Dear reader, you know me. I like to talk. When I talk to people I get ideas. Mostly they are other people’s ideas that I simply steal. But I do have my pride: I only steal the best ideas.
I want to share a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea that I think could make a difference for the nonprofit sector, and for the vulnerable people we are committed to support: teaching nonprofit leaders to be tech innovators.
As a special bonus, read all the way to the end for a special Man About Town discount code to the TechBoost for Nonprofits conference on April 23rd!
Domestic social impact investment is stuck. Each year a few deals trickle through, but despite the potential and promise, impact investments in the US are rare, complex, and entirely bespoke. To be sure, there are structural challenges to growing the market in the US – just look at Tracy Palandjian’s recent SSIR article on the state of the social impact bond sector – but I can’t help feeling that we’re suffering as much from a failure of imagination as infrastructure. The problem is, few social entrepreneurs can clearly describe their impact capital needs, while few potential investors understand how to place impact capital into deals. I mean, if neither side really knows how to go about its business, how can we expect them to do business with each other?
Dear reader, as part of a special report for Shelterforce I sat down with the heads of four of the largest community development intermediaries in the country and asked a simple question: Are you still relevant?
This six part series looks at the evolution of their role in the community development sector and their strategies for the future.
As I was saying, there are plenty of people who want to give your organization money. Seriously. Lots of it. There is, of course, a catch: you have to give it back.
Understandably, this stops most nonprofit executive directors in their tracks. It’s no mean feat to raise the prodigious amounts of grant funding needed to run one of these juggernauts as it is. It requires stamina, persistence, a LOT of friends, and just a touch of maniacal charm. Now, the frazzled ED asks, you want me to spend a huge amount of time raising money I have to pay back?
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.