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Social Investing

How Do We Measure Nonprofit Effectiveness?

There is something exciting happening around measuring the value that nonprofits create. Several new efforts are underway to create a system for measuring and comparing how effective nonprofits are.

Just a few years ago, the only measure for a nonprofit’s effectiveness was the percent they spent on overhead expenses. If a nonprofit spent a magic 20% or less on non-program expenses they were deemed worthy of donations. This destructive way of evaluating nonprofit organizations has been losing favor over the last few years as rating agencies like Charity Navigator have recognized the need for a broader evaluation of nonprofit effectiveness. New measures have started to include outcome and impact elements.

But all of this begs the ultimate question which is how do we create a system for measuring and comparing nonprofits across the many social issues and operating models that make up the sector? Because however faulty the overhead percentage measurement was, at least it allowed a comparison of apples to apples. You could see how one nonprofit stacked up against another. But if each nonprofit organization is now creating their own theory of change, and their own outcome and impact measurements, how do we compare those to another nonprofit’s outcome and impact measures?

Enter a host of efforts to solve that very problem. One of these efforts is Markets for Good. They aim to create an infrastructure for evaluating nonprofit effectiveness based on outcomes and impact. You can watch their video explaining their efforts below, or if you are reading this in an email click here to watch the video.

And there are many other efforts to move the nonprofit sector toward measuring outcomes instead of spending practices. These include Idealistics, GiveWell, Philanthropedia among many others. But it’s not clear yet how any of these efforts will be able to analyze and compare the effectiveness of social change efforts because there are many pieces to that puzzle.

To truly be able to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of social change efforts, we have to:

  • Encourage nonprofit organizations to develop a theory of change, because you can’t measure whether an organization has created change if they have no idea what they are trying to change in the first place.
  • Give nonprofits resources with which to measure whether their theory of change is actually coming to fruition. Measuring outcomes and impact takes time and money.
  • Separate a single nonprofit’s efforts to create change from other forces working on the same social problem so that we can understand the effectiveness of a single organization.
  • Create a standardized system for comparing the ability of one nonprofit organization to create change to another’s ability to create change.
  • Connect such a system for measuring nonprofit effectiveness to systems already being created for for-profit social entrepreneurs (like GIIRS) so that those with money to invest in social change efforts can compare the social return they would get in a for-profit and/or nonprofit setting.
  • Communicate the results of those measures to philanthropic and social investors so they can make more informed, more results-focused investments, whether those be to nonprofit or for-profit social change organizations.

To me, comparing the ability of organizations to create social change is an enormous nut to crack. But it is an incredibly worthy endeavor. I applaud Markets for Good and the many other efforts working to create a system for understanding and comparing social change efforts. It will be fascinating to watch this space develop.

Photo Credit: KJGarbutt




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The Future of Financing Social Change: An Interview with Antony Bugg-Levine

In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Antony Bugg-Levine. Antony Bugg-Levine is the CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund, a national nonprofit and financial intermediary dedicated to mobilizing and deploying capital effectively to build a just and vibrant society. In this role, Mr. Bugg-Levine oversees more than $225 million of capital under management and a national consulting practice, and works with a range of philanthropic, private sector and government partners to develop and implement innovative approaches to financing social change. He is the co-author of the newly released Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference.

You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: You’ve recently taken over the helm of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a pioneer in cutting-edge ideas for better capitalizing the nonprofit sector, like growth capital. What’s next for NFF? Where do you go from here?

Antony: I am humbled and excited to be given the responsibility to lead an organization with such a strong legacy and talented staff. After 31 years of working with nonprofits and funders, Nonprofit Finance Fund understands as well as anyone how we can best raise and use financial resources to create sustainable organizations that together weave the fabric of just and vibrant communities.

Honing and sharing these insights is more important than ever. As the economic crisis has turned into an intractable employment crisis, the communities we work with and the organizations that serve them are facing unprecedented challenges. Business as usual is no longer going to work. But business-as-unusual is increasingly exciting. The crisis has created new opportunities by shaking loose long-held barriers that kept the worlds of social change and business firmly apart.

NFF is well-poised to help ensure that these new opportunities bear fruit, by doing what we have always done–bringing a data-driven approach to identifying what works, and working deeply and closely with social change organizations while communicating effectively with capital providers. We will have more details on our specific strategic direction in early 2012 but are very excited about the possible directions we can take. In many ways, this is our time and we hope to be worthy of these opportunities.

