It’s that time of year again. The Echoing Green application is about to go live. In their annual competition, Echoing Green looks for promising entrepreneurs starting up new organizations aiming to create large-scale social impact. The Echoing Green Fellowship awards up to $90,000 of start-up capital and two years of technical assistance to help get your organization off the ground. They fund nonprofit and for-profit startups.
The application will be open online from December 4th to January 7th, but you can get a head start by:
- Reviewing the application questions
- Reading the guide about how to answer the questions
- Watching a few short videos on the application process
- Signing up for informational webinars targeting underrepresented applicants (including African Americans, US Latinos, and women)
To learn more about the Echoing Green fellowship or to access the application when it goes live, go here.
Nonprofits, like any organization, are constantly faced with new opportunities. In a world that is moving faster, becoming more competitive and increasingly requiring solutions, new opportunities crop up all the time. Should you offer services to a different kind of client? Should you collaborate with a competing organization? Should you pursue a new potential revenue stream? Because nonprofits are consensus-based and have multiple “customers” they sometimes go after new opportunities that they shouldn’t.
The trick is to analyze whether the new opportunity makes strategic sense for your nonprofit. Here are 5 questions to help you:
- Does it fit our strategic direction? You don’t want a strategic plan that sets in stone your organization’s future course, particularly given the tremendously volatile world in which we now live. So if your strategic plan is a good one, you’ve created filters for analyzing new opportunities. If this new opportunity fits within those filters that’s great, but you still need to determine what resources you will reallocate in order to do this new thing.
- Does it fit our core competencies? Even more important than your strategic direction, this new opportunity must play to your strengths. If you excel at running a pre-K reading program, a new math program might not be a good fit. Included in this question is the follow up: Could someone else do it better? If so, let them. Focus on what you do best.
- Is someone pushing this because of their own interests? Let’s face it, nonprofits are made up of many people, some of whom have their own individual interests or pet projects. But once you start following one of those individual interests instead of the interests of the organization as a whole you are in big trouble. Take a step back and make sure this new opportunity is really going to get the organization further.
- Do you want to do this because of your own baggage? Leaders are only human, and we humans all have our weaknesses. Sometimes when a nonprofit leader is making a critical decision some of their personal baggage gets in the way. Perhaps you are afraid of how you will look to your peers if you don’t pursue this opportunity, or maybe you want to keep your fiercest competitor from gaining turf, or perhaps you have a really hard time saying no. Whatever it is, you need to recognize when your baggage, instead of smart strategy, is calling the shots.
- Will this new opportunity further your mission or long-term financial sustainability? If it’s not about mission or money, why are you doing it? Don’t get caught up in vague ideas about “community goodwill.” You will achieve community goodwill by working toward your mission effectively. And be careful about assuming any potential money is a reason to pursue an opportunity. Not all money contributes to the long-term financial sustainability of the organization. Make sure that this new opportunity doesn’t cost more than it brings in.
Nonprofits should not fear new opportunities. Indeed innovation, which the sector so desperately needs, requires a real openness to change and risk. However, nonprofit leaders must take a disciplined approach to making new opportunities part of their overall strategy.
Photo Credit: mytmoss
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Karina Mangu-Ward. Karina is the Director of Activating Innovation at EmcArts a social enterprise for innovation and adaptive change across the arts sector. She leads the strategy and development of ArtsFwd.org, an interactive online platform where arts leaders can learn from each other about the power of adaptive change and the practice of innovation. Her interest is in bringing adaptive capacity and innovation from the margins of dialogue in the arts sector to the center.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: ArtsFwd is about encouraging and profiling innovation in the arts. But innovation is such a loaded and overused word, what does it mean to ArtsFwd and what do you think is true innovation?
Karina: Innovation is definitely a buzzy word, so we try to be careful about how we use it. ArtsFwd is a project of EmcArts, a non-profit that works with arts organizations across the country to strengthen their adaptive capacities and advance the practice of innovation. So we’re primarily concerned with organizational innovation, which EmcArts has defined as instances of organizational change that: 1) result from a shift in underlying assumptions, 2) are discontinuous from previous practices, and 3) provide new pathways to creating public value.
So we’re not talking about creativity, which is more of an individual pursuit, or inspiration, which is about a momentary spark. The stories we tell on ArtsFwd are about organizations working to build their capacity to adapt to a rapidly shifting environment through the process of innovation, which requires a cross-functional team working together over a sustained period of time to develop, test, and optimize genuinely new approaches.
