4 Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Donations and Multiply Their Impact

Maggie Farrand typifies many nonprofit executives.
She’s happy about the level of donations to Pathfinder International, a Boston-area reproductive-rights nonprofit where she is the senior officer of digital media. But Farrand knows that to keep the contributions coming, she must engage current donors in a meaningful way.
That’s why Farrand attended the 2018 Collaborative, a three-day conference in Boston hosted by Classy, an online fundraising platform for social impact organizations, in June. She joined more than 1,200 attendees who listened to talks, participated in workshops, and connected with other nonprofit leaders and peers. Their goal: to better understand how to increase giving and optimize operations so they can best handle sweeping technology-driven changes, as well as answer the call for more diverse and equitable workplaces. They’re contending with those matters at a time when donor retention is more challenging than ever.
“Eighty-two percent of donors are not coming back after their initial gift,” Classy CEO Scot Chisholm said in the opening keynote address. “We think things will get worse before they get better. More donors are giving on websites where the organization doesn’t have visibility or control over the relationship, and therefore not allowing for any kind of supporter allegiance.” But there’s hope, according to Chisholm: “One-third of donations on Classy are made from mobile devices, and we’re seeing that over 60 percent of mobile traffic to Classy campaigns is coming from social media.” If nonprofits can harness mobile and social, as well as explain their missions with clarity, joy and purpose, then they’ll be able to meet donors where they are, increase engagement and sustain charitable programs, he said.
As fundraisers navigate a changing philanthropic landscape, four defining themes emerged from the sessions and workshops of the 2018 Collaborative that can serve as a helpful guide: cohesion in the nonprofit workplace; diversifying fundraising methods; modernizing with technology; and establishing meaningful relationships with donors.


As Black Lives Matter and other movements shine a spotlight on racial inequality, it’s safe to say many organizations still need to treat all of their employees equally. The conference session “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture” saw four nonprofit executives highlight their efforts to foster equality.
“White folks are having to deal with the issues of racial identity, which for them is a shocking experience but is what people of color have experienced for a long time,” said Chris Cardona, a program officer of philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. “White people don’t have a way to turn it into lessons of experience and empathy.” But Cardona and his fellow panelists offered several suggestions to put employees on equal footing.
For one, it’s particularly valuable for executives, especially white leaders, to be vulnerable, according to Building for Mission CEO Tamika Mason. Vulnerability leads to openness, which leads to a willingness to learn about race, she said. “It empowers an organization,” she added.
Kerrien Suarez, director of Equity in the Center, urged nonprofits to formally recognize the role of employees who are charged with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. “The emotional labor of this work is high,” she said. “The person in this role should be compensated; it requires funding. It’s best to have DEI as a line item in the budget.”
While equity inside the office means organizations must follow rules, dealing with donors outside the office can be trickier, said Brianna Twofoot, the vice president of organizing leadership for Leadership for Educational Equity. Her solution? She won’t let her Mexican-American heritage get in the way of fundraising. “I don’t have time for that problem to be solved,” she said. “I will figure out a way to react to that room, and figure out how to get that money.”
Janelle Coleman, director of the annual fund for St. Francis House, a homeless shelter in Boston, said the discussion panel validated the effort and nuance that’s necessary as her organization starts its DEI efforts. “The world is so divided, so we have to do everything we can to make sure we have an inclusive workplace,” she said.

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From left: Tamika Mason, Brianna Twofoot and Kerrien Suarez spoke about their efforts to operationalize equity in the workplace during a session called “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture.”


With donors able to choose from a slew of philanthropic causes, several conference sessions examined how nonprofits can vary their fundraising efforts to reach all types of donors, including socially responsible corporations and individuals who first want to see proof of good.
Elaine Martyn, vice president of relationship management for the Private Donor Group at Fidelity Charitable, stressed the importance of understanding the circumstances and ways of large donors so that nonprofits can personalize fundraising efforts. She recalled an instance when she had received a $100,000 gift from a donor who was worth $100 million, and Martyn asked the woman why she made her “work so hard” for the donation. “She said, ‘You’re the one organization I want to give this to, but I also want to make sure every gift has an impact.’”
Similarly, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Public Affairs Vice President Larry Jacob recommended that nonprofits perform due diligence when seeking gifts from corporations. Nonprofits need to be clear, he said, about what the donation will do: where it will be earmarked and the intended result. (Disclosure: the Kauffman Foundation is a paid partner of NationSwell.)
Nonprofits should benefit from partnerships with corporations as millennials integrate their personal charitable values into their leadership positions at work, according to Danielle Silber, director of strategic partnerships at the American Civil Liberties Union. These companies want to demonstrate what they stand for, she said, and will work with nonprofits that best align with their goals.
Even though nonprofits work in a crowded field, it is possible to attain year-over-year growth by implementing the right technology, said Stephanie Herron, chief development officer for Shriners Hospitals for Children. A fundraising platform enables both small donations and the occasional large ones. Shriners Hospitals, for instance, has accepted multiple $25,000 credit card donations through Classy, she said. Martyn also urged nonprofit leaders to personally donate to their own organizations, enabling them to see how donors are treated.