Nell: You recently wrote a book with Jed Emerson about impact investing that charts the field and where it might be going. But the field of impact investing, especially in places like the Social Capital Markets Conference, seems to separate itself from philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. How can and should impact investing and philanthropy collide and what will make that happen?

Antony: Advocates of impact investing have done a great job in the last few years explaining how for-profit investment can be both a morally legitimate and economically effective tool to address intractable social and environmental challenges.

But many of these challenges have been intractable precisely because neither markets nor governments have figured out how to address them. So impact investors will have to collaborate with philanthropists, nonprofits and governments to create comprehensive solutions when no one piece can work alone. At NFF we are increasingly seeing the power and necessity of a “total capital” approach where, for instance, we provide impact investing capital in the form of loans, human capital in the form of (grant-funded) consulting support, and government assistance in the form of subsidy or loan guarantee. This is particularly important as the unemployment crisis places increased demands on already strained organizations. For example, to support a set of leading arts organizations, we secured a PRI from the Mellon Foundation that enabled us to provide loans alongside technical assistance to leading arts organizations. We are now developing a similar integrated approach to support social service agencies such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

Nell: The vast majority of money is still bifurcated with for-profit investing on one side and charitable donations on the other. What will it take to change that and get more capital to social change organizations?

Antony: When I began this work at the Rockefeller Foundation almost five years ago I thought we were in the deal-making and infrastructure building business: that a few compelling examples of how impact investing can work and the development of networks and measurement standards to facilitate collaboration would be enough to allow impact investing to take off. But now I realize how impact investing threatens deeply-held mindsets of a bifurcated worldview that insists the only way to solve social challenges is through charity and the only purpose of investing is to make money.

To overcome this belief will require more than analysis and anecdote. Instead we need to build new systems to support the new aspirations. We need:

  • a regulatory and legal framework that recognizes and incentivizes the contributions impact investors can make;
  • educational systems that train young professionals to adapt investment tools to social purpose;
  • measurement systems that allow us to assess and compare the blended value investments generate;
  • nonprofit and for-profit social enterprises equipped to navigate the increasingly complicated strategic options that impact investors present; and,
  • a philanthropic system organized around the question “How can we deploy all our assets to address the social issues we care about?” rather than “How do we give well?”

Nell: What is your idealized financial future for the social change sector? What level and kind of change would you ultimately like to see?

Antony: I envision a day when we organize the social change sector around the problems we seek to solve rather than the tools we happen to hold. Instead of fetishizing the moral or practical supremacy of grant-making or investing, in this world we will recognize that each has a role to play, and they are often most powerful when taken together. Exciting examples are already taking hold. In California, the California Endowment organized a multi-sector coalition to put an end to the “food deserts” that left many poor communities without easy access to purchase healthy food. This collaboration resulted earlier this year in the launch of the FreshWorks Fund that has mobilized grant capital, bank capital, impact investing capital and intellectual capital to bring new grocers into underserved communities. At NFF, we are applying a similar approach in the ArtPlace initiative, which is using arts as an engine for economic development in the US. This initiative has mobilized substantial commitment from private foundations, the US government and commercial banks.

Nell: How much of a panacea for social problems is impact investing? Can double bottom-line investing truly revolutionize how money flows to solving problems? Will it overtake government and philanthropic investment in social problems? And should it?

Antony: Impact investing is not a panacea. We cannot create and sustain a just and vibrant society unless we recognize that many organizations generate social value that cannot be monetized, and instead must be supported through charity and government. But we also must not ignore the vast potential in the trillions of dollars of for-profit investment capital currently lying on the sidelines of the social change agenda.

The global capital markets hold tens of trillions of dollars. Unlocking just one percent for impact investment will bring multiples of the approximately $300 billion in total annual charitable giving in the US. So impact investing can create a huge difference in how quickly or comprehensively we can address those social challenges where lack of money is the main issue.

Impact investing can also be revolutionary by accelerating new discipline in how we identify, assess, and manage our social change agenda. At their best, investors bring a rigor and discipline in allocating scarce resources to their most productive use, where there is a market-based solution. Impact investing will help spur a movement to link social spending to outcomes that a set of organizations can achieve, rather than just the outputs any one organization can deliver. We need to be careful, however, to recognize exactly where these new approaches will work and where simplistic and reductionist thinking will divert resources away from worthy causes or leave behind worthy organizations.

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What Social Entrepreneurs Can Teach The Nonprofit Sector

I’ve written before that with the excitement around the social entrepreneurship movement there is a danger that we are abandoning the nonprofit sector. Indeed, there is sometimes a tendency to dismiss the sector that was working on social change long before it was “cool”. Often the older nonprofit sector is left behind, partly because the sector tends to be risk- and change-averse. Again and again, I’ve heard that innovation will never become part of the nonprofit system — that nonprofits are too set in their ways. Or that the sector is too broken to emerge anew.

