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Teach for America

10 Great Social Innovation Reads: July 2012

I was out of town for the first half of July (and mostly away from social media), so I’m probably not qualified to give a 10 best list for the month, but I’m still going to try (ha!). As always, please add what I missed (particularly this month) to the comments.

To me, July was about outcomes and measurement. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a growing drumbeat for social change organizations to measure what (if anything) they are changing. Some readers commenting on that post argued that measurement is not a new thing for the nonprofit sector. True, it’s not new, but its importance (to funders, ratings agencies, government agencies, etc.) is increasing dramatically. So those in the social change world must heed the call and understand the new reality.

As always, you can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

Here’s July’s 10 Great Reads in Social Innovation:

  1. In two back-to-back posts on the Full Contact Philanthropy blog, David Henderson explains how nonprofits have to get “smarter about how we allocate our scarce resources.” First by getting strategic about who they serve and then by focusing on outcomes.

  2. Bill Shore of Share Our Strength adds to the drumbeat by arguing “nonprofit organizations are failing to grapple with the threshold questions on which all else depends: what specific objective are they trying to achieve and how will they measure whether they have or have not done so. “

  3. In the Los Angeles Times, Jared Billings takes social innovation darling, Teach for America, to task by asking whether TFA can actually change student achievement if the majority of their teachers leave the profession after only two years.

  4. On the Mission:Innovation blog Nicole Wallace reviews Andrew Zolli’s new book Resilience and his argument that nonprofits must embrace a “new mind-set, one that emphasizes improvisation, ad hoc networks, and adaptation.”

  5. On the Forbes blog, Victor Hwang recapped this month’s Global Innovation Summit and the 10 Lessons on Growing Innovation that emerged from it.

  6. Maybe not everyone should be a social entrepreneur says Lara Galinsky, who (shockingly) works for Echoing Green, one of the biggest supporters of social entrepreneurs.

  7. And maybe not every nonprofit should scale, says John Brothers in a great two-part series on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

  8. On what is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs (Unsectored), Mark Hecker recounts the story of true collaboration between public, private and nonprofit sectors when a drug raid was turned into small business development and job creation.

  9. It looks like women may be changing the face of philanthropy in exciting ways. “Women are exerting a greater influence on how philanthropy is done as they accumulate wealth and use their clout to change the way funds are raised and distributed.” Cool!

  10. Echoing the comments of Vikki Spruill from the Council on Foundations, Rick Cohen argues that foundations need to be more transparent in their work.

Photo Credit: briarpress.org

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Building the Social Entrepreneurship Movement: An Interview with Lara Galinsky

Lara GalinskyIn this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Lara Galinksy. Lara is an author, career expert and senior vice president of Echoing Green. Over the last two decades, Echoing Green has invested $30 million in 500 social entrepreneurs around the world. Galinsky is the co-author of Work on Purpose, which provides a framework for aligning passions with talents to achieve personal fulfillment and societal impact. She is also the co-author of Be Bold: Create a Career with Impact (2007).

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

Nell: Echoing Green was in many ways one of the first instigators of the social entrepreneurship movement, founded in 1987 and having launched some of the darlings of the movement like Wendy Kopp of Teach For America, and Michael Brown and Alan Khazei of City Year. How do you think the social entrepreneurship movement has evolved over time? How is the field of social entrepreneurship different now than it was 20+ years ago?

Lara: The most wonderful way in which the field of social entrepreneurship has developed over the past 20+ years is the fact that, today, questions about the “field” can even be asked. Twenty years ago social entrepreneurship was not a field. It was not a movement. It was barely even a term.

Just five years ago a young woman approached me and told me that she wanted to be a social entrepreneur. I took a step back. I had never heard anyone say that they had wanted to be a social entrepreneur before. Now, I hear it all the time.

Universities now offer specializations and masters degrees in social enterprise. A number of new organizations are emerging to fund, support and incubate social entrepreneurial organizations. And more and more people identify themselves as potential social entrepreneurs. This year alone, we received nearly 3,000 applications for our Fellowship.

