The Big Give

The Big Give (not to be confused with Oprah’s Big Give television show) is an interesting UK based website that allows donors to search for projects to fund. Much like a stock screening tool (which lets you look for stocks to buy that fit your criteria), The Big Give lets donors “screen” projects based on size of gift, charitable “sector”, geographic location and beneficiaries. The site is a good example of the type of tool that I think will become the leading way that donors of all size will find the nonprofits they support. See the column I wrote for the Financial Times that looked at philanthropy in the year 2033 for more details.

Tactical Philanthropy reader Jon Brooks is Managing Director of The Big Give. Rather than explain the site myself, I thought I’d let Jon take the floor. (FYI: Jon sent me a note about The Big Give after I suggested that most foundations should stop accepting most grant requests and instead proactively seek out grantees. At the time, I said that being deluged by grant requested “sounds like spam to me.” So one way to think of The Big Give is as anti-spam software for your foundation!)

In 2007 the UK-based Reed Foundation was struggling to find quality funding proposals for its £1m/year grants. Unsolicited requests were never appropriate and seemed a waste of valuable charity resources.

With no paid members of staff, processing requests also used valuable foundation resources. Promoting the foundation’s need for quality proposals (e.g. through a website/marketing) would have only led to more administration work for both charities and the foundation.

We felt the most suitable solution was an online database of charity projects, and so developed The Big Give. UK charities upload and categorize their own projects – remaining responsible for all content – which allows the Reed Foundation to filter by various factors. Once we have a short-list of projects, we can contact the charity to discuss their proposal in more detail.

The beauty of the web is that we can share The Big Give with other donors looking for new projects. The site is free, and users remain anonymous until they decide to contact the charity. With over 4,500 charities registered, we do not carry out in-depth due diligence. Instead, we provide links to third party websites – such as the Charity Commission – to make it easy for donors to research potential charities to a level that suits their needs.

An example:

In 2007, the Reed Foundation trustees wanted to consider a £100k donation to rainforests. Other websites provided limited information on the work each rainforest charity did, and the charities’ own websites concentrated on the £5/month donors. The only way to find out if a charity could provide us with an interesting project was to ask – and that led to face-to-face meetings, offers to tailor projects to our needs, and so on.

With The Big Give, we are able to search for rainforest projects at £100k and have a short-list of concrete proposals within seconds. Only when we have selected the best ideas and checked the accounts of the charity behind the project do we meet with the charity.

My personal story:

As happens at many small foundations, I worked on the Reed Foundation alongside a full-time job within the Reed recruitment company. As the idea for The Big Give developed, I spent more time on the project and went full-time with The Big Give in August 2007. The website launched to charities in October 2008, and we are now looking at how to make The Big Give relevant to all charity donors.


  1. This Big Give Idea is brilliant!

    Searchable terms/filters would be a great time saver for foundations and a great boon for charities such as my own that have programs that are innovative, significantly more intricate than many, have a broad reach that would span many searchable terms, and take time to explain.
    What a relief this could be for everyone! If a foundation looking for innovative education programs found my program because they entered any ONE relevant term such as “art integration”they would then have the opportunity (on their own) to learn that the program covered other areas such as K-8 education, critical thinking, whole-school implementation, communication, language literacy, professional development for teachers, increased test scores, cultural equity, and closing the education gap for starters.

    I recently submitted a proposal to a foundation, followed their guidelines to the T, gave them only what they asked for in the very limited space they provided and was rejected. They said that they believed that my program did not fit into their funding priorities, but I know that it really did/does (don’t worry, I’ll continue to try to connect with them). There are several factors that contribute to this:

    1.Not all charities have “quick-to-grasp” programs like buying coats for cold children. Some programs cannot be grasped that easily and require more explanation and investigation. These types of programs may get missed in first round reviews because they take time to fully understand and that is usually reserved for round two. While no two proposals requirements are the same, many foundations have length and enclosure restrictions. If I have a program that is more innovative and intricate than buying coats for cold children, how am I supposed to fit that into a restricted two page proposal when I also have to include all the other required information?

    2.Proposals are abundant and time is limited. Foundations don’t have the time to really investigate each proposal in the first round.

    3.While making personal connections prior to proposal submission is best, many foundations do not accept unsolicited requests or phone calls.

    4.Small charities often consist of staff members that wear many hats and have a finite amount of time (just as foundations)so we may lack time for proactive relationship building.

    These are only a few of the factors.

    Bravo Reed Foundation! I support any technological advancement that helps combat missed connections.

    Who is doing this in the US?

  2. I don’t know anyone in the US who is doing something like this as well as The Big Give. You make some good points about complexity. One problem with these screens is that they are “dumb” in the sense that like any computer they will only give you as good info as you put into them. If you put garbage in, you get garbage out. With philanthropic “metrics” so anemic at this point (or even counter productive), a reliance on screening might be dangerous. But I really like what The Big Give is doing. I hope they keep experimenting.

    Thanks for the comment Tish. It’s nice to hear from you.

  3. Jon Brooks says:

    I would love to see more information (metrics) for donors, as long as it helps them make an informed decision. (which we link to from The Big Give) is a good example of measuring something discreet. Transparency of annual reports isn’t everyone’s deal breaker, but it’s a useful piece of additional info when making that decision.

    I haven’t heard of anything similar to The Big Give in the US, but if we can prove the concept here then it would be great to see it benefit donors in other countries.

    Jon Brooks
    The Big Give