9/15/2017 0 Comments
This piece originally appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review
The idea that nonprofits should develop a theory of change has been widely embraced in recent years, and funders have helped drive the momentum. In fact, many funders now require that nonprofits submit a theory of change document with grant requests for all the reasons Paul Brest outlined in his seminal article, “The Power of Theories of Change.”
But what is a theory of change exactly? It’s an articulation, whether in the form of an explanatory memo or a diagram, and often combining both, of precisely how an organization is going to achieve its objectives. A good theory of change details the causal links between an organization’s vision and its own programmatic activities.
Theories of change are popular with funding organizations, because they powerfully and efficiently explain why programs will lead to strong, measurable results. But funder demand is certainly not the only reason to engage in the process. Developing a theory of change really is a means of assuring that your organization is actually doing the right things in the right ways. I was reminded of this when I helped facilitate a theory of change workshop as board chair of Accountability Counsel, a San Francisco-based human rights organization. The process of tracing our programmatic activities to the ultimate outcomes we wanted to see helped us develop a clear set of key performance indicators that would allow the organization to determine whether what we were doing was actually making a difference.
The problem with the theory of change process is that many organizations don’t do it well. As a result, it doesn’t produce the kind of robust critique of programs and insights about improvements to make that it should. In my interviews of more than a hundred social entrepreneurs for my forthcoming book, Social Startup Success, I learned that many leaders struggle with the process. My research shows that to assure the process is as fruitful as it can be, organizations must set aside the time to hold a workshop (ideally an off-site) and bring a dedicated focus to the theory of change development. These five steps can help ensure that the process is successful:
1. Engage outside stakeholders. Organizations often fail to solicit the opinions of the full range of stakeholders in their mission. Beneficiaries, donors, nonprofit partners, and various kinds of experts, such as academics or practitioners, can offer vital input about how to make programs more effective. Engaging them also helps to generate support and buy-in for your programming. Organizations can facilitate participation by hosting workshops, and reaching out by phone or email. At Accountability Counsel, we couldn’t bring our global partners together to meet in person, so we enlisted board members to make calls to get their input. We then collated the feedback into a memo that we shared in advance of our workshop with local participants.
2. Include your board and staff. Founders and executive directors often craft their theory of change without the input of staff or board members—the very people who know the most about what your organization is doing and have made strong commitments to furthering your aims. Founders may be particularly reluctant to ask board members to participate in the process, due to fears about exposing weaknesses or seeming too demanding of their time. But my research showed that the more engaged an organization’s board, the more quickly the organization scaled. The theory of change process is a perfect opportunity to engage the board through one-on-one meetings or workshop. It gives you an opportunity to tap into their ideas more formally than in board meetings, and to educate them about your program and the challenges it faces. This, in turn, allows them to be more effective contributors.
3. Bring in an outside facilitator. The beauty of outside facilitation is that it helps level the playing field. It allows founders and their leadership team to participate rather than run the show, which helps assure staff and other participants that their input is genuinely desired. For our Accountability Counsel workshop, we recruited an executive from Intuit who enjoys helping nonprofits with their strategic planning on a pro bono basis. Other organizations I interviewed solicited the help of funders such as Arbor Brothers, a supporter of second-stage organizations that starts each of its partnerships by helping its grantees develop a theory of change. Board members or advisors can also make great facilitators.
4. Clearly define the outcomes that will spell success. Starting a workshop by projecting forward to what kind of outcomes your work will have is a flawed approach, because it starts with the assumption that what you’re doing is working. Arbor Brothers solves this problem by discussing the end results an organization hopes to achieve. They ask the basic question, “How will you know if you’re successful?” This helps them “design with the end in mind.”
The Coalition for Queens (C4Q), a nonprofit founded based in Queens, New York, successfully used this approach. The organization’s flagship program, Access Code, is a ten-month software development course that trains high-potential adults from underserved populations to become programmers. Early conversations with Arbor Brothers forced C4Q to get much more specific about the outcomes it hoped to see, which allowed it to clearly map the causal links between its work and its goal: a more robust Queens tech ecosystem. Rather than just setting a goal to increase participants’ starting salaries, it did extensive research to figure out living wages and starting salaries for engineers in New York City so that it could set specific targets. Today, C4Q can say with specificity that 85 percent of its participants will graduate and that within six months of graduation, 70 percent will secure a technical career-track job earning a minimum of $85,000 per year.
