A couple weeks ago my wife decided to raise money to save an art therapy program at a public school in a disadvantaged area of the San Francisco Bay Area where we live. She had spent the last year as a volunteer art therapist at the school during a program to complete her masters degree.
The situation of many of the students was seriously dire. When my wife completed the program, the only thing that made her feel OK about leaving the kids was that they’d have a new therapist next year. Then the California budget cuts kicked in and the program was cut.
The amazing thing is that this was a volunteer program. But they needed to pay a supervisor $1,000 per year (or about $1.25 per hour) to oversee the volunteer therapists.
So my wife took it upon herself to raise the money to save the program. We brainstormed about various ways to do it. We thought about putting on an art related event that people would buy tickets for. We wondered if people in the relatively affluent area where we live would want to support a program in a low income area a couple of towns away where they’d likely have no personal contacts. But she decided that she just had to get it done.
Two weeks ago she created a Network for Good fundraising widget and sent an email around to about 75 people with our offer to match whatever gift they made to the program. About a week later the program was fully funded with enough extra that they can either fund half of a second year or provide money so the volunteer therapists (all students) don’t have to pay for the kids art supplies.
What made this work was Network for Good has created a seamless transaction system that lets people very easily create a web link through which anyone can make a contribution and get a tax deductible receipt.
There’s always been people with big hearts and an important cause they want to support. Now it is easy (and cheap) to make the transaction really, really simple. This is the beauty of a functioning market. A market makes it easy and cost effective for people to engage in financial transactions. That’s the whole point of a market and the reason why I think the emergence of a philanthropic capital market is so important.
Today, if I hear about a book I’m interested in I type the title into the custom search bar in my browser and am taken directly to amazon.com. I can then order the book with one click (Amazon has my credit card and mailing address pre-stored). Because of this I’ve read a ton of interesting books this year that I never would have bought if I had to remember the title and trek to the local bookstore (or, in a pre-market environment, had to find the author and asked her to have a copy of the book created for me). I also have a stack of very interesting books I’ve never read on my bookcase, but that’s another story.
Markets help people find the products and services they want to find in an easy and cost effective way. The people that supported my wife’s fundraising clearly wanted to support the program. But if she had had to put on an event or walk door to door, she might never have decided to raise the money. If she had mailed out requests, some of the people who wanted to support the event would not have taken the time to find a checkbook and a stamp and mailed in their support.
Marketplaces also provide trust. You’ll buy something from a store you’ve never heard of if it is located in a mall you frequent. But you won’t buy the same thing at the same price from someone who approaches you in the parking lot. We live in a country where trust in nonprofits is quite low. A better marketplace can help fix that.
At the end of the day what matters is that the kids my wife worked with, who live incredibly hard lives, will have a stable adult who cares about them in their life. Everyone wants to make the world a better place, but a functioning marketplace where costs are low, convenience is high, fraud is low and trust is high can help people move from wanting the world to be better to making the world a better place.