A look at traditional and new, creative ways to use a powerful tool that straddles giving and investing. Read it here.
Philanthropy lessons from the garden…
Two days ago I was peaking under our row covers to smugly admire the brilliant yellow flowers on our cucumber plants. The next day I made a mad dash to the garden to yank those row covers right off. In my zeal to protect our favorite plants from the dreaded cucumber beetle, I had forgotten that if the pollinators* couldn’t get to them, those tiny cucumber nubs would never grow into yummy. How often do we do the same thing with our nonprofit projects and our grantmaking?
We can get so caught up in protecting what we’re growing that we forget about the outside actors who will ultimately determine the project’s success or failure. So often it’s the person we don’t think to invite or whom we barely notice who will be the best one to “move the pollen” to another plant so that our carefully tended seeds will bear fruit. “Pollinators” can fly in with new ideas, take what they need and fly right out again, having made us all stronger in the process. But we have make sure they can get right to the flowers. We have to know when to remove the row covers.
Here are some of the “pollinators” I’ve been appreciating in my work over the last few weeks:
- A 20 something Next Gen who’s been introducing his 13 to 15 year old cousins to how their family foundation works and showing them how they can guide the foundation trustees toward very cool projects (like using video games to help sick kids in hospitals) that would never have made their radar screens otherwise
- A transportation and development guru who’s working with me to encourage world class engineering firms to consider foundation PRIs in their capital stacks to fund innovative Public Private Partnership (P3) projects
- A film center director whose marketing ideas and film connections are leading to creative new promotions for a community food cooperative.
- A committed for-profit Angel Investor who´s making connections so the local Women´s Fund can better support female microentrepreneurs and small business owners.
Who are your potential pollinators? Think about how you can open up and provide them an inviting habitat. They only have to land briefly to introduce your idea into new, fertile soil!
*What are pollinators? In the garden they are the famous “birds & bees” , insects, bats, etc. that ensure plants produce full-bodied fruits and a viable seeds. As they go about their business, they transfer pollen in and between flowers, causing fertilization. Without pollinators we would not have apples, strawberries, melons , or squash, to name just a few of the thousands of crops pollinators make possible. (Thanks to the Pollinator Partnership for this definition. Learn more about their great work here.)
By Kristin Majeska
Our donors are “doers” who want their philanthropy to reflect their own style and personality. We bring the combination of business experience and first hand understanding of the social sector to make it all work smoothly… for the philanthropist and the community.
“Slow,” I repeated to myself and breathed deeply, “this is supposed to go slowly,” as I sat in a planning meeting at Barrel´s, my local community market and purveyor of great food grown close by. I was debating organizational structure and mission/profit tensions alongside a twenty-something organic grower, the founder of a successful national company, a college student, a professor, several employees, a local accountant and nonprofit executive. It´s not easy for us MBA types to slow it down, but when it comes to Slow Money, boy is it worth getting the full buy-in and the invaluable insights of everyone who´s at the table. Listening, respecting and actively seeking a diversity of perspectives is a big part of what´s making the Slow Money movement gain such steam in Maine and around the country…. with philanthropists and farmers alike.
Slow Money brings together an inspiring mix of people, capital and know-how to help develop healthy food systems, with a focus on small, local, sustainable, and of course, slow. Curious about why slow? What is Nurture Capital? How are some family foundations thinking about Slow Money? What´s the Soil Trust? Who´s big enough to play a part? What are “Credibles” (aka edible credits)?
Here´s Slow Money – Where Money and Food Come Together, the English version of article we just wrote to introduce Slow Money to Spain (yes, Spain). And Slow Money In Action on the Ground in Maine on one of the Slow Money chapters that´s leading the country…. our own Slow Money Maine. There are so many ways to tie into this movement, don´t wait, start investigating …. slowly … and something just might take root and start to grow!
The original article appeared in Compromiso Empresarial. Lo puedes leer aquí.
