The Right Choice

Identifying charitable organizations that share your vision can sometimes be a challenge, and knowing your donations are truly moving the cause forward is even more difficult. Not all organizations have the resources to track down and woo contributors, so how do the two sides find each other? Dexterity Consulting has taken on the role of matchmaker, bringing donors and charities together in philanthropic bliss. Gena Rotstein, CEO, tells us how it works—and how it’s working.

Gena Rotstein, CEO.

I quit my job in 2008 to do this full-time, and now Dexterity Consulting and our sister software company, Place2Give, are the eHarmony of the charitable sector. We profile the way donors give, and we profile the way that charities implement their programs. Based on how those two intersect, we find the best matches. To do this, we work through the financial services and legal sectors to connect one-on-one with high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals, helping them set up their charitable giving strategies. We also have an online platform that’s free for anybody in Canada, where they can profile their giving habits and research charities. We’re working to expand that into the States, so American donors can do the same thing.

It used to be that charities would find donors and solicit them, and donors would give because they had been asked. It was very much relationship based, which is exactly how it should be, except there wasn’t a lot of due diligence done when some of these transactions were occurring. And that’s because we haven’t taught donors to do due diligence. I flipped the transaction on its head and said, “Why are we empowering the charities to disclose instead of empowering the donors to ask?” In the first year, our technology was available at Place2Give; potential donors researched 20,000 charities. Now that we’ve moved the technology out of beta, I anticipate we’ll see around the same number of charities researched, but we’ll probably see the number of transactions increase exponentially.

Right now, when a donor goes online and types in “international relief,” those organizations that can afford search-engine-optimization marketing come to the top of the Google search. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best ones doing international relief. So what we’re exploring is how to get the effectiveness story included in the search criteria, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with our technology. We’re saying to donors, “Let’s find the right fit. If you’re a donor who’s interested in education and scholarship funds, let’s find you a really good university that provides the scholarship opportunities you want to finance.”

Looking solely at the financial statements of an organization, you don’t really know if charities are spending money effectively and actually pushing the needle on poverty reduction, for example, if that’s what their mandate is. You don’t know if they’re actually getting homeless people off the street, or if they’re educating more kids. All you know is how much they’re spending on poverty, homelessness, and education. Our consulting practice is the next piece in all of this. It facilitates those one-on-one conversations with the organizations and external experts to find out how much it actually costs to do something like solve poverty. Because once we know the cost of the issue, then we can determine whether or not they’re being effective in pushing the needle on that issue. But most donors have never asked those questions, because they’re really complex.

I think we’re just starting to see what the net effect is, because all of this stuff is so new. In the United States, philanthropic advising services have only been around for retail investors and the average donor for about 10 years. And in Canada, it’s only been in the last five or six years that there has been a formal philanthropic advising community. In Canada, most boutique wealth-management firms and large-scale financial-services firms, like Bank of Montréal and ScotiaBank, offer their private wealth clients in-house philanthropic advising and consulting. It’s different from institution to institution, so in some cases it just means these individuals are saying whether or not their clients should set up a charitable trust or private foundation. In other cases, they’re actually going out and researching charities on behalf of their clients. It’s still a fledgling sector.