GlobalGiving’s longtime Chief Program Officer Britt Lake shares lessons learned from her 16 years with GlobalGiving and tells you why she’s so excited to join Feedback Labs as its next Chief Executive Officer.
When I joined GlobalGiving in May 2003, the word ‘crowdfunding’ hadn’t yet been invented. It would be nine more months before Facebook was created, Yahoo was still the hottest email domain on the market, and Steve Jobs wouldn’t open our eyes to the wonder of the iPhone for another four years and change. People were still suspicious about putting their credit card information on the internet, and the dot-com bubble had only recently burst. In retrospect, it probably was not the best time to launch a website that relied on social networks, easily accessible global technology, and people putting their credit card information on the internet to be successful.
Since then, the idea that people can connect with—and financially support—each other over the internet to improve communities anywhere in the world, quickly and securely, has become mainstream. Through GlobalGiving alone, almost one million people have given $385 million to thousands of communities in almost every country on Earth. The chance to play a tiny part in seeing that happen has been the opportunity of a lifetime.
Over the last 16 years, I’ve left GlobalGiving, come back, and left again. I’ve spent hours answering phones, made millions of dollars in grants, uploaded photos for people when their internet wasn’t working, disbursed funds to 170 countries, approved every type of project in existence, cleaned the office kitchen, and spoken about the importance of funding local communities to thousands of people. When you believe in something and you believe in your team, you’ll do pretty much anything that needs to be done.
I’ve had the unbelievable privilege to meet smart and inspiring people around the world who have dedicated their lives to making the world better for others.
People like Karrus, who grew up in a refugee camp in Ghana and opened a free school for hundreds of other former refugees when he returned home to Liberia. People like Mohamed, a former translator for the U.S. army in Afghanistan and soon-to-be new father who was living in a refugee camp in Greece and used his free time to build a classroom for the children in the camp. People like Sister Nancy, a former nun working to rebuild the community of Punto Santiago, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
GlobalGiving has given me the opportunity to experience so much good in the world. It’s hard not to be optimistic about the future when your daily routine allows you to talk to innovative, passionate, and kind people. These are the qualities that define the leaders I interact with at GlobalGiving. Through these experiences—and a team that feels like family—GlobalGiving has taught me lessons that are now just part of who I am.
First, I’ve learned the power of trust. When you believe in those you work with, good things happen. Community development is complex. Input A doesn’t always lead to Outcome B, and you can’t control everything that happens. Sometimes you have to trust the process and the people that you work with and have faith that what you’re working toward will work.
Trust plays a big part in everything that GlobalGiving does. Through our Disaster Recovery Network, we fund local organizations in disaster-affected communities. Our grantmaking is based on the idea that once we partner with amazing organizations that know what their communities need, we should support them, then get out of their way. This requires a high level of trust, and I’m so proud that GlobalGiving isn’t afraid to give up the power that comes with being a funder and let our nonprofit partners make the call on how they carry out their projects.
Second, feedback is key. Involving people in the decisions that affect them is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do. GlobalGiving has been able to survive when other crowdfunding platforms have not in large part because of our fierce commitment to build a product that people—both nonprofits and donors—want to use. From the beginning, GlobalGiving has tried to create tools and trainings based on feedback, even when the feedback we get is not what we expected.
This idea that people should have a say in decisions that affect them is the foundation of our work and why we’ve built GlobalGiving with a focus on supporting community-led organizations. People should have more influence over how development funds are spent in their own communities, and nonprofits that act on feedback from people in their communities should have more access to funding.
Finally, if I leave GlobalGiving with one lesson, it’s the absolute knowledge that good ideas can come from anyone in any place at any time. There are people in every corner of this planet who are working to make lives better for others. From building a boat shed on Pitcairn Island to using rats to diagnose TB in Tanzania to training biker nurses to do motorcycle repairs in Zimbabwe, there are people everywhere who are doing amazing things to make other people’s lives better.
This idea that good ideas are everywhere is one of GlobalGiving’s values, but in many ways, GlobalGiving’s values are my values. The chance to work every day to make lives better for others—in exactly the way that matches your own values—is as good as it gets.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I feel just as lucky that my next role as CEO of Feedback Labs will allow me bring these same values to a new organization, one similarly working to create a world where every person in every community around the globe can have a say in creating their own future.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn from you over the past 16 years, and for inspiring me every day.