That attitude, though, is unacceptable. The nonprofit sector is an enormous part of our economy and has a long history of working towards social change. If we were to cast it aside completely, we’d lose the tremendous resources (money, people, mind-share) that are being invested in that sector every day. The nonprofit sector has tremendous potential for innovation. Indeed, without innovation in the nonprofit sector, the broader movement to solve social problems is doomed.

So instead of tossing it aside, let’s remake it, re-envision, restructure and reinvent it.

To that end, the Social Velocity on demand webinar titled “What Nonprofits Can Learn From Social Entrepreneurs” will help nonprofit leaders understand the new models, funding approaches, messaging, systems that social entrepreneurs are employing to create social change. If nonprofit leaders can understand this new movement and integrate some of the ideas into their work, they can achieve more social change.

This webinar will help nonprofit leaders understand the social entrepreneurship movement and the innovative people, organizations and funding vehicles that are solving social problems in new, exciting ways. It will help nonprofit leaders understand what they can do to keep up, and how to make their own organizations more innovative, attract new kinds of funding, and achieve their social change goals more effectively.

The webinar includes:

  • Case studies of nonprofit and for-profit social entrepreneurs
  • Examples of philanthropists and social investors who are funding social change in new ways
  • How social entrepreneurs are becoming more effective at making a case for support
  • What the social capital market is and how it’s evolving
  • What new foundation funding vehicles like “mission-related” and “program-related” invesments are
  • What “venture philanthropy,” “philanthropic equity,” and “growth capital” are and how to organizations are using them to grow their organizations
  • New models nonprofit growth
  • New legal structures for social change organizations
  • Inspiration for taking your organization to the next level

What Nonprofits Can Learn From Social Entrepreneurs
On Demand Webinar


Photo Credit: katrinalopez

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My Favorite Blogs

I just updated the blogroll on the Social Velocity website. You can see the brand new list under “My Favorite Blogs” on the right hand side of the Blog page, and I’m also including it below for those of you on the RSS feed.

These blogs are my favorite in the social/entrepreneurship/financing worlds. By my “favorite” I mean that these blogs:

  • Consistently create pithy posts that make me think, as opposed to just regurgitate a press release or old argument
  • Include new ideas and arguments
  • Cover the social entrepreneurship, nonprofit, philanthropy, start up, social finance, and/or social business worlds
  • Seed or contribute to larger, interesting discussions in the blogosphere

So here is my list of favorite blogs:

But I always love to be introduced to new blogs, so please tell me your favorite blogs in the comments. If your favorite blogs become mine, I’ll add them to my list.

Photo Credit: Don Cheps

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The Social Capital Markets Conference 3.0

I just registered for this year’s Social Capital Markets Conference held in San Francisco in October. It is my favorite conference in the social innovation space for a number of reasons, and I think this year’s conference (the third) may just be even better.

The Social Capital Markets Conference brings together social entrepreneurs (both for-profit and nonprofit, although the latter have gotten less airtime in past years) and those who invest, or would like to, in them.  Last year it really felt as if the conference and the incredibly talented and visionary people attending it were at the beginning of something pretty amazing, new ways of providing sufficient capital to social solutions.

This year promises to go much broader and deeper exploring the financial tools and vehicles that social entrepreneurs need and how we create them. For starters, Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy is addressing the conference’s tendency in past years to downplay nonprofits and philanthropy at the conference by leading a new “Tactical Philanthropy Track” that will, as Sean has said:

Bring more donors and nonprofits to the “social capital markets table.” To that end, we’re building a series of panel sessions that examine the way in which philanthropy is an integrated part of the social capital markets, not a separate activity. Our sessions will give donors, nonprofits, investors and for-profits the opportunity to examine together the role that philanthropy plays in social capital markets.

Secondly, representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be at the conference to discuss their decision to put $400 million behind their new Program Related Investments program, which I’ve discussed before as a watershed for the social capital market. The SoCap conference website explains what the Gates session will do:

Gates foundation will discuss the foundation’s PRI initiative including the rationale for charitable investment, the value of investment partners to leverage expertise and capital, and the foundation’s hopes for philanthropy in the social capital market. Remarks will be followed by a deep dive into their experience putting this PRI approach to work with Root Capital.