5. Track your results rigorously. I found that while most organizations are tracking some data, many are not tracking the right data or tracking it vigorously enough. You should use the theory of change process to help you craft a detailed dashboard for tracking outcomes. Allowing all staff members to access and update the dashboard leads to a richer understanding of the outcomes you’re achieving and areas that need improvement, and to greater transparency about your successes and problems. At Accountability Counsel, we went from trying to measure our progress with a lofty but vexingly intangible goal—to create a more-level playing field in disputes between grassroots communities and large corporations and institutions—to tracking a set of specific performance indicators in a dashboard on Google Docs that each staff member helps update. To really clearly highlight results, we use color-coding: green for indicators that are on track, yellow for slow progress, and red for no progress.
Theories of change can be an incredibly effective tool for refining your mission and your means of working toward it, as well as measuring your impact and proving your impact to funders and other stakeholders. It also helps ensure that you are maximizing your organization’s precious resources. Putting the time into doing it right is a wise investment that will serve your organization well for years to come.
Over the past five years I’ve traveled the country talking with top-performing nonprofit leaders about the key to their growth, the results of which will be featured in my forthcoming book, Social Startup Success. One answer that came up time and time again was the importance of a strong board of directors. More than strategy or guidance, the most successful organizations relied on their boards to raise money for them.
The research also showed that many nonprofit leaders are frustrated with their boards’ failure to generate more contributions. For example, in my survey of over 250 nonprofit social entrepreneurs around the country, only 15 percent reported their boards were involved in fundraising, with 66 percent saying they wished their board would help more on fundraising. This is a huge disconnect.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to get your nonprofit board to step up its fundraising:
1.Set the priorities early. During the recruitment process, nonprofit leaders often shy away from emphasizing the fundraising aspect of the board role for fear of scaring away potential candidates. As a result, they end up with a group of board members who may not even realize that fundraising is part of a job. If you want your board to fundraise, it’s important that you include this in the job description. Have a conversation with potential board members about how much money you expect to raise annually and make sure they are on board with that plan.
2.Make sure that your board policy is explicit. Once board members sign on, you should require them to sign a board policy that spells out clearly each board member’s annual fundraising obligation. How much will they be required to personally give? How much will they be required to raise? Engage your board members in developing these requirements so that you ensure that you have their buy-in and support.
3.Support board members in their fundraising efforts. Even if board members realize that there is an expectation to fundraise, they may not have the tools they need to do so. Hosting an annual “how to make an ask” training with your development director is one way to get board members up to speed. You can even provide a “cut and paste” email for board members to send to potential donors to make their job as easy as possible.
4.Create a variety of entry points. Everyone likes to get involved in different ways, so it is also important that you provide board members with a buffet of opportunities to fundraise and get their friends involved – events where they can invite potential donors, regular updates by email and an open door policy to take potential donors out to lunch to tell them more about the organization.
5.Hold board members accountable. One of the biggest deterrents to creating a strong culture of fundraising on your board is a lack of follow through. If even just one or two people don’t meet their fundraising goals, it can bring down the enthusiasm of the entire board. It’s important that nonprofit leaders keep tabs on their board members throughout the year so that they can support those who aren’t meeting expectations, and be prepared to have the hard conversation to let board members go when they don’t follow through.
Importantly, following these steps improves the situation for everyone. Executive directors will be less frustrated, relieving the 66% of those who wished their board stepped up more in fundraising, the board of directors will have clearer, more impactful goals, and it will also result in a boost in funding for nonprofits, which ultimately increases social impact.
This piece originally appeared in Tech Crunch.
I learned a shocking statistic recently: less than 1% of venture capital funding goes to black founders. This must change. Minority founders are, in general, more in need of outside financial support. For many people of color, the “friends and family” plan for raising seed money, which so many founders rely on - asking parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents for support to get their ideas off the ground - isn’t an option because their family members don’t have the resources to offer such funds. While white families in the U.S. have on average $100,000 in net worth, African American families, for example, have on average just $7,500. When funders fail to give entrepreneurs of color a fair chance, it’s everyone’s loss.
The exclusion of minority entrepreneurs from funding streams was discussed in panel after panel at last week’s Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference, which brings together thousands of impact investors and social entrepreneurs to discuss their approaches to solving the world’s toughest challenges. New research presented shows that even the high-tech accelerators and incubators whose mission is to increase funding for underrepresented groups often have recruitment and selection biases that prevent diverse entrepreneurs from having access and exclusive programs that don’t feel inviting to women and minority entrepreneurs.
The reasons for the funding gap are multiple. First, bias is without question at play. Much of this may be implicit rather than explicit. While explicit bias is conscious discrimination, implicit bias is unconscious, largely the result of cultural messages, such as stereotypes. For example, studies have shown that even managers who do not believe they are biased tend to hire people like themselves. When 76% of the partners of venture capital firms are white and nearly 85% of foundation board members are white, we must expect that unconscious bias skews funding decisions.