Nell: How has Echoing Green’s model evolved over time? What are you doing differently and how do you continually reinvent your organization and your contribution to the social entrepreneurship space?

Lara: Echoing Green has always been a very nimble organization, largely because we have been responsive to the evolution of the field of social entrepreneurship. As the field develops, new trends continuously emerge, changing the way we work.

Right now, we are seeing an increase in for-profit and hybrid organizations in the social entrepreneurship space. This year, 31% of the organizations that applied for our Fellowship used one of these two models. A few Echoing Green Fellows that use either a for-profit or hybrid model are Pharmasecure, Sparked.com, and FarmBuilders.

We are also seeing more product development within the space. Some Echoing Green Fellows who epitomize this trend are Global Cycle Solutions, EGG Energy and Mobius Motors.

There has been an increase in mobile technology. Some of our Fellows working within this field include Mideast Youth, Frogtek. You can read more about this particular trend in our recent blog series on mobile technology.

Finally, over 55% of our semifinalists have identified themselves as younger than 35 for the past four years. Inspired by the altruism of the Millennial generation, we have been giving more attention to the career needs of Millennials at large through our new program, Work on Purpose.

Nell: Some have cautioned that the social entrepreneurship movement focuses too much on individual, charismatic social entrepreneurs instead of institutions or broader/deeper efforts for social change. But Echoing Green is very much interested in individual social entrepreneurs, so how do you counter that argument?

Lara: We know that the individual is absolutely key to the success of a social entrepreneurship project. The power of someone who has found their unique contribution to the world—which we call the individual’s “hustle,” the perfect balance of their heat and their head—is undeniable. However, we believe that it is not enough to put strong young social entrepreneurs in the world. We must also create a world that will support these social entrepreneurs and their ground-breaking ideas.

When we began to envision our newest program, Work on Purpose, a few years ago, a number of individuals had already identified Echoing Green as uniquely positioned to help them ignite a career in social change—including those who were not social entrepreneurs. We came to realize that with our 25-year history of sourcing and supporting social innovators who have successfully created personally meaningful, world-changing careers, we had access to career-creation methodologies that were desperately needed among those who want careers in social change, particularly Millennials.

With this in mind, we developed a new book, Work on Purpose, which shares the best practices of our Fellows with a wider population of individuals interested in careers with impact. We are now developing an online platform, workshops, keynote speeches, panel discussions, course workshop guides, small group discussion guides, and other tools for deep exploration to supplement the book. The cost of our failure to harness the potential of the Millennial generation’s altruistic energy by not providing them with the inspiration, the tools and the resources they need to create the social change careers they want is simply too great to ignore.

Nell: Echoing Green provides a very needed injection of capital to startup social entrepreneurs, as do the burgeoning contests and other startup capital activities out there, but there is still a lack of capital at the next stage (growth) for social entrepreneurs. How do you see that capital space evolving, and what will encourage it to grow?

Lara: Of significant importance in expanding the level of capital provided to this space is greater overall recognition and understanding of the activity that is already occurring and studies on the successes and failures that happen. We need to develop our knowledge of what investment instruments make sense for social businesses and how they lead to requisite returns for investors.

The government could encourage capital in the sector by protecting the social investor from loss (downside protection), through collateral provision and other measures. They could also structure investment support in such a way that it amplifies returns to the investors by making public capital available but allowing disproportionate returns to private investors. Both these concepts have been used to effect in the UK.

Finally, greater use of PRIs by foundations and public charities will significantly increase capital flow. There is insufficient understanding around the IRS consideration of valid PRI approaches, and we need more progressive investments to demonstrate the true charitable impact of this type of capital.

Nell: What’s next for the social entrepreneurship movement? What needs to happen to continue to build support for and interest in social entrepreneurship?

Lara: The most important goal is for social entrepreneurs to demonstrate, collectively and over time, that they can tackle the world’s biggest challenges with scalable impact. Social entrepreneurs are nothing if not ambitious, and the field has set expectations of social impact very high. With a meaningful amount of money, attention, and human capital now in the field, Echoing Green hopes to see a steady stream of rigorously evaluated outcomes.

