Four ways philanthropy can effectively partner with governments to support equitable vaccination distribution and ensure that more individuals are vaccinated against COVID-19.
This article originally appeared in Stanford Social Innovation Review.
After nearly a year of living through the biggest public health crisis in generations—with 100 million people infected, 2 million people dead, and almost everyone’s lives disrupted—the world is desperate to see widespread vaccination against COVID-19. But the excitement of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine approvals in December 2020 has since dampened after a rocky rollout to get those vaccines into people’s arms. It’s not enough to have a vaccine; it must be distributed effectively and equitably.
The good news is that vaccine distribution is picking up speed in many places. In the United States, President Biden has promised to invest significant federal dollars to provide states with the resources they need to vaccinate their residents. But this support will take time to secure and distribute while the need remains urgent. One barrier is significant rates of vaccine hesitancy rates, driven in part by a history of medical exploitation and mistreatment toward people of color in the United States. A recent study showed that just 14 percent of Black Americans and 34 percent of Latinx Americans trust that a COVID-19 vaccine will be safe.
Moments like this call for public-private partnership. In my role managing public-private partnerships for the Office of the Governor in California, I’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that working together and leveraging the strengths of both sectors has created significantly more impact than working alone.
As we move into this new phase of attempting a historic mass-vaccination campaign in the United States, many in the philanthropic sector are eager to support the process in ways big and small. But given the unpredictable nature of the vaccination roll out, foundations and donors aren’t always sure how to leverage their investments most effectively.
While we still have much to learn as the process continues, the following are four ways philanthropy can effectively partner with governments now to support equitable vaccination distribution and ensure that more individuals are vaccinated against COVID-19:
1. Invest in Trusted Messengers
Experts say that as much as 90 percent of the population must achieve immunity to eliminate COVID-19, and yet public confidence in the vaccine—particularly among communities of color—falls far short of that. About a quarter of the public feels hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning they say they probably or definitely will not get it. This is much higher among Black adults, with 35 percent saying they definitely will not get vaccinated.
We know that trusted messengers—well-respected community leaders who live and work in ethnic and racial minority communities disproportionately affected by the virus—are important to reaching vaccine-hesitant communities. However, community-based organizations like local health clinics or promotoras that often play that role aren’t always large enough to apply for state or local funding. Philanthropy can help fill that gap.
An unlikely example that provides a great playbook for what works is something unrelated to public health: the US Census. The country recently invested hundreds of millions of dollars building the capacity of a network of trusted messengers, to convince hard-to-reach populations to fill out the 2020 census. In California alone, state government and philanthropic partners worked together to fund hundreds of organizations that have close connections to groups like farmworkers, people with disabilities, and tribal communities—many of the same underrepresented communities that need information and support on vaccination.
One public-private partnership building on this model is Together Toward Health—a collaboration between the State of California, Public Health Institute, and a group of philanthropic funders led by The California Endowment. This $28 million fund is dedicated to funding organizations on the ground to do community education and outreach on COVID-19, including information on why and how to get vaccinated. The philanthropic funding is coordinated with a $30 million investment from the state to fund outreach and education, including through many of the same organizations that supported the state’s census efforts.
Investing in local grassroots organizations to support vaccine education isn’t just important to the success of vaccination efforts. By focusing on organizations led by people of color and other underrepresented leaders, who are well-positioned to reach vulnerable communities, we can also create more equity. Investment in these groups will help seed a new generation of leadership in the nonprofit sector and create an infrastructure for community-engagement that will last long after the COVID crisis.
2. Support Innovative Delivery of Vaccines
On the distribution of the vaccines, the state and the federal government will be playing the primary role. The Biden Administration has announced that the federal government will be setting up 100 vaccine mega-sites throughout the country, and states have been launching their own mass vaccination programs in sports arenas and other large venues. Hospitals, local health clinics, and health-care providers are acting as vaccine administrators, and community-based testing sites are converting some of their appointments to vaccine appointments.
But even these efforts aren’t enough; we need a wide range of innovative approaches. For example, one mobile vaccination site in Coachella Valley, California—led by the immigrant-support organization TODEC and several local agencies, and in partnership with Riverside County and Together Toward Health—vaccinated 250 agricultural workers in a single day. These workers received their vaccines during their shifts to avoid lost wages, and the site will return in three weeks to provide the second dose. Philanthropic funding supported staffing from eight local community-based organizations that helped lead the effort. Similar efforts are also taking a holistic approach to worker well-being by offering food distribution, COVID testing and education, as well as worker rights and tenant protection education.
