I do my best thinking while driving.  More often than not it’s a pop song that helps me formulate my thoughts.  I’m a pretty simple gal.

It’s not about the money, money, money;
We don’t need your money, money, money.

Everybody look to their left;
Everybody look to their right.
Can you feel that?
We’re paying with love tonight.

Price Tag, Jessie J

For six months, my mind has been on the topic of peer-to-peer (P2P) giving.  At least that is what I’ve been calling it.  The interest came out of my thinking in social finance and wondering about making micro-loans in Canada.  I was curious whether if could find the technological solution and figure out some tax pieces, would people make loans to someone in their own country, city, or community?

A variety of reasons stopped me from trying to run Kiva in Canada.  Mainly, we don’t have the same need (i.e. loans are pretty accessible) nor do we have the same profit spread (i.e. we’re not looking at 100% interest on loans).  But that didn’t stop the evolution of the idea.

I want to help single dads.

Philanthropy is hard to say and too often folks think that only professionals can do it.   They think that because we tell them to think that.  Heck, I’ve told people to think that.  And, there is some truth in it.  We professionalize industries so they become more legitimate, more efficient, safer, etc.  Philanthropy is no exception, and in some cases, it’s a really good idea to find professional opinions for your giving.   But in other cases, it doesn’t matter.

Professionalizing philanthropy has had the nifty unintended consequence of dis-empowering the very behavior we had hoped to encourage.  Giving.

I wrote about my mini philanthro-crisis in this post on the Joplin tornado, and how ‘giving to the Red Cross’ was not going to be a good enough answer to give myself.  Even when my professional self really wanted me to take that advice.

Six months ago (during the micro-loan idea phase), a friend of mine asked me about giving and why it was so hard to find great places to give.  I rattled off a list of resources without thinking.  And then I stopped and asked, who do you want to give to?  “Single dads because that has got to be hard.  Every time my wife goes out, I think about the guy who has to do this all the time.  How can I find a single dad?”   Ah, I thought – you can’t.

We trust organizations, not individuals.

The trouble with giving today is that we’ve devised it all so that it must go through organizations.  We’ve been taught and we taught ourselves that we must trust organizations, as legal entities, to facilitate our social needs.  In many ways, this is our most effective and efficient option.   We employ people, professionalize what they do, and pretend that we know where the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is.  (We are certain there is a pot of gold.  We can feel measure it.)

Instead of telling my friend to give to an organization that served single dads, what if he could connect with a single dad on his own?

That’s the very simple, and oddly, incredibly culturally hard, idea behind peer-to-peer giving.  If you could connect with one person to help, would you?  More challenging, if you needed help, would you ask?

The technology solutions behind peer-to-peer giving are the easy pieces.  We see solutions like Craig’s List and Kijiji help us to facilitate goods exchanges all of the time.  Most important about these exchanges, we self- monitor.  That means we self-monitor our safety, the transaction, and our privacy.  We don’t rely on an organization to bring us the coffee table we saw in the listings.  Nor do we ask the organization to sit in our house while someone comes to check out our bed frame.

We can also search.  We can search by postal code.  We can Google map an area.  We are able to filter with tags and categories.  Technologically, we can pretty much find that single dad.

Even more interesting, with social media, we’ve both allowed technology to facilitate a conversation and we’ve culturally allowed our conversation with strangers to expand.  I disagree with people who say, “I don’t care what people are eating.”  I do.  If someone on Twitter tells me about a great restaurant, I listen. When someone asks a question, if I know the answer, I answer.  With Twestivals and Meetups, we see the power of people using Twitter to convene around a need, a cause, and a desire to help.

Technology + Behavior allows us to provide help.  What we haven’t yet proved is whether folks are willing to ask for help?

Why are you still on your couch?

The critiques of peer-to-peer giving always revolve around the same area – trust.   If you give something (goods or time) to an individual, will they use it responsibly?  When you give money on the street, will you ever know how they used it?  Do you care?  Is it really the point?  I’m inclined to believe that as part of the professionalization of giving, we’ve taught people not to trust.   Can we trust that someone will do what they need to do in that particular moment?

When I sent a small gift to Joplin, I had to know that my family would do with it as they saw fit.   In repairing lives and homes, I had to really *get it* that what I thought they could or should use it for did not get to be part of that equation.  I needed to take my Type-A out of it.

Last September, I was on medical leave for thirty days.  Between the time that my caregivers left and I could drive myself, I sat on the couch a lot.  During that time, I often wondered – wouldn’t it be nice to have a magazine?  What if technology + behavior allowed me to find a solution?  And someone brought me a magazine without questioning whether that’s what I really needed.

In using this example, a friend then asked me, “Well, that’s fine.  But what if someone asked for another magazine, a month later.  Wouldn’t that be abusing the system?”   Possibly, but what  a great opportunity to add a conversation to that giving and ask, “why are you still on the couch?”

Re-creating Community

That’s the real golden nugget of giving peer-to-peer giving a shot – re-creating community (in whichever way you define community).  It’s not about the technology to enable connection, we can do that.  It’s only somewhat about changing behavior, we see that behaviors can be shifted if social norms allow them to be.  It’s really about re-gaining trust and empowering us to step back into other people’s lives……after a very, very long absence.

The beauty of peer-to-peer is that ‘giving’ doesn’t need to be the end point.  Re-establishing trust allows us to become both the giver and the receiver.  In many cultures, this is the actual root of philanthropic giving.  That the gift you receive always retains elements from where it came and that when you are able to give, you pass on these elements and the ones that you have added.

That is the genesis of where my little peer-to-peer idea is to date.  I certainly don’t have it all sorted out.  I’m somewhere between “just giv’n ‘er” and asking a MBA to write me a strategic plan.  And I’m looking for input and thoughts – if this grabs you, email me.

The pop song lyrics tell us it’s not about the money.  And they are right.   No amount of money is going to re-establish trust or rebuild community.  Rather if we care for the person on the left and the person on the right, we will have created something that is much more interesting than a new profession.

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