Below that over-arching goal, Echoing Green is particularly hopeful about two areas for continued progress in the field. First, we would like to see a much greater diversity in the social, economic, and geographic background of social entrepreneurs. At a minimum, the social entrepreneur community should mirror the diversity of the communities where social entrepreneurs work.

Secondly, we hope that the broader ecosystem of support structures for the field continues to develop. This includes the vital human capital represented by projects such as Work on Purpose, as well as the political environment, financial system, etc.

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Tools to Build Smaller Nonprofits

I started Social Velocity because I saw a real hole in the nonprofit sector. Small and medium nonprofits working on social change lacked access to expertise and resources to strengthen and grow their solutions. The Teach for Americas of the world were building impressive organizations and replicating their solution far and wide. But they were doing so with the help of venture philanthropy funds, national consulting firms and broad and deep networks of experts and money. They were the lucky ones.

But there are some equally impressive solutions housed in much smaller, less resourced nonprofit organizations that aren’t really seeing the light of day.  Because these organizations don’t know how to put a growth plan together, figure out how to finance the impact they want to have, or create a compelling ask for money to build, their solutions are not reaching as far as they could.

Social Velocity exists to help those small and medium-size nonprofits who want to be entrepreneurial, who want to grow their programs, who want to get their board engaged and invested, who want to raise money to build their organization, who want to break out of the starvation cycle. I’m very passionate (and opinionated) about the fact that the bottom 80% of nonprofits need help to become stronger, better, more effective and sustainable at creating social impact.

So in order to reach more nonprofits, Social Velocity has a growth plan ourselves. And that growth plan involves creating tools, trainings, e-books, guides, worksheets, templates and other things that nonprofits can download in order to start thinking and doing things differently.

We’ve already made our step-by-step guides available for download, and our blog often has tips and tools to get started, but we want to do more. Some of our initial ideas for tools include:

  • A sample pitch for growth capital
  • An earned income analysis worksheet
  • A step-by-step tip sheet to get your board fundraising
  • A financial plan outline
  • An exercise to understand your nonprofit’s place in the external market
  • Sample language to start messaging around impact
  • Questions to guide your case for support creation
  • An investment range chart to break down a growth capital fundraising goal

But I want your input. How can we help you take social innovation ideas and put them into action? What kinds of tools would help you go from wanting to grow your programs to starting to put the plan in place?  What guides would allow you to move from being intrigued by the idea of philanthropic equity to putting together your own fundraising campaign to raise money to hire more staff, buy more computers, etc.?  What’s holding you back from being able to do things differently and move out of the starvation cycle?

Let me know what tools you’d like to see, either below in the comments, or on our Facebook site. Thanks for your help!

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Echoing Green Call for Social Entrepreneurs

Today Echoing Green launches their annual search for budding social entrepreneurs to invest in. For over 20 years Echoing Green has provided $30 million in seed funding and support to nearly 500 social entrepreneurs – including the founders of Teach For America, City Year, College Summit, and SKS Microfinance, some of the darlings of the social entrepreneurship world.

Echoing Green invests in and supports outstanding emerging social entrepreneurs to launch new organizations that deliver bold, high-impact solutions. Through a two-year fellowship program, they help visionaries develop new solutions to society’s most difficult problems. These social entrepreneurs and their organizations work to solve deeply-rooted social, environmental, economic, and political inequities to ensure equal access and to help all individuals reach their potential.

This year Social Velocity is a search partner for Echoing Green to help them find fellowship applicants. In the Spring of 2011 Echoing Green will award between 12 and 20 fellowships to early-stage social entrepreneurs.  Fellows receive up to $90,000 in seed funding over two years, operational and technical support, and access to a powerful global community of fellows and alumni. The online application opened today and will close on November 12th.

