Year One Reflections

Stephanie Fuerstner Gillis, Interim CEO

A little over a year ago, we set out on a journey to see if we could draw on technology to prime donors’ hunger to give with impact. We launched Giving Compass as a free resource and as an experiment. We are excited to share with you, our members, readers, partners, and others in the field, what we have learned in this first year.

Why did we launch Giving Compass?

Americans are generous, but are we getting the most from our generosity? Most donors say they want their giving to have impact, but only about a third do any research at all on the organizations they support, and only one in ten will compare organizations before giving. Decades of research have helped to define the philanthropy practices that are most likely to lead to impact. How do we connect more donors to what we know as a sector as they seek to put more dollars into organizations that can affect meaningful change on causes and in communities?

We hope that Giving Compass, with rich content and an array of engagement opportunities, connects more donors to the many resources that exist to help them achieve their goals. Putting high quality resources in one place for donors has been tried before. Our opportunity is to blend the best of technology with the knowledge of philanthropy, putting our sector’s best content in front of more donors and giving each a personalized learning experience.

What Have We Learned?

Donors will come.

We knew that Giving Compass could not be an “if you build it, they will come” effort. From the beginning, we engaged best-in-class marketing talent to get to our 2017 goal of reaching at least 20,000 monthly users. We actually exceeded that goal, reaching over 30,000 users/month by January 2018. Because we wanted to expose more people to what we offer, visitors do not need to register to access Giving Compass resources.

What we know about most of our users is what we can see in our analytics. They like to travel, are avid readers of news and politics, avid investors, trend slightly more male than female, and are primarily between 35-64 years old. From these data, and our targeting, we are fairly confident we are reaching our intended audience.

Our partners are the experts, we can elevate their reach.

Original content is by far the highest performing content for Giving Compass. Though we did write some pieces ourselves, we realized early on that we wanted to hew to our aggregator role rather than become a journalism start-up. Our role is to bring the incredible knowledge that exists in our sector to a wider audience. In our first year, we found many generous partners who contributed significantly to our success by sharing content, writing original pieces for us, and collaborating on series such as Unlikely Duos.

Most visitors spend their time learning.

We set out to take donors on a journey: learn, connect, and take action. We thought donors would be most interested in the giving opportunities (issue funds, organizations, projects). We also expected they would be attracted to connect with offline learning opportunities via events and volunteer opportunities. We designed the site with the intent of using the giving opportunities, volunteer opportunities, and events to attract users so that we can offer up rich learning content. To date, most of our users spend their time on Giving Compass learning by consuming content on topics in philanthropy.

Giving Compass is becoming a knowledge hub.

Since our launch, we have aggregated over 17,000 pieces of high-quality, curated and original content and are rapidly becoming a knowledge repository for the sector. We want to be better than web search on any topic in philanthropy. Our favorite example is “women and girls” – if you search for that topic in Google, you may not want others to see the results. But if you search for it on Giving Compass, you will find the highest quality resources from leading experts on ways you can support women and girls to thrive.

Looking Ahead and Adapting

We are refocusing what we measure to understand user engagement.

Most web properties focus on bounce rate, pages per visit, and other key measures of user engagement. We also monitor these closely, especially those that matter for our partners. But, because our role is to elevate others’ content, our site is designed to push users to the original content source. Thus, the traditional benchmarks for bounce rates are not ideal. We spent our first year focusing on traffic, but now we want to double down on engagement and will be closely monitoring conversion rates, repeat visitors, and other indicators relevant to our model.

We seek to deepen the value proposition for members.

Because our initial goals were focused on usage and audience, all of our content is available to any visitor, and we do not require users to register for a membership. We will explore ways to add more exclusive benefits for joining Giving Compass in the upcoming year as we seek to deepen our relationship with members.

We are offering tools and products that will make Giving Compass sustainable.

From the beginning, we were committed to this being a sustainable enterprise. We have identified mission-aligned products and tools that can also provide ongoing revenue to support Giving Compass. Giving Planner, launched as a beta in October 2018, is one of these tools, focused on serving the 90 percent of major givers who give through their checkbooks.

We are building our muscle!

Building a product is very different from building an organization. We are focused on putting in place the right people and structures to support Giving Compass to be the strong, sustainable enterprise we want it to be.

