Welcome to the February edition of the Uncharted Insider.
- Community Driven Accelerator: We received 17 applications for the community-driven accelerator we are running in one zip code in Denver. The next step is for residents and community experts to select the organizations they believe are best positioned to advance healthy food access in their neighborhood. Whomever they select, we will accelerate.
- I feel a desire to use this bullet point to impress you with a big win or a milestone in February so you’ll like Uncharted (and me) more, but this month our team has been working hard on so many things (some will lead to future announcements, some you'll never know happened). Sometimes the most important work doesn’t lend itself to impressive headlines every month.
Ideas on my mind:
Nonprofit sector stats: 97% of nonprofits operate with less than a $5 million budget, 92% operate with less than a $1 million budget, and 88% with less than a $500,000 budget (link to statistics from National Council of Nonprofits). This is striking: nearly 90% of nonprofits have an annual budget less than $500k! On one hand, many of these organizations are under-resourced and under-staffed, and they’re forced to duplicate efforts (like fundraising) and work in isolation from others doing similar or complementary work. This resource-scarce reality creates a $500k barrier that 90% of nonprofits are struggling to break through. Small nonprofits often stay small. But on the other hand, some of the most transformational change is happening at the smallest scale, and that change is being championed by people who are making real sacrifices to advance their impact (they’re heroes!). We would know because so many of the organizations we stand beside in our accelerators are trying to break through this $500k barrier, and we’re going to the ends of the earth to help them scale their impact.
The sector would do well to:
- Help organizations break through this $500k barrier of resource scarcity by helping them tap into new funding sources.
- Support mergers and acquisitions between organizations.
- Build coalitions to work together and get funders to fund the coalition.
- Kill zombie nonprofits that are puttering along but are not effective.
Note: 25% of organizations in our portfolio are non-profits.
The Art of Gathering: Our COO Nicole Dill has been praising a fabulous book called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. It’s a book about gatherings, parties, meetings, and the moments and opportunities where humans come together for a shared purpose. If you consider yourself a host or community builder, this book will help you refine your craft. It speaks to how you arrive at a crisp purpose for your gathering, how we often let the guest list define the purpose instead of letting the purpose define the guest list, how to prepare people to arrive at your gathering in a headspace to be fully present, and how to incite vulnerability, how to manage conflict, and how to make events that are powerful in their connection and spirit. The book has made me think about treating the work week as a gathering. How might we change team meetings, team communication, and team connection if we imagined ourselves as hosts of our team in a gathering we call the work week? What kind of magic and intentionality might sprout? How might we spark delight and connection amongst our team? How might we surface new and different behaviors if we elevated the work week (and our office space) from the realm of simply the time and the physical space where work happens and into the realm of an extraordinary gathering?
Big Bet Philanthropy vs. Safe Philanthropy. In 2015, Stanford Social Innovation Review wrote a report on the state of “big bet philanthropy” (donations in excess of $10M). They reported that only 20% of those philanthropic “big bets” went to social change; the remaining 80% was institutional giving to universities, hospitals, and cultural institutions. Since then, there’s been more focus on big bet philanthropy (including this series of articles), but it strikes me that these big bets are more big than bet. They’re defined by their size, not by their audacity. The problem is that the organizations that can absorb a big bet are inherently not big bets. They’re safe bets because they are large and established institutions with lots to lose by making an actual big bet and deviating from their status quo. For example, the MacArthur Foundation just released the 100 finalists for its $100 million big bet grant. I spent an hour last week reviewing the finalists and looking at their annual budgets. 90/100 finalists had a budget greater than $10M (contrast that with the statistics above about the distribution of nonprofits by budget size). I am a big admirer of the MacArthur Foundation for many reasons, and I do see merits in safe philanthropy where the impact is so proven and expected that little risk appetite is needed, but they have created a prize that is only accessible to the largest ~1% of nonprofits. In doing so, are we relying on the biggest behemoths in our social impact space to lead the charge in risk-taking? Call me a small-scale ranter, but I believe we need to make big bets at every level of investment. Sometimes those who are taking the biggest risks are working for the smallest organizations simply because the largest and most well-established non-profits are designed to be incompatible with that level of risk-taking.
Can you help?
- Do you know of organizations or people who have experience taking a boutique consulting company or agency model through a season of growth? We’re looking for mentors.
- Is anyone tight with Brene Brown who would be willing to make an introduction? We want her to be a mentor for entrepreneurs in our accelerators.
What I’m reading:
- California needs to create 3.5 million new homes by 2025 (which is triple its current pace of building) to begin to put a dent in its lack of housing affordability. How nearly all the biggest social problems in the US have roots in housing. Here.
- In 1850, 75% of Americans older than 65 lived with relatives; by 1990, only 18% did. The decline of the extended family, the problem with the nuclear family, and the correlation relationship between the growth of GDP and the growth of loneliness. Here.
- In the last two decades, the average venture capital fund has barely broken even. The history of venture capital, its current overcapitalization, and its uncertain future. Here.
- How the American response to WWII is a blueprint for fighting climate change. The need for climate R+D. Here.
I’m trying out two new things in 2020: I’ve transitioned to a vegetarian diet, and I’m sleeping around 7.5 hours most nights. I am late to the party when it comes to respecting the power of sleep. I’ve always told myself the story that sleeping less enables me to live and achieve more during the day. But the benefits of sleep are innumerable; it’s a veritable panacea for almost everything! And I’m enjoying the vegetarian diet; I’ve committed to it for one year, and then I’ll figure out if I want to continue. The hardest part—as I am sure you can guess—is the lack of pork dumplings in my life...if only sleep could solve for that. In the meantime, I’m always open to your best vegetarian recipes!