If you think you might qualify, check out their eligibility requirements and assessment criteria and their 2011 Application Handbook.  You can also take a look at some of their past fellows.  They are an impressive, engaging, inspiring group. In fact, one of Social Velocity’s clients, English at Work, is led by Echoing Green Fellow, Maile Broccoli-Hickey. You can read their story here.

The Echoing Green Fellowship is a fabulous opportunity for an aspiring social entrepreneur to not only receive a couple of years of funding and assistance, but also gain a lifetime membership to an elite network of leaders of the social innovation movement. And any past Fellow will tell you that that brings countless opportunities to make things happen.

Good Luck!

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Losing the Charity Mindset

Along with the burgeoning social entrepreneurship movement comes a bit of hubris that social entrepreneurs know better how to create social change than do the nonprofits that have been working toward social change for years.  Some social entrepreneurs argue that nonprofits are too set in their ways to embrace a new way of creating solutions.  I tend to disagree.  We can’t, nor should we, discount and dismiss an entire sector of people and organizations that have been working on social problems for centuries.  However, I do think that there are some things that nonprofits can learn from social entrepreneurs.  One of those is how to lose the charity mindset.

Nonprofits are sometimes referred to as “charities,” and it is a real misnomer.  But beyond semantics, the word, and more importantly the mindset, does a real disservice to organizations working toward change  A charity mindset is when an organization, its board, its funders or others promoting its work have a narrow view that the organization is benevolent, but not critical, to the world at large.  The charity mindset assumes that a nonprofit starts from the position of need, inadequacy, and burden, rather than a position of opportunity, strength, and effectiveness.  The charity mindset differs from a social entrepreneur mindset in a number of ways:

  • Symptoms vs. Solutions: A charity, by its very definition, exists to provide aid to the needy, not to solve the underlying cause of the need.  This is not to say that every nonprofit can work toward solving an underlying problem; there will always be organizations that exist simply to provide basic needs (food, shelter, safety, etc.).  But I wonder if too many nonprofit organizations view their work as residing in the “charity” camp, instead of working, as social entrepreneurs do, to understand the cause of the need and how how they may be able to attack and solve it.

  • Fundraising: A fundraiser in the charity mindset apologizes for the burden of asking someone for money, but a social entrepreneur offers investment opportunities to prospects.  Wendy Kopp from Teach for America went around evangelizing the Teach for America story and sought investors who wanted to get in on the ground level of an incredible opportunity to change the American public education system.

  • Investment in Infrastructure: Charities spend every last penny on the program and leave little money for building the organization.  Social entrepreneurs understand that it takes organizations, infrastructure, systems, and talent to effectively execute on a solution to a social problem.

  • Respect: Charities may be beloved by their supporters, but they may not garner a lot of respect from them.  Social entrepreneurs behave as equal partners with funders in creating solutions, and, as such, they command and receive real respect from investors, volunteers, partners and others.

  • True Costs:  Charities like to claim that as much money as possible goes to direct services, but social entrepreneurs recognize the true costs of their endeavors and are open and honest with funders about those costs.  In fact they demand that funders understand and support those true costs.

I think the old adage is true, people will treat you the way you ask to be treated.  If a nonprofit acts like a charity, people will treat it like one.  Nonprofits need to stand up and demand to be treated as critical, equal partners in creating solutions.


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Making a Social Impact Market Play

Nonprofits exist in a strange netherworld between market forces and social change. They are trying to create a solution to a social problem, but as much as some might like to deny it, that desired social change exists within a market economy. That means that in order to be successful, nonprofits, just like any business, must continually analyze, understand and create strategies around whatever market forces are at play (competition for funding, clients, partnerships, inputs, results; increased/decreased regulation; changing client/funder demand; changing input costs; changing technology, etc.).

The tendency among some of those working toward social impact is to assume that simply because they are doing good in the world, those market forces can somehow be ignored or dismissed. Good will win out over the market. But it is not a binary system. Organizations that are working toward good are very much subject to market forces and must be strategic about how to address them.