Second, many minorities do not have access to the education about the informal “rules of the game” of seeking funding that so many of those who are awarded funds receive, whether by upbringing or by attending an elite school, or both. In his 2010 book Invisible Capital, Charles Rabb describes these rules, which provide a powerful advantage in networking and in the fierce competition of pitching to funders.
Another reason for the gap is that venture capitalists or philanthropists often are unaware of the importance of the problems that minority founders are seeking to tackle. For example, the Co-Founder of Groundwork.VC, an accelerator for entrepreneurs of color, Marcus Carey offered the case at the SOCAP conference of a black entrepreneur, Diishan Imira, pitching a business model for creating a supply chain for hairdressers in communities of color. The problem is that young women of color seeking hair extensions regularly confront poor consumer experiences, an issue that a white man who doesn’t know about the culture of these communities would not immediately relate to.
On the positive side, presenters at SOCAP offered a wealth of solutions that funders can easily implement to begin leveling the playing field. Here are just a few:
According to Ross Baird of Village Capital, which trains startups entrepreneurs focused on real-world problems, Kapor’s $500,000 investment in African American entrepreneur Jerry Nemorin, CEO of Lendstreet, a company creating financial instruments for the poor, has grown to administer $40 million in funds to help poor Americans get out of debt. This proves that inclusive funding can lead to large payoffs, for funders, for the funded, and for us all.
8/31/2016 0 Comments
This piece originally appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review
Over the course of the past year, I’ve interviewed dozens of top-performing social entrepreneurs to try to crack the code on their success. In writing up their stories, I realized how many started the same way: “So and so graduated from Yale and started her organization,” or “So and so graduated from Harvard and founded his nonprofit.” While we should commend these accomplished leaders for their impact, I couldn’t help but wonder: If smart solutions can come from anywhere, why are the scales tipped in favor of social entrepreneurs coming out of top universities?
A recent study from Echoing Green, the largest seed-funder of social entrepreneurs in the world, provides some insights into the funding disparities many entrepreneurs face from the start. Data of its fellowship applicants over the past five years shows that black applicants from the United States receive half as much funding after 1-2 years than their white counterparts.
Why is this happening? It is no secret that the philanthropy sector lacks diversity. Three-quarters of foundations’ full-time staff are white and 85 percent of foundation board members are white, while just 7 percent are African American and 4 percent are Hispanic. Given that people naturally gravitate toward (and fund) people similar to them, entrepreneurs of color clearly are at a strong disadvantage.
In his 2010 book, Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity, Chris Rabb calls these forces “invisible capital.” According to Rabb, success in entrepreneurship isn’t just about a good attitude, a great idea, and hard work. You also have to understand the rules of the game, and those rules aren’t written anywhere.
For social entrepreneurs, invisible capital includes knowing which foundations might help you get your idea off the ground and who to call to get a meeting with those donors. It also includes knowing how to craft your pitch using language donors want to hear (such as “theory of change,” “sustainable revenue models,” “impact measurement,” and “return on investment”) and how to navigate the sector’s many biased terms. For example, many people traditionally associate “social entrepreneurship” with white leaders, while associating “community activists” or “social justice advocates” with people of color. This also leads to implicit bias when so much funding is skewed toward sexier nonprofit models packaged in the form of “innovation.”
And yes, invisible capital is also about what university you attend. Going to a good college gives emerging leaders a huge advantage to establish credibility and make the connections they need to get their idea funded. Community-based leaders of color who do not have fancy degrees are thus at a double disadvantage when it comes to raising money.
As a lecturer at Stanford University, I do not mean to downplay the incredible talent coming from top universities. I am constantly inspired by my students and so excited to watch them make this world a better place. But we cannot support these rising leaders at the expense of so many others, especially those who have actually lived the social problems we are trying to solve. Funders must do more to support emerging social entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. In the nonprofit world, this is sometimes referred to as “inclusive entrepreneurship.” In Silicon Valley, venture capitalists are now calling entrepreneurs who have great ideas but aren’t fluent in startup language “off-the-grid entrepreneurs.”
Some foundations are already taking the lead to promote funding of off-the-grid social entrepreneurs. Support starts with promoting equity in the search for grantees. Echoing Green, for example, works with partners that can help them recruit underrepresented applicants to their prestigious seed-funding fellowship, and has implemented a blind reading without names or photos in its first round of evaluation to help reduce unconscious bias. It also pairs applicants with past fellows for interview prep in the final round of selection, allowing less well-networked candidates to gain confidence and skills from others who have been successful in the process.
Meanwhile, the Rosenberg Foundation, in partnership with the Hellman Foundation, started the Leading Edge Fund in 2016, awarding fellowships to community leaders of color who are tackling deep barriers to opportunity in low-income communities. The fund identifies these leaders via nominations by a highly diverse group of people, most of whom work within the communities themselves. Fellows receive $225,000 of unrestricted funding over three years. During that time, Rosenberg tailors its support to each fellow’s individual needs. This includes regular retreats, as well as trainings in areas such as communications, strategic planning, and fundraising—all co-created with the fellows. Rosenberg also plans to make foundation connections for their fellows, helping fellows get their foot in the door.