We are so grateful to our members, partners, visitors, and funding partners who have made this year of milestones possible. We look forward to sharing another update on the second year.

The Origin of Giving Compass

“Philanthropy is a journey. You're drawn by your heart, what feeds your passion, but you need to pair it with the mind if you're going to be impactful.”- Jeff Raikes, co-founder, Raikes Foundation

Jeff and Tricia Raikes, co-founders of the Raikes Foundation, faced a problem: They wanted to take their generosity to the next level, but found it difficult to find targeted resources to guide their strategic giving.

They weren’t the only ones.

Troves of high-quality philanthropic content has long existed, but accessibility was always a challenge. Some resources existed offline, and even if the information was available online, would donors know where to look?

*Camber Collective, Money For Good 2014

Creating a Movement Toward Impact-Driven Philanthropy

Guided ​by ​clear ​goals ​and ​strong ​values, ​impact-driven ​philanthropists ​have ​a ​passion ​for solving ​problems ​and ​a ​commitment ​to ​partnering ​with ​the ​people ​closest ​to ​the problems ​we ​aim ​to ​solve.

With nearly $20 trillion expected to be donated to nonprofit organizations over the next 50 years, we have an opportunity to make real progress toward solving social issues. Donors who practice an impact-driven strategy can help get us there.

*Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy

Impact-Driven ​Philanthropy ​(IDP) is ​the ​practice ​of ​strategically ​using ​our ​time, ​talents ​and ​resources ​to ​make ​meaningful, measurable ​change.

IDP requires a clear, sustained focus that relies on a research-based strategy with the understanding that collaboration and continuous learning is most effective. Admittedly, this is a lofty - but necessary - expectation of donors.

Giving Compass is committed to helping donors employ an IDP strategy which is why the site provides not only learning content, but ways to connect with others and vetted issue funds for when they’re ready to take action.

“The main long-term overarching goal is to really change the conversation, to make philanthropy and giving about impact and about how it can make sustainable change for communities using data-driven methods.” -Paul Shoemaker, Strategic Alliances, Giving Compass

Growing Together

Who uses Giving Compass?

As readership has grown -- we are now reaching 32,000 individuals per month -- we’ve learned much more about the Giving Compass audience. These data has helped drive many of our publishing decisions, including featured homepage content and the next magazine collection launch.

What do they read?

Our readers are tapping into a wide range of content, from how-to’s to profiles to trending news, but certain topics and issue areas have emerged as clear favorites. Since October 2017, four of the top 10 articles have addressed women and girls. Donors are also focusing on scale and impact with special attention to disaster relief, health and global causes.

Where are they located?

Support and Tools For The Sector

While we sit firmly (and happily) in the philanthropy sector, we also love our role as a tech innovator and media company. In a short time, this expertise allowed us to elevate expert voices and provide tools to further the sector’s mission of social good.

Elevating sector presence

During this last year, we've helped guest contributors and content partners cut through the noise and strengthen their content marketing strategy by providing a reliable publishing and distribution platform.

Using technology and strategic search engine optimization (SEO) practices, Giving Compass is helping our featured nonprofits and partners reach a wider audience faster by appearing on page one of Google for the term “impact philanthropy” and other key terms.

Tools for the sector

We aren’t stopping at Giving Compass. The site is the nucleus of a growing toolkit that is designed to further share content, deepen learning and help donors take action. The success of the online portal has spawned additional tools including a widget, API and Giving Planner, an app that allows donors to plan, track and analyze their giving.

Giving Compass widget

Giving Compass Widget is a simple, easy-to-use content tool that allows our partners to stream our high-quality philanthropic content to their sites, offering fresh content daily. In a few simple steps, partners can set the size, color, and content parameters, and then cut and paste the code to their own sites. Our widget requires no software development expertise - anyone can easily add this to their site!

“Thank you for developing such a turnkey education and philanthropy product. Your information will supplement our content and enhance the ability of our donors to think strategically about their giving.” - Growfund

Giving Compass API

Giving Compass API also allows partners to stream content but with the option for greater customization and direct integration. It can further enhance a site’s user experience and strengthen a content strategy rooted in impact.

