January 12, 2010

5 questions for the head of eBay Giving Works

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eBay shoppers donated $50 million to nonprofits in 2009 — a record

Beth KanterRight before the holidays, eBay released 2009 figures for its Giving Works fundraising program — and marked a historic record for total funds raised for non-profits through ebay.com. According to the report, the eBay community gave $50 million to nonprofits, a 17% jump over 2008 despite the ongoing recession. The program allows individuals to donate while using eBay.

I was lucky enough to do a quick email interview with Robert Chatwani, eBay’s head of Global Citizenship, to learn more behind the numbers.

1. Give me your elevator pitch

At eBay, we think about citizenship and sustainability in terms of People, Planet, and Communities. Our focus is on harnessing the reach and scale of our core businesses – eBay and PayPal – to create a positive impact. By fostering entrepreneurship for global sellers, keeping goods out of landfills through the sale of pre-owned products, and raising funds for nonprofits through sales on eBay, we’re growing our business and enabling millions of eBay users to participate by voting with their dollars. Plus we have 15,000 employees around the world who get to think about changing the world through their everyday work, which is really exciting.

In terms of giving – we see two large macro trends taking place. The first is that online giving is growing fast, at a rate that’s 7 times faster than offline giving. The other is that many more consumers are thinking about social and environmental values when making decisions about what to buy. These consumers have new mindset, and they’re more practical and socially conscious than ever before.

More about eBay’s different CSR and sustainability initiatives can be accessed here.

2. Many nonprofits are talking about how fundraising is down this year and the rough year ahead. Yet giving is up for ebay Giving Works. What gives?

ebay-givingFirst and foremost, we’re fortunate to have generous buyers and sellers using eBay. And you’re correct – the reality is that consumers are more conscious about their spending and giving these days. But we decided early on that rather than asking eBay users to give more, we’d create simple ways for more users to give. It’s very powerful to combine shopping and giving into a single transaction. We offer 5 different ways to give, and users can donate as little as $1 to their favorite charities. In the world of online giving, this idea of “micro philanthropy” is still a new concept – and one that we are seeing really take hold, especially given the current economic climate. The bottom line is that internal innovation and lowering barriers for our users has led to a surge in giving on eBay. We’ll exit this year at over $50 million raised for global nonprofits.

Robert Chatwani, right, moderating a panel on crowdsourcing for social good last summer (photo by JD Lasica)

3. How are the organizations that receive donations selected?

We work with a partner organization, MissionFish, to verify an organization’s 501(c)(3) status via a simple online form. We now have over 21,000 charities in the program and it continues to grow. Qualifying nonprofits receive their own dedicated eBay Giving Works page that shows all the listings and sellers benefiting them. We love to see new nonprofits join the program.

4. What advice would you give to nonprofits that want to be recipients?

There are several ways to make your nonprofit stand out on eBay. What works well is when the nonprofit organization promotes their relationship with eBay to their current members and donors. By simply selling products on eBay, sellers can elect to have up to 100% of the final sales price donated to their favorite nonprofit. We take care of all of the donation processing and tax paperwork.

Beyond that, we often feature nonprofits and promote selected organizations to millions of buyers and sellers. Lastly, we provide banners and buttons that organizations can place on their website to direct supporters to their eBay Giving Works page, which features products that benefit their organization. We also host discussion boards and provide selling assistance to make the process easy.

5. We’ve been hearing a lot of about selfish giving and lethal generosity, etc. What does eBay get from this giving?

It’s an interesting debate, and to us, there are a few factors at play here. The birth of the Giving Works program at eBay was, in large part, a response the charitable – and purely altruistic – instincts of our buyer community. It actually started as an effort to put a process and infrastructure in place for individuals that wanted to support the families and victims of the September 11 attacks in 2001. At the time, the program was called Auction for America. Since then the program has evolved into a platform where all types of users – including buyers, sellers, and nonprofits – can connect with one another to drive forward the missions and goals of an unbelievably wide range of causes…a marketplace, of sorts, for charitable giving.

The program has evolved into a platform where all types of users — including buyers, sellers, and nonprofits — can connect with one another to drive forward the missions and goals of an unbelievably wide range of causes … a marketplace, of sorts, for charitable giving.

In terms of motive, the truth is that it varies according to user. Buyers often look for items that bear the eBay Giving Works ribbon because supporting their favorite cause makes them feel good. Oftentimes, sellers will donate a percentage of proceeds to causes that they believe in, simply because they believe it is the right thing to do. A great example of this is a woman named Elizabeth Bennet, who runs an eBay store called AfricaDirect. To date, she has donated nearly $40,000 via the eBay Giving Works program.

That said, there is truth to the argument that alignment with a cause can be good for business – in fact, just last week, a study was released that indicated that eBay buyers are actually willing to pay more to do good. We’ve seen that an eBay Giving Works item advertising that 10 percent of proceeds will be given to charity is nearly 20 percent more likely to sell than its non-charity equivalent, and at a two percent higher price. To us, this creates a win-win where each participant can realize the benefits of transacting with one another. We call this “sustainable philanthropy” – creating business-relevant motivations that encourage charitable behavior.

More information on the study can be found on the Forbes site.

Note: I just set up an eBay account for the Sharing Foundation

Does your nonprofit have a profile on eBay? If so, what has been your experience?

Cross-posted from Beth’s Blog.

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Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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