Over the past few years, Emerson Collective, founded by Laurene Powell Jobs to help remove barriers to opportunity and strengthen the social justice sector, has focused specifically on building capacity within the nonprofit sector by providing fundraising and governance trainings to organizations in its portfolio. Under the lead of Anne Marie Burgoyne, it has also provided individual coaches to dozens of leaders, allowing them to customize their professional development based on their specific needs.
In sum, many philanthropists are aware of the extreme funding disparities for leaders of color and the need for more inclusive entrepreneurship. Recent articles have highlighted implicit bias in the context of grantee inclusion and developing diversity internally in foundations. But realizing that there is a problem is just the first step. More philanthropists must follow the lead of foundations such as Echoing Green, Rosenberg, and Emerson Collective to promote inclusion in the selection and training of community-based leaders. We cannot afford to miss out on the potential of so many rising stars, especially the ones who don’t have the Ivy League advantage.
This piece was written with Cheryl Dorsey and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Last week’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University brought 700 entrepreneurs representing 170 countries into the heart of the Silicon Valley to talk about how to use innovation to solve the world’s problems. As President Obama said of entrepreneurship in his speech to summit delegates: “It ...empowers people to come together and tackle our most pressing global problems, from climate change to poverty.” Social entrepreneurs, who specialize in taking the best practices from the business world, the nonprofit sector and government to devise powerful solutions to seemingly intractable social problems, represent a growing force of entrepreneurial actors working towards a more peaceful and prosperous future that provides opportunity for everybody.
The millennial generation has embraced social entrepreneurship and this call to transform the world. University programs such as the Stanford University Program on Social Entrepreneurship that prepare students to be change agents are booming. Organizations such as Echoing Green that offer funding, support and access to networks are seeing a marshalling of top talent and flourishing of potentially transformative ideas for addressing ills from income inequality to shortfalls in quality health care and in education, and much more. But these creative and driven next generation leaders need more financial support to get their ideas off the ground. The good they could do is immeasurable.
Consider the vital work being done by One Degree, a Yelp-like online platform that helps poor people in the San Francisco Bay Area find social services they need. One Degree was founded by Rey Faustino, who as the son of Filipino immigrants was intimately aware of how hard it is for many underprivileged families to search for housing, and to get support in buying food and obtaining medical care. As of this writing, 120,000 people — or one in four people in need in San Francisco and Alameda counties — have found critical services through the tech platform.
Observe the cutting-edge movement building efforts of Gina Clayton, founder of the Oakland-based Essie Justice Group, named after her great grandmother, Essie Baily, and leveraging Gina’s training and experience as an NAACP youth organizer and civil rights attorney. Seeing up close and personal the impact of incarceration on women both in her personal and professional life, Essie Justice Group is harnessing the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to empower women and end mass incarceration.
This month, Echoing Green, which provides funding and support to such aspiring innovators to be social change leaders for life and in launching impact-first organizations through our best-in-class global Fellowship program, announced our list of 33 new Fellows, twenty percent of whom are based in the Bay Area.
Eighty-six percent of these leaders are people of color and twenty-four percent are also indigenous leaders who see value and possibility where so many others see only problems. They embody the promise of inclusive entrepreneurship-that is opportunities for all entrepreneurs, no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they look like-the term President Obama used when, last year, he announced Silicon Valley as the host of the 2016 summit.
Yet there is much work to do to fully unleash these driven, high-potential, inclusive entrepreneurs with such deep understanding of the problems confronting those in their communities, as they often come from families and communities who cannot afford to provide them with the early-stage financial capital and access to support and networks they need to get started. For example, of Echoing Green’s global applicant pool of more than 2,000 would-be social entrepreneurs, African-American founders one to two years into operations raised fifty-six percent less than their white counterparts. (The disparity is similar for women applicants versus men.)
Given that talent is evenly distributed across society while opportunity is not, the goals of the summit, including providing the entrepreneurs assembled with access to capital, mentors, and networks are laudatory and should be emulated. Social entrepreneurs like Echoing Green Fellow, Steph Speirs, raised by a single immigrant mother who earned a wage below the poverty line, and co-founder of Solstice, a community solar business committed to ensuring energy equity in low- to moderate-income communities across America, show what inclusive entrepreneurs can do when given the chance. She won $50,000 in a pitch competition sponsored by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams’ venture capital firm Obvious Ventures and gives true color to summit speaker Mark Zuckerberg’s words that “to me, entrepreneurship is about creating change, not just creating companies.”
