The storytelling-grantwriting programme


In 2014, Nominet Trust in the UK funded a training program to provide charitable organisations with a more effective low-cost, community led alternative to traditional evaluations. The method works across the NGO sector, and provides all organisations and peer benchmarking. Our approach is analogous to Framingham’s Heart Study; developing sector-wide longitudinal baseline data about emerging social problems. These tools will inform implementers about interventions, aid decision-making and support grant proposals with evidence. We aim to help organisations save time while extending the useful lifetime of information. Furthermore, our real-time feedback loops should address the challenge that project design can sometimes follow personal hunches rather than facts because evaluations are not timely and may reflect a positive insider-perspective bias. 

Our Past Work

Since 2010, Globalgiving has been experimenting with easier ways to provide NGOs with the analytical power of evaluations for just 10% of the usual staff time and 1% of the traditional costs. Our East Africa pilot generated over 57,000 community stories mentioning over 4000 organizations, covering a broad range of social issues. Both the method and analysis tools have been developed but broader adoption will ultimately depend on exposing them to organizations and forging incentives for both funders and grantee organizations to use them.

Three Objectives

  1. Building tools that allow NGOs to make effective use of community knowledge. We aim to make it possible for NGOs to sip from a shared “fire hose” of information, then drill down to answer specific questions. Throughout 2012-2013 we iterated on the design until dynamic filtering was intuitive for our NGO users. Prototypes of these tools already exist and are being tested by a few GlobalGiving partner organisations; see and These data visualization tools will allow semi-structured and even totally unstructured information (e.g. narrative reports) to be mined for patterns. We also provide nonprofit organisations with a flexible but powerful survey design tool they can use to do a custom evaluation and compare their results to stories told by others, with the goal being to help everyone share knowledge and improve project design. Marc Maxson will be heading up this component.
  2. Testing our underlying assumption to create a virtuous cycle: We believe organisations are willing to engage in community feedback because the evidence they gather helps them propose stronger grants to funders. The driving force for learning and knowledge is the reward of funding. In a preliminary experiment with 103 Ugandan organizations we found just 14% were willing to explore the learning and analysis tools but 43% were eager to use a complementary tool that helps them find grants. Our experiment will provide organizations with tools and guidance during their proposal-writing, then follow the submitted grants to see if they are funded at a higher rate than a control group of grant proposals that do not contain community feedback. Observing (and disseminating the evidence of) a higher success rate would catalyze more use of the tool by grant-seekers.
  3. Attracting a UK audience: We begin with a dataset of 58,000 stories from East Africa and have smaller efforts underway in Japan. We want to engage dozens of organizations in the UK that are willing to use our system and submit grant proposals that incorporate storytelling data. GlobalGiving UK will:

a.   Advertise the program to its network
b.   Train and host webinars
c.   Support NGOs in using the data collection system
d.   Update organisations about the analysis tools
e.   Deliver final feedback on the experiment to all participant and surveyed organisations; specifically what types of grants the group wrote, how evidence was used in them, and whether the overall grant rating was higher / lower than a control group.

Why is this innovative?

Truthful: There are few comparable examples of this strategy and these tools. Feedback to civil society organizations tends to come from the agencies that fund projects. Hence, it tends to be sparse, narrow, and positively-biased with little room for honest criticism or iterative learning. 

Data: Our design creates an open-ended, semi-structured, aid-recipient-driven longitudinal baseline. What emerges is what matters most to citizens. We enable everyone to analyse patterns with an intuitive visual interface – the consumers of knowledge need not know statistics or learn a complicated tool. All data remains open. 

Tools: As we refine these tools they will become more flexible and able to incorporate more data, unlike other tightly structured analysis systems. Eventually the tools should be decoupled from specific data pipelines and stand alone as a means to filter big data sets. Likewise, the inferences drawn from these data are hypotheses that can inform other evaluation efforts.

Iterative design: From the beginning we have stuck to an agile, iterative design, lean startup model for this project. The method and tools have undergone over 15 iterations since 2010 and our preliminary learnings are published online and in trade publications, so that others can learn from our mistakes:


What kind of impact could it have (systemic change)?

This is one iteration in a long-term effort to drive down the cost of evaluations while driving up their usefulness, and a core part of GlobalGiving’s mission to make other organisations more effective and sustainable. We sustained this project since 2009 in three ways:

  1. Through institutional grant funding from the Rockefeller and Hewlett Foundations
  2. Thought leadership on the need for more of this type of experimentation and tool-building, hence GlobalGiving co-founded in 2013
  3. Exploring cost-recovery models based on providing high-quality tools and more complete data that save governments and agencies time and money. External "customers" subsidize the continued free use of these tools by our thousands of permanent NGO partners on GlobalGiving. 
  4. True Feedback Loops threaten those in power, but in a good way, because citizens get better services.


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