Paul Neff, a foundation president and a professional money manager, had his first taste of international giving in a program he helped establish in Poland. Though Neff was familiar with domestic grants, he was unprepared for the complexities associated with international giving. Departments
When managed effectively, international grants can produce dramatic changes for substantially smaller sums of money than domestic grants require. The trade-off is that international grants require donors to do more homework. While Neff acknowledges the considerable work involved in sourcing and evaluating domestic grants, he tells Philanthropy that this work increases “exponentially” for international grants.
After his first overseas grant experience, Neff says he was committed to funding more international organizations but knew he needed help. So he turned to a relative newcomer in the world of philanthropic services: Geneva Global Inc.
Established in 1999, Geneva Global is a for-profit professional services firm in suburban Philadelphia that identifies high-achieving —or potentially high-achieving —grantees in Third World nations, analyzes them, and recommends to donors the programs it judges to be the best. It pays for these services by charging donors 10 percent of every grant.
“People talk about donor fatigue,” says Geneva Global executive vice president Steve Beck, to describe funders who jump into international philanthropy only to leave once they see how hard it is to find good organizations. But he thinks donors are “frustrated, not fatigued.” They want to make a difference, but grow frustrated when they lack the “sense that their grants are alleviating the problem.”
And so, Beck explains, Geneva Global works to transform donors’ “hopes into confidence” by providing a wealth of quantitative and qualitative analysis, comparable to the kind of research reports investors can receive about corporate stocks.
A Clear Mission
Geneva Global’s mission is clear: provide thoughtful philanthropists with independent research to enable them to maximize the impact of their giving. They do this by identifying the best programs in the areas of greatest need in the poorest nations, researching those projects thoroughly, matching them with donors, and later apprising donors of how their grants have changed lives. “We want to see a better allocation of philanthropic capital so that effective programs have access to the resources they need and ineffective programs go out of business,” Beck states.
To begin, Geneva Global deploys more than 500 trained, volunteer field experts in 100 of the world’s poorest countries to gather information on potential grantees. The company also retains a staff of more than 130 employees from 30 different nations in its home office in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and abroad, to analyze the effectiveness of overseas groups seeking financial support. The company works across many different sectors but has its strongest focus on four major problem areas: HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, poverty, and clean water.
Once selected, potential grantees undergo a thorough due diligence procedure that analyzes program design, budget, fiscal responsibility (have they been independently audited?), staff credentials, program capacity, and planned outcomes. Geneva Global invests considerable time and resources in analyzing the risks involved with a particular grantee, as well as the expected results at the end of the grant period. These organizations are then described in brief profiles circulated to prospective donors. If a donor indicates interest, then Geneva Global will submit a more complete analysis of the program in what it calls a Delta Report.
These Delta Reports take their name from the mathematical symbol for “change.” They include metrics that highlight the types and amount of change that would occur with a specific grant. (See the nearby sidebar to read a sample Delta Report.) Similar to an investment report, a Delta Report includes an overview of how the grant would be used, a profile on the Third World country (with information on population, literacy rates, mortality rates, and more), a section on the “Delta” or life change that would occur, and an analysis of the economic background of the country. Delta Reports also include a “What We Like About This Project” section that offers information beyond numbers.
For example, a November 2004 Delta Report, “Easing Suffering of AIDS Victims in South Africa,” states that a grant of $38,000 to the Knysna-Sedgefield Hospice could equip 120 trained professionals to assist 2,000 terminally ill patients in their homes, allow 766 of those 2,000 patients to receive weekly occupational therapy, and provide 2,000 family members bereavement counseling in South Africa. All told, the grant would affect 4,290 people —at a per-life cost of $8.89. The “What We Like” section reports that the hospice has “received high praise for its commitment and compassion shown to patients and their families receiving occupational therapy, medical care, bereavement counseling, and social assistance.” In addition, the Delta Report notes that there has been an influx of people from other provinces who are seeking medical care and that the services the grant would underwrite would improve the situation.
Geneva Global’s research on how to help with the AIDS epidemic extends to other areas of the continent, and the company reports that from September 2003 to March 2005, it disbursed $3.8 million of its clients’ funds to 105 faith-based projects in 24 African countries. Among other things, this funding provided HIV/AIDS awareness to more than 585,000 people, educated more than 120,000 people about prevention, and trained 41,000 community leaders to provide HIV/AIDS education.
Have I Made A Difference?
Geneva Global’s data-based reporting is especially useful to Neff. “The Delta Reports allow us to determine fairly quickly if a grant is in our ballpark of interest,” he tells Philanthropy, adding that the level of detail offered by Delta Reports allows him to make a decision on a $15,000-$20,000 grant in a few hours.
Each month, Neff will sort through the 40 or 50 grant summaries that Geneva Global sends him. He then requests Delta Reports on three to five of those programs. “Our funding rate once we see Deltas is 70 percent,” Neff says.
Discussions with other Geneva Global clients indicate this pattern is common. Phil Smith of Oklahoma, retired from the oil and gas industry, rarely rejects a project once he receives the Delta Report. “Geneva Global goes through a massive number of projects and whittles them to the very best,” he tells Philanthropy. “It’s the greatest asset it brings to me.”
While Geneva Global depends heavily upon metrics in deciding which groups to recommend to donors, the company recognizes that wise giving involves more than statistics. “There is a set rubric which is baked into the Delta Report,” says Beck. “Having said that, every project is unique.”
Delta Reports analyze a project’s relative strength as well as the risk involved in funding it. Sometimes the risk is deemed high but worth taking. In 2003, Beck traveled to a small village in Uganda about three hours outside of Kampala. He discovered “some of the worst poverty” he had ever seen. The community had more than 1,200 orphans in 200 child-headed households. In many cases, children aged 13-15 led households of six younger children.
A local pastor sought $35,000 to assist the most desperate families. He hoped to do this by supplying them with goats and drought-resistant seeds, returning children to school, and training local churches to provide adult supervision of the village’s orphans.
Beck tells Philanthropy that it was “very risky” for Geneva Global to recommend that donors allocate $35,000 to someone who had previously managed no more than $4,000. But multiple references and a local group’s agreement to monitor the program closely helped secure the grant.
When Beck returned in January 2005, he says he was overwhelmed by the results. “The change was amazing—you could see it on their faces. The children were back in school, and adult supervision was available for the younger kids,” he says.
“The locals usually know what is best to get out of poverty,” he adds. “They just need the money. We place a high value on the initiatives of the local entrepreneur.”
Adding Up Costs
One charge Geneva Global occasionally faces is that its fees are too steep. Currently, Geneva Global receives 10 percent of the total grant made by the donor as payment for its services. Beck defends the fee by underscoring the quality of services offered and the impact donors get for their money.
“In our HIV/AIDS work,” says Beck, it costs on average “less than $6, including our fee” to affect a life. There’s an actuarial coolness to such numbers, Beck admits, but this allows Geneva Global to be specific about the impact dollars have on people’s lives. The end result is donors who are willing to fund again because they know the results their grant achieved.
Martin A. Davis Jr. is senior editor and writer for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.