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Stephanie Gillis, CEO of Giving Compass on combining philanthropy and technology

Stephanie Gillis, CEO of Giving Compass

CEO of Giving Compass, Stephanie Gillis, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss how combining philanthropy and technology can help a broad audience learn, connect and take action.

Giving Compass is a philanthropy knowledge hub. Its origins were driven to a great extent by Jeff and Tricia Raikes – two early Microsoft employees who were fortunate to accumulate considerable wealth. As Jeff and Tricia were exploring how best to give away their wealth, they realised there was a lot to learn about philanthropy.

Jeff subsequently became CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2008-2014) – a period which Stephanie light-heartedly describes as Jeff getting his PhD in philanthropy.

As they embarked on their own philanthropic journey, they noticed many people were approaching them for advice. However, they realised that this approach was not scalable and that maybe there was an unmet need for philanthropy expertise and content to be disseminated through innovative technology.

As they were researching what such a solution could look like, they interviewed nearly 200 individual donors and they realised that many people simply didn’t know where to go for philanthropy information and, when they did find some information, they didn’t know whether that information could be trusted.

Giving Compass was essentially a content aggregator in its early stages. Today, it’s a website that aggregates and curates high quality content for donors who want to give with impact; it’s also a community of people who care about leaning into their giving and learning and growing as donors. Information-sharing happens in all forms, from Giving Compass disseminating outward, to their incorporating third party information, to encouraging bilateral and multilateral knowledge-sharing among donors and networks.

They set out to blend the best of technology with the knowledge of philanthropy, and to support donors on their journey – helping individuals learn, connect and take action

Giving Compass users tend to be people who spend a lot of time trying to learn and improve how they go about philanthropy. Giving Compass works mainly with individuals but, also, works with staff at family offices and others who are trying to support donors.

While their presence has traditionally been US-based, they are increasingly building significant audiences outside the US, which now includes the UK, India, Canada and the Philippines, for instance.

When asked about what exactly ‘impact’ is, Stephanie recognises the word can take on many different meanings and definitions. She notes that they used to say that impact is in the eye of the beholder.

For Stephanie, much has to do with the ‘how’ and the best practices of how people give. She believes it’s important to approach philanthropy with humility and with a beginner’s mind. Collaborating and working with others matters, too. Indeed, one should never stop learning – giving is a journey and philanthropy is a joy.

The team at Giving Compass is growing. They initially started with just 4 staff; then 6; now 10. This growth trend continues. Stephanie is heartened by the fact the team has experts from both the philanthropy and technology sectors.

Besides their philanthropy expertise, the technology side matters. Indeed, in terms of exciting initiatives, Stephanie is keen to note the significant opportunities to personalise and customise according to individual users’ thematic areas of interest and degrees of philanthropic sophistication.

They’re creating a knowledge hub and aim to ensure information is targeted and delivered intelligently – they’ve already aggregated over 25,000 pieces of content.

At Giving Compass, they want to help users learn, connect and take action. They aim to achieve this through the provision of a multi-faceted offering where information flows are multi-directional, where users’ engagement can take many different forms, and where partners engage in diverse ways, too.

Users can learn from each other and, equally, they can avail themselves of Giving Compass’ content to identify issue funds, intermediaries, collaboratives – diverse platforms helping donors enhance how they give, and facilitating giving through innovative channels.

Even for someone who has never been involved in philanthropy, Stephanie mentions that subscribing to their newsletter is a useful exercise. It’s a first step to finding out about different causes and gradually home in on what resonates most to a particular individual.

While Stephanie referenced some of their existing partnerships – such as Fidelity Charitable, Stanford Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society and the UN Foundation – she encourages potential partners to get in touch and underscores the point that there are many different ways for partnering up.

Stephanie’s key takeaway: Giving with impact can happen regardless of how much you’re giving – it’s a mindset and it doesn’t have to feel daunting. There are a lot of networks and resources out there that can help you. It’s up to you to take the initiative!

About Stephanie Gillis

Stephanie Fuerstner Gillis joined the Raikes Foundation in early 2017 to lead the Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative which launched Giving Compass.

She came to the foundation after six years leading Arabella Advisor's family and individual donor practice, eleven years leading philanthropy strategy and evaluation work at Blueprint Research + Design, Inc., and over 10 years in the non-profit sector. She has served on the boards of a number of organisations, including College Kids and Food Runners, and has held various school leadership positions.

Stephanie has an MA in public policy with a focus on youth development policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a BA in political science and international relations from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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