Imagine if the arbiters of entrepreneurial ecosystems from investors and philanthropists to enabling organizations made equity a priority and focused like lasers on the pipeline of social entrepreneurs passionately pursuing the public good? Social enterprises like One Degree, Essie Justice Group, and Solstice would have a fair shot at delivering financial and social and environmental returns that indeed create change.
This piece was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Sean Parker created quite a stir with his recent proclamation in the Wall Street Journal that young tech “barons” must apply their disruptive and inventive hacking talents to shake up the nonprofit sector. He criticized both philanthropies and the nonprofits they support as “largely antiquated institutions,” asserting they are “warehousing” billions of dollars in charitable donations, and that their “primary currency of exchange is recognition and reputation, not effectiveness.” Without a doubt, we should applaud Parker’s commitment to contribute so much of his wealth to charity and encouragement of others to do the same, along with his willingness to start a public debate about the future of philanthropy. His characterization of the current state of affairs, however, sells the social sector short. In my research of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, I’ve seen no shortage of new approaches borrowed from the tech sector, and many are leading to brilliant solutions that the social sector is already widely recognizing.
Parker advises that the “hacker elite” of young tech entrepreneurs should start giving earlier, deploy more capital at earlier stages to social startups, and make bigger bets on them. A host of social innovators are already doing so—indeed, bold approaches to funding, program, and organizational design abound. Here are a few examples of how these innovators are applying models and lessons from their tech counterparts.
Angel funding to grow early tech nonprofits: The co-founders of Fast Forward, Kevin Barenblat and Shannon Farley, have applied the tech-sector model of angel investment to an accelerator fund to support a new breed of social-change organization best described as tech startups for social good. Each summer, Fast Forward hosts a handful of fellows trained in tech-sector business strategies and mentored in developing models for new organizations, which Fast Forward then funds. Examples of tech nonprofits Fast Forward has supported include Sirum, a mobile app to redistribute unused medicine to poor populations; One Degree, a Yelp-type platform that connects poor populations with social services; and Medic Mobile, which uses cell-phone technology to help community health workers around the world provide medical services more efficiently. Brilliantly, Fast Forward has engaged just the kind of successful tech entrepreneurs Parker suggests lead the way, including Aston Motes of Dropbox, Andrew McCollum of Facebook, Scott Kleper of Context Optional, Josh Reeves of ZenPayroll, and Joe Greenstein of Flixster.
Investment in the long-term with mezzanine funding: Venture capital firms established the so-called “mezzanine” round of funding primary to help startups scale up and bridge, generally, to an IPO or acquisition. The founder of Tipping Point Community, Daniel Lurie, recognized that mid-stage nonprofit organizations need similar bridge funding. Since 2005, he has elicited the support of high-net-worth donors, many from the tech sector, to offer longer-term investments in organizations rather than sunsetting funding after a two- to three-year grant period, as is typical with foundation funding. Lurie highlighted to me that “in the business world you would never give up on an early-stage investment that’s working. In some cases you want to double down.” For some of Tipping Point’s high-performing investments, the organization is funding at a rate of a million dollars a year. These are just the kind of “big bets” that Parker recommends.
Deployment of the tech-startup business model: Samasource Founder Leila Janah saw the potential for building a different kind of bridge: one that brought the wealth of employment opportunity in Silicon Valley to those living in the extreme poverty in East Africa. In 2008, she launched the organization to line up marginalized women and youth with work from tech companies such as Google, eBay, and Microsoft. But Janah didn’t stop at partnering with those tech companies; she actually built the organization like a tech company, drawing on many of its signatures of success—distributing leadership by giving “managing director” and “co-founder” titles to her executive team, and investing heavily in research and development to improve services and develop earned revenue sources. Foundations are impressed: The organization has raised more than $42 million in combined philanthropic support and earned revenue over the past seven years.
More substantial funding upfront: Beth Schmidt is a former high-school teacher who founded Wishbone.org, an online crowdfunding platform that provides low-income high-school students with summer learning opportunities. She realized that she could escape the trap of spending most of her time on fundraising by taking a page from the venture-capital playbook and raising one large round of funding to cover three years of operating expenses. Wishbone is on schedule to close a $6 million round of funding within three months, which will allow Schmidt to spend the majority of her time developing the organization versus dialing for dollars.
Each of these strategies is a brilliant example of how the philanthropic and nonprofit communities are innovating in the ways Parker suggests. We must recognize that creativity and bold thinking already flourishing in the sector to further it. And the criticism of the sector as failing to focus on effectiveness is off-base. Solving social problems as intransigent as racial injustice and extreme poverty is extremely challenging work, and measuring the impact of social programs is a complex problem that doesn’t lend itself to market testing and customer-response evaluation—such as click-through rates and users churn—that tech startups have made such good use of. The sector is working hard to improve effectiveness and to verify it in inventive ways. With such creative and bold thinkers on the case, we are sure to make great strides in that mission.
