What do LISC, Enterprise, NFF and CSH Have in Common with the Dodo? Nothing. (Part IV of VI)


The Dodo hangs with Alice in Wonderland. LISC, Enterprise, CSH and NFF are not building affordable housing there.

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.

To binge-read the full reportclick here.

Click on the following links to read Part IPart II or Part III. Continue reading

What do LISC, Enterprise, NFF and CSH Have in Common with the Dodo? Nothing. (Part III of VI)


Dodo’s do not scale well. Luckily, intermediaries do. – Image by rhombitruncated.

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.

To binge-read the full reportclick here. Continue reading

What do LISC, Enterprise, NFF and CSH Have in Common with the Dodo? Nothing. (Part II of VI)


This picture of a feisty dodo has nothing to do with this blog. – Image by Michael Kutsche

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.

To binge-read the full reportclick here. Continue reading

What do LISC, Enterprise, NFF and CSH Have in Common with the Dodo? Nothing. (Part I of VI)


The dodo has nothing to do with this blog series. Really. – Image by Daniel Eskridge

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.  To binge-read the full report, click here. Continue reading

What If Someone Gave You $5 Million (…and then asked for it back)? – Part II


It can be hard to not feel frazzled.

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.

With interest.

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?

Well, yes. And here’s why: Continue reading

What If Someone Gave You $5 Million (…and then asked for it back)? – Part I


Money, baby!

So here’s the deal: there are wealthy people and institutions out there in the world right now who are willing to give your nonprofit a lot of money.  As a matter of fact, that number appears to be growing.  It’s getting to be such a hot topic that even stodgy Forbes is talking about it, KMPG is staking its claim in the Social Impact Bond market, and David Cameron is all up in the G8’s business.  You know that when the Harvard Business Review says that Social Impact Investing Will Be the New Venture Capital, well, it’s all over but the crying.

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?

Well, I have some ideas for you.   Continue reading

#SUSConf2013 – Social Impact Investment Totally Rocks


Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 10.49.10 AM

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?

Thus was #SUSConf2013 bornthe SUS Social Impact Investment Conference.  And it’s happening next Wednesday, April 3rd, generously hosted by Bank of America.  There are a few (and I mean a few) tickets left.  Don’t wait.

Thanks to our amazing Advisory Committee and the wonderful board of SUS, we’ve pulled together a really compelling group of presenters.  Speakers and panelists include (in order of appearance):

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: It’s Cool

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.

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale


When scale goes wrong. Catsonholiday / Instagram

ArtsBlog (the blog of Americans for the Arts) recently hosted a forum called:  “So, Does Size Matter?”  The short answer is hell yes it does, but I disagree with most of the writers about why.  I found the best piece in the series was penned by the whip-smart Ian David Moss (Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two), and it was his post that inspired both me to both write an initial comment, and then to take on the subject more fully below.

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.

And here’s why I think scale sometimes, well, stinks up the joint.  Continue reading

Man About Town – Newsletter #1


I love my name tag. Thanks Federal Reserve Bank of NY!

Dear reader,

It’s been a year since I hung out a shingle and joined the independent workforce, and a very interesting year indeed.  Your Man About Town has been busy moving the needle on mission related investment, geeking out on data, pursuing my ongoing passion for the arts, and assembling public / private partnerships out of thin air.

Frequently my job as a consultant is simply to help my clients think things they haven’t thoughtmeet people they haven’t met, and do things they haven’t done.   In this inaugural newsletter, I’m pleased to share a bit about what I’ve been up to.

It’s a bird! It’s a plan! It’s a… What the hell is that?

Mission Related Investment

Mission related investment (MRI) can be a powerful tool, but as a sector we still have much to learn.  Man About Town has been fortunate to work with Contact Fund, expanding deal flow and advising on strategic development. Man About Town also stepped in to help the Altman Foundation underwrite a Program Related Investment to LISC.  And whenServices for the UnderServed asked Man About Town to help them train their board on innovation in MRI and the needs of complex nonprofits, it just seemed like the right thing to do.  Now, Man About Town and SUS have joined forces to convene a Social Impact Investment Conference in NYC.  Our Advisory Committee includes Antony Bugg-LevineDeb De SantisAlice KorngoldTerri LudwigBrandee McHale and Michael Rubinger.  Just getting warmed up folks!  Coming April 2013!

Related posts:

MAS NYC Arts Digest 2012

Arts & Economic Development

This past spring, the Municipal Art Society invited Man About Town to come on board as a research fellow, analyzing economic trends in the nonprofit cultural sector through the Cultural Data Project.  Data geek that I am, how could Man About Town say no?  The result is the Arts Digest 2012, including my section entitled “Who Pays for the Arts?”  And Man About Town has been busy applying all I’ve learned as a member of the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts Working Group, including a new case study onadaptive re-use in creating new cultural facilities – due out this November!

Related posts:

Civic Consulting Alliance

Introducing Civic Consulting NYC

Last fall, Neil Kleiman introduced Man About Town to Chicago’s Civic Consulting Alliance. Civic Consulting aggregates high-level pro bono corporate capacity and provides it to the public sector – a national model for innovation in public/private partnerships.  I fell in love.  Man About Town has been building Civic Consulting’s NYC affiliate, and on September 13th we hosted a launch event with the Ford FoundationLiving Cities and special guest Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs for the local philanthropic and corporate community.  It was a smashing good time, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about Civic Consulting NYC!

Related posts:

In short, life is good…  

…thanks to all of you and your brilliant thinking, passionate commitment, and energetic leadership.  I hope to see some of you at the Grantmakers in the Arts convening on November 15th at the Queens Museum, where Man About Town will moderate the morning’s panel discussion.  And stay tuned for a major article in Shelterforce Magazine on the evolving role of community development intermediaries in today’s complex environment.

Until then, I remain your most humble servant,

Your Man About Town

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s… What the Hell Is That?


Also posted in my guest blog on Rooflines.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… What the hell is that?

In my last blog post I spent a good chunk of time talking about the trend toward “complexification” in the nonprofit sector.  There are plenty of small, scrappy, neighborhood based nonprofits around (as a matter of fact, that number continues to grow), but we’ve also seen the emergence of nonprofits with $100 million plus in annual revenues, hundreds of staff, sophisticated operational structures, and highly complex financial instruments built to conduct their business.

I argued that we’re past due in borrowing some tools from our for-profit colleagues, including stronger staff development and retention regimens, the ability to access substantial capital for opportunistic growth, shaping board relationships that focus on organizational development and not just fiduciary oversight, and developing a nonprofit sector trade association to lobby on the collective needs and issues of our sector.

We’re clearly entering a new era that will continue to blur the lines between for-profit and nonprofit.  And let’s be honest:  it’s a little scary.  Why?  Because we’re all very worried that we might somehow become like, you know, them.

Continue reading