Direct Relief Puts Spending Decisions into Donors’ Hands


With the launch of an online donation interface that lets donors allocate their money across Direct Relief’s many international and domestic aid efforts, the humanitarian aid group now offers donors unprecedented control over how their contributions are used.

A New Way to Give

Capturing and Honoring Donor Intent

Direct Relief developed the new system to help it better honor the intent of its donors. While contributors who make large donations offline often direct how their money is used, online donors and those making small donations to charities have traditionally had less discretion. Under Direct Relief’s new system, online donors giving even the smallest amounts can direct their contributions to the programs that most inspire them.

A bedrock principle for nonprofits with respect to donations is to honor donor intent,” says Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe. “It’s simple. We can’t honor a donor’s intent unless we allow them to express it. That’s why we built this.”

Beginning Dec. 7, Direct Relief’s donation page has offered contributors a set of sliders to allocate their funds according to any combination of their preferences. The current options include “Where Needed Most,” Emergency Response, U.S. Programs, and International Programs.

When selecting Emergency Response, donors can choose to further divide their funds among relief programs for the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Hurricane Matthew – Haiti, Zika Virus Outbreak, and Direct Relief’s Rapid Response Fund. As new emergencies arise, Direct Relief will be able to update the list quickly.

Initial results during the critical year-end giving period suggest a strong positive reaction to the new system. Both the new donor-directed and pre-existing interfaces were tested between Dec. 8 and Dec. 20. Among those using the donor-directed interface, 37 percent of people initiating a donation completed the process, compared to 26 percent using the pre-existing interface. Direct Relief experienced 179 percent increase donations over the same timeframe.

Direct Relief expects the donor-directed interface will better allow it to fund its work, not just on immediate crises but also on a range of lower-profile yet critical interventions throughout the world. A large portion of donations to disaster relief agencies comes in response to natural disasters. Direct Relief has long-committed to donors that when they designate their funds to a particular emergency, 100 percent will solely be used for that emergency. Now, donors have the option to allocate a portion of their contribution to ongoing programs as well, including those that focus on maternal and child health and support community health centers in low-income and rural areas.

Borrowed from a Video Game Company

Humble Bundle LogoDirect Relief developed the new donation interface after being unable to find existing charity software that provided the flexibility it was seeking. It was inspired by a San Francisco-based video game company called Humble Bundle that lets its customers decide how much to pay for software and how to divide payments between Humble Bundle (the distributor), the software developer, and a charity. Humble Bundle customers have donated more than $1 million to Direct Relief since 2014.

Direct Relief plans to make the software code available at no cost to other nonprofits that wish to use it. For charities that choose to do so, the software could help alleviate a persistent source of friction: the amount of money they spend on fundraising. The new software allows donors to decide how much of a contribution should be dedicated to fundraising. Currently, Direct Relief has locked the fundraising slider at zero percent, as a generous bequest supports all of Direct Relief’s fundraising costs.

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