What if there was a way to trigger a $150 billion influx of new money into the social sector?

Recently, in my public speaking, I’ve been talking about Kiva.org and why Kiva is like a “gateway drug to social investing”. The fact is, most people are not sitting around wishing that they could make high impact social investments. When Kiva was formed, it was not designed in reaction to a large group of everyday people who were looking for a simple way to make small loans to impoverished people in the developed world. Instead, Kiva built a model that was incredibly compelling and hooked everyday donors into the world of microfinance, which until Kiva was a social investing practice reserved for institutional grantmakers.

How did Kiva do it?

Well one model of what makes ideas spread is outlined in the book Made to Stick, by Chip & Dan Heath. The model is called SUCCESs and it lays out six principals of what makes an idea “sticky”. It is amazing how perfectly Kiva, which is one of the “stickiest” ideas in social investing, follows the SUCCESs model.

Simple: Simplicity isn’t about doing little things. It is about focusing on a core message. Kiva offers the simple premise that you can lend money to aspiring entrepreneurs in impoverished countries and help them improve their lives.

Unexpected: To get attention, you need to do something unexpected. Kiva’s pitch is that you can lend (not give) your money, get it all back and still make the world a better place.

Concrete: While the Red Cross says that they “help prepare communities for emergencies and keep people safe every day”, the home page of Kiva asks you to make a $25 loan to a specific person with their photo and bio.

Credible: According to the SUCCESs model, credibility comes from “human-scale statistics and vivid details”. Kiva’s website is overflowing with information about all their historical loans so that a first time visitor can quickly see specific borrowers and lenders and reams of fully paid back loans.

Emotional: People care about people, not numbers. The Chip brothers argue that people care more about self-identity than self-interest. Again, the home page of Kiva features a constantly updating profile of Kiva lenders, with short bios and their answer to the question “I loan because…”. After a few minutes clicking around their website, potential lenders will run across an existing Kiva lender whom they identify with.

Stories: Kiva borrowers keep a journal that explains to the lender how they’ve used the loan and how things are going. A lender is first presented a story about the individual requesting the loan and then given story updates as the borrower deploys the loan.

Kiva isn’t a freak accident. It is a masterfully executed, “sticky” idea.

We tend to spend a lot of time talking about what sort of giving is effective. But there is another issue facing philanthropy. During the last 100 years, charitable giving has run at about 2% of gross domestic product. Making philanthropy and nonprofits more effective isn’t going to change that number. Making philanthropy and nonprofits “stickier” is the key. Bumping giving from 2% to 3% would trigger a $150 billion influx of money into the social sector. That’s real money. That’s the kind of number that is thrown around when wars are started, banks are bailed out, health care is reformed. What if that kind of number was channeled towards effective philanthropy? What if giving went to 4%?

If you care about effective philanthropy, then you need to care about making effective philanthropy “sticky.”

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