We´ve all had that nagging feeling of “how can I possibly make a difference when the problems are so huge?” at least once or twice. Even Bill Gates makes clear that his Foundation´s billions are nothing relative to the magnitude of health problems they are trying to address (read more here.) In the world of medical research philanthropic dollars are completely dwarfed by public and pharmaceutical funding. Yet the breakthroughs aren´t coming fast enough for some ambitious philanthropists, many of whom have very pressing and personal reasons driving their impatience.
Scott Johnson is one of the nonprofit “social entrepreneurs” whose model is demonstrating how donors and foundations can get maximum leverage even from their “drop in the bucket” support of medical research. Scott is a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded the Myelin Repair Foundation in 2004. Since then the scientific collaborations funded by the foundation led to the publication of more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles, the identification of more than 100 novel potential myelin repair treatment targets and the discovery of multiple new research tools—animal models and assays—that may help to accelerate research on all neurological diseases. Two patents have been awarded on this work.
Here´s the interview which first we first published in the October 2012 issue of Compromiso Empresarial
What motivated you to found the Myelin Repair Foundation? I am an engineer, was part of a successful joint venture with Dupont, then led two more startups. I´ve also had MS since I was 20… I never imagined I would be dedicating myself fulltime to medical research … and that it would be by far the most fun I have ever had. I work with really smart, dedicated people to solve a huge problem. It is a tremendous honor.
It began when I learned about a potential breakthrough in MS treatment that no one was focusing on. I concluded that a focus on this approach, myelin repair, could have significant implications for MS patients
Then I learned something even more interesting: medical research is incredibly dysfunctional. If you tried to design a system that was slower and less efficient, you’d have a hard time. It’s 30 to 50 years from the time a discovery is made to when anything gets to patients. And you have lots and lots of participants in the value chain: academic scientists, NIH (the biggest funder of medical research), pharmaceutical companies, the Federal Drug Administration, nonprofits, doctors and patients. But there is zero overall coordination. Even in academic research, there is no road map, no master research plan.
Over 800,000 medical research papers were published last year, at a cost of 60 billion dollars. Most of them have very little relevance for any disease. And most research can’t be replicated. To give you an idea, the pharmaceutical company Amgen recently identified 53 academic papers that were relevant for cancer. They could only replicate 6 of them, even when the original scientists guided them.
What is your model? Coming from the business world it almost embarrasses me because it’s so simple,
1. We focus intensely on a specific approach to treating a single disease. Most foundations attempt to address all aspects of the disease they have chosen.
2. We ask what expertise we need, identify the absolute best people in the world with that expertise, and bring them together
3. We have a research plan with very clear and measurable goals
4. We protect the intellectual property of everyone involved so it will be worthwhile for companies to invest in getting these discoveries to market. The universities own the patents but we hold sole licensing rights and full control.
What makes the Myelin Repair Foundation so revolutionary? Almost all nonprofit funders of medical research follow the NIH model. They attempt to fund “the best science.” Scientists´ proposals are peer reviewed for scientific merit. That means they only fund incremental experiments. Anything that is perceived as risky science, clever ideas, will never make it through the process.
We get the best people and encourage them to do things that are different. We´ trust that between their ability, our ability, and our advisors’ knowledge, we´ll only fund things that may appear risky, but have a good chance for success and would make a big difference if they worked. We manage the process very closely. But to do that we provide academic researchers so much value that they collaborate with us!
How do you make it attractive for the best scientists? In the traditional science world, if you´re a brilliant scientist, you only get to brainstorm with your own team. You need to protect your idea so you get credit when it´s published. We have created a protected environment in which brilliant scientists can brainstorm and be completely open with each other. All data is shared and the scientists find it very stimulating. We´ve also got a phenomenal advisory board whose members who are very active with our teams. Our scientists will tell you they are doing better science than they ever did before.
How did you get started? I started calling up scientists and learning all I could about myelin repair in my spare time. Then I formed an informal group of advisors, friends from the business world. We met every 6 weeks to talk about what I had learned and where I should go next. Next I identified the best individual researchers and flew them out all to San Francisco together. I said “if you are willing to work as a team, we´lll come up with a plan of attack and we´ll fund you.” Amazingly, they all agreed. They were all tenured researchers doing interesting work, but I think, deep down, they weren´t sure their work was ever going to reach patients.