Which brings me to a SWOT analysis, an often misunderstood tool that can help nonprofits do just that.  Most people understand that a SWOT analysis helps an organization break down the internal forces at work (their own strengths and weaknesses) and the external opportunities and threats that face them in the marketplace. But once these are uncovered, the more important step is to translate those realities into strategies that increase the nonprofit’s position in the market, whether that is increased profit, increased social impact, or both.

Strengths are the resources, capabilities, core competencies, and experience that could be used to develop a competitive advantage, or a better position in the marketplace than their competitors, such as:

  • Brand name
  • Funder/investor retention
  • Access to clients/customers
  • Access to inputs required to create the desired social impact
  • Cash reserves
  • Demonstrated social impact
  • Use/understanding of critical technology

Weaknesses are things that the nonprofit should possess in order to create a competitive advantage, but happen to lack. They can also be the flip side of a strength, such as a nonprofit that has a large staff (strength) but whose large staff makes it difficult to be flexible towards changing program requirements (weakness). Some examples:

  • Lack of staff talent/expertise
  • Limited network/relationships/alliances
  • Low funder/investor retention rates
  • Limited access to inputs required to create social impact
  • Lack of demonstrated results

The External Analysis exposes the situation in the marketplace and how that situation positively (opportunities) or negatively (threats) could affect the organization. Opportunities are external realities that could result in greater social impact, profit and growth for the organization:

  • Growing social need/customer demand
  • New technologies that could decrease costs to deliver programs/products/services
  • Relaxation of government regulations for addressing the social challenge
  • Declining competitors for funding or program delivery

Threats are situations that have the potential to diminish the organization’s social impact/profitability/growth. For example:

  • Increasing competitors
  • Stricter regulations
  • Increasing cost of inputs
  • Diminishing client/customer demand
  • Changing technology

But this analysis gets you nowhere if you don’t take the most important next step, which is to craft strategies from the results. The various strategies for the organization going forward fall into four categories:

  1. Strength-Opportunity Strategies that use the organization’s strengths to go after external opportunities. For example when a nonprofit uses their strong brand name (strength) to expand into a newly emerging client need (opportunity). Teach for America has recently decided to take a version of their teacher recruitment program to schools outside of America.
  2. Weakness-Opportunity Strategies that overcome a nonprofit’s weaknesses in order to go after external opportunities. For example when Kiva recently decided to give their loaners whose demand outstripped loanee supply (weakness) an opportunity to make loans to American entrepreneurs whose demand for loans due to the bank crisis and the recession were growing (opportunity).
  3. Strength-Threat Strategies that harness a nonprofit’s strengths in order to overcome its vulnerability to external threats. For example a nonprofit that harnesses its well-connected board (strength) to strengthen their relationships with foundations and individual donors who are being bombarded by an increasing number of nonprofits (threat).
  4. Weakness-Threat Strategies that create a defensive plan for preventing the nonprofit’s weaknesses from making it susceptible to external threats. For example when a nonprofit decides to go through the patent process to guard its unprotected results-achieving curriculum (weakness) from growing competitors (threat).

Creating and then employing these strategies allows a social impact organization to be proactive and opportunistic about market dynamics–market dynamics which very much play into whether the solution they seek will come to fruition.


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Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 Nonprofits, Strategy 1 Comment

Making Change the New Norm

It occurred to me in two conversations I had this morning that small change can create large change, but how exactly does that happen?

My first conversation was a phone call with George Overholser, from the Nonprofit Finance Fund and a leading thinker around new kinds of capital for nonprofit organizations.  I was getting some background from him on the whole movement to make growth capital (money necessary to build organizations rather than simply buy services) a reality for nonprofit organizations in preparation for my session later this week at the Social Capital Markets conference.

At the Nonprofit Finance Fund they have launched several exciting programs to help nonprofits secure the money necessary to scale great programs, such as the SEGUE program that takes the traditional nonprofit capital campaign approach and turns it on its head raising money not for a building, but rather for the patient capital required to pay the bills while a nonprofit figures out how to grow and make sustainable their business model.

