There’s just one problem: the sector needs deals. Badly. And they really want nonprofits to take the lead on proposing and structuring those deals. That’s right, you.
So, what if someone gave you $5 million, and then asked for it back? What would you use it for? How would you advance your organization’s mission? How would you insure repayment? Perhaps most importantly, how could you use this opportunity to grow?
You know, about a year ago I was having breakfast with a good friend over at Services for the Underserved – a well established nonprofit social services provider and affordable housing developer (Hi David!) – and we got to talking about corporate social responsibility. I mean, there are an awful lot of good intentions out there, and a lot of self-serving hoo ha to go right along with it. Where, we asked, could we have a substantive dialogue that advanced our little sector while addressing the needs of the most vulnerable?
We’ve been reaching out to lots of very smart folks to create content that’s meaningful, and we’ve heard a bunch of really great ideas. I wanted to share with you just a tiny bit of the thinking that’s gone into this conference.
Why is SUS hosting this conference? Innovation and change are all around us. SUS strives to play an active role in the trends that shape our collective efforts, and the emerging social impact investment sector holds both promise and challenge.
Nonprofits like SUS are becoming more complex. SUS manages both for-profit and nonprofit entities; makes regular use of structured finance in its work; draws upon management best practices from both the nonprofit and corporate sectors; has earned revenues as an important part of its plan for growth and stability; and can deploy larger capital allocations. These are all the hallmarks of an emerging class of complex nonprofits that blend a mission orientation with a sharp nose for business and the ability to operate at much greater scale.
For-profit social benefit corporations are both partners and competitors. There are a number of areas (affordable housing, education, healthcare, economic development) where for-profit corporations are taking on work previously provided by nonprofits. So you’ve got complex nonprofits intersecting more and more with social benefit corporations, or even traditional corporations seeking to meet needs closer to the bottom of the pyramid.
Convergence is good for social impact investment. Where complex nonprofits and social benefit corporations converge investors can frequently find revenue models capable of repaying principal, and even generating returns.
Social impact capital is no panacea. In spite of the opportunities of social impact investment, we must also carefully balance these against the need for grants, contracts, technical assistance and other resources.
Nonprofits need to drive more of the conversation. Nobody understands the needs and challenges of nonprofits better than the nonprofits themselves. By placing the voices of nonprofit leaders front and center on this issue, we’re advancing the entire sector.
We view this conference as a beginning. We hope to carry the ideas, alliances, and aspirations of this conference into an ongoing conversation with you and our collective stakeholders. We hope to see you there, and thereafter.
There’s something I have to tell you, Dear Reader. I have a secret life.
I’ve known this about myself since I was 14 years old. I experimented with this part of who I was a lot while I was in college, but eventually I moved on and settled into a more traditional lifestyle and quietly tucked this side of myself away. I lived like this for years.
But that’s been changing. It all started shortly after my first marriage ended, when I was looking for something to take me back out into the world. Suddenly, this other side of me seemed unavoidable – I felt so compelled to show who I really was, to do it again and again. I worked on Wall Street at the time, and suddenly it seemed people like me were everywhere and I had never noticed before: hanging out in seedy bars with late night open mics, or sneaking out during our lunch breaks to a quick session in a rented room nearby. We led a second life complete with different friends, different clothes, different mannerisms, but more fully ourselves.
And then I met my current partner, Ryan. Unlike me, Ryan had never hid behind another identity. Ryan is proud, fearless, open, visible. When, during one of our first dates, Ryan suggested we write a musical together, I knew I could no longer hide who I was.
You see, Dear Reader, like many of my fellow funders and financiers I’ve often touted the benefits of moving toward greater scale: improved operational efficiencies, greater programmatic reach, increased access to resources, heavier political punch. But I’ve also struggled with the oft recognized but seldom addressed reality that scale is not an answer in and of itself, and that sometimes scaled solutions leave even larger problems in their wake. Thanks to Ian, I think I got the mental kick in the epiphany I needed.
Your Man About Town’s middle name is Moderation, Dear Reader; and although it is a somewhat awkward locution when making a full introduction, it nonetheless conveys the important fact that your Man About Town’s middle name is not Tom, Dick or Harry. I moderate. I facilitate. I have even been known, at times, to adjudicate.
Shortly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast, I was dispatched to New Orleans by the corporate foundation that I worked for to figure out how to deploy our philanthropic disaster recovery commitment. It was a heartbreaking experience, compounded and complicated by the entrenched challenges New Orleans had struggled with for many years.
As with all natural disasters, the poorest suffered most in the immediate aftermath. What I, in my ignorance, learned for the first time was how the vulnerable continue to suffer long after the initial damage: tucked away for too long FEMA trailers, or separated from family, friends and vital supports, unable to access medical care, or shuttled from one temporary shelter situation to the next. Over the weeks, months and years following the storm there were dramatic and terrible increases in elder mortality, child poverty, murder, and mental illness.
Compared to the process of recovery in the Gulf Coast, and in spite of the many frustrations we feel with its pace in our region, New York City, New Jersey and Long Island have done remarkably well. For most of us, life is essentially back to normal: the kids are in school, we’re back at work, our homes have power, heat and hot water, and holiday shopping is underway.
But there remains a grave and nearly inevitable danger, as in all natural disasters, that we will “move on” without fully resolving the impacts on those most vulnerable, and inflict the mistakes of the past on our neighbors and fellow citizens tomorrow. Continue reading →
Dear Reader, I’m writing to you from Man About Town’s Brooklyn redoubt – where we have been spared from the very worst of hurricane Sandy. We never flooded, and we never lost power. Like so many of you, Mrs. Man About Town and I have been glued to Twitter, NY1, WNYC, the NY Times, and a host of other news sources trying to grapple with the scale of the devastation caused by surging storm waters and wind. And, like many of you, we’ve wept over the terrible loss of life, and been inspired by the ingenuity and dedication of emergency personnel, public leaders, and generous neighbors.
In my earlier posts on this subject, dear reader, I first endeavored to put a finer point on the more than thousand-fold revenue variation between the largest cultural organizations in NYC, and the median cultural organization. Holy stromboli you say? Yes! While the very largest nonprofit culturals have revenues of more than $300 million annually, more than half the groups in my most recent study had revenues of less than $250 thousand. What’s more, the top five very largest organizations received nearly half of all city funding (their share being a whopping $133 million). Continue reading →
Dear Reader, below you will find testimony that I presented recently before a joint hearing of the New York City Council on the impact of the arts on small businesses and community economic vitality. You may very well be interested in two previous posts on this subject: The Art$ (wherein I discuss the economic realities of very small versus very large nonprofit culturals in NYC), and The Art$ – Part II (wherein I dig deeper into how very large nonprofit culturals make their money compared to how small nonprofit culturals do). Continue reading →
In my most recent post (The Art$), dear reader, we started a conversation about some of the differences between very large cultural organizations and, well, everybody else. I pointed out that members of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG) tend to be concentrated in the upper bracket. I also said that, frankly, there should be further research conducted on how income streams and strategies vary based on whether or not an organization is a member of the CIG. (For a powerful statement on funding inequity in the arts, check out this really great report written by Holly Sidford for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.)
But while being a member of the CIG may make you privileged, it doesn’t make you evil. I think that good policy comes out of an informed debate about our resources and our choices in using those resources. We’ve got all this lovely data, so let’s use it to analyze the assumptions underlying the present system. Assumptions we can analyze, assess and alter – or not – based on our current, best understanding.
So, let’s look at another juicy issue. In our last episode, our hero was pondering the following chart:Continue reading →