Today is Halloween, which, in my world, means that beyond candy, and trick or treating, and pumpkins it’s time for my annual “Monster List of Resources.” A few years ago I started the tradition of offering a list of resources for nonprofit leaders on Halloween (you can see past lists here and here). Each list is culled from the much larger, constantly evolving list of conferences, organizations, articles, books, blogs, and reports on the Social Velocity Resources Page.
This year I want to focus on the ever-growing number of conferences in the social innovation space. I’m really excited by how many really interesting gatherings are occurring.
But what did I miss? Please add to the list in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out (and add to) the much larger list of resources here.
Social Innovation Conferences
- After the Leap
- Center for Effective Philanthropy Conference
- CityWorks (X)po
- Clinton Global Initiative
- Global Social Venture Competition
- Grantmakers for Effective Organizations Conference
- Harvard Social Enterprise Conference
- Impact Conference
- Investors’ Circle
- Millennial Impact Conference
- National Innovation Summit for Arts and Culture
- Net Impact Conference
- NextGen: Charity
- The Nonprofit Management Institute
- Nonprofit Technology Conference
- NYU Social Innovation Symposium
- Opportunity Collaboration
- Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship
- Slow Money
- Social Capital Markets Conference
- Social Enterprise Summit
- Social Good Summit
- Social Impact Exchange
- Social Innovation Summit
- Social Venture Partners
- The Feast
- Yale Philanthropy Conference
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
I’m out of the office this week, so in my place I am offering you two interviews this month. Tuesday was my video interview with Hope Neighbor.
And today I’m talking with Geeta Goel, Director of Mission Investing at Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. In addition to traditional philanthropy, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation makes program-related investments across its India-based microfinance, health and education initiatives, and its US-based education initiatives. Prior to the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Geeta spent more than 12 years with the Corporate Finance Group of PricewaterhouseCoopers in India, advising large Indian and multinational clients on joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, business plans, and valuations.
Nell: Why has Michael & Susan Dell Foundation decided to put an emphasis on program-related investments (PRIs)? How exactly does that particular financial vehicle further your mission?
Geeta: Our mission is to transform the lives of children living in urban poverty through better health and education. There are 2.4 billion people living below the World Bank’s poverty line of $2 a day, and more than 160 million children are suffering from malnutrition. To tackle those numbers and address deep-rooted complex problems, we need solutions that are both scalable and sustainable. And for that we need to tap into different and larger sources of funds – government and private. Program Related Investments (PRIs) are just one of several financial tools we use to further our mission.
The foundation has always sought to concentrate its limited philanthropic dollars to achieve direct, measurable, replicable and lasting systemic change. Early on we realized the power of markets as one lever for creating a more inclusive society. Free markets definitely increase access where it’s most needed. They can also help raise the bar for quality in terms of what customers expect and what they will pay for.
A great example is the microfinance sector in India. Today there are more than 30 million microfinance clients in India. These clients are accessing some $4 billion in credit to invest in income-generating assets such as trading businesses, tea/food stalls and livestock. We played a catalytic role in the Indian microfinance sector by influencing a market shift from rural to urban environments. Beginning in 2006 and continuing through 2009, we provided seed funding to some eight urban-focused MFIs. The success of these institutions helped prove that microfinance is a sustainable, scalable and investible asset class. There are now more than 25 MFIs active in urban India.
This scale has been achieved only because microfinance offers a market-based, sustainable solution that attracted private capital.
Nell: What methods do you use to find projects that make sense for a PRI, rather than a traditional philanthropic, investment?
Geeta: I love your question. It places things in perspective and in the correct sequence.
Our approach has been to first identify projects that can help achieve our desired mission (fighting urban poverty in order to improve children’s lifetime outcomes), and then decide an appropriate funding structure. This is in contrast to other organizations that have de-linked grants and investments; their grant strategy is distinct from their PRI strategy.
We view grants and investments, including PRIs, as part of the same toolset. When we are selecting any projects to fund, the main criteria are the level of their social impact, scale and sustainability. On sustainability, we ask a variety of questions pertaining to the project. Is there a strong business model, and has the product/service been tested? Can it generate revenue and remain true to the original intent? Will other funders—government, investors, and grant-makers, step in to help establish sustainability and scale? Are there adequate quality safeguards or do they need to be created?
The structure of our support is a complex decision emerging from these deliberations. The funding structure can be in the form of a grant, loan, equity or a combination. For instance we made an equity investment in Janalakshmi Financial Services when it was a start-up microfinance institution. We also offered grant support to their non-profit arm Jana Urban Foundation to conduct a detailed analysis of their client base. This helped Janalakshmi Financial Services to better understand the financial needs of their customers and offer additional products tailored to those needs, thus strengthening the company.
An example of a straight PRI is our support for Waterlife, a for profit company offering clean drinking water to low income customers in rural areas, to test the market in urban areas through a concessional investment structure. The goal of the project was to help Waterlife develop and scale an urban business model that would replicate its rural success, given the different challenges within an urban setting.
Nell: Only 1% of U.S. foundations make PRIs. What do you think holds other foundations back from experimenting with mission-related investing?
Geeta: You’re right. Our legal counsel often find themselves in an odd spot at foundation conferences, as we are in a minority group that does PRIs, and an even smaller minority that does direct PRI equity investments internationally. I can’t speak on behalf of other foundations, but based on my discussions over the last few years, I’ve witnessed that investing in market-based solutions is unfamiliar territory for most foundations. They are pushed outside their comfort zone.
Moreover, PRIs are more complex to design and structure than grants. We’re really looking at a culture shift in terms of staffing. PRIs require financial and investment skills that traditional grant teams might not necessarily possess.
Another possible reason is that for many philanthropists making a profit is viewed negatively. Anything that is grant based or in the non-profit space is seen as delivering a positive impact. Anything that is in the market-space is viewed as uncontrollable and exploitative. Lastly, I think it’s the risk of failure that holds back many foundations. Not only are PRIs more risky, their success or failure is transparent and easy to measure in more objective terms. At the foundation, we have seen the ways that PRIs and markets can support social progress. By setting up guardrails and standards, we have managed to contain the inherent risks of PRIs.
Nell: It seems like there is an enormous opportunity to connect impact investors and philanthropists, but that really hasn’t happened yet. How do we better pool philanthropic and impact investment capital for more social change?
Geeta: Traditionally, development efforts and markets have been viewed as two parallel tracks that are unlikely to converge. This has resulted in limited interaction between philanthropists (focusing on non-profits) and impact investors (focusing on for profits).
However, as we move towards recognizing that markets can bridge some of the existing inequalities in access and outreach, there is a definite need for increased connections between philanthropists and impact investors. A few organizations are now consciously working towards this end, especially the ones that are championing a sector based approach to creating and catalyzing markets, like FSG, Monitor Inclusive Markets, and Mission Investors Exchange.
And with impact investments set to reach between $400 billion to $1 trillion over the next decade (JP Morgan Global Research) there should definitely be greater collaboration between the two worlds. This needs to begin with defining “common ground” amongst the two stakeholders.
Today, we do not have an agreed definition of impact and how to measure it. This is a good starting point. Once we have this common terminology and performance assessment framework, appropriate forums and a structured approach to sector level change will go a long way in increased collaboration amongst donors and impact investors.
Nell: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is obviously at the forefront of program-related investing, but what about other innovative financial vehicles? What is the foundation’s view on philanthropic equity investments (investing in growing or strengthening nonprofit solutions)? Is there promise in those kinds of investments?
Geeta: As I said earlier, we are very focused on our mission and the guiding principles of impact, scale and sustainability. We are open to adopting different tools and approaches that help advance the mission. Right now we are focusing our energies on traditional grants and PRIs.
Philanthropic equity investment is a fairly new concept that definitely holds promise. They are a one-time grant to nonprofits that help strengthen the capacity of the organizations and make them more sustainable. We do not rule out such investments. For the foundation, the key factors to evaluate the option of philanthropic equity are measurable and comparable outcomes and in-built mechanisms for quality and cost efficiencies. In non-profits, these are difficult metrics to achieve, but not impossible, especially as the development world ups the ante on measurement, transparency, and pay for success. We believe that strong governance, transparent reporting and incentives for achieving greater impact at lower costs will go a long way in building the field for philanthropic equity investments.
I am out of town this week, so in my place I am offering you two interviews this month in my ongoing interview series.
First, as promised, is my video interview with Hope Neighbor, CEO of Hope Consulting and author of the Money for Good reports exposing a $15 billion opportunity to direct more private money to high performing nonprofits.
This is the first video interview I’ve done, and I am very grateful to Hope for being the guinea pig. You’ll notice that unfortunately there is no video of Hope, only her voice and a picture of her with her fiance. That’s because we couldn’t get her computer’s camera to cooperate (you’ve gotta love technology!). But the interview is still well worth a watch because Hope has really interesting insights about how donors approach giving and how we might be able to change some of that.
So take a look:
ArtsFwd, an interactive online platform where arts leaders can learn from each other about the power of adaptive change and the practice of innovation, is holding a first-ever National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture October 20th-23rd in Denver and online. (I interviewed the head of ArtsFwd, Karina Mangu-Ward, on the blog in 2012 and co-led a Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat about connecting money and mission with her last spring.)
The National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture will bring together arts leaders from around the world to explore the challenges, discoveries, and achievements of daring to depart from traditional approaches. Although the Summit will take place in Denver there is also a robust virtual component. The on-site conference will bring together 250 pioneering arts leaders and funders from 14 communities who were selected based on their track record of innovation and well-developed adaptive capacities.
But the Virtual Summit is open to everyone. All 27 powerful Summit Talks will be available via livestream. The dynamic series of thematically linked 12-minute talks by bold leaders from across the country will highlight the remarkable and mostly untold stories of innovative projects unfolding in arts and culture organizations.
The themes are:
- Taking Collective Action (6p ET on 10/20)
- Co-Creating with the Public (11a ET on 10/21)
- Artists as Agents of Change (1p ET on 10/21)
- Animating Neighborhoods (5:30p ET on 10/21)
- Citizenship and the Arts (11a ET on 10/22)
- Transforming Organizational Structure (5:30p ET on 10/22)
I will be leading an online discussion in the Transforming Organizational Structure theme. In this theme, six speakers will each spend 12 minutes talking about their stories of radical restructuring inside their organizations, including new staffing structures, the creation of innovation capital, embracing risk, and redefining the meaning of success in order to support innovation. Some of the speakers include Susan Medak, Managing Director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Steven Matijcio, Curator of Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati; and Lori Fogarty, Director and CEO of Oakland Museum of California.
Instead of asking the question, “How do we survive?” these arts leaders asked the question “What do we want to accomplish and how can we rethink our work to get there?”
The Transforming Organizational Structures theme is all about breaking free from small thinking. Small thinking handcuffs organizations to the ways things have always been done, the staffing structures that have worked before, financial models that once were profitable, programs that used to draw an audience. In order to stay relevant and continue to make an impact in our communities, arts organizations increasingly need to scrap the old structures and reinvent themselves.
This is not easy work, by a long shot.
So I am eager to hear these arts leaders talk about how they stayed true to larger, longer-term goals while throwing out old structures. How they found consensus around an ultimate goal and then began to build structure around it. And how they found funding for this transformational work. Arts organizations are notoriously resource constrained, which often breeds an aversion to risk. So I look forward to hearing how these organizations broke free from that risk aversion and found a way to innovate forward.
At the end of the six talks, I will lead an online discussion among the group. My questions will include:
- What elements need to be in place in order to completely rethink organizational structure and purpose?
- How can organizations move away from thinking about structure and instead think about the ultimate end goal of the work?
- How do we move beyond the inherent risk-aversion of a financially strapped sector in order to embrace innovation?
- How do we convince funders that risk and innovation are worth funding?
The National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture promises to open our minds to new possibilities and ways forward. To participate in the Virtual Summit, register here.
I hope to see you there!
Fall is here (at least by my calendar!) and that means new opportunities to spark conversation about how the nonprofit sector is changing and how nonprofit leaders, board members and donors need to as well.
In recent months I’ve spoken in Phoenix, New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Australia (via Google). And what all of these events had in common is that the audience was hungry for a new way forward.
What I love most about speaking is that it’s a chance to really open eyes to new ways of thinking. And I love, love, love engaging with the audience to challenge their assumptions and former ways of operating.
For example, at an event last month a board member and I got into a lively debate about whether board members should really be bothering with the money raising aspects of their nonprofit. His argument was that it’s the job of the board to focus on big picture mission and programs, not the day-to-day dollar concerns of the organization. My argument, no surprise, is that you cannot separate mission from money and every board member should play a role in the financial engine of the nonprofit.
As we continued to debate, the board member admitted that he actually had helped to open a door to a significant (tens of thousands of dollars) contract for the nonprofit. So in essence he was arguing against what he’d actually helped bring about. Through the discussion he came to realize that if every board member were asked to tap into their skills, experience and networks to accelerate the financial health of the nonprofit (as he himself had already done) it could be transformational.
I love those light bulb moments.
The reality is that often nonprofits exist in a series of catch-22s where board members don’t know how to help, nonprofit leaders don’t know how to get board members moving, funders don’t know the questions to ask, and nonprofits don’t know how to identify their constraints. So we keep having the same conversations over and over again with little change.
Which is why I love to speak to groups and shake up these stale conversations.
Here are some of the most popular topics people invite me to speak about:
Financing not Fundraising
Based on the popular blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, I show nonprofits a new, more effective way to fund their work. I explain concrete ways to move efforts to raise money in a totally new direction, resulting in more money flowing through the doors, a more engaged and effective board, a more energized and integrated staff and ultimately more achievement of mission.
The Future of the Nonprofit Sector
The nonprofit sector and the philanthropy that fund it are changing dramatically. A growing convergence between the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors is altering how social change happens and increasing competition is forcing nonprofits to shift the way they have always done business. Nonprofit leaders must understand trends and embrace change to emerge stronger and more effective.
The Power of a Theory of Change
A theory of change is an argument for why a nonprofit exists. It is the fundamental building block to creating a strategic direction, measuring your work, garnering more support and ultimately creating more impact in your community. Funders, regulators and others are increasingly demanding that nonprofits demonstrate how their work creates community change. I show nonprofits how to create a theory of change and then use it to drive greater support, engagement and success.
Jump Starting Your Board
A nonprofit’s board is often not doing as much as they could to bring money in the door. I take the fear and inaction out of raising money. I show board and staff how money works in the nonprofit sector, where the board can be most effective, how to get the board excited and engaged in fundraising, and the concrete steps to get them moving.
You can see a more complete list of my speaking topics, past speaking events, and videos on the Speaking page of the website.
If you want to start having new, transformational conversations, invite me to come speak. I’d love it!
In today’s Social Velocity interview, I’m talking with Ted Levinson. Ted is the Director of Lending at RSF Social Finance, a San Francisco-based financial services non-profit dedicated to transforming the way the world works with money. Levinson manages RSF’s flagship $75 million Social Investment Fund which provides debt capital to US and Canadian social enterprises.
You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: RSF Social Finance is really the leader in the social finance market, you’ve been doing this long before anyone started talking about a “social capital marketplace.” Given that long history, how do you view the current state of the social capital market? Are we where we need to be to funnel enough and the right kinds of capital to social change efforts? And if not, how do we get there?
Ted: RSF has a twenty-nine year operating history, but it’s still early days for the field of social finance. The industry is at the same stage of development as natural food stores were thirty years ago – we’re established, we’re growing, we’re doing good work, and yet we’re still considered a fringe movement. I believe we are on the cusp of mainstream acceptance which will mean a much broader audience of impact investors (especially young people and unaccredited investors) and far greater demand for social capital from the growing number of social enterprises that are just now becoming investment-ready.
There’s been a shift in society’s view of natural food stores – we’ve overcome our fear of the bulk bins and now all grocery stores look more like natural food stores. I expect the same thing to happen with our conventional financial institutions which are just now beginning to pay attention to social finance.
What the field really needs is to expand the financial products available to social enterprises and address some of the existing gaps. Frustrated social entrepreneurs may disagree, but I think the angel capital and large-scale venture capital spaces are meeting the needs of for-profits. Incubators, business plan competitions and seed funds are providing modest amounts of funding to emerging non-profits and for-profits. RSF and some of our friends including Nonprofit Finance Fund, Calvert and New Resource Bank are addressing the middle market market.
The big voids in social finance include:
- True “risk capital” for non-profit social enterprises. We need more foundations willing to place bets on high-potential organizations.
- Bigger finance players or (better yet) a more robust consortium of social finance organizations that can band together to meet the $5 million + needs of high growth social enterprises such as Evergreen Lodge, Playworks and other organizations that are reaching scale.
I believe the field will get there but we’re playing “catch-up” now and social entrepreneurs are an impatient bunch.
Nell: RSF does something pretty revolutionary in that you combine philanthropic giving with impact investing, whereas these two sides of the social capital marketplace have not yet really found a way to work together in any large scale or significant way. Why do you think that is? And what needs to change in order to encourage foundations and impact investors to work more closely together?
Ted: We call our approach of combining debt and philanthropic dollars “integrated capital,” and we think it’s going to have a profound effect on impact investors, philanthropists and the social enterprises it serves.
Most non-profit social enterprises rely on a combination of earned revenue and gift money. There’s no reason why a single transaction can’t bridge these two forms of capital. With integrated capital we can leverage philanthropic grants or loan guarantees to push high-impact loan prospects from the “just barely declined” category into the “approved” category. In fact, even some for-profit social enterprises are eligible for this. Our loan to EcoScraps – a fast-growing, national, composting business was made possible by a foundation that shared in some of RSF’s risk.
Integrated capital is possible because RSF works with individuals and foundations that have overcome the prevailing view that how you invest your money and how you give are distinct activities. We’re also fortunate to work with an enlightened bunch of people who recognize that philanthropic support for social enterprises isn’t a crutch or a sign of a failed enterprise.
Our work at RSF is driven by a belief that money ought to serve the highest intentions of the human spirit. Conscientiously investing money, giving money and spending money can all further this goal.
Nell: What do you make of the emerging social impact bond movement? Is this a social finance vehicle that you think will work?
Ted: I’m deeply hopeful and deeply skeptical of the future of social impact bonds. I’m hopeful because our government is notoriously risk-adverse and slow to adopt new ways of improving education, reducing recidivism, or curbing our runaway health care costs. I think spending money on early interventions could go a long ways towards improving these fields societal challenges, but paying now to save in the future is at loggerheads with the short-term view which prevails in politics. Social impact bonds are a clever way to push the risk on to investors who are willing to take a longer view for the potential of a big upside.
I’m also a fan because social impact bonds are an alternative to the financial engineering which brought us collateralized debt obligations. They demonstrate that Wall Street doesn’t have a monopoly on financial innovation.
That being said, I’m skeptical that this market can ever reach a stage where transactions costs can drop enough to make it economically viable. Bringing together the multiple parties that are required for such a transaction (the government, the investor, the non-profit, a monitoring entity, a social finance organization, an attorney and possibly a foundation) just seems unaffordable to me.
Nell: What sets the nonprofits and social enterprises you invest in apart? What characteristics do you look for in the investments you make?
Ted: All of our borrowers fall into one or more of three focus areas – sustainable food systems, the environment and education & the arts. These borrowers all have capable, committed management who recognize that financial sustainability is a prerequisite for lasting change. Our best borrowers have strong communities supporting them whether it is donors, customers or suppliers.
Evaluating these stakeholders is a key component of our underwriting process at RSF.
Our experience demonstrates that performance improves when social enterprises engage all of their stakeholders. RSF’s long-standing support of fair trade is an example of this commitment. We also regularly expect borrowers to solicit their community members to join RSF’s investor community as a precondition to approval. We take community seriously at RSF!
Our borrowers are all addressing major social or environmental problems such as a lack of adequate housing for developmentally disabled adults (Foundation for the Challenged), inefficiencies in the wind industry (FrontierPro) and poverty and environmental degradation from rice farming (Lotus Foods.) As social enterprises, they’re primary activities are DIRECTLY making the world a better place. We believe our borrowers have the potential to scale their organizations and make a real dent in these problems, or become a model for others to do the same.
For example, we were one of the first lenders to Revolution Foods when they were operating out of a defunct fast food restaurant in Alameda, CA. Today they deliver over 200,000 healthy meals a day to public school children.
Similarly, we think DC Central Kitchen’s model of combining culinary training for adults with barriers to employment with a robust meals business (they deliver 5,000 meals a day to schools and homeless shelters) is a winning approach that can be replicated throughout the country.
Nell: Some have argued that nonprofit leaders lack a level of sophistication when it comes to financial strategy and use of financial tools. Obviously you find nonprofits and social enterprises that are able to effectively employ sophisticated financial vehicles, so how do you respond to that argument?
Ted: Rather than argue I prefer to let the results of our borrowers speak for themselves. DePaul Industries, for example, is a $30 million non-profit that employs over a thousand disabled Oregonians. The Portland Business Journal ranked them one of the most admired companies in the state and they did this all with 98% earned revenue. Network for Good processes over $150 million of online donations every year while Digital Divide Data has a decade of year over year revenue growth in the field of impact outsourcing.
I see no lack of financial sophistication in the non-profit sector. I do, however, see a lack of risk-taking, which can sometimes be misinterpreted as unsophistication when compared with the for-profit world. It’s a shame this mentality is so pervasive because of the importance and urgency of the work that so many non-profits do. Many icons of industry have biographies filled with risky expansion, leverage, false starts and failures. We need to de-stigmatize failure in the non-profit sector and adopt that same boldness which has led to so many of the biggest successes in the commercial world.
There is a lot of talk lately about how the world is changing thanks to the Millennials, the demographic force of people born between 1981 and 2000 who promise to fundamentally change the world as we know it.
But what I continue to wonder is whether Millennials will fundamentally shift how money flows to social change.
Here are the shifts I wonder if Millennials will help us make:
More Social Change Money
Will a significantly greater amount of money begin flowing to organizations that are working on positive social change? For the past four decades only about 2% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has gone to philanthropy. That’s a pretty big trend to buck. Millennials stand to enjoy the largest wealth transfer in America history. Will more of that money flow to philanthropy? Will Millennials be able to move the needle on the 2% and find ways to funnel more money to social change?
More Money Flowing to Proven Impact
Will more money start flowing to organizations that can prove that they have created social change? Traditionally, philanthropy has not been terribly strategic, following emotion rather than data. However, new research claims that Millennial donors are more focused on impact than their predecessors (see the Millennial Impact Report, The Next Generation of American Giving report, and the NextGen Donors report) and are more committed to seeing their money flow to organizations that can prove they are actually accomplishing social change. (Although some argue that Millennials will actually not give any differently than their predecessors did.) So once Millennials become the philanthropic force everyone predicts will they actually invest that money differently?
More Financial Vehicles for Social Change
Will more financial vehicles become available for social change efforts? As Millennials start to control the wealth in this country, will they use new tools like impact investing to funnel more money, beyond just philanthropy, to social change efforts? Will they be able to connect impact investors and philanthropists and their respective pools of money? Will Millennials’ demonstrated interest in social change translate into new ways to fund that social change?
More Delivery Vehicles for Social Change
Millennials, so far, tend to be more entrepreneurial than their predecessors. And at the same time there are more organizational structures, beyond the traditional nonprofit organization, for making social change happen, from B Corps to Lc3s to for-profit social businesses, to social intrapreneurship. But it remains to be seen whether these new structures, and others yet to come, will stand the test of time. And whether Millennials can transform traditional nonprofits to be more entrepreneurial too.
There certainly can be hype around the promise of a generation. But I’m excited to see what the Millennials bring to the world of social change.
Photo Credit: Next Generation of American Giving Report
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Brian Sasscer, Senior Vice President of Strategic Operations at The Case Foundation. Brian is responsible for the Case Foundation’s web presence strategy and overseeing the Foundation’s operations. His passion for his job is fueled by a desire to continually push new technologies and for-profit thinking into the nonprofit sector.
I wanted to talk to Brian because of the very exciting new Giving Graph project they announced last March at SXSW. The Giving Graph would help the social sector use data and technology to connect people to causes they are passionate about in a seamless way.
You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: When you presented about the Giving Graph at SXSW last March it was just an idea. Where does it stand now? Is the Case Foundation moving forward to execute on the concept?
Brian: The Case Foundation has been thrilled by the positive response we’ve received since introducing the concept of the Giving Graph in March. We’ve had multiple conversations with folks from the tech and social good community that have surfaced some exciting opportunities to help advance the project. For example, we were approached by Rayid Ghani, who served as Chief Data Scientist from the 2012 Obama for America campaign. He is spearheading The Erich & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship program at the University of Chicago. This new program is bringing together 36 aspiring students in the fields of computer science, programming and statistics to seek out opportunities to use data science as a tool to solve complex social issues. The Giving Graph was selected as one of the projects collaborators and these students will experiment with over the summer.
Through conversations with other nonprofits, for-profits, foundations and technology companies, we’ve made great connections and relationships that have helped us understand the possibilities the graph could provide for a stronger infrastructure within the social good sector. Specifically, we have opened dialogue with the Gates Foundation, as well as Guidestar CEO Jacob Harold. Michael Lewkowitz of Igniter is another individual who has done an exceptional job of exploring the concept of an impact graph, and understanding the landscape of this data play in the social good sector.
We also reached out to other organizations such as Network for Good and Global Giving in an effort to survey the space and understand the big data players in social good data. There are a number of talented individuals who share our vision of helping to further develop a concept that supports and encourages growth in the social sector. As for the Graph itself, we will continue our discussions and experimentation with the University of Chicago fellows assigned to the project with a goal to produce key findings from the experiment sometime in the fall.
Nell: You have sought a good deal of public input on the concept of the Giving Graph. How has that input altered the initial concept?
Brian: We have received excellent feedback from the public related to the SXSW presentation and our blog post. The majority of the input we have received is from thought leaders, nonprofits and foundations, for-profits, and other individuals already working in the data space as it relates to the social sector. Their feedback has validated the need for a tool like this for the sector. The first part of the Giving Graph concept itself was focused on identifying the key players in the data space for social good, understanding the space, and analyzing data location in the social good sector. Through research and discussions with other organizations, we have concluded that our end vision and goal is aligned with the goals of numerous other projects.
We found one project that is working to reform the sector from an information infrastructure point of view, another is helping to facilitate data-sharing amongst organizations, and another is working to match social good opportunities to an individuals interests. Each project can support and build off the others, propagating the number of resources available for the social good sector. From our findings, we have validated our concept and identified different projects out there that satisfy different components of our vision. The hope is to bring these different initiatives together and see this concept come life.
Nell: Do you think something like the Giving Graph could cause an appreciable increase in the amount of philanthropic dollars available in the sector, or would it simply alter where philanthropic dollars get spent?
Brian: We think the Giving Graph concept has the potential to drive both outcomes – both shifting of philanthropic dollars, as well as increasing the overall dollars being given to philanthropic causes. We believe the Giving Graph could help identify new spaces for social good and new campaigns and programs to live in those spaces – leading to potential shifting of philanthropic dollars, as well as bringing in new audiences that would help bring more dollars to the space. And by leveraging data to more effectively connect individuals with causes and organizations that are relevant to them, we can increase the potential for both financial contributions as well as people to give back in other ways – whether spreading the word about a particular campaign or organization, or volunteering in some capacity.
Nell: A huge challenge of any new social media application is getting a critical mass of people to actually start using it. How do adoption rates factor into your plans?
Brian: That is absolutely correct – the Giving Graph concept will be a collaborative effort in many ways. One aspect is the data. In addition to tapping into different data sources, partnerships among additional organizations will be necessary. We need a series of nonprofits, for profits, cross-sector foundations, and other companies to contribute and share information into this graph to maximize the potential. This can be a challenging component, as data in today’s world is very valuable. Nevertheless, we have started conversations with various organizations about sharing data for the benefit of the graph and we’re optimistic. We’re at a turning point in data sharing, as organizations are becoming less reluctant to share than they have been in the past.
Another aspect of the project is end-users, and they appear in various ways. It could be a program manager at a nonprofit who is identifying a program to implement at her organization. In another instance, it is a college student trying to find out a local seminar to attend based on his charitable interests. For individuals, we are not going to put a front end on this database. The idea is that applications/platforms will be able to tap into this graph and ultimately provide users the ability to plug in their information, and for platforms to then integrate this information into the larger graph.
So absolutely, critical mass from both a data and usage point of view will play an important role in this project. It will take a lot of relationship building and trust, especially around data. The web is transforming into an experience that truly knows the end-users. The Giving Graph is unique because it not only represents another way for the web to understand end-users, it also provides the ability to give insight into and improve the entire social sector as well.
Nell: Why did the Case Foundation decide to spend time and resources on creating a new technology for the overall philanthropic sector? How does this effort fit into the Foundation’s larger and longer-term goals?
Brian: Our founders Steve and Jean Case were responsible for bringing America online decades ago. They believe in the potential of technology, and particularly the Internet, to connect people together to drive positive social change. The Case Foundation has a storied history of investing in and leveraging new technology platforms for social good – from our investments in online giving platforms like Network for Good, Causes and MissionFish, to programs like the Make it Your Own Awards and America’s Giving Challenge. Our intent is not to create the graph ourselves, but rather to seed the conversation and collaborate with our partners to provide the sector with a new tool in their tech for good arsenal. We think this Graph concept has the potential to change online philanthropy and revolutionize the sector, sparking innovation in ways akin to the commerce and entertainment industries.
- Download a free Financing
Not Fundraising e-book
when you sign up for email
updates from Social Velocity.
Sign Up Here
- Do You Want to Attract Major
Donors to Your Nonprofit?
Find Out How in the
Attract Major Donors