I hope you had the chance to visit the Ideablob website to help out Epic Change in their competition. Check out yesterday’s post for more information on Epic Change.
What sector do you raise money for and how is that different from raising money in another sector?
While right now, we’re working on an education project in the developing world, the Epic Change approach may be adopted across many sectors: we may eventually fund a health, poverty, art or other type of project. Let’s call the segment we focus on the “social innovation” sector. For us, these are primarily donors who feel that traditional charitable models have been ineffective and others who feel that they’ve been excluded from charitable giving because they didn’t feel they could personally give enough to make a difference. To appeal to this group, we’ve focused our fundraising efforts on two key ideas:
Partner Empowerment: I believe the reason social entrepreneurship and social innovation have become such popular ideas recently is because many people are starting to believe that traditional models of giving haven’t yielded great – or sustainable – results. A parent of one of the children at the school we’re building in Tanzania once said, “If you tell a man he is weak, he will be weak; if you tell a man he is poor, he will be poor.” And yet, many charities seem to do just that by employing fundraising models that foster long-term relationships of direct dependency that, in my opinion, serve to perpetuate and reinforce an implicit sense of inequality. At Epic Change, we believe that local leaders possess the strength, power and resources (i.e., their stories) to improve their own lives and communities – and even to improve other communities in need elsewhere on the globe. Every relationship we enter into between a donor and an Epic Change partner has an exit strategy that’s based on our partners’ (i.e., loan recipients’) development of their own stories into sustainable sources of non-charitable income. Our donors like the idea that their contribution yields a long-term solution rather than a short-term band-aid or, worse yet, and endless cycle of continued dependency on charitable contributions.
Ultimately, social innovators are interested in our longer-term strategy to eventually avoid the “donation” model altogether; the Epic Change approach is based on the entrepreneurial hypothesis that eventually we’ll be able to raise funds to support our projects primarily through sales of storytelling products and loan repayments rather than traditional donations. We see our current donors as start-up investors and, hopefully, future consumers of Epic Change products.
Donor Empowerment: Unlike fundraising efforts in many sectors, so far we’ve put minimal emphasis on large gifts (though that would be nice!) and are really trying to cultivate a broad base of small donors/investors who can give to our cause with their time and energy as well as their financial contributions. We try to keep these donors engaged by constantly connecting their contributions directly to the impact of their gifts through stories in our blog and email communications. We also provide them with as many opportunities as we can to get directly involved in our efforts, and tools they can use and adapt themselves to spread the word as friendraisers – like YouTube videos they can circulate via email and widgets they can deploy on their own social networking sites. I’ve seen Nirvan Mullick at The One Second Film call this concept “micro-collaboration,” the process by which “many people to work together in lots of little ways to collectively create something bigger than we could alone.” This idea definitely seems to resonate with our base.
Any pointers for organizations in your area that help non-profit professionals?
LinkedIn has been a really helpful tool for connecting with great advice on several topics about which I’ve had questions. There’s a broad network there of non-profit and for-profit professionals who have, in my experience, been really receptive to questions I’ve asked, and provided me with great answers and references to a range of helpful resources. I actually met Jason, the host of this blog, on LinkedIn. Because we’re located in a small town in Florida, I’ve found limited resources in my own geographic area, but more than plenty using online social networking tools.
Do you have any problems or questions that you would like to ask for answers from the philanthropic community?
As I mentioned, it’s only been six months since we received our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. While I have some experience in grantwriting, we’ve been waiting to approach granting organizations until we’ve demonstrated some success so that they’ll really take our request seriously. Just last week, the doors opened to a school we funded in Tanzania – in only three months since we provided our original loan, a significant accomplishment that I believe provides some insight into the potential of our organization. At what point do you believe a new non-profit is ready to make the leap into applying for grants? Are you aware of any granting organizations that may be particularly applicable to our mission and stage of development, or our current project in Tanzania?