Sunday, August 2, 2009

Growth Capital For the Non-Profit Sector, the Case of Emerge America

The White House has established a Social Innovation Fund that identifies the most promising, results-oriented non-profit programs and expands their reach throughout the country by supplying additional capital.

"Melody Barnes, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council highlighted the Fund Tuesday in a keynote speech to the Council on Foundations. "The Social Innovation Fund reflects the President’s new governing philosophy: finding and investing in what works; and partnering with and supporting others who are leading change in their communities," Barnes said. "We are also working with Federal agencies across the government to identify new solutions to problems that have resisted traditional approaches." (Source: White House website).

As the Founding Executive Director of Emerge America, I can attest to how this kind of money could accelerate the growth of successful programs. Emerge America is a political organization and would not be a candidate for this fund, yet, Emerge America is a great illustration of how the non-profit world can identify a social challenge (too few women in public office) and create a new solution that addresses the core problem (women need campaigning skills and a political network to enter politics as a candidate), and scale that solution. The question is how quickly can this scaling occur. And who provides the growth capital?

We launched our first program in 2002 which provides seven weekend workshops to a group of 25 Democratic women leaders over seven months. Though we are constantly looking at ways to improve and innovate, we had worked out many of the basic kinks by the beginning of year 2. A small example: our application process in the first year was a bit general and we had some program members who were more interested in leadership development (which is great) than running for office (our raison d’etre). One of our board members, Dana Kennedy, moved to Arizona in 2003 and started up our second affiliate. With the combined success of Arizona and California, we were more than ready to launch new affiliates.

In 2005, I set up Emerge America and in 2006, I ran around the country and launched 4 new states with a tiny budget of $150,000. If I had had more money, I would have invested more money in grants to our affiliates and for more staff time to do technical assistance to the affiliates’ executive directors and board members. However, I don't think we would have grown more quickly in that first year.

As an aside, I had an intense passion for meeting with elected officials, donors, and advisory board members and signing them up to the Emerge mission. I would love to have had the money to free up my time from fundraising, technical assistance to affiliates, board management, etc. to have more time and staff to build affiliates. I particularly appreciated the response I got from elected officials. I usually couldn’t say more than a sentence without them signing onto the advisory board and pulling out their checkbooks, wishing we’d been around for them when they wanted to run.

It was really in our second full year that more money would have made a tremendous difference in our growth trajectory. In our second full year, I had a budget of $450,000, including $100,000 for seed money for new and existing affiliates and a small staff of three at headquarters. With these resources, I could only expand by one new affiliate.

The case for expanding more quickly is in our metrics: over 40 percent of our graduates were in public office after the program and over 45 percent of our graduates are women of color.

Hypothetically, with an additional $500,000 per year, I could have added five more states per year, had a staff of seven and more money for grants to states.

We are currently going into our ninth state. Had we had an additional $500,000 in each of the past three years, we would probably be going into our 25th state by now. And in 5 more years, we could be in all states! This is the kind of exciting difference that the White House Social Innovation Fund can make.

For more reading, see this Huffington Post piece.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Onion: Cambridge Cop Accidentally Arrests Henry Louis Gates Again During White House Meeting

WASHINGTON—Upon arriving late to his meeting with President Barack Obama and famed African-American intellectual Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge police officer James Crowley once again detained the distinguished Harvard scholar after failing to recognize the man he had arrested just two weeks earlier, White House sources reported Thursday. "When I entered the Oval Office, I observed an unidentified black male sitting near Mr. Obama, and in the interest of the president's safety, I attempted to ascertain the individual's business at the White House," Crowley said in a sworn statement following the arrest. “The suspect then became uncooperative and verbally abusive. I had no choice but to apprehend him at the scene for disorderly conduct.” Witnesses said that Sgt. Crowley, failing to recognize Gates on their flight to Logan Airport, arrested the tenured professor in midair, once again at the baggage claim, and twice during their shared cab ride back to Cambridge.