We can also take learnings from distribution of the flu vaccine, where employers around the United States regularly provide easy ways for their employees to get vaccinated. We have also seen innovative pilots with schools. For example, an effective school-located influenza vaccination program called Shoo the Flu—fueled by a partnership between a county health department, a school district, and philanthropy—provided more than 55,000 vaccinations for preschools and elementary students and staff in 95 Northern Californian schools between 2014 and 2019. The impact of this city-wide program was significant, resulting in greater vaccination coverage, fewer school absences, and lower community-wide hospitalizations.
As vaccine supply becomes more available, philanthropy can support innovative pilots in partnership with schools, community health centers, collaboratives, and even companies (Uber, for example, has offered free and discounted rides to get people to vaccine sites). These efforts will help meet harder-to-reach communities where they are.
3. Support Job Training Programs for Community Health Workers
Philanthropy can also invest in training public health workers for immediate roles in contact tracing, community outreach, and education, as well as for longer-term careers in public health and health care. The United States has historically underinvested in its public health infrastructure, leaving an insufficient number of health care workers to address the pandemic. This, coupled with the fact that nearly 11 million Americans are currently unemployed, presents an ideal opportunity to both address COVID tracking and vaccination, and get people back to work.
The health care provider Kaiser Permanente is doing this through its partnership with the State of California. Through a grant to the Public Health Institute, it’s funding the hiring and training of 500 full-time workers—individuals who are linguistically and culturally competent, and who can support contact tracing work for the communities they serve. One example is John Franco. In 2020, Franco lost his job and then contracted COVID-19. A call from a contact tracer alerted him that he had been exposed to the disease, which stopped him from going to visit his mother the next day and spreading the virus to her. This experience inspired him to apply for the Kaiser Permanente program to become a contact tracer himself. He not only has served as a bilingual contact tracer for his community, but is now taking public health classes on the side and planning for a career in the field.
Similar efforts are sprouting up in other areas of the country too. In Chicago, for example, the Vaccine Corps Partnership is hiring community health workers to support the equitable distribution of vaccines, and Futuro Health is supporting online training for people interested in health-care careers. Innovations in workforce development to address COVID-19 and the economic crisis can move people from unemployment and despair to hope and new careers.
4. Invest in Coordination
Finally, we know that coordination at the national, state, and local levels will help bring more people to the table, and will ensure that we’re all leveraging each other’s strengths in this historic effort to vaccinate Americans.
One example is the COVID Collaborative—funded by the Skoll Foundation in partnership with the NAACP, UnidosUS, and Langer Research—which recently released results of a survey on vaccine hesitancy in Black and Latinx communities. Another is the Rockefeller Foundation’s State and Territory Alliance for Testing, which fosters collaboration among governors on testing and is helping develop best practices related to vaccines. At the local level, the Community Foundation in Monterey County is funding a weekly, facilitated conversation to ensure that local leaders are advancing a multi-sector, coordinated action plan to support public health and equity.
The reality is that we’re learning as we go when it comes to vaccine distribution. But while we still don’t fully know how our vaccination efforts will take shape, which interventions will reach the most people, or how we can be most efficient while still maintaining a focus on equity, philanthropy can act now to help government be more innovative in the process. This is the time to work together to get more vaccines in people’s arms and help bring this dark period of public health crisis to a close.
6/23/2020 0 Comments
This article originally appeared in CalMatters.
After months of being confined to our homes, thousands of people have been shouting in the streets, risking their lives in the midst of a pandemic to fight structural racism and to be heard. It’s time to listen.
When Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed me the first ever senior advisor on Social Innovation for the state of California one year ago, it was clear that my job wasn’t about bringing partners to the same old table in Sacramento. It was about building a new table entirely, one with room for all Californians.
During my first eight months, I embarked on a border to border listening tour, visiting 80 organizations across 16 cities and convened with 750 nonprofit, philanthropic and business leaders.
As a seventh generation Californian, I thought I understood the challenges we face. It turns out I had a lot to learn.
What I discovered, and what we are all seeing unfold before our eyes, is that showing up matters. Listening matters. In California, equity isn’t just about demographics, it’s about geography. Innovation isn’t just about the tech titans of Silicon Valley or the entertainment moguls of Los Angeles, it exists in every community across this state. While each community is unique, every community is working creatively to address seemingly intractable problems, from homelessness to climate change.
Government doesn’t have all the answers. Community-led social innovation must inform statewide policy. In the wake of COVID-19, emergency cash assistance programs like California’s Disaster Relief Fund for undocumented immigrants didn’t germinate in the head of a policymaker in Sacramento, they come from grassroots leaders who know first-hand how cash assistance can stabilize families during a crisis.