Since we were in Silicon Valley, we treated this just like another start-up. I went out and raised seed money. Most of the philanthropists who joined us were entrepreneurs themselves who could see why our completely different approach had merit. The name recognition of the scientists who had signed on helped, as did Stanford University agreeing to the intellectually property deal.
Aren´t other funders doing similar things? A lot of funders are using the buzzwords: collaboration, sharing, innovation, etc. They may have a team of star scientists, but the academics are managing themselves. The team doesn´t have a coach. We are the coach and the overall coordinator. We also bring the strong connection to the pharmaceutical industry so that potentially valuable drugs don’t get stuck in the Valley of Death. Would you believe 24 out of 25 potential drugs fail in Phase 3 Clinical Trials? (See the three minute video here.)
Our staff have more than 100 years of pharmaceutical experience. We also built a translational medicine platform. It identifies the compounds that are most likely to make it through clinical trials, so that these findings move more rapidly out of the lab. We invested in creating tools, assays and models and getting quality data to the pharmaceutical companies. Now companies are coming to us because our lab is superior or complementary to what they can do themselves.
We take full advantage of our nonprofit status. We can get scientists to collaborate. Because we’re a neutral party, companies will approach us to do things that can help the whole industry. We can be an honest broker. This allows us to softly manage and coordinate the entire continuum.
How do you leverage your finite dollars? In eight years we have completely shifted the field of research on MS. After five years, when we had spent only $25M, 15-20 companies expressed interest in myelin repair. Moving forward, our goal is to raise another $80M to develop a myelin repair therapeutic by 2019. We’ve raised $50M to-date.
About half of our funding comes from people who are deeply interested in MS, typically because of a family member. The other 50% see us as a demonstration project that has implications for all diseases. Because we’re a foundation funder who’s small and agile, we can pioneer a new approach.
What advice do you have for others?
- Work only with the very best people. Don’t compromise.
- Be very strategic. Our $10M per year is a drop in the bucket next to $30BN spent in US government medical funding annually, so we have to be strategic.
- Be committed. I am both the patient advocate and the founder. I’m involved 24/7.
“Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy”. What a great title for the new nextgendonors.org report! The authors surveyed 310 Gen X and Gen Y’ers from families with more than $5 million in assets endowed for charity. “Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy” speaks to the continuity in values we often hear the younger generation express …. and to their hunger to get involved, to try new models and to just plain move faster!
Whom do you know who exhibits these traits the Next Gen study identified?
- Driven by values, not valuables
This is the same generation that won’t sacrifice family and personal time for a big paycheck. They aren’t all about money and they want their giving to reflect their personal values. And these values are highly influenced by what they learned about philanthropy from their parents (89%) and grandparents (63%)
- Impact first
Gen X and Gen Y givers want to be sure their giving is making a difference. They consider themselves responsible and strategic givers. They feel strongly about doing their “due diligence” and trying innovative approaches. They even dare to ask the daunting “so what?” question: “How has the situation really improved as a result of our grant?” They want to look at metrics and outcomes, even when they know those measure aren’t perfect, because they take their giving seriously.
- Time, treasure, talent and ties
Tomorrow’s big donors like be involved in hands-on ways in the causes they support. They want to do more than write a check. They believe they have relevant skills and knowledge to contribute and the relationships they build along the way matter to them. This generation also recognizes that their social networks are valuable, very valuable! They want to connect their friends, colleagues, even their service providers, to the work they care about. They are networked in almost everything they do. Their giving is no exception.
- Crafting their philanthropic identities
Although they tend to be very clear about their passions and desire to make the world a better place, Gen Ys, in particular, are still finding their way and still figuring out how to negotiate their roles in their family’s giving, roles that evolve as they go to work or become parents themselves. Their preferred method of learning is experiential. They don’t want to just read dockets; they want to go on site visits. They are more likely to value unscripted conversations with grantees than formal presentations, to do their own research and to ask more challenging questions than then their older counterparts. And they are not waiting until they are given permission to join the family foundation board to define themselves. They are experimenting and shaping their personalities as givers even as you read this post.
