary organisations. Itaims to match recipients of funding directly with donors. The overheads of running a charitable organisation are thus circumvented. On the face of it , this sounds a rather laudable aim, but a quick tour around the site certainly left me feeling uneasy, for several reasons.

Firstly, while there have undoubtedly been some rogue ‘charities’, and there is always a danger of becoming self-serving, the organisations do provide opportunities to accumlate expertise and learning. They are not, generally, simply siphoning off donors’ money for their own benefit. This can be particularly important, for example, in areas such as development where the manner of using resources can be as important as their mere availability. The premise supports a general view that professionals working in non-profit and public organisations are self-serving bureaucrats. Secondly, it turns the recipient effectively into a beggar in a ’boutique’ of worthy causes. My 10-minute scan seemed to support this concern, with a rather high number of photographs of younger women. I would be very surprised if this demographic coincided with need in the US or globally. Thirdly, there seem no obvious safeguards of whether the recipients’ needs are actually as presented. Fourthly, the web site is, interestingly a .com, and a not-for-profit company under US law. They charge a ‘small fee’ to cover the costs of the electronic transaction. THeir FAQ, at least, seems rather evasive on exactly how they are financed and organised.

The ‘disintermediation’ argument is often attractive, but also often misleading: real skills and resources may be involved in mediation (it is, for example, why many rely primarily on professional journalists despite the ‘blogosphere’). In any case, it is usually more accurately described as re-intermediation, though it’s often unclear quite who the new intermediaries are and what the governance arrangements are.


Written by Steve

April 20, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized