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Dallas Social Venture Partners

The Awkwardness of it All: SoCap and the Nonprofit World

I’ll give a full rundown of my Day 1 experience at SoCap in a later post, but first I have to admit my excited anticipation of this year’s Social Capital Markets conference encountered some disappointment yesterday as the third annual conference kicked off. The day began with a co-keynote address by Sean Stannard-Stockton, from Tactical Philanthropy and organizer of this year’s first philanthropy/nonprofit focused track at the conference, and Kevin Jones, co-founder of SoCap. Kevin and Sean’s figurative two-step was a nod to the on-going confusion about where/whether philanthropy and the nonprofit sector fit, or how they fit, into a conference who’s heart and founding are heavily in the double bottom-line, impact investing camp.

Sean gave an eloquent speech arguing for the inclusion of the nonprofit/philanthropy sector in this movement to create a social capital market, arguing that “We don’t speak the same language, but we have the same goals,” and “We need to come together to be better able to find what we are both looking for.” But Kevin still referred to Sean and his track as the “nonprofit clan” and Sean as its “emissary.” I’m not sure why there has to be this awkward line between impact investing and philanthropy, but apparently there is still quite a bit of discomfort with the connection between the two worlds. As Stacy Caldwell, Executive Director of Dallas Social Venture Partners, so eloquently Tweeted yesterday:

I’m not sure that we are past the “awkward” stage yet.

To me, it seems so obvious that the nonprofit and government sectors, who hold the majority of money up for grabs in the social impact space, must be full and equal partners in the creation of the social capital marketplace.

But we are still speaking two different languages. And I’m not sure we’re pushing the conversation forward.

The first breakout session I attended yesterday was the Tactical Philanthropy Track’s “Decriminalizing Fundraising” session with two of the rockstars of nonprofit fundraising: George Overholser, from Nonprofit Finance Fund, and Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable. But I have to be honest with you, and it pains me to say this about two people I admire quite a bit, I was underwhelmed. The session was just a recap of the spiels George and Dan have given many times before, rather than a cutting-edge discussion and demonstration of how we change the broken funding of the nonprofit sector. If you missed the session, or haven’t read any of Dan or George’s writings, Adin Miller did a great job of summarizing the session on the Tactical Philanthropy blog. But the conversation didn’t go nearly far enough. As Adin said:

In general, the audience seemed to agree with the speakers’ position. There were little to no objections to their key points. The questions from the audience reflected more practical inquiries related to changing perceptions and attitudes toward nonprofits and freeing them up to truly grow the sector. And yet, I feel the conversation has just started and that we need a lot more insights into new strategies and tools to truly decriminalize fundraising.”

There ARE new tools and examples of organizations doing exciting things to finance their social impact in the nonprofit space. I would have loved to hear about those, instead of these old arguments about the need for new tools.  And I would have loved to see a discussion about what infrastructure and structural changes need to happen in the sector to push funding forward and how we make those happen.

In the sessions on impact investing and the general sessions later in the day there is a constant movement to push the conversation forward, to unveil new tools, to detail new approaches, to describe new infrastructure in order to push the impact investing sector forward. There is a very palpable sense that this new market is ours to create, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” as Lisa Hall from the Calvert Foundation said in a later session on impact investing. But yesterday at SoCap I didn’t see that same confidence, that same rigor, that same diligence, that same drive in the nonprofit/philanthropy side of the market to create new funding vehicles, new solutions to the broken funding structures we encounter every day.

Let’s see how today goes…

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Social Innovation Comes to Texas with a Bang

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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Texas Social Innovation Initiative Virtual Press Conference

I mentioned in an earlier post that Social Velocity will be one of the consultant teams working on OneStar Foundation’s Texas Social Innovation Initiative (TSI).  The TSI is a partnership between OneStar, Root Cause, and Dallas Social Venture Partners, which gives each of seven innovative Dallas/Fort Worth nonprofit organizations, who competed among 60 nonprofits, more than $25,000 in cash and strategy assistance to support their growth and impact.

The seven nonprofit winners will be announced this Wednesday at the Governor’s Nonprofit Leadership Conference in Dallas.  As part of that announcement there will be a virtual press conference at 10:30 a.m. CST featuring a discussion by leaders in the nonprofit sector about how to stimulate social innovation in Texas. Participants are Elizabeth Darling, president/CEO of OneStar Foundation; Stacy Caldwell, executive director of Dallas Social Venture Partners; and Andrew Wolk, CEO of Root Cause. To participate in the conversation you can watch the stream on the Social Velocity blog below, and you can also follow the conversation on Twitter via the hashtag #TXSI.

UPDATE: The virtual press conference happened on Wednesday, December 9th, but you can still watch the taped virtual press conference here.

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A New Social Innovation Project Comes to Texas

There is something underway in Texas that I’m pretty excited about.  The OneStar Foundation, the Texas state office of nonprofit capacity building and social innovation and administrator of the state’s AmeriCorps grant, has just launched a new project called the Texas Social Innovation Initiative (TSI). TSI is a partnership with Root Cause, a national organization supporting social innovation and headquartered in Boston.

The TSI creates an opportunity and a marketplace for socially innovative nonprofit organizations to present a compelling case for support to scale their programs.  OneStar will pick six nonprofit organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to receive consulting, networking and other assistance to create an investor pitch for growth capital to scale their results-driven program. The award for each nonprofit totals about $25,000 in money and services.  The project is modeled on Root Causes’ Social Innovation Forum, where nonprofits are given strategy consulting, executive coaching, and introductions to social investors.  Their goal is to “build a philanthropic investment community that will invest and re-invest resources based on performance, in order to increase progress in solving pressing social problems.”

OneStar’s TSI will similarly offer this introduction to social investors when the project culminates in June with a Fast Pitch event where these six nonprofits will present their growth pitches to Dallas Social Venture Partners and other individuals with money to invest in nonprofits.

Aside from the fact that it is so exciting to see this kind of social innovation activity in Texas, I’m particularly excited about this project because Social Velocity is involved.  We helped to review applications (which were amazing by the way–I was so impressed with what these nonprofits are accomplishing) from the 60+ nonprofits who applied.  And Social Velocity will be one of the consultant teams working with the six nonprofits to craft their growth plans and pitches.  I love helping a nonprofit organization take the results they are achieving  and translate those into a compelling ask of people who have money to invest.  Bridging that gap between work that creates social change and those who have money to invest in social change is a thrilling experience.

The six social innovators that will participate in this year’s TSI will be notified by OneStar today, and announced publicly at the Governor’s Nonprofit Leadership Conference on December 9th.  The work crafting their pitches will begin in January.  If the project is a success, there is potential to expand it to other parts of the state.  That would be amazing.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Thoughts on Social Innovation

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Last month I attended the Social Venture Partners International conference in Dallas. It was a great gathering of an organization that is helping to lead the movement for social innovation. In 25 chapters in the US, Canada and Japan, 2,000 social venture partners contribute time, money and expertise to the nonprofits in their communities. The goal is two-fold: 1) to create communities of lifelong, informed and inspired philanthropists, and 2) to make strategic investments that build long-term capacity for nonprofits.

Theirs is an innovative model for creating engaged philanthropists who understand the need to strengthen the capacity of the nonprofit sector.

While I was there, I met up with Stacy Caldwell, Executive Director of Dallas Social Venture Partners and the creator of their Maximizing Social Impact podcast series–interviews with some of the leaders in the social innovation movement.   She asked to interview me about my thoughts on social innovation. So here is the podcast of that interview:

Maximizing Social Impact-Nell Edgington

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Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 Innovators, Nonprofits, Philanthropy 1 Comment


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