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Nonprofit Assistance Fund

10 Great Social Innovation Reads: January 2012

I can’t believe that January is already over, it was a complete blur. Nonetheless there was lots to read and ponder in the past month in the world of social innovation. Below are my ten picks of the best reads, but as always, please add what I missed in the comments. And if you want to see other things that caught my eye, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest (I’m starting to really love this new one!).

  1. Socialbrite has created a mega calendar of 2012 nonprofit & social good conferences. Perfect for planning your year ahead.

  2. In their Fast Company article, It’s Time To Start Judging Nonprofits Like For-Profits, Alexa Clay and Jon Camfield tell donors “Do not be turned off by high overheads. They’re healthy. They mean the organization has a longer-term view on its role in making change.” Amen to that!

  3. Crowd-sourcing meets behavioral economics meets iPhone apps. A new approach to getting people to eat better. Love it.

  4. FastCompany profiles the business pioneers who really understand and embrace the new chaos in which we all now operate. This should be required reading for any leader (for-profit or nonprofit).

  5. I love it when we can use history to understand current trends. Phil Buchanan, CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, reviews historian Oliver Zunz’s new book, Philanthropy in America. In so doing, Buchanan describes 7 “new” philanthropic concepts that really aren’t so new.

  6. Jason Cohen from A Smart Bear always has a way of finding hope in the entrepreneurial process. Although this post is focused on “traditional” entrepreneurs, I think it holds for social entrepreneurs as well: Entrepreneurship is a torturous chaos, until it isn’t.

  7. I have always said that in order to be a truly effective social change leader, you must be able to fully wield the financial sword. Kate Barr from the Nonprofit Assistance Fund in Minnesota breaks it down in the Executive Director’s Guide to Financial Leadership

  8. January saw a pretty impressive mobilization of people via social media to protest against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). Dowser helps us understand what it means for online protest more broadly.

  9. In an increasingly competitive and resource-strapped environment it is even more critical that nonprofits be able to demonstrate the impact of their work. Here is a great example of how a Michigan arts collaboration demonstrates the economic impact of the arts in their community.

  10. Hull House, one of the oldest and most impressive American nonprofit organizations closed its doors in January. The Bridgespan Group explains the implications.

Photo Credit: ilovememphis

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The Critical Alignment Discussion

I’m back from Spring break, which came right as the flurry of discussion about my blog post The Critical Alignment of Mission, Money and Competence was winding down.  I really appreciate the great comments and discussion from Sean Stannard-Stockton (of the Tactical Philanthropy blog), Nathaniel Whittemore (of Change.org’s Social Entrepreneurship blog), Kjerstin Erickson (founder of FORGE) and Sasha Dichter (Director of Business Development for Acumen Fund), among others.

The great discussion happened and was then picked up by others (such as the Social Capital Markets blog, and the Nonprofit Assistance Fund blog) and taken further by others (Sasha kept going) because of our good friend, Twitter.   For all the jokes and rolled eyes, Twitter has a tremendous amount of value.  The discussion itself didn’t happen on Twitter, 140 characters can only do so much.  But rather, it created a space for a thoughtful discussion about a topic that seems to be of interest to many in the social innovation space, among people who otherwise would not have connected, let alone been able to have a conversation of such depth.

I’m a fairly recent convert to Twitter (aren’t we all?) and at times it can feel like an albatross (one more thing on my very long list of things to keep up with), but if you can keep up with it, even just marginally, it can hold tremendous value. (You can follow me on Twitter @nedgington).

But what came out of this great discussion?  What were the takeaways?  I’m sure the battle rages on, but for me, the key points were:

  1. Although mission, money and core competencies must be in equal alignment in a nonprofit organization, funding must mold to mission, not vice versa.
  2. A sustainable revenue stream is one that is sustainable not because it is based on sale of goods or services (“earned income” is often used interchangeably with “sustainable revenue stream”, which I, like Sasha, really disagree with) but because it is based on a funding mix (whatever that may be) that can be counted on for years down the road.
  3. Finding a sustainable revenue engine is often about creating a context or a “market” for your work.
  4. Nonprofits have to be more analytical about their funding sources and how sustainable, and aligned with their mission and core competencies, they are and will continue to be.
  5. The funding community is best positioned to help with revenue misalignments.

I’m sure nothing was changed by this discussion. But the more that these kinds of discussions happen and the more that some of the assumptions of nonprofit operation and finance are challenged the more apt we are to restructure how nonprofits work so that great missions with great delivery can become sustainable.

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Monday, March 23rd, 2009 Financing, Fundraising, Nonprofits No Comments

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