PF Whiteboard

Big Bang

Last week I was in Fort Colins in Colorado, at the annual Big Bang gathering. Thankfully, the weather was delightful so my CA-light wardrobe was not tested for CO-winter readiness—it would have failed…

Big Bang Philanthropy is a collaborative group of like-minded funders who all give at least $1M annually to global poverty solutions, more particularly to “impact driven” organisations. The definition of “impact driven” that we’ve settled on, for now*, is: 1) a clear process around impact, 2) notions for scale, 3) a viable delivery model, 4) a realistic and efficient cost per outcome. Obviously there’s a lot of subjectivity within those 4 aspects.

We make decisions independent of each other, so we all fund some of the orgs classed as Big Bang orgs, and all fund many that aren’t. Sometimes we agree on what the above 4 aspects look like in real life, and sometimes we don’t. But we all share pipeline, insights, and, where we can, reporting (so one org funded by a number of us don’t have to produce just as many reports). Those classed as Big Bang orgs are funded at a certain level by at least 3 of the Big Bang funders who all agree that they meet the above 4 aspects of “impact driven”.

We’re still figuring out exactly how the Big Bang will operate and grow, but it’s a great group to learn from, to share ideas of what works and what doesn’t, and to push each other to be better at the business of philanthropy. The main reason we love Big Bang Philanthropy is because of that last point: we believe it’s a way to focus on becoming a more grantee-centric funding organisation, and for us to draw attention to simple but smart practices of philanthropy like unrestricted funding and multi-year commitments. Music to our ears!

*as anyone who has been involved with collaboratives can attest, coming to agreed upon definitions is a sticky, messy process.

Turning the tables (just a little)

We’re pulling the trigger on creating an app/platform that will enable us to get rolling feedback and ratings on our performance, from our grantees. Advocate Creative will be building us a platform that is simple to use, quick to complete and 100% anonymous. Our hope is once we have it in place our grantees (and others) can rate us on 3 characteristics on a rolling basis—as often as they interact with us if they wish. It’ll be right there in a link in our email signatures, and something we can direct people to after calls/meetings too.

Twice a year the results will be delivered in aggregate. We won’t know when each rating comes in or who rated us how. We won’t have access to the rolling results—it will only be delivered to us twice a year, without the ability to slice and dice the data by dates/months.

The characteristics we’ll be rated on (out of 5 stars) have been chosen by a group of social entrepreneurs. We asked them, ‘what would you want to rate funders on?’. They responded, in almost complete harmony: 1) Responsive, clear, and transparent communication, 2) Friendly, helpful, and happy to hear from me/work with me, 3) Challenging, knowledgeable, and valuable collaborator. There will be an optional short text box for additional feedback.

If you’re a grant seeker, would you rate us on this sort of thing after a call or meeting? If you had a good experience? If you had a bad experience? If not, why not?

Grantees as Customers: Four ways funders can serve and empower grantees

(Originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog)

At the Peery Foundation, we think of grantees as our customers and act accordingly. We’re not investing enough resources on our own to solve social issues at a systemic level, so we try to focus on our core function: to invest in social entrepreneurs and leading organizations. This means we leave the big, hairy problem-solving to grantees and focus on how to create a funding environment that better enables their success. We don’t do any of the following perfectly, but here are some of the ideals we try to live by:

We use empathy to design our funding approach.

We’ve spent the past six or seven years designing a grantee-centered approach to funding. This has required that we impose on ourselves the same expectations we have of prospective grantees. For example, we expect that organizations design their interventions based on insights from beneficiaries and their communities. We, in turn, should be designing our funding strategies with input from social entrepreneurs.

I’ve had countless interviews with nonprofit leaders and staff about what is working and what is not with their funders. For example, Jane Leu, founder of Upwardly Global (one of our grantees), articulated for me how multi-year grants enable organizations to grow much more quickly. These conversations have directly informed an approach focused on trust, responsiveness, and long-term, unrestricted support—and we are seeing results. We recently made a multi-year grant to help one organization hire a program director to scale up. This commitment provided a local school district with the confidence to devote significant district resources, more than doubling the reach of the program. Predictable funding gives entrepreneurs the confidence to make important hires now and take risks that can propel their work forward. And while that may seem obvious, it’s not always so for donors who haven’t been in the fundraising chair.

We communicate with intention.

People often ask how we develop open lines of communication with our grantees. It starts with simply having the conversation at the outset about what kind of funding relationship you intend to have. Letting them know they can share the good, bad, and the ugly—without consequence—and letting them know they should decline things we offer if they don’t need them. “If we offer to send you to a conference and it’s not a priority, please tell us. You won’t hurt our feelings!” 

