Money week roundup: Opportunities & ideas

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

Trying to change the world can be expensive work! So this Money Week, we’re sharing some ideas and opportunities to help you secure the cheddar you need to turn your awesome ideas into real-world action.

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Crowdfunding infographic by Anna Vital and Vlad Shyshov,
fundersandfounders.com

Nothing attracts a crowd like crowdfunding

This buzzword has become annoying to some (check out this amusing McSweeney’s send-up), but it’s been more than a flash in the pan for a reason.

In the past five years, Kickstarter alone has been the conduit for raising $918 million to help fund 53,000 creative projects. And now they’re far from the only game in town: Indiegogo, AngelList, and Crowdfunder are just a few of the other major players on the scene.

Interested in learning more about your crowdfunding options?

  • This good Forbes article breaks down what different sites offer and how to find the one that’s best for you.
  • See our recent guest post by the heads at CauseVox to get ideas for a workable crowdfunding strategy.

Show me the money

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These opportunities will have you feeling like this guy.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

If you want to try from the reverse angle and go for funding that’s already been allotted for specific purposes, here are a few current opportunities:

  • Presidio Graduate School’s Big Idea Prize “awards a full-ride scholarship to a Presidio degree program for the best ‘Big Idea’ to move the needle in sustainability.” The deadline for admission in fall 2014 is May 15 of next year.
  • You don’t necessarily have to be a 501(c)(3) to apply for grants. DoSomething.org hosts a database of grants available to entrepreneurs.
  • If you’re part of a nonprofit and want to get your website in order, apply for Elevation’s $1-for-$1 match program. For every dollar you spend on design, programming, and related work, the web solution company will chip in a dollar of their own. Last year they gave about $500,000 to 150 organizations.

Pick up some knowledge

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Restock your brain library.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Or maybe the time is right for you to hit the (proverbial) books and read a little more about different funding options. Here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t be afraid of corporate fundraising—there are dollars and non-monetary support to be found in the business community. For some tips on how to break in, read this DoSomething.org Q & A.
  • Online fundraising (and fabulously-named) gurus Stay Classy have a whole section on their blog dedicated to helping you get money. Check out guides such as “Growing a Community of Fundraisers,” “The 4 Phases of an Effective Peer-to-Peer Campaign,” and “Avoid the Big Mistake.”
  •  If you’re in a position to make grants, we know that giving money away (or doing it well, anyway) is seldom a walk in the park either: it can be tough to decide who gets funding, especially as strategies change. “Storytelling & Social Change: A Strategy Guide for Grantmakers” is a free-to-download publication that aims to “serve grantmakers interested in so-called ‘narrative strategies’ for their funding and communications programs.”

Party with a purpose

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Break out the costume box.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

From the “mixing business with pleasure” file, here’s With Love… The New Generation of Party People—a new book and accompanying website geared toward helping you put on great fundraising parties. Find ten complete party plans with everything from invitations to music playlists to help you show your friends a good time while bringing in some cash for your cause.

Have you had a good fundraising experience recently (or a not-so-good one)? Share your story in the comments.

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Fiscal sponsorship might be the richest thing you can do

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

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Mason and his crew on location in Georgetown, Guyana. The entire film was shot with locals who’d never acted. (photo courtesy of Jeremy Habig.)

Mason Richards left his homeland of Guyana when he was seven years old.

He grew up in New York, but memories of the Caribbean nation lingered in his mind as an adult. He could taste the abundant and diverse fresh fruit like mangoes and gunips. He could hear the coconut man come down the street with fresh coconuts to sell. He could recall the Sunday lime at the seawall in Georgetown, where he’d people-watch and relax with family and friends as the Atlantic Ocean hummed nearby.

The nostalgia never left him. In 2010, for his Cal Arts thesis, Mason made a nine-minute film that was his tribute to the place he couldn’t forget. The Seawall follows the story of Marjorie and her ten-year-old grandson Malachi, and the emotions they wrestle with as he prepares to move to America.

“There are more Guyanese living outside of the country than in it. I wanted to made a film for them, for all us, who’ve moved,” Mason says. “The film is about immigration, abandonment both personally and nationally, and going home. I hope that at the end of the feature, Guyanese in Toronto, London, and New York are going to feel something about giving back to this place that we all come from.”

