Raisedby.us works with companies to give employees the option of setting aside a portion of their paychecks for automatic distribution to the charities of their choice. There are hundreds of charities to choose from, ranging from global-health and education initiatives to animal-rescue operations, and Shutterstock is proud to be a participant in the program.

To help mark our annual Raisedby.us pledge drive, we hosted a panel discussion at our NYC HQ on Thursday, titled “From Caring to Cause: The Business of Charity.” Brian Masefield, Shutterstock’s ambassador for the program, moderated the panel, which brought together Joy Sun, COO of GiveDirectly; Oliver Hurst-Hiller, CTO of DonorsChoose.org; and Dan Katz, Founder of the Rainforest Alliance. Together, they discussed what drove them into the field of philanthropy, and how charities have evolved over time with new technology.

Sun stressed that we have the power to connect with those in need around the world. “The whole process is really digitized,” she said, adding that as we reach more people in far-off places, we also gain additional knowledge about their situations. “We’re swimming in data,” Sun said.

Hurst-Hiller, who previously worked in product development at Microsoft, said that the distribution of data is crucial both internally and within your marketplace. “The more data we can give to teachers, the better decisions they can make,” he said.

Katz added that because technology is so disruptive and open-ended, people are constantly discovering new ways to apply it. Yet, he warns of the risks involved with becoming too reliant on data as a director. He and his staff have kept the Rainforest Alliance, which he formed in 1986, relevant with a new generation thanks to innovation and development; another organization could get too caught up in data, however, and lose sight of the service being provided and the lives being impacted.

Hurst-Hiller cited one of the challenges for a growing organization as losing direct access between the head of the organization and the recipient of the service. That’s where having a great product and website come in — they can transmit both the passion and the mission. In many ways, he said, you must look at a charity as a business.

What’s good for a startup, Hurst-Hiller suggested, is good for a non-profit startup as well. Transparency has also become essential for fundraising, Sun said, because individual donors are asking the tough questions about what goes into a marketing study and where donors’ money is going. It’s forcing organizations to back up all claims with evidence, and to be able to position themselves as leaders, which Sun said is encouraging for the entire field of philanthropy.

More business owners are wising up to the environmental and social issues involved, too. Awareness as a corporate trend is on the rise. “Companies are realizing that if they don’t make changes they won’t have a customer, because they won’t have a planet,” Katz said.