Nell: Why do you think innovation is particularly important in the arts world and why now?
Karina: In the past 10 years, unprecedented changes in our operating environment have placed radical new demands on our arts organizations. We’re seeing changes in patterns of public participation, technological access to the arts, generational and demographic shifts, new forms of resource development, and many more factors. Now more than ever, it’s apparent that the “muscles” arts leaders exercise to promote organizational stability need to be balanced by equally strong muscles around adaptive capacity. We believe that organizations can build those muscles, and an ultimately an organizational culture that is intrinsically flexible and responsive, by in investing in incubating innovation.
While a few training opportunities exist to support adaptive change, like those offered by EmcArts’ Innovation Labs and New Pathways for the Arts programs, the nonprofit cultural field lacked an arena for timely, field-wide conversation and peer-to-peer learning around these new practices. In order to pick up on the remarkably innovative work underway in some organizations, so that individual examples of success can become new norms in the field, there was an urgent need for a field-wide learning platform. In response to this need, EmcArts created ArtsFwd a place for arts leaders to learn from each other about building adaptive capacity and the power of effective innovation.
Nell: What are some of the most innovative things you’ve seen in the arts?
Karina: I love the story of how the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco transformed their visitor experience from “come, look, leave” to “immersive.” There’s a lot of discussion right now about how the arts sector can move from thinking about audiences as passively receptive to actively engaged, and I think YBCA is at the bleeding edge of this work. They’ve changed the museum’s hours, handed curatorial duties over to junior staff, redesigned their website around big ideas instead of logistics, and started a new personalized arts education program called YBCA:You. Check out our short documentary and written profile about how they did it .
The Wooster Group’s Video Dailies Blog is a great example of putting technology to work to build audiences in a way that is genuine to the artistic core of the organization. I think that’s really hard to do. The Wooster Group had to rethink their assumptions about organizational structure by inviting the entire staff to participate in a lateral way in the creation of a daily short video that truly blurs the line between marketing and art. Check out their profile on ArtsFwd.
One that we haven’t covered on ArtsFwd is the Portland Museum of Art’s Object Stories. With this project, they invited visitors to bring a personally meaningful object with them into a booth at the museum and record a story about it. The booth took a series of pictures and creates an audio slideshow, which became part of an exhibit at the museum and an online gallery. It’s a beautiful example of creating an authentically participatory experience that spans the divide between visitor and creator.
Nell: People often say that when economic times are hard charitable dollars to the arts are the first to go because the arts are more “expendable” than social services and other more basic needs. How do you respond to that idea?
Karina: I’m (obviously) predisposed to think that defunding the arts is a great way to shoot ourselves collectively in the foot. But what I find really exciting right now is that we’re seeing a lot of innovative arts groups partnering with social service and urban development organizations to improve their communities. The arts have always been a part of making our communities (and lives) livable, so it’s inspiring to see the connection between arts and direct services forged more deeply.
For example, on ArtsFwd we’re following what’s happening at Adventure Stage Chicago, a theater organization that was created within the Northwestern University Settlement House (NUSH), a century old social service provider, as they join forces to incorporate the arts into social services delivery. Artful practices are being integrated in NUSH’s Head Start program, summer camps for kids, and adult programs, including their food bank, and senior program. Anyone who receives services was invited to co-create a new theater piece about “home,” which was performed in the Adventure Stage auditorium in Spanish, the native language for most of the community. We have a multimedia profile about their process premiering on ArtsFwd in our Innovation Stories section. Stay tuned!
Also, there’s a lot of talk about placemaking happening right now, and I’m encouraged to see the arts taking a vital role in that conversation. For example, Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis is working on a project called Irrigate, which is an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that will help turn the six miles surrounding a new light rail under construction in an underdeveloped and undervalued part of Saint Paul into a welcoming place. The project brings together infrastructure development, a diverse community, and artists in a cross-sector collaboration.
Nell: Arts organizations in particular have struggled because of increasing competition for an audience’s time. How do you think the arts can overcome those trends? And are some areas of the arts better positioned to overcome it?
Karina: What I’m seeing in the arts sector right now is a shift from thinking about the abundance of new technologies and channels for entertainments as competition, to thinking about them as opportunities for cooperation. After all, the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts indicated that 74% of Americans are engaging with arts, yet only 35% are doing so through professional “benchmark” arts organizations. There’s a huge territory of interest to cultivate, if we can find ways of connecting and engaging.
