The Champion Cohort: A New Kind of Advisor

December 2021

The giving marketplace is ripe for innovation. Donor mindsets and behaviors are rapidly evolving alongside current societal shifts, creating an opportunity to adapt and build more equitable giving products. And the Better Giving Studio (BGS) is on a mission to accelerate and inspire the creation of solutions for charitable platforms that enable donors to give more and give better.

With this goal in mind, we created the Champion Cohort, an advisory experiment involving a group of experts and thought leaders in the charitable giving space. We wanted this group to guide our work, push our thinking, and keep us honest, so we invited people with many different backgrounds, knowledge sets and perspectives on giving and the giving landscape. The group included researchers, people from giving platforms of different sizes, nonprofits and donor organizations, as well as experts in the intersections of equity across giving (race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and income, among others).

What were the goals of the Champion Cohort experiment?

We wanted to work with people who would push our thinking, help us question our assumptions, create a diverse and inclusive BGS network, and review and provide feedback on the concepts we were developing, as well as our approach to sourcing those concepts.  We reached out to people who welcomed the opportunity to engage with hard questions, who wanted to do more than just advise us from the sidelines. We were lucky enough to find partners who got into the weeds with us, sharing transparently about hopes and challenges and actively generating solutions for change. 

In return, we offered them compensation for their time and expertise, an opportunity to co-learn and collaborate with peers in the giving ecosystem, proximity to emergent giving concepts and innovators, and a better understanding of the early-stage innovation landscape. They were also able to use storytelling and multi-channel amplification to share expertise with industry leaders like IDEO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the broader giving sector. For Woodrow Rosenbaum, the Chief Data Officer of GivingTuesday, being a member of the Cohort allowed him to come together with “a diverse peer group to ask and address some of the harder problems facing the giving sector.” Speaking to his experience over the course of the year,  “It was inspiring to collaborate on new ideas, growth opportunities and creative solutions; I’m grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and IDEO for providing this forum.”  

Who was involved?

Much to our delight, we were able to assemble a group that made this experiment a success. Here are the folks who joined us for a year of collaboration, co-creation, and community. We are inspired by and grateful for the experience.

What did the Champion Cohort do?

Part of our work at BGS involves addressing complex problems by convening groups of experts. And while the Champion Cohort did serve in advisory capacity, they actually became our close partners and collaborators for many of the various interventions we experimented with this past year. Sarah Welch of ideas42 described the cohort as “a group of thoughtful, passionate people who brought multiple lenses to the set of challenge submissions.”

Open IDEO Reimagine Charitable Giving Challenge:

With the Champion Cohort’s help, we honed in on the opportunity areas presented by the OpenIDEO Challenge (Intentionality, Simplification of Choice, Collective Giving, BIPOC Giving, Women as Givers, and the Next Generation of Donors). They also guided the creation of the evaluation rubric used to narrow toward the most promising ideas. For Cohort member Ciciley “CC” Moore, “participating in the OpenIDEO Challenge review process provided the opportunity to reflect on barriers to funding opportunities for women and BIPOC communities and learn about emerging practice from cohort members representing a cross section of the giving sector.” The cohort members then worked with us to select the ten challenge winners in a way that, according to Sean Hewens, IDEO Design Director, “expanded our perspective and allowed us to overcome biases we might have brought to the judging process.”

Refinement Sprints:

After the OpenIDEO Challenge, we identified a handful of ideas that seemed promising enough to take forward through two sets of Refinement Sprints, which you can read about in these two blog posts: “How One Idea Rounds Up to Three Concepts”, and “The Charity Auction of the Future Is Democratized and Distributed”. For the first sprint, we began with a question: “How might we increase the potential adoption of “rounding up” product features by financial services channel partners capable of reaching donors at scale?” To answer our question, we started with some desk research, which revealed opportunity areas and barriers.