This piece was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Over the past month, 4 million students have obtained degrees from colleges and universities around the country with the hope of entering the workforce. Studies show that for 55 percent of them, a concern for social causes will be an important factor in deciding where to work. The strong interest among the college-aged in doing social good has led to an explosion of social entrepreneurship university programs around the world—there are now 148 centers across 350 countries. Ashoka U, which promotes social innovation in higher education by developing a global network of students, faculty, and community leaders working to advance the field, has expanded to 30 campuses during the past few years alone. Top business schools now offer twice as many courses on nonprofit management as they did in 2003. These statistics leave no doubt that offering university courses and degrees in social entrepreneurship is not a passing trend—it’s here to stay. As the latest class of aspiring changemakers heads from the campus out into the working world, an important question that all who are concerned with advancing the field must consider is: How well are we preparing our students to grapple with the practicalities of social entrepreneurship in the field?
My experience teaching at Stanford’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship has raised my awareness of the vital role of service learning—skills-based training in the classroom to share experiential wisdom about the day-to-day work of social entrepreneurship—in bridging the gap between theory and practice. In the class I teach, for example, I lead students through sessions on fundraising methods, measuring the impact of programs, and navigating culture.
To provide additional practical insight, service-learning students have the opportunity to apply what they have learned through final projects that support the work of nonprofits. A unique aspect of the Program on Social Entrepreneurship is that we host nonprofit leaders as social entrepreneurs in residence (SEERS Fellows), who are mid-career practitioners. For an entire academic quarter, they participate in my class weekly, sharing with the students their perspectives and experiences directly from the field. Students also work side-by-side with the SEERS Fellows on projects that support the nonprofits’ work. For example, last quarter one group of our students worked with SEERS fellow Lateefah Simon, the former executive director and board chair for the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD), to develop a needs assessment for poor young girls of color in San Francisco.
The students conducted extensive demographic research; they interviewed a dozen young women who had benefitted from CYWD’s programming, and spent an afternoon with girls in juvenile hall to learn from them about their paths into the criminal justice system and the types of services they wish existed to help others like them stay out of trouble. The students then worked closely with Simon and me to reflect on what they discovered and develop a set of recommendations for CYWD’s programming going forward.
The students were deeply affected by the realization of how little they understood—from their position of relative privilege—about the difficulties of the young women’s lives. While they were initially excited about developing a mentoring program for these at-risk young women to help them apply to college, they learned that the application process was the least-problematic hurdle the girls faced in getting a four-year education. Other barriers included a lack of money for housing, poor academic preparation for college-level classes, and the necessity of working to provide income for their families.
Many of the students attested in their course evaluations to the profound impact of the more-practical training they received in the class. One student wrote, “The service-learning component of the course was central. It grounded my learning of theories and concepts, particularly of cultural sensitivity, [in] the reality, in a way I would never have been able to see/connect concretely otherwise.” Another student pointed out, “I learned how to deal with challenges of working in the real world, as in, not an isolated ‘Stanford bubble’ setting.”
Bringing such real-world experience into the curriculum through community-service and volunteering programs, and through instructor and practitioner involvement in designing rich training experiences, both in the field and in the classroom, is critical to improving the preparation of the next-generation of social entrepreneurs.
The service-learning approach at Stanford has been so successful that the university’s Haas Center for Public Service, along with campus partners, has set the ambitious goal of doubling the number of service-learning classes on campus by the end of 2016. All universities offering courses in social entrepreneurship should begin working to make this approach an integral part of their curricula. This requires training professors in the craft; the Stanford Haas Center’s rigorous program for faculty gives them the tools to integrate skills-based lessons—such as how to lead reflection exercises with students, how to evaluate project-based work, and how to craft projects that are truly meaningful for students and practitioners alike—into their instruction. This training was critical to me as I developed my own class.
In our efforts to continue making social entrepreneurship a transformative force in solving the complex social problems problems, innovation in the classroom is as important as it is in the field.
This piece was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
For many nonprofit organizations, getting young people to support their work seems an insurmountable challenge. Millennials are a mystery to them. As the stereotype goes, what is the use of involving the lazy, unemployed, social media-addicted generation, anyway? Even so, it’s widely understood that Millennial engagement is vital to cultivating a pipeline of support for the years to come.