Nina Simon is doing great work in this area right now and writing about it with refreshing openness on her blog Museum 2.0. For example, she experimented with having a puzzle, unrelated to the artistic work, in the galleries to engage visitors for a long period of time, though not directly with the art. She was testing the idea that by bringing potentially “competing” activities into the gallery you increase the length of time someone is in a artful environment and therefore the chances that they will have a meaningful experience with the art. There was some interesting push back on that experiment from artists, which you can read about here.
This in the same vein, City Lights Theater Company in San Jose is experimenting with Tweet Seats, or seats where audience members are encouraged to tweet, which defuses the competition for attention while also generating publicity for the show. If you can’t fight ‘em, make ‘em work for you, right?
Nell: The Nonprofit Finance Fund is in the process of a pretty interesting “Change Capital for the Arts” project where they are helping arts organizations raise capital to revamp their organizations. What do you think about the concept of change capital and do you see more arts organizations going after it?
Karina: We’re encouraged by this move from old capitalization, i.e big endowment campaigns, to more frequent injections of smaller amounts of capital to bridge the inevitable gap between prototyping and the sustainability of a new strategy.
We certainly see a hunger for this kind of “risk” or “change” capital in the organizations applying to our Innovation Labs, which is why we provide a $40,000 grant for prototyping during the program. This kind of seed money helps managers resist the pressure to monetize or fossilize new programs too soon, giving them the breathing space for innovations to grow and embrace a culture of adaptive capacity. Note: the deadline for Round 2 of the Innovation Lab for Museums is May 15th.
I was encouraged to hear Ken Foster, Executive Director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts talk eloquently in this ArtsFwd podcast about setting up a $200,000 fund within the organization’s annual budget to encourage innovation and risk. Throughout the year, any staff member can apply to the fund with an innovative idea. All they need a champion from senior staff (not necessarily from their own department) and to fill out a short application. Small grants are awarded in a rolling basis.
This kind of change capital is the money we need a lot of right now. The failure of funders to provide it is one of the reasons why innovation has not had a larger impact on the field.
Echoing Green has launched their annual search for social entrepreneurs. Each year, Echoing Green identifies promising social entrepreneurs with bold ideas to solve society’s most pressing problems and provides them with up to $90,000 in seed funding, strategic support, leadership development, and a powerful community of nearly 500 other Fellows and alumni. To date, Echoing Green has invested nearly $30 million in seed funding to almost 500 social entrepreneurs and their organizations.
Echoing Green is a great organization and a real pioneer in the social entrepreneurship space. To find out more, you can read my interview with Lara Galinsky, SVP at Echoing Green, and read about English at Work an Echoing Green fellow and Social Velocity client transforming the lives of ESL service workers.
Echoing Green’s online Fellowship application will be open from December 5, 2011 to January 9, 2012. You can find out more about the Fellowship application process here and you can sign up to receive the latest news on the process here.
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Lara Galinksy. Lara is an author, career expert and senior vice president of Echoing Green. Over the last two decades, Echoing Green has invested $30 million in 500 social entrepreneurs around the world. Galinsky is the co-author of Work on Purpose, which provides a framework for aligning passions with talents to achieve personal fulfillment and societal impact. She is also the co-author of Be Bold: Create a Career with Impact (2007).
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Echoing Green was in many ways one of the first instigators of the social entrepreneurship movement, founded in 1987 and having launched some of the darlings of the movement like Wendy Kopp of Teach For America, and Michael Brown and Alan Khazei of City Year. How do you think the social entrepreneurship movement has evolved over time? How is the field of social entrepreneurship different now than it was 20+ years ago?
Lara: The most wonderful way in which the field of social entrepreneurship has developed over the past 20+ years is the fact that, today, questions about the “field” can even be asked. Twenty years ago social entrepreneurship was not a field. It was not a movement. It was barely even a term.
Just five years ago a young woman approached me and told me that she wanted to be a social entrepreneur. I took a step back. I had never heard anyone say that they had wanted to be a social entrepreneur before. Now, I hear it all the time.
Universities now offer specializations and masters degrees in social enterprise. A number of new organizations are emerging to fund, support and incubate social entrepreneurial organizations. And more and more people identify themselves as potential social entrepreneurs. This year alone, we received nearly 3,000 applications for our Fellowship.