Intentional communication is important to shifting the power dynamic. Small actions and words communicate how we see our respective roles, and who holds the power. For example, when we meet with our grantees, where does this happen—at our office or theirs? When we conduct due-diligence, who spends more time on the process—us or them? We make a point of saving grantees’ time by meeting at their offices, and asking only for documents they already have for diligence and reporting. We are in service to these incredible people who are impacting our world. We are powerless to fulfill our mission without them.

We value honest feedback.

We once asked a new grantee to articulate its milestones for the next 12 months, and in an effort to keep it simple and make the team’s life easier, we requested that they submit just one page. When they sent the one-pager, they told me, “Here it is, but making it three pages long would’ve actually been easier!” I was glad they spoke up—though our intentions were right on, the request should have been about communicating the organization’s milestones in the easiest way possible.

Honest and regular feedback from grantees is critical, but it can be hard to get. Tools such as the Grantee Perception Report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy are great and go very deep, but we need more safe, simple, and accessible ways for grantees to rate and critique their funders.

It recently occurred to my colleague Jessamyn Lau that using a feedback system similar to Uber taxi service—where both the driver and passenger rate each other, establishing a level playing field of respect—could be a way to solicit feedback on the performance of our foundation’s and staff’s performance. Right now we are developing a simple feedback tool that will allow anyone who interacts with us to immediately and anonymously rate their experience, with results given to us at the end of a year.

We encourage grantees to make the rules.

In the world of grantmaking, the funders typically make all the rules. But what if, for example, nonprofit websites had a section listing the kinds of funding they do and do not accept? “We don’t accept restricted funding, as it can hamper our ability to innovate and achieve our mission.” Or what about reporting? “We distribute a quarterly report to all of our investors, which includes all of our performance metrics and updates.”

We are part of a funder collaborative called Big Bang Philanthropy, where our shared grantees issue the same quarterly reports to nearly all of us. We’ve encouraged other organizations to do the same. Not all funders will accept this style of reporting, but, for those who will, it allows grantees to spend less time on reporting and more time running their programs. As grantees streamline their accountability to funders, they will ultimately have a cohort of committed supporters who are bought into the vision the grantee is setting, rather than their own.

In the spirit of learning from those we serve, I’ll close with the words of Rob Gitin of At The Crossroads (ATC), which helps homeless youth move forward in their lives via unconditional and long-term relationships. Many agencies serving the homeless have so many rules that clients feel they have to “game the system” to get help; ATC focuses on building relationships of trust to facilitate the best support for the youth it supports. “They shouldn’t have to lie to be better-served by us,” Rob told me. “Without a foundation of honesty you can’t serve them.”

Scale or Depth

Tomorrow I am teaching a class on how social entrepreneurs address really big problems. We’ll be over simplifying for the purposes of our 1hr 15 min class, but basically discussing two methods of impact and scale: 1) the laser focused approach, 2) the holistic approach.

I’m not sure if the two groups I’m using as examples (Nuru and One Acre Fund) would characterise their organisations in this way exactly, but their models provide an interesting contrast.

One Acre Fund being the example of laser focus, where Andrew Youn created a distinct model of working with small holder farmers, providing them with inputs, education and insurance that in one crop cycle at least doubles their harvests and profits. Small holder farmers + inputs + education + insurance. Very straight forward. Pretty quick. This focused model has enabled them to rapidly grow to 130,000+ families in only 6 years.

Nuru, by contrast is going the holistic approach, where Jake Harriman’s team acts like a general contractor of sorts, bringing in and layering solutions in Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Water & Sanitation, Healthcare, and Education, all within one village. Over time they train and build local leadership to continue to run the programs, so that the village as a whole owns and participates in the overall increase in standard of living. Between 2008 and 2011 Nuru had worked with 2,006 families in their pilot in the Kuria district of Kenya.

Nuru’s model is clearly moving at a slower pace, but goes so much deeper. And OAF’s model is arguably shallower, but has already produced extraordinary scale. So who has the better model?

The theory is that once Jake has got the Nuru model down, their ability to replicate and scale will increase. And now that Andrew has the OAF model reaching so many people in their farming network, he’s starting to layer on other products and services. Perhaps they are both right and will end up reaching similar numbers of people at a similar depth. We won’t know for awhile, it’s early days for them both. But how exciting to watch these two models, which in some ways are vastly different, work towards the common goal of eradicating poverty. We love working with these guys!

Do Good Better: The Blog

We are officially 2 weeks in to our brand spankin’ new course on Social Innovation - Do Good Better.  So far, so good.  We’re piloting the class to a small group of students at Brigham Young University.