The good news is that engaging Millennials does not have to be such mystery. In fact Millennial supporters can become an organization’s most avid champions. At Spark, an organization I co-founded, which is now the largest network of Millennial donors in the world, we’ve proven that while they may not have as much to give, collectively their impact can be powerful. In nearly 10 years, we have raised more than $1.5 million to support women’s issues, mostly in contributions of less than $100, and probably even more importantly, we have inspired a large group of young people to support gender equality issues who will likely continue to contribute to women’s organizations for decades.
As I wrote in a previous post on this topic, spurring Millennial engagement requires a multi-pronged strategy. In that post I discussed three such strategies; here are three more:
1. Use social media to facilitate action and giving. Research shows that 75 percent of Millennials regularly like, retweet, or share stories on social media. Many people write off social media sharing as “slactivism” that does not translate into dollars. But studies show that online activism has many benefits: It provides donors with a diversity of entry points for engagement, and makes participating and giving simple, efficient, and part of a daily routine of online activity.
The Representation Project has been masterful at using social media to promote the films it produces and provide opportunities for action. For example, after releasing the film Miss Representation, about the misrepresentation of women in the media, the organization launched the #NotBuyingIt campaign, which invited people to tweet about instances of products or ads that misrepresent or degrade women. The campaign has forced many companies to remove sexist ads; it also stopped a multimillion-dollar Superbowl campaign by GoDaddy featuring a scantily clad woman to sell its Internet-hosting products. Millennial participation on Twitter has also translated into donations. The Representation Project raised just over $23,000 to fund a Not Buying It app following the campaign; 96 percent of the donations were less than $100.
2. Connect donations with specific projects. The research study and report titled “The Millennial Impact” showed that Millennials want to know how organizations are using their contributions. Focus groups showed that their biggest complaint was that they didn’t know how their gift made a difference. This is precisely why we started Spark. As new professionals in our early 20’s, we felt that our relatively small donations were going into a black hole. A $50 gift was a stretch for many of us, but it felt like a drop in the bucket compared to the multimillion-dollar budgets of large organizations. To give young people a clear understanding of where their money is going, we design many of our fundraising drives around targeted projects. For example, one of our campaigns was to raise money for foot-powered water pumps via the Mandiso Water Pump Project in Madagascar. For $60, donors could pay for a pump that would supply enough water to sustain two farms. Our members loved the connection we made between their contributions and the impact the pumps would have, and they enthusiastically contributed, sending funds for pumps as gifts for friends and family. We instantly sold 75 pumps, raising $4500 for the Project with minimal staff effort.
3. Give donors easy ways to get their friends involved. More than 70 percent of Millennials have raised money on behalf of a nonprofit organization. So how do you get them to raise money for you? By making peer-to-peer fundraising easy for them. At Spark, we developed a program called Spark Champions to encourage people to get their friends involved. In becoming champions, members committed to raising $1,000 from their networks. In exchange, we provided fundraising training to teach them the ins and outs of asking friends. We also helped them host events—shopping nights at boutiques, house parties with film screenings, and Facebook drives to raise money in honor of someone’s birthday—where they could invite their friends to donate. The program was an enormous success, raising $180,000 in its first year—nearly half of our annual budget at the time.
Try developing an action-oriented social media strategy, project-based giving opportunities and easy and fun peer-to-peer fundraising programs, and I predict you will see Millennials respond with vigor.
This piece was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
In 2004, I co-founded Spark, a nonprofit organization to support global women’s issues. Starting with six women in our 20s, Spark is now a network of 11,000 members and the largest network of Millennial donors in the world. Over the past ten years we have raised more than $1.5 million in relatively small contributions, mostly less than $100. As Spark grew, The Women’s Funding Network, a group of more than 160 women’s foundations around the world—typically run by baby boomers—began to notice.
The leadership asked us for our secret sauce: How do we get more Millennials involved in the women’s movement? The network was having trouble galvanizing them and, more specifically, getting them to open their wallets. Although research shows that close to 85 percent of Millennials donate to nonprofit organizations, the majority of the network’s donors were much older.
Cultivating the next generation of donors is the lifeblood of the future of the women’s movement, or any nonprofit for that matter. SSIR contributors Derrick Feldman and Emily Yu, through a joint project of the Case Foundation and Achieve, have spent the last four years exploring how the Millennial generation gets involved with and gives to social causes. As they highlight in their post, “Millennials and the Social Sector,” to be successful, nonprofits must cater to younger and older donors alike. But that’s a lot easier said than done.
The challenge is that older and younger donors approach activism in different ways. In the women’s movement, for example, while boomers protested in the streets to support Roe v. Wade, Millennials raise their voices on the Internet, waging campaigns such as the recent digital takedown of the chairman and co-founder of athletic clothing company Lululemon, Chip Wilson. When Wilson blamed a faulty batch of see-through yoga pants on “women’s bodies,” thousands of young women went negative, hijacking the company’s Facebook page and tweeting their disgust about his comments, ultimately leading to a teary apology and his resignation. And while boomers spent decades fighting to promote feminism, even though75 percent of millennial women think we need more change to achieve gender equality, the term “feminism” is controversial among many of the students I teach, who believe it has negative connotations. Even Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has said that while she believes in “equal rights” and that “women are just as capable,” she believes feminism itself is a “more negative word.”