Nell: How has Echoing Green’s model evolved over time? What are you doing differently and how do you continually reinvent your organization and your contribution to the social entrepreneurship space?
Lara: Echoing Green has always been a very nimble organization, largely because we have been responsive to the evolution of the field of social entrepreneurship. As the field develops, new trends continuously emerge, changing the way we work.
Right now, we are seeing an increase in for-profit and hybrid organizations in the social entrepreneurship space. This year, 31% of the organizations that applied for our Fellowship used one of these two models. A few Echoing Green Fellows that use either a for-profit or hybrid model are Pharmasecure, Sparked.com, and FarmBuilders.
We are also seeing more product development within the space. Some Echoing Green Fellows who epitomize this trend are Global Cycle Solutions, EGG Energy and Mobius Motors.
There has been an increase in mobile technology. Some of our Fellows working within this field include Mideast Youth, Frogtek. You can read more about this particular trend in our recent blog series on mobile technology.
Finally, over 55% of our semifinalists have identified themselves as younger than 35 for the past four years. Inspired by the altruism of the Millennial generation, we have been giving more attention to the career needs of Millennials at large through our new program, Work on Purpose.
Nell: Some have cautioned that the social entrepreneurship movement focuses too much on individual, charismatic social entrepreneurs instead of institutions or broader/deeper efforts for social change. But Echoing Green is very much interested in individual social entrepreneurs, so how do you counter that argument?
Lara: We know that the individual is absolutely key to the success of a social entrepreneurship project. The power of someone who has found their unique contribution to the world—which we call the individual’s “hustle,” the perfect balance of their heat and their head—is undeniable. However, we believe that it is not enough to put strong young social entrepreneurs in the world. We must also create a world that will support these social entrepreneurs and their ground-breaking ideas.
When we began to envision our newest program, Work on Purpose, a few years ago, a number of individuals had already identified Echoing Green as uniquely positioned to help them ignite a career in social change—including those who were not social entrepreneurs. We came to realize that with our 25-year history of sourcing and supporting social innovators who have successfully created personally meaningful, world-changing careers, we had access to career-creation methodologies that were desperately needed among those who want careers in social change, particularly Millennials.
With this in mind, we developed a new book, Work on Purpose, which shares the best practices of our Fellows with a wider population of individuals interested in careers with impact. We are now developing an online platform, workshops, keynote speeches, panel discussions, course workshop guides, small group discussion guides, and other tools for deep exploration to supplement the book. The cost of our failure to harness the potential of the Millennial generation’s altruistic energy by not providing them with the inspiration, the tools and the resources they need to create the social change careers they want is simply too great to ignore.
Nell: Echoing Green provides a very needed injection of capital to startup social entrepreneurs, as do the burgeoning contests and other startup capital activities out there, but there is still a lack of capital at the next stage (growth) for social entrepreneurs. How do you see that capital space evolving, and what will encourage it to grow?
Lara: Of significant importance in expanding the level of capital provided to this space is greater overall recognition and understanding of the activity that is already occurring and studies on the successes and failures that happen. We need to develop our knowledge of what investment instruments make sense for social businesses and how they lead to requisite returns for investors.
The government could encourage capital in the sector by protecting the social investor from loss (downside protection), through collateral provision and other measures. They could also structure investment support in such a way that it amplifies returns to the investors by making public capital available but allowing disproportionate returns to private investors. Both these concepts have been used to effect in the UK.
Finally, greater use of PRIs by foundations and public charities will significantly increase capital flow. There is insufficient understanding around the IRS consideration of valid PRI approaches, and we need more progressive investments to demonstrate the true charitable impact of this type of capital.
Nell: What’s next for the social entrepreneurship movement? What needs to happen to continue to build support for and interest in social entrepreneurship?
Lara: The most important goal is for social entrepreneurs to demonstrate, collectively and over time, that they can tackle the world’s biggest challenges with scalable impact. Social entrepreneurs are nothing if not ambitious, and the field has set expectations of social impact very high. With a meaningful amount of money, attention, and human capital now in the field, Echoing Green hopes to see a steady stream of rigorously evaluated outcomes.
Below that over-arching goal, Echoing Green is particularly hopeful about two areas for continued progress in the field. First, we would like to see a much greater diversity in the social, economic, and geographic background of social entrepreneurs. At a minimum, the social entrepreneur community should mirror the diversity of the communities where social entrepreneurs work.