As part of the class students are asked to blog once a week on a prescribed topic - for example: “Defining Social Entrepreneurship: Do you believe it is important to have one definition of the term SE? Why or why not?”.  Thus far we’ve been quite impressed with the students’ responses; we’ve seen both impressive insight and a touch of healthy debate.

Give it a look, let us know what you think, and maybe even leave a comment or two. 

Information Smorgasbord

Thanks to the internet (and google) we have almost endless information and resources at our fingertips.  We can access the life work, groundbreaking ideas, and carefully developed resources of experts in any imaginable field with a few strokes of the keyboard.  So why shouldn’t we?  It seems to me that in this age of information there is absolutely no excuse for reinventing the wheel.  There is just no sense in wasting time and energy re-doing something someone much smarter than us has already done. 

We’ve mentioned before that we’ve recently developed a social innovation curriculum at the PF - something none of us have ever done before.  We have an idea, and we think it’s a good one, but to really make it useful we’ve found it’s best to borrow wherever possible (as long as we have all of the appropriate rights and permissions, that is).  For each lesson we’ve pulled articles, videos, and frameworks from across the web and our networks.  We think this makes our curriculum much, much stronger.  We may know that it’s important for our students to understand root cause analysis, for example, but we also know that someone else has far superior tools to actually teach it to them.

Throughout this process we’ve been pleased to find that everyone we have asked has been more than happy to share their resources and expertise (and we’ve asked a lot of people).  It just doesn’t make sense not to.  Especially in the context of the social sector—we all have the same vision and should help each other achieve success wherever possible. 

So here’s our vote for more sharing, more borrowing, and much less reinventing.


We’ve been heads down for a number of months creating a social innovation syllabus. After weeks of white-boarding, scribbling and sketching, revising documents, review sessions and feedback calls, we pressed print.

Our class, ‘Do Good Better’, provides a structure for students to:
1) discover the varied roles they can play in the social innovation sphere,
2) learn about 3 key skills useful in all roles they might be interested in: root cause analysis, solution evaluation, and impact measurement,
3) create a 20yr, 5yr, and next-semester plan for their own unique contribution to their community (as they define it).

We’re insanely excited and slightly nervous. This is the first time Lanée and I have ever done anything like this, but we found ourselves creating the class we wish we could have taken. We quickly realised that the 14 week class would need an accompanying workbook, so we set about creating that too. 74 pages later, ‘Do Good Better: The Guide’, just got back from the printers. A tangible product of our work this summer! The Guide is complemented by a Pinterest board of homework and resources, and the students will be blogging some of their developing ideas around social innovation on this Wordpress blog.

We have finished our preparation and we’ll start our small pilot class at BYU in a week and a half. Once it gets in the students’ hands the editing will begin again as we test and refine the content and delivery. So really we’ve only just started.

Oprah (with a beard) for the Social Sector

A few months back I fed myself to the lions. I sat opposite the tenacious Jonathan Lewis, as he put me in the iOnPoverty hot seat, and fired questions at me under the glare of studio lights and flash of cameras. It turned out to be an enjoyable opportunity to think about and begin to articulate what had prepared me for my current role at the PF, things I’m learning about philanthropy, and my developing ideas about social entrepreneurship/social innovation.

I’d highly recommend checking out the other interviewee videos. Jonathan is building a resource full of diverse perspectives, experience and advice. For budding changemakers iOnPoverty is a platform for social innovation mentorship soundbites. There are some sage pieces of wisdom -actionable too- from Anne Marie Burgoyne from Draper Richards Kaplan, Akaya Windwood from the Rockwood Leadership Institute and many others. And it’s free for all viewers now! Enjoy!

Yelp for Foundations

The ‘Yelp’ for non-profits, GreatNonprofits, provides an opportunity for people to review non-profit organisations (full disclosure: the PF has provided funding for GreatNonprofits in the past). On anyone can share their experiences and interactions with an organisation -highlighting those who provide great services and occasionally those that don’t do such a great job. Greatnonprofits’ mission is to inspire and inform donors and volunteers, gather stories that demonstrate the work of great non-profits, and promote excellence through transparency and feedback.

What if there were a A mechanism for grantees to review their experiences and interactions with a foundation. Somewhere to inform grant seekers of what kind of interaction they can expect. A repository for great stories of grantee-funder partnership. And somewhere to promote excellence through transparency and feedback. This is not a new idea, but one that has not come to fruition yet.