As far as the barriers went, we were lucky enough to have cohort members Sarah Welch and Piyush Tantia of ideas42 to help point us in more productive directions. They worked closely with IDEO designers to get the team up to speed on rounding research, and then to help push the ideas to the next level. With their guidance, we created prototypes and held interviews with one person in each of four categories: payment apps and processors; banks and credit card networks; fintech; and nonprofits and donors. These conversations revealed, among other things, that “round up” features have been around for a while, and that there might be better ways to have impact. 

Ultimately, both sprints generated ideas that IDEO is excited about, Margins Make Money, Rerouting Rewards, The Indie Auction Block, and More Mindful Marketplaces. A key part of the design process is discovering viable concepts that might one day live in the world— and in that regard, these experiments were a total success.

Hard Problems Workshop:

The Hard Problem Share was a kind of pop-up think tank about the Challenge experience, where we talked openly and honestly about the innovation questions keeping us up at night, as well as what was inspiring us and bringing us joy. As one of Better Giving Studio’s experiments in catalyzing innovation, the Hard Problems Workshop brought together a range of charitable giving leaders and organizations, from established players like Fidelity Charitable and PayPal to startups like CoinUp and Pinkaloo. These platforms joined behavioral science research partners ideas42, as well as identity-based groups like Donors of Color Network

The idea was to identify the challenges that arise in developing and creating more equitable giving practice, in order to align and prioritize topic areas for upcoming product design sprints. Once we finished that work, we moved on to exploring solutions and/or trends that seemed to address—or be addressing—those really hard problems. The output from this session directly informed both the briefs that we focused on during our Summer and Fall CoLab Sprints #1 + #2, as well as who we invited to join these sprints. Sarah Welch of ideas42 shared, “I loved hearing the different perspectives from other cohort members—whether they were grantmakers, advisors, organizations, or entrepreneurs—and learning how those different contexts influence our views of the gaps and solutions we need in the giving space. I’ve taken that learning to heart in my own work.”

CoLab Sprints:

A handful of Champion Cohort members served as embedded experts on the design teams of our CoLab Sprints, providing feedback and inspiration at key moments in the design process. CoLab Sprints are a unique beast: they bring together people who might never have a reason to cross paths into a situation that lets their imaginations run wild and provides a platform for their expertise to shine. They also set the stage for unexpected and innovative collaborations. One particularly cool example is the role that ideas42 played in inspiring several small dollar donations-related concepts, ideas that emerged from the July sprint. RaisedBy.Us (one of the participants) and ideas42 are now working together closely to build and implement a pilot that emerged from the collaboration.

What did we learn?

The Champion Cohort’s expertise and lived experience had tremendous impact. We often thought about them as a sort of Swiss Army knife, or maybe even our own personal Macgyver. If we needed help, they had our back. We piloted a number of really different interventions over the last 18 months. And in each instance, we were able to lean on members of the Champion Cohort to push our thinking and help us question our assumptions. It was amazing to learn that members of the cohort had a learning experience similar to the one we had, just through their interactions with each other. For Sarah Welch, “There was one moment where another member and I had completely opposite conclusions about how one submission empowered (or did not empower) beneficiaries. It was useful to have my own assumptions challenged and understand how our different roles in the giving ecosystem affected the way we viewed ideas like that.” In short, the experiment worked.

In the Champion Cohort, we brought together folks who shared our passion for building, learning, inclusiveness and impact. Because of our mutual commitment to collaboration, learning by doing, and sharing transparently, they helped us make solid progress on our goal of inspiring more generosity among everyday givers. Thank you to everyone who joined—we appreciate you and look forward to creating more opportunities to continue our work together!

Other News

February 2021

Dive into the Evidence

The Better Giving Studio aims to bridge the gap between research and real world innovation by getting better products into the hands of everyday givers. Contained in this post are evidence citations that support the concepts on this site.

Giving Multiplier was a finalist in the most recent Better Giving Studio OpenIDEO challenge. In this LA Times Op-Ed, two of the founders of Giving Multiplier -- Lucius Caviola and Joshua Greene -- break down some of the reasons that charitable giving isn't more evidence-based, and how digital products like Giving Multiplier are working to overcome this challenge.