disintermediation: is it really that new?

spring giving disintermediation eventThe folk at Spring-giving asked me to give a perspective on their disintermediation study. It’s not been an easy task, hence why this is appearing much later than the event.

I think that’s because I’m not sure how new it feels.

A proportion of individuals have always given directly to someone in need without needing intervention from a non-profit brand. Rewind the clock and you can see that’s how charities started (and continue to start).

Of course, technology is now a part of the journey, and that is new(ish). The convenience of crowd-funding platforms is a real enabler. Yet, that feels new mostly because we’re just in another tech adoption curve; we’ll move past the spawning of many platforms to a small set of reliable platforms that become the way to get something done.

We don’t know if disintermediation will result in more philanthropic giving than pre-internet – it just wasn’t tracked or published before. For example, I recently heard a charity praise their crowd-funding website for giving visibility of the fundraising by their local services. I’ve also pondered if the big successes in crowd-funding are simply aggregating money that would have been involved in smaller informal giving.

That’s not to say the third sector isn’t feeling a little bit unsure and perhaps even at risk due to the concept. You only need to look at the number of events and articles that have started to crop up to know that.

The perceived challenge is the fit with the way many charities currently work. Established charities have processes that help them comply with legislation, to manage reputation and brand, and to ensure investment in long-term sustainable impact as well as the short-term. All things that crowd-funding appears to handle very differently, if at all, at the moment.

But, there will always be people who just want to ‘do their bit’ without too much thought of who is handling the processing. For most, philanthropic acts are only a small part of their life. Based on the hypothesis that this has always happened and it’s just more visible now, what we’re really talking about is not a total shift in behaviours but about finding a way for both to work together better.

I think what we might need to adopt within charities is the Amazon approach; provide a user driven ‘marketplace’ alongside the brand. Provide choice transparently where the charity is facilitator. From what I’ve heard, Amazon’s business was strengthened by this rather than weakened…

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