The film made it as far as Cannes, but Mason wants to extend The Seawall‘s impact beyond the exclusive film festival. He’s now working on making it into a feature-length to further showcase the beauty of Guyana’s landscape and people, which he ultimately hopes will lead to more development in the country.

“I want to change the world. And I believe I can change the world by connecting to the things that affect me, and finding other people who feel the same way,” he says.

Money, money, money

But as we all know, changing the world takes time, hard work, and money. And for an independent filmmaker, finding funds can pose an extra challenge—some might even say a nightmare.

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The amount of support Mason has received has kept him going. Mason is a Sony Pictures grant recipient and is currently working on a series of public service announcements in Guyana. (photo courtesy Hal Horowitz.)

Fiscal sponsorship—where a nonprofit lends you their tax-exempt status so you can apply for grants and accept donations without hassle—is one way to go. Mason wanted to find a fiscal sponsor whose passions aligned with his, and ideally also use the relationship as a means of connecting with prominent Guyanese both at home and abroad.

He searched the Internet for days until he finally found Friends & RPCVs of Guyana (FROG), a D.C.-based nonprofit founded by former Peace Corps volunteers.

He was swayed by its mission of continuing to support his homeland, and got in touch. Scott Stadum, then president, wrote him back immediately.

“Scott, a non-Guyanese American, really loved the place. It was almost like he loved it more than I did, because I was so disconnected from it. It really inspired me,” Mason says. “FROG is promoting Guyana in a way I respect.”

FROG became Mason’s fiscal sponsor, and together they hosted fundraising events in both N.Y. and D.C. so he could go back to Guyana and shoot the film.

More than that, though, they formed a relationship that has only gotten stronger since they met five years ago. (Scott is now one of the feature film’s producers.)

So fiscal sponsorship can be more than a dry task—it can be a source of new connections and supporters.

Mason’s biggest piece of advice? Make it personal.

There are probably a lot of organizations out there that share your philosophy and whose help you can apply for with the click of a button. But it’s when you connect on a deeper level with its members that you’ll have the most success.

“I think a mistake people make is thinking that you need money right away to make everything happen. I disagree,” Mason says. “I think that if you have a strong alliance of the right people who are passionate about what you’re doing and who believe in your goal, then money will come.”

Have you ever had a fiscal sponsor? How did it go?

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Pro tips for your pro bono experience

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

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There are always two sides to an issue.
(photo via Shutterstock)

Let’s say your project is close to becoming a real-deal nonprofit or social enterprise. Now there’s all this legal jargon to navigate—and you don’t know where to start.

On top of that, you’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur and don’t have mega cash to shell out to get all the answers you need.

So maybe you check out the Foundation Center or wade through hundreds of articles online. But you’re still confused and need more one-on-one attention.

One solution? Find a pro bono lawyer.

But like sustaining any good project, making that relationship work requires patience and understanding. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Get up, stand up for your rights

We wrote recently about Drive Change, a food truck in NYC that trains and employs formerly incarcerated youth.

Founder Jordyn Lexton wasn’t sure if she wanted it to be a for-profit or nonprofit entity. So when a big-name law firm offered to help, she eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

It didn’t turn out to be quite the experience she hoped for.

“I recognized in myself that I was less persistent, and less authoritative, because they were doing it for free,” she says. “It pushed back the timeline, and a couple of mistakes they made pushed back our incorporation status.”

In the end, however, the extra time gave Jordyn the opportunity to explore more options about what Drive Change wanted to be.

She learned a ton from the experience, and the biggest tips she has are to make sure your lawyer is familiar with tax law, especially as it pertains to nonprofits, and that he or she works for a supportive firm that can help them access answers quickly. And while you don’t need to invite them to your wedding, make the relationship as personal as you can.

“Meet in person—a lot. Get to know them and build the relationship so they become more invested in you and your work,” she says.

Courting your lawyer

New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (NJVLA) is a nonprofit that helps artists and arts organizations understand their legal rights and navigate messy problems.

To date, their lawyers have collectively put in over 4,300 hours for a total of 1.7 million dollars in legal fees—for free.

“We’re greasing the wheels of arts in the state,” says board president Peter Skolnik.

NJVLA offers three types of pro bono services: Legal Lines, Law Fax, and Full Service Representation. Have a problem registering copyright for your photographs? Give them a call. Need help deciphering your recording contract? Send them a fax.

