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How Do We Scale Social Change?

This week I attended the 5th annual Social Impact Exchange Conference in New York City. It was an interesting gathering of funders, change makers and intermediaries all grappling with how to reach and sustain scaled social solutions.

“Scale” is such a challenging concept, and as I mentioned earlier, there are many entities struggling with exactly what scale means. According to Heather McLeod Grant (author of Forces for Good) whose keynote address kicked off the conference, “scale” is no longer about growing individual organizations or addressing individual issues, but rather about building movements and networks.

The idea of a networked approach to social change is not a new one (see the great Stanford Social Innovation Review article from 2008 by Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano on this approach), but Heather underlined the importance of a more integrated and aligned approach to creating social change. I would have liked to see this idea taken further, perhaps with some of the Transformative Scale discussion that is happening elsewhere, included in this discussion.

There were some real highlights of the conference for me. First was the luncheon panel on the Black Male Achievement Movement and President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Tonya Allen of The Skillman Foundation was a hard hitting moderator of Shawn Dove, from the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, William Snipes from Pipeline Crisis/Winning Strategies, and Andrew Wolk from Root Cause.

The group had a fascinating conversation about the movement to address “a whole generation of young men being pushed to the side.” As Snipes so eloquently put it, “This is a problem about who we are as a society, whether or not we are going to survive. The road we are on is not sustainable. We cannot continue to incarcerate one third of a community. This is an impractical way to run a society.”

The panel described and debated the complexity of addressing a huge systemic problem and how they have launched a movement to do just that. It was a candid and thought-provoking exchange.

Jacob HaroldAnother highlight was GuideStar CEO Jacob Harold’s talk on their exciting efforts to transform the nonprofit information landscape (Jacob is describing this landscape in the picture at the left).

GuideStar’s goal is to address the “two elephants in the philanthropic room:” 1) some nonprofits are better than others (they create more impact per dollar spent), and 2) some donors are better than others (they create more impact per dollar given).

To address these “elephants,” GuideStar is collecting and analyzing deeper information about nonprofits and then distributing that information so that donors make better investments. (More on this next month when I interview Jacob as part of the Social Velocity Interview Series.)

The other real highlight of the conference for me was the keynote address on financial sustainability from Antony Bugg-Levine, head of the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Antony defined financial sustainability as “Repeatable and reliable revenue that exceeds ongoing operating costs, coupled with the ability to fund periodic investment in adaptation and growth.” In other words, a financially sustainable nonprofit brings enough reliable revenue in the door and can, when needed, raise capital for change and growth.

And that capital piece is often overlooked by nonprofits and funders. Antony described 5 types of capital helpful to nonprofits:Antony Bugg-Levin

  1. Change Capital to position an organization for growth.
  2. Working Capital to handle fluctuations in cash flow.
  3. Recovery Capital to address shocks to an organization (natural disaster, fire, etc.)
  4. Risk & Opportunity Capital to develop a new program or different approach.
  5. Endowments which can provide some unrestricted money, but should not be considered reliable revenue.

Antony also described 5 things that funders do and 5 things that nonprofits do to derail sustainable growth (pictured at right.)

I also enjoyed participating in the “Business Models for Sustainability at Scale” panel with my colleagues Dana O’Donovan from Monitor Institute, Megan Shackleton from the Einhorn Family Trust, Heidi Shultz from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and Craig Reigel from the Nonprofit Finance Fund. We had a great discussion with very thoughtful and engaging audience questions about how to create sustainable financial models and how philanthropy can help move that forward.

The Social Impact Exchange assembled a smart, talented group of people to grapple with how we fund and grow solutions to the wicked problems we face. It was a thought-provoking couple of days.




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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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