As people have discussed the potential of this I’ve heard concern about whether non-profits would actually participate or give truly frank feedback as they would never want to damage a funding relationship, or their reputation with other funders -an understandable and real concern. But what if the feedback could range in its level of detail? At the very least a non-profit could give an overall rating out of 5 stars for a foundation, then if they wanted to they could give ratings out of 5 for the foundation on various general categories, and then finally have the option to go in to detail by writing an actual review -all anonymously. The general categories could be things that cut across types and sizes of foundations, like ‘clarity’, or ‘respect’.

What other categories would be telling, yet general enough to apply to all funding interactions? Comment or email me (jessamynATpeeryfoundationDOTorg) with your suggestions. We’ll pass them on should this idea get traction any time soon!

10 Nuggets of Wisdom for SE's (and the rest of us)

From the Draper Richards Kaplan retreat, last week:

- Fire faster: Personnel problems tend to age more like milk than wine.
- Exercise: This is non-negotiable if you are in this for the long run.
- Decisions don’t have to take a long time if you’ve got the right people making them.
- People do not describe themselves as ‘in poverty’.
- Appreciate your critics: Grit makes polish.
- The key to confidence is humility.
- Reject all excuses: Trying really hard does not equal results. Do not confine your staff to mediocrity.
- Your standard is exactly what you want to say but do nothing about.
- Only the schizophrenic survive: The militantly optimistic, and constantly petrified.
- You can’t do it alone: Isolation is one of your biggest dangers.

Bespoke Learning

You’ve heard a little about my musings on SE education and its shortcomings. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and offer some concrete improvements.

What if a social innovation class were truly about outcomes above outputs? And not about grades or how many people launch ventures? What if it were focused on individualised answers? And each student developed a personal plan to become equipped with the right knowledge and experiences to tackle big problems? What if each person learned and came away with something entirely different? What if the course you wish were around when you were at university was real? The one that helps you figure out how to live your life of purpose?

We think we’re close. We’re designing a class that will be taught to a pilot group of students in August. The curriculum is still in its nascency, but it’s already different from what’s out there. Most classes are tailored to the core group of individuals who know they want to go out and start something. This class will be for the broader group of people who know they are serious about using their career–or an aspect of their professional skills–to contribute to the social sector in a variety of ways: part time or full time, volunteering, working or donating.

In brief, there are three parts:
- Overview of the full spectrum of social innovation,
- The three biggest pitfalls for social innovators,
- Putting the pieces together and developing your path to becoming an effective social innovator.

If you’re interested in participating in an online version of this class then email me, jessamynATpeeryfoundationDOTorg, and I’ll let you know if/when we’re able to offer it publicly.

The Unimpressed

Today I received feedback on an event I was involved in organising and was emcee for last month. This is only the second year this event has been held and the first time I’ve emceed anything, so I was very personally invested and anxious that it was a success.

The feedback fell in to 3 camps:

- Cheerleaders (majority), who had a great time at the event and gave us good/great/brilliant reviews across the board,
- Supportive critics (minority), who obviously thought the event was a success but a portion of their feedback was critical, very valid, and useful to learn from,
- And, the unimpressed (anomalies), who gave feedback that was negative.

Of course my attention went straight to to two negative reviews… One attendee rated the event as poor, and another provided feedback that my emceeing was ‘weird’.  I’m not entirely sure what she meant by ‘weird’, or why the event was ‘poor’ to the other guy, but my initial reaction was, ‘you’re both wrong, everyone else thought it was great!’. I wanted to find out who they were to ask them why and what we did wrong. Maybe they misunderstood our intentions and goals of the event. I wanted to know why they didn’t think we were good/great/brilliant, like the others.

Their opinions were totally valid and their conclusions reflected their experience of the event. From where he was sitting the event did not meet his expectations, and from her perspective I was weird. Could I/we have done anything to change them? Possibly. After reading them a couple of times, I decided to put aside the negative reviews entirely.

I think this is an interesting issue for anyone seeking to gain favour/support/approval. There will always be people who don’t get it or don’t agree with you, or simply don’t like what you’re doing. This is okay. Everyone has their own unique perception and comes at life with their own biases and expectations.

I’m choosing to ignore these two reviews for the event. I think it’s often healthy for social entrepreneurs and non profit leaders to do the same. Hopefully the feedback is not as ambiguous as ‘you’re weird’, but not every funder/supporter/partner is going to jump on your bandwagon. When the PF does not jump on their band wagon, I’ve seen many SE’s handle this issue with grace. It is impressive.

Note the unimpressed, and then focus on your cheerleaders and especially your supportive critics. This is where it makes sense to spend time, energy and resources.

