The growing trend is for individuals to give directly to projects that most touch their hearts and minds. The traditional (eh, old) means of affecting change via checks to your favorite charity or nonprofit is so very passé.

And thus, I’m intrigued with this idea of micro-philanthropy. So when an interesting story by about a student with a new idea for micro-philanthropy came into my cluttered inbox from the SocialActions blog, I actually stopped to read it through.

Basically, Philippe Bradley, currently an undergraduate at Oxford, is putting together a new online social action platform that will allow regular people to create mini-prize philanthropy contests (think X Prize, but much smaller). Each contest creator can then invite their networks to fund the prize (a la justgiving.org) or act as contestants for the prize itself.

The prize would be awarded to the individual or organization that meets the unique standards established by the contest creator and wins amongst voting funders.

Understandably, individuals want more ways to give in small, meaningful ways and organizations are popping up just as quickly as they can to meet this ravenous demand. Kiva.org, Justgiving.org and DonorsChoose.org are examples of organizations in this line of business.

Though an intriguing idea, little red flags started going off in my head when I first read the SocialActions article. Admittedly – I am neither fully versed in this specific endeavor nor an expert in micro-philanthropy but I’m not convinced one needs to be either if one understands the structures from which it pulls: micro-philanthropy, prize philanthropy, and peer-to-peer networks.

Here’s my concern: without the background, training or experience to know what has already been tried, what works and what doesn’t, what causes unexpected consequences and or even the standards of (gasp) law and custom (cultural and institutional) are individuals properly qualified to decide what project, individual or organization deserves support?

I’m typically not one to stymie individual philanthropy or innovation but there are days when I worry that without the proper guidance by those who have actually worked in the field, studied the history and performed due diligence on development projects around the globe we, the good-hearted people, will be reopening issues that older organizations have already overcome. For are we not trying to solve the very problems organized, well funded organizations have been trying to solve for decades, if not centuries?

To address this issue, larger contests like the X Prize use advisors who are experts and professionals in the specific field to both design the contest and judge them. Foundations (ie “outsourcing” philanthropy) often use similar techniques to understand and then fund a solution. In general, there is an understanding that without the proper knowledge they could, in fact, cause more harm than good.

So with micro-philanthropy – this might be a nice time to use the rarely used pause button of progress. We should be asking: who is monitoring and eliminating the bad eggs from the good? What standards are we using and why? What are the reporting standards and what are we looking for in these reports and why?

All of these types of questions ought to be answered thoroughly before we unleash the power of the individual (and we are very mighty indeed!). As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt the power of small group of committed individuals to change the world…”. I say never doubt the collective power of the masses for, with our ingenuity, daring and the proper guidance, we are an unstoppable force for change.

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