Mayor Michael Tubbs’ universal basic income pilot, in partnership with the Economic Security Project, gave 125 Stockton residents $500 a month over the past year. They demonstrated that if you give low-income families an extra cushion, it can prevent the much more tragic – and expensive – problem of living on the streets. Armed with this evidence, Newsom is doubling down on the Earned Income Tax Credit to help California’s most vulnerable families get back on their feet.
If we want to offset the devastating economic downturn and budget cuts, California also needs innovation that actually saves money.
Last fall, I met Steve Wright, a surfer from Imperial Beach on the border between California and Mexico, where the Tijuana River dumps 60,000 cubic yards of sediment, 3,000 tires and thousands of empty plastic bottles into a California State Park. The state was spending $1.8 million annually to dispose of the garbage, so Wright started a cross-border job training program to clean up the trash and give people jobs at the same time. His organization, 4 Walls International, recently created a social impact bond that will save the state $7.5 million over six years, while paying back investors.
Newsom also wants to ensure those who have traditionally been left out of our state’s economic prosperity, help lead the way to recovery.
Judge Abby Abinanti, California’s first Native American female lawyer, is leading a model for justice reform by integrating Yurok cultural practices and healing into her Yurok Tribal Court, rehabilitating individuals who would be otherwise swept into the criminal-justice system.
The Blue Lake Rancheria, located in rural Humboldt County, built a low-carbon community microgrid to help power government offices, businesses and a local Red Cross safety shelter, which helped save lives during the Public Safety Power Shutoffs, a model we can scale as we face the threat of wildfire season this year.
The challenges we face as a state and nation are daunting. But even through the crisis, so many Californians are waking up every day committed to and calling for change.
Equity will not be achieved through projects and policies alone, it is a lens through which we must see all of our work, and it should be the lens through which we see innovation as well. If we truly want to build a California for all centered on the spirit of innovation, we need to keep listening to all Californians and meet them on the road to recovery.
This article originally appeared on Medium.
Ever since I started my role as Senior Advisor on Social Innovation to Governor Gavin Newsom, I’ve been saying this is a “moment for partnership like never before.” Never could I have imagined just how true that statement would become as it has in this moment.
As the State of California embarks on the massive undertaking of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in our State to save lives and help those already infected, we NEED our philanthropic partners like never before. Philanthropic capital is nimble capital. It can support innovation and outside- of-the-box community interventions alongside our statewide response.
To those philanthropists considering how to meet the growing need, a few critical reminders:
1. This is a quickly evolving situation. Flexibility is more important than it’s ever been before.
2. This is a marathon not a sprint. By all accounts COVID-19 will get worse before it gets better. As immediate needs continue to surge, we also need to be investing with a long-term focus in mind.
3. There are many ways to support our efforts, and we need all of them! My goal in presenting a buffet of opportunities for partnership is not to be prescriptive, but to open up new lines of communication and thinking about how to partner. Invest where you are uniquely positioned to do so, and bring all of your resources, regional understanding, and relationships to bear.
With that in mind, there are two primary categories of need that are emerging: first supporting the public health response and second supporting vulnerable communities.
SUPPORT THE PUBLIC HEALTH RESPONSE
A few areas where there are opportunities for partnership on the public health response include what I’m calling the 4 Ts — testing, tracking, treatment, and transparency:
1. Testing: We know that increasing testing capacity has been a challenge. With private lab testing starting in California this week, our capacity is much more significant, but we still need to ramp up to meet the growing need. Investing in testing innovation is an important role that philanthropy can play. Private researchers like Stanford and UCSF have developed in-house tests that they are using, and the Gates Foundation has developed home testing kits that they are processing through the University of Washington. And just today the California Governor’s Office announced a partnership with Verily to develop community testing sites using their Project Baseline technology. This kind of innovation is exactly what we need.
2. Technology + Tracking the Spread of the Disease: We have in-house predictive models at California’s Department of Health and Human Services that can show the spread of the virus across California, but we also know that we have the best technology in the world right here in our state. Governor Newsom is committed to leveraging external AI partners to try to predict the spread of the COVID-19 across California so we can be prepared with our response.
3. Treatment: There is currently no known vaccine for COVID-19. As a state, we will be relying on private research institutions to support vaccine testing and therapeutic treatment research, so investing in private research is another way to support the public health response, especially for the long-term.
4. Transparency through Active Communications: Finally, as we move from the containment phase to the mitigation phase, we will need strong messaging to ensure all Californians have the correct information to stay safe. We are working on a statewide PSA Campaign that will launch soon, and have already had so many private partners lend their support to that effort. But local communities — especially local departments of public health — are each going to need support to develop local messaging. Remember, we are a state with 58 counties, each of which will experience this outbreak in a different way, so supporting local jurisdictions will be key. Organizations like the CDC Foundation are playing a critical role in supporting local communications strategies.