A Maturing Movement

In Summer of 2008 I was one of Ashoka U’s first interns. At that time Ashoka U was basically a bunch of half formed concepts and ideas on Post It notes on an Ashoka office wall in Rosslyn. Over the last 4 years I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ashoka U develop in to a thriving network of university campuses, each actively and strategically building social entrepreneurship on their campus. Collectively the network is pushing the current limitations of SE experiential learning, curriculum and research development, and they come together once a year to share all the insights and lessons they learn in doing so. The annual Ashoka U ‘Exchange’ was last weekend. Representatives from 100 campuses (inc. Stanford, Marquette, USD, Harvard, Thunderbird, BYU, Brown, NYU, to name just a few) met at ASU in Tempe, AZ for two days of deep discussion on the very niche subject of social entrepreneurship and higher education.

Despite being at least loosely connected to Ashoka U since its inception, I’m still surprised by the order of magnitude that the gathering grows by each year. This time around representation from several of the attending campuses included university presidents, provosts and deans. And in addition to faculty, admin, students and social entrepreneurs, there was representation from the US Dept of Education, Innosight, and IDEO. The community is flourishing. People are paying attention to what’s being shared at the Ashoka U Exchange and want to be part of the dialogue.

Coming from the even more niche position of working for a foundation funding and building a SE program, I liked what I began to see in terms of practical information sharing. There were other individuals there in very similar positions to me, as well as those who hold similar perspectives on how SE education should and could work in the future -normally finding those people would be akin to a needle in a haystack situation. I’d love to see the Exchange facilitate truly efficient knowledge sharing. This is a problem most conference models find challenging.

One of the most marvelous moments of the weekend went unnoticed by almost everyone. I saw a young student coyly approach one of the social entrepreneurs who had presented at the TEDx the evening before. She had noticed a quiet moment when he wasn’t engaged in discussion and looked approachable. I overheard pieces of the conversation as she complimented his TEDx talk, expressed admiration for his work, asked a couple of questions and asked to share information to get in contact later on. The beauty of this interchange was that it was incredibly real and important to her at that moment. It was clear she had just chosen herself a new, and carefully selected, role model. Her new role model was excited enough about her education and potential as a social innovator to respond warmly and genuinely. I have no doubt that that moment is one that will shape her future, because I’ve had one or two just like it that shaped mine.

In all honestly, in past years the Ashoka U Exchange has been something that was a ‘nice to attend’ rather than a ‘must attend’. After this year it’s going to be one of the very few conferences I will put on my 2013 calendar as soon as they announce the Exchange dates. I’m going back next year for the practical knowledge sharing and genuine relationship building it is beginning to effectively provide for those involved in this niche but growing arena. However, a core reason I will be attending again is I know wonderfully important inflection points of all sizes will be created; points which strengthen our collective belief and ability to create and support social innovators of the future.

Another Social Media Experiment

We decided to try out Pinterest.

There’s so much ‘stuff’ that comes across our desks and inboxes that could be useful to someone, so we’ve been looking for a good way to share cool things we find and see. Enter Pinterest.

Most people use Pinterest to share food, interior design ideas, or clothing and styling they like. It’s a great way for a person to build a comprehensive picture of their personality, taste, and their own individual brand… Perhaps also for an organisation like the PF.

So what are we sharing? Well, we love insightful commentary and articles on SE and philanthropy, genius products for society, and great short films. So that’s what we’re pinning. As well as social innovation job postings, volunteer opportunities and a bunch of other stuff.

Like our dabbling with Twitter and other social media, there’s no big strategic plan here. It seems like a good, useful thing to do, so we’ll give it a try for a while and see if you like it and find it useful. And hopefully it’ll also be a good way for people to get to know us at the PF.

See you on Pinterest!

Impact Investing

I realised today that we never blogged about our impact investing -or social investing. A new tab appeared on our website a few months ago, which we still need to populate with some descriptive text, and that was about all we did to announce the beginning of our impact investing. There was a little bit more to it than that, but still not any intense planning or strategising. We’re not aiming to build a big portfolio, and if anything our impact investments may just merge with our other portfolios.

Here’s a little more on our decision to start impact investing, from a recent blog post with Social Velocity:

“Nell: The Peery Foundation is one of few foundations that do mission-related investments. How did you decide to move into that realm and what do you think holds other foundation back from MRIs?

Jessamyn: Our primary function is to support and serve the social entrepreneurs we work with. We try to keep our funding as flexible as possible. Peery Foundation funding is generally unrestricted and the structure of a grant is often co-crafted with the entrepreneur. We have come to realize that entrepreneurs with differing business models, or at differing life-cycle stages, need different types of capital. Once we believe in a SE and their model for addressing poverty we want to always be open to providing the type of capital that they need at the time they need it.