So how do we unite to break through the generational differences and tensions, and harness Millennials participation? Here are a few of the lessons we have learned through Spark that can help nonprofit organizations appeal to Millennial donors:
This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post.
The fast approaching January 6th deadline for applications for the Echoing Green Fellowship, which awards the founders of socially innovative organizations up to $90,000 in funding, prompts me to wonder: are we actually thwarting potential by putting too much stock in the individual as opposed to rewarding collaborative forms leadership?
Thousands of social entrepreneurs across the country are furiously working on their applications, as they do throughout the year for the recent explosion of other such fellowships and prizes, offered by organizations including the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, the Schwab Foundation, Ashoka, and the Skoll Foundation. While I could not be more supportive of these prizes and awards, I do fear that they are leading to a cult of personality regarding social entrepreneurs, which not only contributes to burnout but undervalues the leadership potential of so many others who are vital to founders’ success in their missions. While social entrepreneurs are accomplishing great things, from my own experience and from my study of social entrepreneurship, I have observed that they would be capable of so much more if the community put more emphasis on collaboration.
Don’t get me wrong. These awards have made the difference in helping many organizations to thrive, or even to get off the ground. Take 2009 Echoing Green Fellow Natalie Bridgeman Fields, who founded the Accountability Counsel. Natalie’s organization provides legal representation to dozens of grassroots communities around the world who have suffered serious environmental and human rights violations by multinational corporations. For example, in 2012 Accountability Counsel successfully stopped the construction of a hydroelectric project in Oaxaca, Mexico that would have deprived local indigenous villagers of access to clean water. Natalie says that without Echoing Green’s support, she would never have been able to get the organization past the first hurdle.
But at the same time, these prizes have encouraged a view of social entrepreneurs as indomitable leaders who crafted brilliant new ideas all on their own and then made them work through the sheer forces of will and charisma. This hero model creates massive expectations for what individual leaders can achieve, which contributes to them carrying too much weight on their shoulders rather than seeking out more input from collaborators. Studies have shown that as a result the median tenure of executive directors is between just three and four years, hobbling so many organizations with frequent executive turnovers and leaving them without a consistent driving force.
The model also leaves the thousands of individuals who support those leaders in the shadows. No successful and truly influential organization is the work of one person. Where are the prizes for the army of individuals who support founders?
We must do more to recognize and support this legion of compatriots by cultivating collaborative models for leadership.
Collaborative leadership can take several forms:
1. Build A Network: Network leadership relies on many stakeholders to direct the organization. Spark, a nonprofit organization I co-founded in 2004, is an example. It’s now the largest group of millennial philanthropists in the world. When we started Spark, we did not set out to establish a network, it happened by necessity. Because we did not have any staff, we heavily relied on our members to help plan events, research potential grantees and reach out in the community to recruit new members. Today Spark consists of a network of 10,000 members who participate in every aspect of direction-setting for the organization – from deciding grant priorities to hosting fundraising events to leading strategic planning.
2. Create More Senior Leadership Positions: A 2006 national study of nonprofit executive leadership showed that the more staff support an executive director has, the more likely that person is to stay in her role. In this spirit, founders should delegate more responsibility to well selected and well-groomed deputies. For example, Reading Partners started as a small Bay Area nonprofit providing volunteer tutors to at-risk students. The organization was able to scale quickly into ten school districts across the country by training leaders in each of the cities to replicate the model. As a result, Reading Partners has helped thousands of students all across the country to become better readers.
3. Cultivate a Deep Bench through Board Development: Too often boards are thought of only as mechanisms for fundraising – meant to impress with a lineup of established names who also have the connections to help bring in support. Founders should learn to utilize board members for much more, such as to provide significant strategic input, support on personnel issues and organizational governance frameworks. The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation provides leadership training for the CEOs of the organizations they support. But they do not stop there. Instead they actually offer one of their senior staff as a 3-year board member of their entrepreneurs’ organizations, to help train their boards by example on everything from how to administer an executive director evaluation process, to how to measure organizational results.
Without a doubt, organizations need a strong leader at the core and a charismatic voice for promoting the cause, and founders are often ideally suited to play these roles. But to do so effectively, and for the long term, they need these models for collaboration. All supporters of social entrepreneurship should be promoting them. We can only achieve the sweeping social change we aspire to by harnessing the leadership potential of all individuals involved in the cause.