SUPPORT VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES
The second area where we’re seeing a huge need for philanthropic partnership is supporting California’s already vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Low wage workers, low-income families, homeless individuals, and other underserved populations are going to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic.
How can you help support those most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19?
1. Use community foundations. As this virus is poised to spread throughout the state, community foundations are going to be in the best position to support hyper-local relief efforts in a way that the State cannot. Philanthropy California, a statewide coalition of grantmakers, is working closely with the League of California Community Foundations, United Ways and others to set up regional disaster funds throughout the state. This will be critical to help us get resources to communities that don’t have as much access to philanthropic funding (like inland California and tribal areas).
2. Support local nonprofits serving vulnerable populations — food banks (especially if kids can no longer get school lunches), meals on wheels, senior centers, homeless-serving organizations — are also relying on philanthropic support to get through this outbreak. Nonprofits themselves are going to be particularly vulnerable given the increase in demand, and the decrease in funding with canceled fundraisers and the stock market decline. And of course flexible, general operating support is critical during this uncertain time — both making new unrestricted grants and freeing up prior programmatic grants to convert to general operating support are desperately needed.
3. Support organizations that provide individual assistance. 57% of Americans don’t have $500 in their bank accounts to cover an emergency. The State has many benefits that will be available to individuals — paid family leave, unemployment insurance, etc. — but some of our most vulnerable Californians won’t be eligible for those (i.e. non-workers), and often flexible cash grants to cover rental payments or utility bills will be needed most. I encourage you to look for structures that are already in place like flexible rent subsidy pools or community foundations, that are set up for individual assistance. The Hilton Foundation, for example, just made a $250K grant to Brilliant Corners to support rental subsidies in Los Angeles County.
4. Finally, support small businesses. 90% of businesses fail within two years of being struck by disaster. SBA loans are available to business owners, and just last week San Francisco announced a million-dollar fund to support $10K grants to small businesses. The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development is working to set up 0% loan funds through CDFI’s, which are a great place to invest. We are also working to set up a statewide philanthropic fund for small businesses — stay tuned for more information on that soon.
I’ll end just as I started: This is a moment for partnership like we’ve never experienced before.
First, it’s a moment for partnership with the state: we are executing on addressing an unprecedented pandemic here in California, and we need your partnership to support local communities who are going to experience this global pandemic in different, locally unique ways that have hyper-local needs.
It’s also a moment for collaboration with each other — scattershot grantmaking is not going to be as impactful as donors coming together to amplify their impact by working together. Use this as an opportunity to work through intermediaries, like the CDC Foundation or Philanthropy California, and for collaborative grantmaking. Together, our work will go so much farther — the sum is greater than its parts.
Governor Newsom is committed to working in partnership with the private and philanthropic sectors to address the COVID-19 virus head on, slowing the spread and saving lives! We hope you will join us as we meet this moment head-on.
STATE ECONOMY MAY BE THRIVING, BUT NOT ALL CALIFORNIANS ARE SHARING IN THAT PROSPERITY
This article by Mayor Michael D. Tubbs and Kathleen Kelly Janus originally appeared in The Mercury News.
California’s economy is thriving, but not all Californians are sharing in that prosperity. Inland California, which stretches from Sacramento to Stockton through Fresno, Bakersfield, and the Inland Empire, contributes 17 percent of California’s economic output – but faces more than its fair share of poverty, unemployment and opportunity gaps.
Philanthropic giving mirrors those trends. California’s Bay Area has 20% of the state’s population and receives 53% of its philanthropic dollars, while the San Joaquin Valley is home to 11% of the state’s population and receives just 3% of its nonprofit dollars. Similarly, the Inland Empire accounts for 11% of California’s population but receives just 1% of the state’s nonprofit dollars.
If you’re a philanthropist investing in housing for the 59,000 people on our Los Angeles streets or services for the homeless in San Francisco, you might be wondering what these problems have to do with you. The answer is, everything. The fates of our communities are intertwined. As people migrate inland in pursuit of more affordable living, philanthropy must recognize the opportunity to truly build a California for all.
Bay Area organizations like Hamilton Families, are rehousing homeless families as far away as Sacramento and Fresno to address the skyrocketing need. We must ensure that jobs, supportive services, and affordable housing follow. If we don’t, we are just busing people out and passing big problems down the road, instead of building communities of choice where people can thrive.