We’re still at an early stage in developing our capacity to provide debt and other funding outside of philanthropy. In our philanthropic funding we’re not paper heavy and our agreements are very trust-based. It was definitely daunting to explore this new realm of traditional investment due diligence and contractual agreements. So far we’ve found the kind of support we need to help us make the leap fairly painlessly through the Toniic Network, and from sources such as Silicon Valley Community Foundation and University Impact Fund, and still feel like we’re able to retain our low-paper, trust based partnership approach to the extent that makes sense.”

Here is the full interview on the Social Velocity website, which covers a few other topics too, like social media and transparency.

I think we might be teaching social entrepreneurship wrong

(On second thoughts I’d rename this “I think we’ve got SE education wrong”)

Many schools begin their social entrepreneurship education with an intro to social entrepreneurs, teaching students what SE is and exposing them to various social entrepreneurs and the amazing solutions are they come up with. “Look how cool SE is!”, “You can change the world too!”, are the general messages reinforced.

The natural next step is a social venture business plan competition or a venture creation class. This is the way I began learning about SE, and know from first hand experience that in many ways this is great -it encourages students to think more deeply about a specific solution and sort through the myriad of details necessary to come to viable solution to a social problem. However, for a couple of reasons, I don’t think this is the best way of going about SE education.

In my opinion, this approach does a significant amount of disservice to students. They are encouraged to come up with an effective solution to a social problem, write the business plan, and launch their venture, in only a semester or two. No wonder so many ventures fail or struggle to find funding. Firstly, most students interested in SE aren’t entrepreneurs and know that -they then struggle to find where they fit and can contribute. Secondly, in general the entrepreneurial students don’t yet have a deep understanding of these extremely complex problems, or the highly developed and entrenched systems in which they are found. Yes there are a few break-out, star solutions produced by young and recently graduated SE’s, but for the most part the truly impressive SE’s whose solutions have potential to scale to the size of the problem, are those who have years of, often highly specific, experience. And perhaps have spent years wrestling with or coming to the right solution.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t start ventures if they aren’t going to be world changing ideas, or even if they will fail as ventures. I think there is enormous value in learning from a real start-up experience. What I am saying is this:

We need to set a more realistic timeline for students; for social entrepreneurs and social innovators. You don’t have to graduate and start a world changing venture or immediately get the dream job. In fact the social innovation field, and you, might be better off if you don’t. You’ve heard of patient capital? I’d like to argue we need more patient changemakers. Take your time. If this really is a life commitment, deliberately build yourself in to the person with the potential to meet the magnitude of the job.

More on this later…

Someone Else's Brilliant Idea #2

We just offered to make intros/recommendations to 7 different funders/supporters on behalf of one of our SE partners. This doesn’t happen every day, so how did it occur?

It was check in time for one of our Global Partners this week. They sent us over internal materials (already prepared, not specific for us) for review before the call. One of the documents was an asset map -a full list of all the potential and current asset providers on the org’s radar. Sending this was a very smart move.

It’s only the second time we’ve had a SE send us their asset map in full -often times partners highlight a few key relationships they are focusing on building, or give us a verbal run down of the funders they are preparing proposals for. A full asset map lays it all out there: Organisation, Primary contact, Deadline, Current status, Funds expected, Likelihood for success, etc. It included both current and potential supporters, financial and non financial supporters. We had a complete picture of who this organisation had talked to, who they decided it was not worth talking to, and who they were currently talking with. We also saw who they had approached but had not been a fit.

As a funder who adamantly believes in the missions of the organisations they support, wants to be supportive beyond simply cutting a cheque, and is operating with a lean team, this information is huge. We looked down the list and immediately saw a bunch of people in the ‘high likelihood’ category, with whom the Peery Foundation has strong enough relationships with that we’d be happy to make a recommendation. Some of those people are folks that the SE did not know we knew -they would never have known to specifically ask us for a connection to them. Sharing everything helped us see what was most needed (that we might not previously have been aware of) and thus where we could really help.

It’s also impressive from a funder perspective. We have a greater belief in this SE’s self-awareness, level of strategic thinking and relationship savvy.

I’m trying to think of situations where you wouldn’t want to share this info… but if you have funders that you trust and who trust you then it might be worth sharing your full asset map with them. You never know what networks they’ll be able to open up for you.

A Peery Foundation Mohawk

A little while ago I developed the analogy of ‘getting a Mohawk’. In a past life I actually had a mohawk, so figured I was qualified enough to define it as: a decision that is risky, but not permanent, and helps you become more of who/what you want to be.

We are a young foundation. Small. Learning. Still admittedly getting some things wrong. But with aspirations to be better. Mostly we’re trying to figure out who and what we are as an organisation, and how we are uniquely situated to be most effective in our support.