If you have an issue that isn’t going to be solved by a simple phone call or fax, NJVLA offers the whole shebang for artists and organizations that fit within certain income guidelines. They start the process by sending an email blast to their cadre of 250 volunteer lawyers to see who would be the best match.

Once you’ve secured your counsel, Peter advises being clear about what you need from the start.

“It’s important for clients to try their best to drill down to what the real problem is, rather than providing so much background that it becomes difficult to understand what the legal issue is,” he says. “Decide what ‘triggering’ event made you realize you need a lawyer.”

Lawyers have lots of different obligations, after all. It can be challenging for them to balance their time, and to do something for free when they only have so many hours in the day, especially when they have paying clients. They’re only human.

But that doesn’t mean they can slack off. From Peter’s perspective, the duty they have is the same.

“One on hand, you shouldn’t assume that because you’re not paying, a lawyer can take a week to get back to you,” he says. “On the other hand, nonpaying clients should assume that lawyers are looking out for interests in a professional manner. If that’s taking longer than expected, you should be sensitive to the fact that your lawyer knows what has to be done and when. It will get done.”

Have you ever worked with a pro bono lawyer or are you one yourself? Tell us about a good experience you’ve had.

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Put a bid on it: How a Portland, OR auctioneer is keeping the city’s nonprofits afloat

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Johnna at the 3rd Annual Shake It Til We Make It fundraising auction and event for The Brian Grant Foundation,
held last year at the iconic International Rose Test Garden. (Photo credit: www.iamatrailblazersfan.com)

Every weekend for nine months out of the year, auctioneer Johnna Wells stands up in the center of a room filled with hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, and tries to raise the most money possible for that night’s nonprofit.

Her auction chant is automatic at this point; the mental juggling is all about reading the body language of the bidders at key tables, making sure she gets the minimum amount for the donated goods, and sustaining the energy of the crowd.

It’s become second nature for Johnna, who is admittedly shy otherwise.

“I’m more uncomfortable in a room of ten people than a thousand,” she says. “But once I get up there and get a microphone in my hand, it’s almost like my superhero cloak. I feel at home, and less exposed in that way.”

From artist to auctioneer

Johnna’s been around the rapid-fire auction environment her whole life. Her mom and dad owned and operated auction houses in Coeur D’Alene and Post Falls, Idaho, which specialized in antiques and collectibles.

As kids, every day after school, she and her brother would help their parents get read for the weekly Friday night auction, and every Friday night, they would listen to the patter of their dad’s bid call, rolling out their sleeping bags in the clerking room while buyers checked out with their treasured wares.

“It seems nerdy, but it’s an interesting and cool community of little vignettes of stories and lives,” she says.

But Johnna outgrew the family business as she got older. After studying art at the University of Idaho, she moved to Portland and began a series of art-related jobs ranging from window dressing to jewelry design. During this time, she started to question whether or not she could continue to pay the bills as an artist—and if it was fulfilling her desire to do good in the world.

Then her dog died back home. On a whim, she quit her jewelry store job, got on a plane, and chose a seat that happened to put her next to two old-timers who’d known her grandparents and told her tales of days long ago.

“Sometimes it feels like once an action is put in motion, you know you’re on the right track when the rest of those pieces start to fall into place and remind you that you made the right decision,” she says.

She ended up staying in Idaho for the summer. Coincidentally, her father’s health took a bad turn and she further learned the ins and outs of the auction method when her parents opted to leave the family farm and move into a condo. It was during that summer that she decided to go to auction school and, afterward, apprentice at a local fundraising auction company back in Portland before starting her own business.

Portland’s powerhouse fundraiser

Now Johnna is one of the seven percent of women auctioneers around the world, and a 2005 International Auctioneer Champion.

Her company, Benefit Auctions 360, works with a variety of Portland nonprofits including Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Cascade AIDS Project, and the homeless youth organization p:ear.

The fundraising auctions, which Johnna likens to “original crowdfunding,” are anything but small affairs. Throughout the course of the year, her team works with each nonprofit to strategically plan and promote each auction and event. Venues range from art museums to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum; performers have included local and famous musicians alike, from Julianne Johnson to KISS; and donated goods run the gamut from an original Gus Van Sant photograph to being a roadie for the band Rush.

This spring alone, Benefit Auctions 360 has raised a total of $14 million—and they’ve made their own donation to every organization they’ve worked with. For many of city’s nonprofits, the money they raise in one night is what keeps their doors open throughout the year.