In this spirit, Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading a “Regions Rise Together” initiative to support economic development, land use, and transportation in communities that have been left behind. Some influential investors are already redefining the philanthropic landscape. Philanthropy California has guided grant-making organizations across the state toward funding opportunities in San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire. The James Irvine Foundation and The California Endowment are increasing nonprofit capacity throughout the Central Valley and Salinas.
Philanthropy is critical to catalyze government dollars. The city of Stockton leveraged The Spiegel Family Foundation’s $20 million donation to launch Stockton Scholars, double the number of counselors in Stockton Unified School District and align its graduation requirements with the CSU/UC system. This catalytic investment triggered a $2 million commitment in the state’s 2019 budget to produce a feasibility study for a Cal State University in Stockton, which would create more than 2,000 local jobs and generate more than $250 million to Stockton’s local economy.
Philanthropic investments also help test new ideas. With support from the Economic Security Project, Stockton launched SEED, the nation’s first mayor-led guaranteed income pilot. In February, SEED began giving 125 low-income residents $500 a month for 18 months. This partnership helped transform universal basic income from a fringe idea to a viable policy solution that could help lift people out of poverty throughout our state.
Environmentalists also need to look Inland. Forty percent of emissions in our state are from vehicles. With lack of affordable housing “super-commuters,” those traveling 90 minutes or more to work every day, are on the rise. We must marshal every available resource – from state climate resilience programs to directing social capital into new businesses, green infrastructure, and housing through Opportunity Zones — if we want to create local jobs and healthier outcomes.
Californians must start thinking beyond their own backyard. Philanthropy’s nimble capital, local government’s knowledge, and the nonprofit sector’s trust must be deployed together to empower those who have been left behind. If we continue to operate in silos, the gaps between us will continue to grow. If we work together, all Californians can rise.
6/22/2019 0 Comments
This article originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.
California is no stranger to crisis.
Nearly 20 years ago, when we were experiencing rolling blackouts across the state and the fallout after the dotcom bubble burst, the governor invited nonprofits and philanthropists to join him in solving the most pressing social problems of the day. But philanthropy was wary of getting too close to government, and government quickly became too distracted with the energy crisis to cultivate meaningful partnerships with philanthropy.
Today, skyrocketing housing costs are forcing Californians out of their communities and onto the streets, our education system ranks among the lowest in the nation and more than a million Californians don’t have clean drinking water.
We are in the middle of a mess in our state. But, today, the sector has changed. We are finally willing to admit that we need each other.
California is the land of innovation. But that innovation does not need to be confined to the tech giants of Silicon Valley, the biotech labs of San Diego or the entertainment masterminds of Los Angeles. We have the opportunity to marry California’s innovative spirit with state government and, in doing so, help solve many of our greatest and most pressing social issues.
In fact, many of our greatest innovators are hard at work in local communities solving the most pressing social problems we face.
In October of 2017, when the fires ravaged Sonoma County, leaving hundreds of people without homes, La Luz Center in Sonoma didn’t just rebuild housing. They saw it as an opportunity to train low-income workers in the construction trade. In the Bay Area, Doniece Sandoval, the founder of Lava Mae, developed a network of mobile showers for the homeless, using “radical hospitality” to give their guests dignity, a first step in rebuilding their lives. And in Stockton, Mayor Michel Tubbs guaranteed 100 low-income residents $500 a month to see if a system of universal basic income might alleviate some of the daily shocks of living in poverty.
People are coming together across sectors like never before to address long-standing problems. In a recent census convening in Sacramento coordinated by Philanthropy California – a statewide collaboration of grantmakers – every square inch of the room was packed with community leaders, philanthropists and government officials. It was so crowded that people were literally sitting on the floor, taking notes. Together, they are devising a shared strategy to count every Californian in the 2020 census and avoid the billions of dollars in lost federal funding as a result of undercounting in the past.
In Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation is pulling from its endowment and partnering with foundations, developers and lenders to help ensure LA County is successful in its commitment to more than triple the production of affordable housing and support services to keep low-income populations housed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has once again invited philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and CEOs to be part of his agenda for change in California, and this time the response has been overwhelming. As I step into the first-ever role as senior adviser on social innovation for Newsom, I am committed to elevating stories of social change from every community and building strong multi-sector partnerships across our state.
Private philanthropy is nimble enough to invest in research and development, while government has the unique power to purchase and scale new solutions. And of course none of that matters without strong nonprofits on the ground who are implementing services, welcoming clients through their doors and being responsive to their lived experiences.
In order for us to move through the crisis we’re seeing in California, we have to ensure that we are not only investing in service to our communities but acting as a unified driver of growth, change and justice for all.
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.