Secondly, we hope that the broader ecosystem of support structures for the field continues to develop. This includes the vital human capital represented by projects such as Work on Purpose, as well as the political environment, financial system, etc.
The Unreasonable Institute, a breeding ground for high impact social entrepreneurs, is looking for their next class of fellows. The Unreasonable Institute inaugural class brought 22 social entrepreneurs with an idea for a social enterprise to reach at least 1 million people together for 10 weeks last summer. They are a pretty impressive group of people.
The second Unreasonable Institute will bring 25 social entrepreneurs together for 8 weeks in the summer of 2011 in Boulder, Colorado. During that time, they will live under the same roof alongside experts and thought leaders to bring their ideas to fruition. They’ll work and live with 60 world-class mentors, pitch their ventures to investors in up to five U.S. cities, and prepare to launch financially self-sustaining, globally scalable ventures that can serve the needs of at least one million people.
Applications are due November 20th. Good luck!
Today Echoing Green launches their annual search for budding social entrepreneurs to invest in. For over 20 years Echoing Green has provided $30 million in seed funding and support to nearly 500 social entrepreneurs – including the founders of Teach For America, City Year, College Summit, and SKS Microfinance, some of the darlings of the social entrepreneurship world.
Echoing Green invests in and supports outstanding emerging social entrepreneurs to launch new organizations that deliver bold, high-impact solutions. Through a two-year fellowship program, they help visionaries develop new solutions to society’s most difficult problems. These social entrepreneurs and their organizations work to solve deeply-rooted social, environmental, economic, and political inequities to ensure equal access and to help all individuals reach their potential.
This year Social Velocity is a search partner for Echoing Green to help them find fellowship applicants. In the Spring of 2011 Echoing Green will award between 12 and 20 fellowships to early-stage social entrepreneurs. Fellows receive up to $90,000 in seed funding over two years, operational and technical support, and access to a powerful global community of fellows and alumni. The online application opened today and will close on November 12th.
If you think you might qualify, check out their eligibility requirements and assessment criteria and their 2011 Application Handbook. You can also take a look at some of their past fellows. They are an impressive, engaging, inspiring group. In fact, one of Social Velocity’s clients, English at Work, is led by Echoing Green Fellow, Maile Broccoli-Hickey. You can read their story here.
The Echoing Green Fellowship is a fabulous opportunity for an aspiring social entrepreneur to not only receive a couple of years of funding and assistance, but also gain a lifetime membership to an elite network of leaders of the social innovation movement. And any past Fellow will tell you that that brings countless opportunities to make things happen.
As I wrote in an earlier post, I have been part of an exciting new project that is bringing social innovation to Texas. The Texas Social Innovation Initiative is a partnership between Dallas Social Venture Partners, the OneStar Foundation, and Root Cause in Boston to help seven innovative Dallas-area nonprofits prepare a pitch for growth capital to social investors.
Social Velocity has been one of three consulting teams working with these seven nonprofit organizations to create a compelling growth capital pitch. I have been working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas helping them prepare a compelling pitch to grow their one-to-one mentoring program for children of imprisoned parents. I’ve also been working with H.I.S. Bridge Builders to grow their education and employment training program in the poorest parts of Dallas. Both organizations have demonstrated an ability to change lives in critical ways, they just needed help articulating their work, their results and their plans for growth to an audience of savvy social investors.
Both nonprofits will join five other nonprofit organizations to present their growth pitches to an audience of 300+ potential investors on June 10th. The pitch stage will be the featured component of a day-long showcase of social innovation, called the bigBANG!, at Union Station in Dallas.
The bigBANG! will bring together social investors, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders and others who are interested in connecting money and social change in Texas. The day will feature a socially conscious marketplace, profiles of lessons learned by social entrepreneurs, the fast pitch stage and much more.
But the best part is that this momentum around social innovation in Texas doesn’t have to end on June 10th. OneStar is currently looking for funding to take this project around the state, giving many more innovative nonprofits the opportunity to seek growth capital for their proven solutions. I am so excited to see momentum around social innovation growing in Texas. It just makes sense that this great big state with a commitment to social issues, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and plenty of cash would be ripe for the social innovation movement to take hold.
If you’re going to be in Dallas on June 10th, come join us!
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