GiveDirectly Is Showing Its Donors Exactly What Effect Their Money Is Having

Using unfiltered interviews from people who have received money from the cash-transfer organization, GDLive shows the power of its philanthropic model in real time.

GiveDirectly Is Showing Its Donors Exactly What Effect Their Money Is Having
[Illustrations: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]

Since launching in 2008, GiveDirectly has used cell phones to enable cash transfers straight to extremely poor families in the developing world. Recipients receive $1,000 through a series of mobile payments–one small, and two lump sums–to invest however they’d like throughout the course of a year. So far, the group has helped 50,000 families—that’s roughly 200,000 people–in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.


The model solves one of the biggest hang ups in philanthropy: As the name implies, donors like to, well, give directly—as in, know their cash actually impacts those in need. (Their expenses are itemized here.) Yet while GiveDirectly has raised $120 million, its success has sparked another question, one that’s becoming more important to all philanthropic groups as donors push for transparency.

From an accounting perspective, people want to know their funds did good. (GiveDirectly has studied that: Many villagers choose to upgrade from thatch to metal roofs. Many invest in livestock or a small business, which boosts monthly revenue by 40 to 50%.) But they also want to know more about precisely who exactly is being helped.

To that end, GiveDirectly has launched GDLive, a website for recipients to share more about themselves, their ambitions, and how that money being spent.

“The inspiration for it was that at its core GiveDirectly is about creating as direct a connect between the donor and recipient as possible,” says Matt Johnson, the group’s chief marketing officer. “It was information that was already being collected as part of our core operation,” he adds. While initially, GiveDirectly used census data to identify struggling villages, and field missions to spot most struggling families, they also use the same donation-phones to stay in touch with recipients throughout the process. Then they had a thought. “What if we could share with this the world?”

Each GD Live profile includes the recipient’s first name, occupation, country and photos, as well as their answers to phone interviews both before and during the awards process. Like a social-impact social network, donors can sign in to follow specific people, and be notified when thy post. For those who’d like to drill down further, the site is also searchable by keyword. Type in “goat” and you’ll read stories about raising livestock. Type in “alcohol” and you’ll see that many of the poor have also been decimated by a relative’s substance abuse. And that the site isn’t filtered–once an interview happens though a call center, it’s posted live. “We are definitely not editing or curating any of their feedback,” he says.

One of the key elements of GiveDirectly’s model is that they don’t mandate how villagers spend the money, trusting that they’ll make their own wise investment. That same level of distance has been applied to GDLive. Donors who may be inspired someone’s story can’t give more to them specifically. The goal of the site is to show how the model works so people will invest in others who need it.


It’s working. After GDLive was introduced, GiveDirectly saw a 40% increase in conversion rate among site visitors becoming donors. “The numbers have far exceeded the initial target,” Johnson says. “We are in a unique position at least among aid groups. We have this really vertically integrated model where you can follow dollars directly from donor to recipient.” More cause groups might want to follow that model as well.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.