“Years ago, I had my very first auction with p:ear. Seconds before I took the stage, Executive Director Beth Burns came over to me. She put her hand on shoulder, squeezed it firmly, and said, ‘We’ve barely got any money in the bank. So don’t mess this up,’ ” Johnna says. “I was shocked, but it really set the tone early on for how important this work is.”

Johnna is successful any way you look at it, but she doesn’t let it get to her head. In fact, she’s anything but comfortable.

“There’s always the potential to make whatever you’re doing bigger and better. And there’s also the potential for it to unravel at the seams. It all depends on you,” Johnna says. “I’m scared every day that I’m not doing the right thing, that I’m not doing my best. I think that’s a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and makes you work that much harder.”

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Check out the Benefit Auctions 360 blog for tips on fundraising, auction planning, and more.

Follow them on Pinterest for auction and event ideas.

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Want to make lasting change? Get over your discomfort with money

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Photo via Shutterstock.

Whether we’re asking family for help, friends to pay us back, or funds to kick start a project, money is just one of those things that can make us feel weird.

But here’s the thing: we need money to take care of ourselves and others.  And for those of us working in the world of social good, we need money for our ideas, programs, and more. So why feel weird about it?

In a recent article on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Kyle Zimmer from First Book argues that we need to start  looking at how social enterprises have no qualms about putting money first and working with for-profit partners.

Changing the world is a complicated business. You need a powerful mission that will inspire and motivate people; you need a problem that needs solving and an effective way to solve it.

But you also need funding. It’s critical, but rarely the part that inspires people. The fundraising teams of most nonprofits work behind the scenes, searching (and competing) for donations and grants to fund the organization. That’s the traditional approach, and while it has been effective in some cases, it’s not the way forward.

Nonprofit social enterprises are flipping that model around using collaborative disruption—they are putting the funding component front and center by making it an integral part of the core mission, and working with for-profits and other nontraditional partners to deliver on that mission.

These kinds of approaches take some people by surprise, particularly those used to a traditional charity model—we give you some money, and you go off and do some good work with it. But it’s challenging—and ineffective—to create real, lasting social change with the old model, because you’re always working uphill against market forces instead of making them work for you. The collaborative disruption model, where nonprofits invest in for-profits to drive mission-related advances, can be effective no matter the scale.

Zimmer goes on to talk about how First Book, which gives brand-new books to low-income communities, reached out to several publishers with a bid to buy $500,00 worth of books featuring diverse voices rarely represented in children’s literature for The Stories for All Project.

Publishers loved the idea. Demand for these types of books means the industry has a reason to produce more diverse titles, thus helping First Book sustain its programs.

“It’s a market-driven solution, and that means it’s permanent,” Zimmer says.

What do you think? If you have the resources to invest, is working with market forces the way to go?

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3 funding opportunities to help you jumpstart your ideas this spring

Spring is in the air—along with a new set of top-notch innovation contests with equally delightful prizes. Now’s the time to pitch that creative project you’ve been mulling over all winter!

GOOD’s Start Something That Matters Challenge

There’s nowhere to go but up.

  • WHO: Any social entrepreneur over 18
  • WHAT: The folks at GOOD are looking for innovators from around the globe with ideas that will change the world for the better. The contestant with the top solution will receive $50,000 to make their dream a reality.
  • WHEN: Deadline for submissions is May 17

Verizon Powerful Answers Award

  • WHO: Individuals 18 or older
  • WHAT: Verizon (yes, the phone company) is on the hunt for inventors and entrepreneurs with smart solutions to social issues of all sizes. The contest has three categories—health care, education, and sustainability—to direct submissions toward. Winners could  go home with up to $1 million bucks—and a marketable idea to boost.
  • WHEN: Deadline to enter the contest is June 30

CCEMC Grand Challenge: Innovative Carbon Uses

  • WHO: Open to (but not limited to) companies, research institutions, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and inventors.
  • WHAT:  A four-year long award program,this challenge aims to find one foolproof tech-based model to convert greenhouse gases into valuable products. CCEMC will narrow down the contestants every two years, first starting with a group of 20, given $500,000 to start developing their idea, and ending with awarding a sole winner $10 million to boost their product into the tech market.
  • WHEN: Deadline for applications is July 15

Know of more opportunities? Let us know in the comments below.

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