My big question to George, however, was: How do we get these great new ideas, like patient capital (which is normal and accepted in the for profit world) prevalent and accepted in the nonprofit and philanthropic worlds?  The number of nonprofits and donors currently participating in growth capital deals is very small.

George’s response was that these new ideas don’t have to be widely accepted or embraced.  The end game is not to get all of the “mom and pop” nonprofits and donors to embrace these concepts.  Rather, he looks forward to the day when there are ten $20 million growth capital deals out in the marketplace, that that alone will create tremendous change.  He gave the example of Teach for America.  If they can grow their successful program throughout the country, there would be tremendous change in the education landscape as a result .  The end goal is to secure capital for a select few nonprofits that are uniquely poised to grow. He compared it to Apple, which is a company that makes billions of dollars, but has grown to that stage with only a few tens of millions, say $50 million, in growth capital. And Apple has transformed not only its industry, but really, how we all communicate, interact with data and live. That’s a pretty impressive impact for a $50 million investment in growth capital.  He argues that the same is possible in the nonprofit world.  We could have a handful of nonprofit growth capital deals and transform not only the nonprofit sector, but some enormous social problems.

An interesting hypothesis, but I don’t know if I buy it.  Which brings me to my second conversation of the morning, with Sean Stannard-Stockton of the Tactical Philanthropy blog.  Sean has been known for the past three years as a leading-edge thinker about how to make philanthropy more effective at delivering social impact.  He announced this morning that he is launching a new philanthropic advisory fund called Tactical Philanthropy Advisors.  The firm will advise high-net worth philanthropists (accounts of $1 million or more) on “the social impact of their financial investments, and work with their investment advisors to align their financial portfolios with their philanthropic goals.”

They are seeking to elevate philanthropic advising to the respect, time and resources that overall financial advising has enjoyed.  In this new firm, philanthropic advising is no longer an add-on service that a wealth management company offers its clients.  And their fee structure has them paid by a percentage of the overall portfolio an investor holds with them.  So, in essence, they are paid as a traditional financial advisor is paid, based on the performance of the overall portfolio, but in this case the portfolio return is a social, not a financial one.  They are also interesting because they are a for-profit company, with a social purpose and are applying to become a B Corp.  So the firm is and of itself a social business; they are social entrepreneurs charting this new landscape along with the rest of us.

You only need to read a few entries in Sean’s 3-year old Tactical Philanthropy blog to understand how this new firm could revolutionize how the philanthropic sector, and thus the nonprofit sector, operates.  Sean understands and believes in philanthropic equity, mission-related investing, scaling nonprofits, organization-building, and so on.  He understands these new ideas that George and others promote and could be a critical partner in helping philanthropists understand how to use their money more effectively to drive change in a sector that is undercapitalized and dysfunctional.

However, Sean and his firm will probably only work with a small group of the countless philanthropists out there, so again, what change does this signify?  And how do we bring along other philanthropists who cannot or will not be touched by Tactical Philanthropy Advisors?

It all comes down to the single question: How does change happen?

I would argue that it is not enough to have single examples in the largest nonprofits or among the largest philanthropists.  The Nonprofit Finance Fund, Teach for America, Sea Change Capital, Tactical Philanthropy Advisors and all the other cutting-edge thinkers and examples of how we can do things better are great and absolutely necessary.  Without innovation we have nothing.

But let’s not forget stage two, whenever it may come, that involves making these great examples the norm.  The day when all, or most, nonprofits understand and have access to the power of patient capital and capacity capital, when all or most philanthropists understand the power of investments rather than gifts and how to truly support social change. Ten deals are great, but they are just a start.  True change must be systemic, must be ingrained, must become the norm.  It can’t exist just on the East and West coasts.  It can’t just be in the understanding and practice of the largest, most resourced organizations. That’s why I started Social Velocity; I wanted to bring these cutting-edge ideas and practices to places, organizations and philanthropists that weren’t in the top 10, but were still instrumental to creating social change.  To really be transformative, these new ideas have to become common practice. As David Bornstein has put it:

An important social change frequently begins with a single entrepreneurial author: one obsessive individual who sees a problem and envisions a new solution, who takes the initiative to act on that vision, who gathers resources and builds organizations to protect and market that vision, who provides the energy and sustained focus to overcome the inevitable resistance, and who- decade after decade- keeps improving, strengthening, and broadening that vision until what was once a marginal idea has become a new norm.