On a fairly regular basis we get a mohawk. We make decisions and try things out that involve risk, but that aren’t irreversible. Things that help us figure out what we are and how we best operate. Sometimes we talk about big mohawks with spikes and colours, and then realise they aren’t right for the moment. We don’t go through with all of them. Mostly we get small mohawks. But it is this openness to experimentation and thoughtful iteration that makes the PF an exciting, and potentially more effective, organisation to work within.

One small current mohawk: This year we’re going to have a social entrepreneur check-in with our social entrepreneurs. Sounds strange? Let me explain.

With each of our partners we aim to have quarterly or semi annual check-ins. We discuss how they are doing with their milestones, what their current challenges are, and find out if and how we can further help them. Neither Dave nor I will be the primary contact for check-ins with the PF for our Global Portfolio partners in 2011. Instead the check-ins will be with one of their own; a social entrepreneur.

One of our partners and advisors, Martin Burt (founder of Fundacion Paraguaya), has been working with us on our international due diligence, providing deeper insights in to the challenges and opportunities of global models. This year as we are not anticipating growing our Global Portfolio, and so not having international due diligence to perform, Martin has agreed to act as our quasi international program officer. He has a strong grounding in the PF’s process and networks as we’ve worked with him over a number of years in various capacities, and he performed due diligence on many of our current portfolio members, so already has a good grounding in many of their organisations. We’re hoping that our partners will feel even more comfortable talking through issues with him -as a peer practitioner- but also that he will be able to give them more useful advice and support as they discuss issues that he may have come up against and worked through himself at some point.

There are risks associated with trying this. Concerns we’ve already thought about are issues of continuity, effective communication through another layer of conversations, capturing and sharing Martin’s insights, etc. We’re still fine tuning how exactly it will work. Dave and I will not be stepping back completely from the Global portfolio, and we need to figure out how each of our partners sees something like this working for them. Some may opt out.

At the end of the day if it doesn’t work, it’s not a permanent decision. But we hope this mohawk will help us continue to learn. That’s how we’ll find a better way to do things and the best way for us to support our partners.

Ashoka U Exchange

This past weekend I was in North Carolina at Duke for the Ashoka U Exchange. Here’s the blog post I wrote for Ashoka U’s blog on the value the Exchange had for funders:

If you’re a funder working with a university to support them building a social entrepreneurship program here are my top three reasons you should go to Ashoka U’s Exchange next year.

1. Become Informed and Useful

Funding and supporting university based leaders is a whole different ball game to funding social entrepreneurs. There are complexities, challenges and opportunities that come along with a university setting and can be discouraging or even debilitating if you’re not smart about recognising and understanding them. As funders in hands on situations we can be distracting with tangents we *think* might be useful for the university to pursue, or we can be value add -aware of the specific decisions and actions most crucial to establishing a social entrepreneurship (SE) program at a higher education institution. Attending Ashoka U Exchange with representation from multiple stakeholders from the team was a great move for learning together and being uniformly informed.

2. Build Brand

If you’re supporting the creation of a SE program then chances are you want that program to be renowned for excellence in the area of SE education. A reputation is, of course, made up of many components. One of which is building a brand. The Ashoka U network consists of the pioneers of the field as well as the many new campuses serious about embedding SE in to their campus culture and curriculum. The field of SE education is being built here. There is no better place to begin to get your name out there and recognised for what you’re accomplishing. And with this crowd the best way to get your name out there is to share openly and freely ideas, models and successes.

3. Reach Critical Mass

Though the majority of funders will primarily be focused on building SE education at the institution(s) they partner with, ultimately we’re all involved in this because we want to see SE and changemaking embedded in education everywhere. This will only happen as a critical mass of universities lead the way in establishing excellent SE programs, demonstrating that the workplace and the world needs more students to be better prepared to solve problems. There are already many universities with SE programs and curricula, but until now their efforts have been, for the most part, independent of each other. With Ashoka U’s ability to create a network, recognise elements of excellence, and highlight effective campus programs they are building a movement.

Full disclosure: I briefly worked with the Ashoka U team prior to joining the Peery Foundation.

Someone Else's Brilliant Idea

Here’s a great idea that we’ve been able to see in action and are now recommending to anyone who will listen!

In 2009 VisionSpring, began to let their funders know that they would be hosting reporting calls on a quarterly basis. They would prepare their slide deck report, with updates on their key metrics and organisational developments, send it out to their funders, and present it with commentary on the conference call. All the funders who called in got the most up to date information, and could then ask questions about the report or other things not included in the report. VisionSpring also asked for feedback on what else people would like to see in the report.

