Post by Jerry Chasen, Alliance VP on January 18, 2012
This past November 15th, the Alliance produced the Inaugural Bipartisan Conference on Innovation in Giving and Philanthropy. The one-day meeting at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC featured an Honorary Host Committee including House Maj. Leader Eric Cantor, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Susan Collins, Joe Lieberman, and Mark Udall, and U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Pat Tiberi.
Judging from the comments we got around the conference, we weren’t the only ones who thought the content was great, and the level of discourse was very high. Moderated by veteran news analyst Jeff Greenfield, the program included presentations by Dr. Diana Wells of Ashoka, Dennis Whittle, Founder of Global Giving, Meg Garlinghouse of LinkedIn, Jacquelline Fuller of Google, Amy Bell of JPMorgan, and Deanna Castellini, Founder of UGive.
The program closed with the Alliance announcing the establishment of “a new fund to identify and promote breakthrough ideas in philanthropy.” The announcement went on to say that “one likely focus of the fund is innovation in nonprofit financing.” Because we wanted to take into account thoughts and ideas shared at the conference, we held off announcing much detail about the fund, including its scope and operations, and promised those would be would be made public early in 2012.
We are engaged in formulating those details, and as is often the case with money to spend, everyone has their own idea of the best way to do it. One idea under consideration would be a focus on existing medium-sized nonprofits. The goal would be to support them in developing innovative strategies, plans, or experiments to diversify their revenue streams on a sustainable basis, by accessing new types of social finance pools, collaborative funding mechanisms, or social enterprise capital or markets increasingly available. One of the conference panels focused on this subject with presentations by Ellen Spear of Heritage Museum and Gardens, and Brenda Palms-Barber of Sweet Beginnings, LLC.
Another idea suggests that the fund’s best use is as the anchor of a larger fund that would be available to complement the Alliance’s proposed “Collaboratory” work with its partners, Hunt Alternatives Fund, Ashoka, Synergos Institute, BenGurion University, Reut Institute, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Assuming that initial exploration of our partners’ activity reveals gaps in current collective efforts that need to be addressed to achieve lasting impact on a set of agreed upon core issues, the fund could be used to source new solutions to fill gaps and amplify that impact.
We’re aware, as one of our team said, that donors generally feel that their contributions further innovation – the media is full of stories about the next best donor and approach. But true innovation is rare. The Alliance is very much about leverage – about using resources for maximum impact and without waste. It would be a shame to make less than the best use of this opportunity. Over the next few months, our team will be reaching out to many of the conference attendees to ask their advice about what structure and criteria for the fund would best further innovation in philanthropy.
We’re also interested in comments from the field. To be very clear, this is NOT a request for proposals – that may come depending upon the nature of the fund as finally conceived. And as with any source request to the crowd, there’s no promise to adopt. But we’re interested in hearing what people have to say.
So friends, what do you think? Consistent with the Alliance’s core criteria and areas of interest, what do you think would be the best use of this new, yet modestly sized Innovation Fund? Please comment below, post on our FaceBook page, or send us a Tweet!