In October 2018, Schwab Charitable became the first nonprofit to offer its donors customized news feeds through the Giving Compass API.

“At Schwab Charitable, we are committed to providing donors with the best-in-class tools and resources to help them achieve maximum impact with their philanthropy. Through our partnership with the Raikes Foundation and Giving Compass, we offer donors access to extensive and diverse philanthropic content and tools which will help them embrace an even more thoughtful and informed approach to their charitable giving” - Fred Kaynor, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development, Schwab Charitable.

With this early success, we’re confident that this revolutionary tool will advance the missions of financial institutions, national nonprofits and industry-leading digital properties.

“We are so pleased that Schwab Charitable is the first partner to integrate our content directly into its public, digital site. The Giving Compass API allows nonprofit organizations and corporate partners to customize content selections and serve up articles seamlessly on their website. We expect large nonprofits and other organizations working with philanthropically-minded individuals to follow Schwab Charitable’s lead over time.”- Larry Leibowitz Giving Compass Board Member and former chief operating officer of The New York Stock Exchange

How We Are Engaging Donors

Solving the world’s complex problems requires well-informed donors. It also demands good news and bright spots. In addition to the robust educational resources featured on Giving Compass, we’re proud to highlight a variety of inspiring stories happening throughout the world. After all, there should be joy in giving.

The quality of content - sourced from experts and vetted - sets Giving Compass apart, allowing donors easier access to the resource they crave.

Connecting donors to respected voices

Collaboration has been powerful. GlobalGiving, Charity Navigator and VolunteerMatch’s willingness to share their databases of projects, organizations and volunteer opportunities continues to provide donors with a richer experience on- and offline.

Content partnerships have resulted in a range of success stories. The multimedia series, “Unlikely Duos,” which launched in September in partnership with New Profit, showcased candid conversations between thought leaders that you won't find anywhere else. Earlier this year, the National Center for Family Philanthropy unlocked via its magazine on Giving Compass deep insights from its proprietary knowledge center which had never been released to the public before.

Other donor engagement initiatives included themed campaigns related to International Women’s Day and Earth Day, the launch of topic-based magazines in Impact Investing, Disaster Relief and Gender and Giving, and event coverage.

Finally, we’ve learned that original content is our most powerful tool in connecting with audiences. It's allowed us to react to domestic and world events with sound advice for donors while demonstrating the deep expertise of our partners who work in the field every day.

“We want to make sure that we are known as the one-stop shop for high quality philanthropic content. We want people to come to us because they trust us.” -Jen Jope, Senior Editor, Giving Compass

Helping donors track their giving with Giving Planner

Thanks to a catalytic grant from the Raikes Foundation, this digital tool was created to help donors learn, plan, manage, analyze, and benchmark their giving.

With Giving Planner, donors are guided through creating their first giving plan, and can easily manage and track their giving by uploading receipts and organizing donation information from any device. Giving Planner draws upon data from 3.5 million IRS records, national volunteer reports and a proprietary algorithm, both for benchmarking and to inform each donor’s Giver Score.

We see Giving Planner as a tool that has the potential to change donor behavior for the better. By orienting donors to impact-giving practices and giving them real-time feedback, we hope to nudge them toward strategic giving. This is a part of our larger initiative to move individuals from learning to action.

Equally, the philanthropic sector and academia can benefit from the benchmarking and measurement opportunities that will arise from aggregating and analyzing the data and associated behavior, helping to shed light on the complex problem of increasing the impact of our generosity.

*Giving USA
“If we aren't arming the next generation of givers with the tools to make smart decisions about their dollars and their time and their energy, we are creating billions of dollars of waste and we're not solving any of the hard problems.” Shelly Kurtz, Co-Founder & CMO, Giving Tech Labs

Collaborative Effort

Working in the spirit of collaboration, we deeply appreciate our growing list of partners and contributors.


Our contributors include:

Advisory Board

Thank You

What a year it’s been, but we’ve only just begun. As Giving Compass embarks on year two, we hope to see more of you along the way. And one day, we hope donors and practitioners alike will say, “Just Compass it!”

A special thank you to the following supporters who have financially contributed to Giving Compass' sustainability.

To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter. — Aristotle

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