This was great for a number of reasons: 1) VisionSpring answered the common questions only once for everyone to hear, 2) we all got to connect with each other as funders with common priorities, 3) we got to learn from each other’s line of questioning, 4) everyone stayed on schedule. It saved us all time, but especially the VisionSpring team, who hopefully got to spend less time telling us what they did and more time doing what they do: reducing poverty through preparing Vision Entrepreneurs. I asked Malini Krishna, VP of Business Development for their perspective on other benefits or challenges this process brought VisionSpring.

“From VisionSpring’s perspective, the overall value of the quarterly dashboard calls is efficiently communicating our operational progress and collecting feedback to strengthen our programs and fundraising, which is critical to a small, resource constrained organization. I think the biggest challenge for VisionSpring with the calls is ensuring we have all the data in place to ensure we are transparent to our major donors. However, the time invested in this process is well worth it with the benefits we gain. Some of our funders have required/requested additional reporting to meet our grant terms, but we are usually better prepared because of this consistent communication and can better plan for additional presentations.”

There you have it. An organisation, for the most part, dictating the reporting terms for its funders. More efficient, more effective, perhaps even more fun. If you already do this/or decide to give it a try let us know how it works for you.

Hands On

The depth to which we are involved with each of our partners varies. Some organisations are newer and have a list of things we can help them find/do, others are very well established and for the most part we just get out of their way and watch with awe. Each partnership is defined by the situation and needs of the organisation.

One unique partnership is with BYU (Brigham Young University). Before I joined the PF, Dave and the Peery family had noticed an opportunity at BYU. A number of the family are BYU grads and they were very familiar with the student body who are highly entrepreneurial, have diverse international experience and language skills, and firmly believe in the school’s motto of ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve’. It’s obvious, right? Social Entrepreneurship fit! While there were a few solid SE activities already established on campus, they recognised an opportunity to coordinate the existing efforts, as well as build a robust program that would serve students and faculty across campus more completely.

Currently, this is what about 40% of my time is spent on, as we prepare to launch the program. This will dramatically decrease over the next year but for now BYU is the one partner we are in communication with almost daily. I’m a BYU grad myself, so it’s extremely gratifying to be able to continue to build what I wanted to see while a graduate student there. I work with the program’s director, a founders group of professionals all volunteering their time to create the program, and many faculty and student leaders. As with most of what we do at the PF, it’s gratifying work -just in a different way.

The program will be launching in February, the week of the 7th. I’m pretty sure you’ll get to hear a little more about all the goings ons, then.

And if there are any funders out there working with universities already doing or currently thinking about doing a similar thing, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve learned quite a bit over the last couple of years we’ve been working on this partnership, and we are still trying to figure out how the relationship will change as the program becomes more established with time. Always open to learning/sharing.

Commitment and the "Tattoo Test"

When evaluating a potential grantee, there are all the usual things a funder might gather.  But it’s the unusual things, or observations, that say a little more about an entrepreneur or organization that you can’t find in the business plan or financials.  When paired side by side, many organizations may look just the same - yet one gets the grant and the other does not.  In order to justify these kinds of decisions, you have to analyze the intangibles - and start figuring out what they are, or why they matter.  We’ve been accumulating a number of questions we ask ourselves when looking at a new deal, that force us to look at it from a different perspective.  Here on the PF Whiteboard we’ll talk about some of those things and we welcome your ideas as well.

The first I’ll talk about here is the “tattoo test”.  Basically, we ask ourselves - would we be willing to tattoo this organization’s logo on our arms?  What we’re really asking is - are we willing to go to bat for this group?  Are we willing to open any doors for them?  Because the truth is, they’re going to ask.  And I can tell you from experience, it’s uncomfortable to be asked to use your social currency for a group you don’t feel strongly about.  We feel its our role and duty to serve our grantees, and it’s a lot easier to do when you’re unafraid to shout their names from the rooftops.

This post is really about commitment.  As funders, we’re always trying to gauge how committed an entrepreneur is to their venture.  Maybe it’s time to think about how, as funders, we can be as committed to our grantee’s work as they are.  The photos above are of two Peery Foundation grantees who are so committed to their work, they’ve tattoo’d it onto their bodies.  At the left is Leila Janah of Samasource, who’s tattoo’d “Sama” on her wrist, which is the sanskrit word for “equal”.  At the right is Luke Dowdney of Fight for Peace, who’s inked his boxing muscles with “Luta Pela Paz”, “Fight for Peace” in portuguese.  In truth, I’m not a fan of tattoos - but I am a fan of both Leila and Luke and many of the other entrepreneurs we support who make serious sacrifices to make a big difference in the world.  If the people we support are so dedicated to their work, then I hope we can infuse our philanthropy with a similar sense of commitment.

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