I applaud people like Sean and George and the countless others who are working to change mindsets, organizations, systems and structures.  Let’s build on the innovation they have started and make those powerful ideas and examples the new norm.


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A False Dichotomy: Non-profit vs. For-profit Solutions

In a recent blog post, Tony Wang, a brilliant researcher at Lucy Bernholz’s  Blueprint Research & Design, a strategy consulting firm for philanthropy in the Bay Area, makes a thought-provoking, yet ultimately flawed argument about the social impact of nonprofits (which he calls charities) versus social businesses. Tony and I have sparred before on PRIs and mission-related investing, and I had to take up the cause again with his argument that poses a false dichotomy.

Tony’s underlying argument is that a for-profit business model is better able to deliver social impact per dollar than a nonprofit one.  He gives many reasons for this:

  1. Dollars for charity are limited. True the nonprofit sector is undercapitalized, but that is changing, and will continue to change as the public, private and nonprofit sectors continue to converge and the social capital market, for both for-profit and nonprofit social impact organizations, grows.  The mere fact that nonprofits are undercapitalized is not a reason to dismiss nonprofit solutions out of hand.
  2. Charity is often inefficient because of its lack of accountability to the people who are the primary beneficiaries of aid.”  This has been true in the past, but I think it is changing.  An increasing focus on metrics, brought on by the venture philanthropy movement and others, has encouraged nonprofits to track and demonstrate outcomes.  These aren’t perfect by any means and there is much work still to be done, but why not work to encourage better accountability rather than simply say nonprofits are inefficient?
  3. Charity is often harmful and insulting to its recipients.  I agree that Western solutions to third world problems can sometimes be full of hubris, but this is no less true in social businesses than it is in nonprofits.  Read my post on the “missionary” nature of some social business solutions.
  4. Business has a much easier time scaling: “it will be difficult for domestic nonprofits to scale when the federal government is the only viable answer and that international nonprofits will still struggle mightily with the issue.”  Government isn’t the only viable answer.  Some great organizations have been able to scale without government assistance (Teach for America, KIPP, Citizen Schools). And the beauty of nonprofit organizations is that scale doesn’t have to mean just the expansion of a single organization.  Rather, scale can mean the dissemination of a solution that works.  Because nonprofits worry less about competition, they are more likely to want to share best practices, models that work, and allow local adaptations of a solution from another area.

Because of all of this, Tony believes that “a lot of young social entrepreneurs…are starting to realize that business solutions and not charity solutions can be more ideal when it comes to maximizing impact (and philanthropy’s impact would be multiplied if it leveraged its capital to fund social impact businesses with true potential).”

I’m sorry, Tony, but I really disagree with this.  Why does it have to be either, or?  Why is one model inherently better able to create value than another? Rather, I would say that it depends on the problem and what the best solution is.  Yes, there are problems and inefficiencies within the nonprofit sector, but there are also some pretty major problems, and inefficiencies in the for-profit sector (dot-com bust, financial crisis, anyone?).

Rather, we need to take a holistic approach to social impact.  There need to be multiple tools available to social entrepreneurs, whether they be for-profit or nonprofit  (different business models, various financing, etc).  And let’s remember that there are some inherent problems with for-profit social impact models as well.  When a solution requires the appearance of impartiality, a nonprofit model might be more effective.

I think the whole point of the convergence and “resetting,” to quote Lucy Bernholz, that is going on is that the old dichotomies and definitions don’t work anymore.  We have to break out of the notion that the way we used to categorize things doesn’t apply anymore.  Structures are changing, new models are emerging.  We need to be flexible and analyze the best solution to each problem that faces us.  “One or the other” thinking just won’t cut it anymore.


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