The Gates Foundation decision to put 1% of their capital into a fund to provide risk capital to social entrepreneurs has the potential to encourage other foundations to similarly experiment with new tools for investing in social entrepreneurs, which ultimately means more dollars in the social capital market.

It’s exciting to see what started three years ago as a small conference of less than 600 (a number achieved only at the last minute by a deluge of laid off investment bankers from the financial collapse) becoming arguably the most important conference in the social innovation space. I hope to see you there!

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Climb on Board, Austin

Today wraps up the Social Entrepreneur track of RISE, Austin’s SXSW-style conference for entrepreneurs.  It was a lot of fun putting together the track with Jessica Shortall, with lots of help from Annie Frierson, Suzi Sosa, Andy White and the many amazing, inspiring social entrepreneurs in our area.  I’m so impressed with the speakers and panelists that made up the track.  From design-thinking for social entrepreneurs, to domestic microfinance, to technology for social impact, to social investing, to balancing mission and profit, and much, much more.  It was so great to see those working in the gray area between social impact and entrepreneurship together sharing insights, ideas, knowledge, discussion, debate.

I couldn’t get to all of the sessions in the track, and so I’d love recordings of those I missed.  But because RISE is a free conference there is little budget for “extras” like recording equipment and staff.  However, I heard a rumor that some of the sessions were unofficial taped.  If you know of any taped sessions, let me know, and I’ll post them to this blog.  And I will definitely make the case to the organizers of RISE that next year we find a way to tape sessions.  Because this content is just too rich to be shared by only the 25-40 people in the room.

So I wanted to share my takeaways from the RISE Social Entrepreneurship track and thoughts about where we go from here.

First, the takeaways:

  • There is tremendous interest and energy around social entrepreneurship in Central Texas
  • However, there is little infrastructure or eco-system to effectively support those entrepreneurs
  • More social entrepreneurs in the track and attending sessions were women  (that could entirely be based on the fact that the leaders of the track are women, but I think there’s more to it than that)
  • There is a debate about whether social entrepreneurs need to bootstrap as long or as hard as traditional entrepreneurs since the same end reward (financial profit) does not really exist for SEs
  • Funders of social entrepreneurs are not present in nearly as many numbers as social entrepreneurs
  • An “investment banker” or “broker” vetting and connecting social entrepreneurs to potential investors is a key part of the needed ecosystem

And that’s just a beginning list.  There were far too many conversations, insights, war stories, and needs to catalog here.

Which brings me to where we go from here. There is a disconnect for Austin in the realm of social innovation.  When I talk with people in the social innovation space outside of Texas they are always interested to hear that I am from Austin and are sure that Austin is well along the path of launching and growing social entrepreneurs.  Because of Austin’s reputation for progressive ideas, its wealth, its technology background and its rank as the third largest venture capital city in the country, people assume that social entrepreneurship, which often follows from these things, is burgeoning here.  When I tell them that isn’t the case, they are shocked. What is holding Austin back?

We heard some provocative conversations this week and saw some inspiring examples of social entrepreneurs who are making it and funders who are helping them along.  But that’s not enough, not even close.

Social entrepreneurs need access to significant funding at every step of the game from seed to growth, whether their  model is nonprofit, for-profit or a hybrid.  We need to give social entrepreneurs the skills to create solid business strategy around a great idea, language for creating a compelling pitch, infrastructure to grow results.  We need to create communities for social entrepreneurs and social investors to interact, network, learn from each other, forge partnerships.  But most of all we need to collectively say, it’s not enough.  One week a year is not enough.  A handful of social entrepreneurs and social investors in a city of 1.7 million is not enough.  Social innovation is a growing industry, one that Austin should and must climb on board.  I’m not satisfied.  I want to see more.  A lot more.

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Organizing the Chaos

At the beginning of anything there is chaos, so it is with the creation of the social capital marketplace.  Day 2 of SoCap was about understanding and starting to discuss the chaos that is emerging in this marketplace.  As Antony Bugg-Levine from the Rockefeller Foundation said in the plenary about creating infrastructure for this new market, there are a lot of or’s right now, but we would like to make them and’s.  He meant that there are opposing ways of thinking about and doing things in this emerging market, but we would like to be at a place where we don’t have to choose, where we can have both, instead of just one of the options. Some of the or’s he mentioned are:

  • Knowing vs. believing
  • Measuring vs. doing
  • Mission vs. scale
  • Story vs. substance
  • Metaphor vs. methodology

And I would add to that:

  • Nonprofit vs. for profit
  • Financial investing vs. philanthropy
  • Venture philanthropy vs. Social investing
  • Government vs. private money

And the list goes on.  The social capital market is emerging from a binary system of financial investment on one side and philanthropic donations on the other.  Mission and money never mixed.  That either-or, however, is becoming an and.  So too, are so many other distinctions.  It used to be that a nonprofit organization was about social impact and a for profit was about profit.  Now it’s both. And so on.

