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#WomenLeading Philanthropy Seeks To Change Business Models

The #WomenLeading Philanthropy theme of the 2014 Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) Symposium in Chicago last week posed many questions regarding women both as funders and as executives in philanthropy. The largest issues discussed included making a financial impact and when it will no longer be a “women’s” issue as compared to a whole sector approach.

A discussion panel, moderated by Paula Roberts, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Development at Plan Canada, explored the leading edge of philanthropy and how nonprofits, through the innovative use of technology, can engage citizens, create focused campaigns and develop new communities of leaders. Both panelists, Lesley Mansford, CEO at Razoo and Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder of Pipeline Fellowships, support the development of creative social entrepreneurs and innovations in philanthropy. Both created business models that they say support transparency, create opportunity and drive efficiencies within the sector.

Mansford said that Razoo, a crowd-funding platform, has helped raise $200 million for nonprofits during the past two years. “Some nonprofits are afraid of investing in technology because it skews the development and program ratios of 20 percent overhead and 80 percent program investments,” said Mansford. She explained that the democratization of information technology (IT) has allowed smaller and medium sized organizations to have quality information systems in spite of the traditionally slow adoption of technology across the sector, and added that online fundraising using a platform is not as challenging as nonprofits think.

There has been some success with boards creating teams to do joint fundraising, reinforcing a recurring theme of the symposium of using volunteers in a different way. Mansford noted that some volunteers on a networked platform could be powerful fundraisers because it’s “not only what they donate that matters, but their combined network. “

Innovation in philanthropy on both the supply and demand side of the equation creates new business models that focus awareness on critical issues, such as the shortage of women angel investors. Natalia Oberti Noguera founder of Pipeline Fellowships created an angel investing bootcamp for women to develop a new class of socially aware angel investors. To date, Pipeline Fellowships has trained more than 70 women who have committed more than $350,000 in investment capital for women social entrepreneurs. Natalia started her for-profit company because, she said, “I needed to walk the talk, given that I support women-led for-profit social ventures and am creating capital for women social entrepreneurs.”

Her quest to develop a pipeline of more inclusive social entrepreneurs led her to reflect, “Entrepreneurs are everywhere that capital isn’t.” Natalia went on to explain, “Right now, white guys have the runway to launch high growth businesses. For minority entrepreneurs there needs to be a level playing field. Where’s the runway for women and people of color entrepreneurs? Where are high growth companies being launched? We need to place smaller bets in different types of for-profit social venture business models to expand what the social entrepreneurship ecosystem could look like.”

While impact investing does not have enough angels, the growth plans for Pipeline Fellowships includes expansion in to Boston, Chicago, Los Angles, Miami, and Washington, D.C. And where women and people of color entrepreneurs do not always have enough friends for the friends and family round of fundraising, the Pipeline Fellowships could provide these connections.

Moderator of the afternoon panel on solutions, Glenn Tilton, vice chair of JP Morgan Chase, observed that in the private sector when problems with market fragmentation and consolidation occurs, failures fall by the wayside. But, this doesn’t seem to happen on philanthropic side. He noted that from a donor’s perspective (in reference to the insularity and isolation of some nonprofits), a nonprofit’s mission sometimes constrains collaboration. Tilton challenged the panel with the question: “What is the role of boards in creating efficient, effective and sustainable organization through consolidation and collaboration?”

Panelist, Margot Pritzker, president and founder of WomenOnCall was critical of the efficiencies of some nonprofits. “Nonprofits need to act more like for-profit companies and look for models that reduce inefficiencies,” she said. She continued, “Boards need to decide if the nonprofit should be in business” and stressed the unique role of the donor community in the consolidation and collaboration conversation.

The other panelist, Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green, reminded nonprofits not to conflate growth and scale with impact and how good an organization is might not be indicated because revenue and budgets don’t always align.

The symposium’s closing session tied together concepts threaded through the previous two days and probed the question: “What is Women’s Philanthropy?” Participants went further to ask: “Does calling the field, Women’s Philanthropy isolate the work from the whole population?” Noted was that more large companies think about investments in women as a strategy for business success, as well as the new programs designed to increase gender inclusiveness based on outcomes, not just branding and marketing.

These trends combined with the fact that many women have mentors who are men, prompted a final question about how women communicate with the men and the importance for the conversation on women’s issues to go to “whole” organization issues.


Sharon Burns is a freelance writer for The Nonprofit Times and is CEO at Critical Blink, Inc., an executive consulting company with a focus on strategic technology planning. Her contact is @SharonBurns or

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