The #NextGenDonors survey tells a pretty exciting story. Let’s reach out and include these emerging philanthropists in all that we do!
The tragic events of Newtown still weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of so many of us this holiday season. In response, the Philanthropy News Digest published a list of groups with a track record of working on mental health issues and services for youth that is worth consulting here.
In the same blog post they highlighted a collection of reports about gun violence in America prepared by the Foundation Center´s Issue Lab. A report by the nonpartisan Grassroots coalition Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence heads the list. They have been a vocal and tireless advocate for reducing gun violence. A visit to their site starts make clear the magnitude of the issue …. as I write their counter of people shot in America in 2012 is at 97,343… 143 so far today, at noon on a Wednesday.
If your family wants to reach out instead to the families of Newtown themselves, here are groups working in Connecticut recommended by the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. (See the full blog post here):
May 2013 be a year of more peace and less violence.
Knowing the answers to a few basic questions can boost your confidence that you’re making a good choice. In our experience, the most effective organizations make it easy to answer:
What are they trying to achieve? Short-term and long-term. Is the organization meeting a real and pressing need? Is their vision clear? Realistic? Is their vision ambitious enough for you? Are their goals consistent with the organization’s mission? Do you get excited about their goals?
Does their approach make sense? At the very least! Is the organization’s approach logical for the context in which it’s working? Do they factor in local realities and the perspectives of their beneficiaries? Does their approach promise significant or potential impact relative the resources they spend? Do they take advantage of the progress and lessons learned by others in the field (nonprofits, government programs, private companies, etc.).
What evidence suggests the initiative will be successful? How does the nonprofit know if it’s making progress toward its goals? How does it evaluate itself? What data have they tracked in the past? What mechanisms do they have for adapting their strategies as they learn? What types of research or evaluation do other funders use to make the case for supporting the organization?
Do you trust the organization’s leaders? Both the board and staff? This is an essential question for Angel and VC investors – and it should be for folks making grant “investments” as well. Vision and good intentions aren’t enough. Ideas and strategy are only as good as the team that executes on them. How do others in their field view these leaders? How are they seen by their own teams? What have they demonstrated they can accomplish?
Will the organization have the resources to reach its goals? Your donation or grant is an “investment” to accomplish a result in the future, so you need to have faith in the organization’s current and future financial picture. Equally important, as external factors change, will the organization be able to count on the other actors it needs to get the job done, the community, other nonprofit or government partners or beneficiaries?
Sometimes these questions are easy to answer. Sometimes other funders with experience in the specific topic or community provide key insights. Other times a third-party acting on behalf of a donor, anonymous or named, can learn more. And sometimes donors decide to fund projects despite not having the answers to all of these questions… because it’s a process of getting to know an organization.
In the spirit of Socrates… there’s no right answer but it’s worth asking the questions.
The field of “investments intended to create positive social and/or environmental impact alongside financial return” is expanding every day, so it’s tricky to stay up on the lingo. Here’s a list of some key terms.
Assets. Sources such as JP Morgan estimate there will be at least $500 billion in impact investments in the next ten years. The Investors´ Council of the Global Impact Investing Network (below) already includes 50 investors that each hold more $50 million in impact investment assets. Angel investors are playing a key role in developing this new market. “And.” The great beauty of impact investing it the possibility to do good AND make money at the same time. In fact, for many of the best impact investments, the more you sell, the more good you do, because the social purpose is embedded in the business model. For Vision Spring, for example, the more very low-cost eyeglass they sell, the better the organization accomplishes its mission of improving the productivity and quality of life of the poor in the developing world. For Root Capital, the more loans they disburse, the more they fulfill their social purpose of growing rural prosperity.
Benefit Corporation is a new legal structure for companies which create a material positive impact on society and the environment, consider non-financial interests when making decisions, and report on their overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards. Today 11 states have benefit corporation Read More →