Ensuring the Success of Great Startups

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Mark Hecker, Founder and Executive Director of Reach, Inc. published an honest and critical piece on the role privilege plays in the success of our nation’s most innovative solutions. From afar, I’ve always admired Mark’s candid approach to addressing a cause we care about: America’s public education system.

The first time I heard Mark speak was at First Book-DC’s Literacy Bonanza–an event that highlighted nonprofits with innovative solutions to address illiteracy in DC. Mark doesn’t sip the Koolaid of trendy reform. That was evident to me that night as he shared the story of Reach, Inc’s creation and how we all share a responsibility to support the ideas of Reach, Inc and the other startups that night. But what stuck out most to me was his appeal for funding. He didn’t dance around the issue. He was very blunt about the fact that we do need money to make a difference.

After reestablishing the First Book-DC volunteer-led advisory board, I am now in a position where the success of the board is determined by how much money we raise to support our book grant program. As the child of a first generation college student, I know that my network of wealth is slim. When I decided to reestablish the board, I knew that I would have to find a way to tap into DC’s elite philanthropic sector. Slowly, but surely, my board of committed volunteers and I are doing just that. Nevertheless, this is an uphill battle and we’re using all the resources we have.

Moreover, when I read Mark’s piece called “The Power of My Privilege,” I knew that Mark had done it again. He spoke candidly about funding. Yet, this time he spoke not to individuals with small amounts of disposable income who want to make a difference. He called out the huge grantors who truly decide which nonprofits survive the crucial first years.

Below is an excerpt:

For three years, I have been learning the ins and outs of the philanthropy game. And, though the work is often challenging, the community of philanthropists I have discovered are both well-meaning and generous. However, as “data” and “impact” have become larger factors in funding decisions, a frightening selection bias is emerging.

It has become commonplace for funders – corporate, foundation, and individual – to require “proof” before any money is provided. Often, institutional funders will not even consider a request before an organization has been operating for a number of years. So, how is an organization supposed to survive those first few years? How can a great idea see the light of day without the support of the philanthropic community? To this point, the answer has been stated without question. Those in the philanthropic community often say, without reservation, that early organizations must “bootstrap it” or “start off with friends and family.”

I encourage you to read the rest of his piece at Unsectored and share your thoughts.

Additionally, First Book-DC kicked off our Fall into Reading Online Giving Campaign yesterday. I’ll take a page from Mark’s book and ask you to consider making a donation! You can donate here.. 100% of your donation goes to ensuring First Book-DC can continue providing schools and nonprofits with high-quality books to use in their curriculum and ultimately become the property of the kids!

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3 thoughts on “Ensuring the Success of Great Startups

  1. CHLOvoyance says:

    Thanks for posting this, Darla. As someone that has worked with both early-state and mature non-profits, I’ve often wondered about this “chicken and the egg” mentality of supporting what works without providing resources to allow it to get off the ground. I work with the funding community on strategic planning and evaluation now, and will make it a point to see what their thoughts are on the feasibility of Mark’s suggestions…

    And I see he’s a fellow blue devil…GO DUKE!!

    • Darla Bunting says:

      Hi Chloe! Thanks for commenting! Please share Mark’s piece and just like that we’ve sparked dialogue from the east to west coast!

  2. CHLOvoyance says:

    Hi Darla, reporting back:
    So I had a change to ask some of my colleagues to just get a quick opinion on Mark’s point. They definitely shared enthusiasm to his suggestions for grantmaking strategy for early-stage nonprofits. I also came across the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation that has a grant for nonprofits 0-3 years old that provides funding for new, fresh programs. If it’s any help to Mark or other readers, here’s the link: http://www.drkfoundation.org/what-we-fund.html. Might be something good to investigate, and it’s nice to know that at least something is out there for early-staged programs!

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