Acumen Blog


Net Impact: Scaling Nonprofits

I arrived at Net Impact Philadelphia with a duffel bag, laptop bag and an umbrella only to discover the Wharton did not offer coat or bag check – though they did loop a goody bag on my one free hand and slung a free t-shirt over my shoulder.  With over 2,000 attendees, the conference was beyond capacity.  This posed some logistical problems, but it was a huge testimony to the dedication of students and professionals to creating environmental and social value in their business enterprises.

After the opening keynote, I headed to the first session of the day – Scaling Nonprofits.  (Choosing break-out sessions is harder than you might think: the conference guide book provided 140+ pages of descriptions and information about the speakers).

I choose the scaling panel largely because of my interest in panelist William Foster’s philosophy about the need for philanthropies to reward high achieiving nonprofits with growth capital (I wrote a few months ago about William’s thoughts on this topic here.) In addition to Bill Foster, a Partner at Bridgespan, Mora Segal, Chief Strategy Officer at College Summit and Aaron Hurst, founder and CEO of Taproot Foundation also spoke.

The panelists discussed the dynamics of the philanthropic sector, specifically addressing fact that the environment is not conducive to financing the best and brightest nonprofits out there.  Bill pointed out that there are only 144 nonprofits that have reached $50 million in size, and only 10 nonprofits that have raised growth capital funds.

“There is a limit to what philanthropy can do,” said Mora, who mentioned that College Summit just reached the $20 million dollar mark in large part because of a school fee system that covers the organization’s variable costs.  College Summit started a growth capital fund five years ago and successfully raised $15 million in the first six months.

“We need to talk about how we get foundations to stop giving inefficiently,” said Aaron, who likened the multitude of nonprofits with similar missions to the hundreds of Chinese restaurants across New York City. “All the restaurants serve dumplings, lomein”…to be efficient, “they should all be one Panda Express.”

Some may disagree with Aaron’s proposed monopolization of Chinatown, but his point in well taken.  The philanthropic sector could improve the net social impact by rewarding mergers and partnerships between nonprofits with similar competitive advantages who realize they could achieve economies of scale by working together.

Hopefully College Summit and others who are raising growth funds, like VisionSpring, will continue to speak about their ability to overcome some of the barriers to achieving scale posed by the current philanthropy model. It’s still early to tell if the growth capital model will work for all nonprofits, regardless of their mission, but it’s certainly encouraging to see the impact organizations of those who have been successful in crossing the ramp-up threshold.


Reflections on the India Fellows Seminar

Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together up to 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India. During the fellowship year, Fellows remain in their jobs and meet every 6-8 weeks throughout the year for 4 seminars and 2 collaborative projects, each about a week long. As the India Fellows Associate, Jacqui is responsible for supporting all aspects of the program recruitment, logistics, marketing and strategic planning. Below, Jacqui reflects on the first seminar, Foundations of Leadership. You can read more about the fellowship program here[Read More]

Adaptive Leadership in Action: Addressing Cultural Norms & Giving Women a Voice

In the fall of 2013, +Acumen launched the course Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change in partnership with the Cambridge Leadership Associates. This course is for anyone who wants to become more effective at leading their organization through change. Below, one of the course participants shared her story about how this course impacted her work and ability to affect change. [Read More]

Making Sense of Social Impact in Action: The Value of Educating Our Youth

At Acumen, one of the most common questions we get is how we measure social impact. Our newest +Acumen course – Making Sense of Social Impact: Acumen’s Building Blocks for Impact Analysis. – will provide an entry point for how to think about impact and we’ll share frameworks that help us define what to measure and why. Makoto Matsuura, founder of cobon a not-for-profit focused on youth education in Jakarta, Indonesia and Osaka, Japan, took a pilot version of this course and shared his reflections with us. [Read More]

Good news for philanthropists in the U.K. and Europe

We are excited to announce that Acumen now holds a CAF Charitable Trust in the United Kingdom. CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation, is a registered U.K. charity. By donating to Acumen through CAF, you can use Gift Aid if the amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax you’ve paid for the tax year in which you make your donation is at least equal to the amount of basic rate tax  [the charity or Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) and any other charities or CASCs] you donate to will reclaim on your gift. CAF will reclaim 25% Gift Aid from HM Revenue & Customs and pass this through to Acumen.  The donor can claim higher rate tax relief (for more information, please refer to CAF’s online resource, What Is Gift Aid?). [Read More]

d.light Leaders Named 2014 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year

We are thrilled for our portfolio company d.light and Donn Tice, Chairman and CEO, along with cofounders Ned Tozun, President, and Sam Goldman, Chief Customer Officer, for being named Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2014 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. d.light is a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures and distributes solar lighting and power products with primary markets in the developing world, today announced that d.light, along with 37 other individuals and organizations in the 2014 class, will be fully integrated into the events and initiatives of the World Economic Forum. [Read More]