NextGen: Charity – Part I

On November 24, 2010, in Articles, Talks, by Josh Perlsweig

Last week I was in New York for the first annual NextGen: Charity – a conference on non-profit innovation featuring talks from leading non-profit CEOs and social entrepreneurs. It was an awesome two days of speakers and workshops with plenty of opportunities for schmoozing with the other 500 participants. Below is Part I of some of my favorite moments from the first day of speakers.

Scott Harrison – founder of charity:water – spoke about dedicating his life to service after learning that lack of clean water was the root cause of so many problems in the developing world. “Water changes everything”, he said, once people have clean water you can start other conversations to improve lives – on health, education and employment. Charity:water set out to reinvent the model of charity by sending 100% of donor funds to projects in the field, proving their work with basic GPS and web tracking technology, and building a brand that is more stylish than most for-profit businesses. In 4 years charity:water has raised $25 million from 125,000 donors and brought clean water to more than 1 million people. Scott’s lessons: 1) Tell your story simply, 2) Create opportunities for donors (rather than raising money through guilt), 3) Don’t hide from failure, 4) Thank your donors in interesting ways, and 5) Have fun with your brand.

Nancy Lublin – CEO of – appeared in a pre-taped video, but still managed to be one of my favorite presenters. She told a hilarious story about how as a young non-profit founder, she met Donald Trump at a theater performance and then stalked him to give him a box of Milkduds and ask for support. The point of her story: Young people have a distinct advantage when it comes to changing the world – they can get away with a lot!

Majora Carter – Founder, Sustainable South Bronx – Pointed out that in many cases charitable spending has not resulted in sustainable solutions. She proposed the need for “Home(town) Security: solving big problems with local solutions” and gave examples of social innovators who are looking closely at community needs and productively channeling dollars toward development. Calling for an eco-industrial model that creates jobs that tackle social and environmental issues, she closed with, “act local and think local – because the sum of global is local”.

Scott Case – CEO of Malaria No More – Malaria No More seeks to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. Scott talked about the need for a goal to be 1) Measureable, 2) Achievable, and 3) Time limited (otherwise it’s a dream – “a goal is a dream with a deadline). Expanding on these points Scott gave 5 reasons why nonprofit leaders should have the goal of going out of business: 1) Everybody wants it – donors, board, and most of all, constituents served 2) Prioritizes the cause before your organization 3) Frees up creativity – if you know you are going out of business, you are willing to take risks and test your limits! 4) It frees up resources – if you can complete your mission than you can apply those resources for the next thing, and 5) It’s an excuse to party – and we should celebrate our successes. For homework, Scott told everyone to figure out how they were going to put their organizations out of business!

Joanne Heyman – Executive Director, Urban Zen Foundation – Talked about a damaging phenomenon that prevents nonprofit leaders from maximizing operations: The Scarcity Fallacy – that resources are finite and that nonprofits need to just barely scrape by. “Scarcity Thinking” puts the focus on survival and results in a decrease in confidence among leadership – to recruit top talent and take risks. The truth is that the nonprofit sector is HUGE in both dollars (trillions) and people (millions). The paradigm needs to shift to think in terms of access, not shortage. “Abundance Thinking” results in collaboration and embraces failures to allow organizations to learn how to avoid them in the future.