But what we are talking about is a radical shift in so many areas.  It can be overwhelming and chaotic.

But in order for this market to survive we need to organize it.  And that list is long:

  • We need to create metrics for determining social impact
  • We have to create various financial vehicles for the various projects and organizations out there trying to survive
  • We have to change the rules and laws to make them more accepting of these new entities
  • We need to figure out what business models make sense and can thrive
  • We have to determine how and when to scale great ideas
  • We need to drive down the high transaction and search costs in the field
  • We, as entrepreneurs who dislike the bureaucracy of government, have to engage on a policy level to make change
  • We have to effectively market and communicate the benefits of social investing in order to broaden the reach of the market beyond the few who have tried it

The list goes on and will take time.

There is such diversity at SoCap and that diversity is representative of the social capital markets themselves.  As one participant put it “We are 1,000 outliers.”  There are bankers, college students, nonprofit execs, philanthropists, VCs all brought together by a single desire to make money work better for the world. But that tremendous diversity can create dichotomies, distance, tension.

For example, the session I moderated yesterday on Growth Capital for Nonprofit Social Entrepreneurs. I feared that because the nonprofit side of the market had been under-represented at last year’s conference that there may not be much interest in the topic.  To my surprise, the room was absolutely full, with probably close to 80 people in attendance. And there was a palpable sense of hunger for information among the group about where nonprofits, who have been doing mission work for years, fit into this new market.

But day 3 of SoCap is about to start, so I will leave all of that for a later post.

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Too Many Nonprofits…Or A Weak Ecosystem?

Greenlights for Nonprofit Success, Austin’s nonprofit management assistance organization, today released the findings of a research study on the number of nonprofits in Central Texas.  The results weren’t surprising: we have more nonprofits (over 6,300) per capita than any other large Texas city and any other city in the Southwest region. And our nonprofits tend to be small: 93% (compared to 89% nationally) have a budget under $1 million, and 89% have a budget under $500,000.  In light of this study, Greenlights offers some good advice about looking towards cooperation, collaboration, and even  mergers given the number of nonprofits that exist and the increasing competition for funding, especially given the current economy.

What is missing from the study, however, is an analysis of the overall social sector in Austin, including philanthropy and other funding mechanisms, other social impact organizations–like social enterprises (creating social impact through market-based activity)– and the role of the public sector in all of this.  We need to take a bigger picture view and understand all of the elements and entities at play in the sector and how these elements could be better supported, analyzed, strengthened and winnowed, if necessary.  We need to take a look, as I explained in an earlier post, at the overall ecosystem for social innovation (ideas that solve existing public challenges). And we need to look at similar cities (like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Pittsburgh) to understand how their social sector is innovating and thriving and what we could learn from them.  The ecosystem for a thriving social innovation sector includes:

  • An Engaged Public Sector: A city and/or state-level office for social innovation, similar to the White House Office of Social Innovation that puts public sector focus and resources toward strengthening an innovative social sector.  One-Star Foundation is moving in this direction.
  • Larger, Innovative Philanthropy: An increased number of area philanthropists, giving more grants for capacity-building, providing growth capital to scale great ideas, giving seed funding for ideas that have potential, using mission-related investing and program-related investments, working as a group to discuss innovations in philanthropy and share and leverage projects.
  • Social Investment: Adding a social element to the entrepreneurial investing that is already rich in our area, investors could create innovative funds that provide nonprofits and social enterprises financial tools such as loan guarantees, quasi-equity deals, and networks, advice, and entrepreneurial knowledge.
  • Colleges and Universities Encouraging Research: Our local colleges and universities could launch centers for research on social entrepreneurship and social innovation. The RGK Center is a good start, but I’d love to see more.
  • Discussions and Experiments: More events, gatherings, workshops, think tanks and other activities that help social entrepreneurship and innovation take hold in our region.

I think to truly understand where the Austin social sector is and how the number and capacity of nonprofits fit into that, we need to understand the entire ecosystem.  If we want to boast a thriving, innovative social sector we need to take a step back, analyze what we have and what we can do to encourage even more innovation.  The end result is a stronger, healthier city that ties its spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation to its desire to give back and strengthen the communities in which we live.  That is the Austin I envision.

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