Extending the conversation about diversifying, Box.org Executive Director Bryan Breckenridge said nonprofits should look differently at their relationships with the people behind technology. For instance, fundraising leaders should learn the names of their organization’s top three technology vendors so they can approach them about opportunities, he told attendees.
Katie Bisbee, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of partnerships at DonorsChoose.org, agreed, saying tech vendors have a “huge megaphone” that can easily amplify a nonprofit’s work and mission. Don’t be shy to ask the vendor to participate in a case study; the vendor can promote its technology and the nonprofit can illustrate its efficiency through the platform, she added.
And don’t be afraid to compare strategies with other nonprofits, Bisbee said. DonorsChoose.org benefits from her sharing data and success stories with organizations such as GlobalGiving, Kiva and Charity: Water, and she consults with 20 other nonprofits.
One such example of information sharing came at the Collaborative, when Jim Carter III and Hamse Warfa revealed their successes with the nascent technology blockchain. Carter, co-founder and vice president of engineering for Giving Assistant, recounted how a week after he established a bitcoin account for the education nonprofit Pencils for Promise, he was overcome with joy when learning the organization had received a $1 million bitcoin-only donation from an anonymous donor. His coding work for four other organizations has helped them collectively receive $4.2 million from the same donor.
“This isn’t a replacement for other payment methods,” Carter said. “I’m not saying ‘stop accepting credit cards.’ That would be ludicrous.” But by accepting cryptocurrency, nonprofits open the doors to a new world of donors who use only that form of money, he said.
Warfa, co-founder and executive vice president of BanQu, detailed how blockchain can empower farmers around the world by giving them an immutable financial transaction history that will improve their chances of securing microloans. On that same front, charitable organizations can take advantage of blockchain by having all of the data points — financial, health and education — of a refugee on one platform, instead of relying on several.

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Accepting cryptocurrency can increase a nonprofit’s donations, said Jim Carter III (center, with Sarah Sloat, left, and Hamse Warfa) during a session on the power of blockchain technology.


Technology, however, will have little effect if nonprofits can’t tell a convincing story about their work. Several Collaborative speakers espoused the power of storytelling, reminding attendees that a social media platform and marketing are only as good as the stories behind them.
Tyler Riewer, the brand content lead at Charity: Water, travels the world to hear — and later tell — the stories of the people who benefit from his organization’s work. He recommends that other nonprofit storytellers “create a sense of relatability” in their outreach to donors. The way that an organization solves a problem can “seem so far away” to donors, but if they see how the problem affects them, they will make that personal connection, he said.
A story also has to be authentic, according to Derek Hubbard, an external communications specialist at Southwest Airlines. “You have to tell stories from the heart,” he said. “It has to be true to who you are. People can see right through stories if they’re not authentic.”
Carilu Dietrich, chief marketing officer of Classy, said nonprofits often struggle with telling stories about people facing obstacles because they’re unsure if those details will make potential donors uncomfortable. But by taking an incremental approach — from detailing the obstacle, to relaying the potential for hope, to outlining the actual path forward — nonprofits will have a compelling story to tell, she said.
Nonprofits also have the ability to test campaigns by creating different story angles and sending them to different audiences, Dietrich said. Ultimately, donors have to believe they can add a chapter to an organization’s story, she said. “Make people feel as if they can do something.”

This article was paid by and produced in collaboration with Classy. Through the power of its fundraising platform, Classy serves customers who are tackling the world’s greatest challenges. Classy also hosts the annual Collaborative conference, a three-day immersive experience where today’s changemakers come together to co-create the future of social entrepreneurship.

This Small Token Shows Love to Those Affected by Incarceration

Every Friday, during a weekly book hour at a public middle school in Bergen County, N.J., a little girl picked out the same Scholastic pamphlet about Alcatraz Island. Delores Connors, the class’s reading instructor, couldn’t figure out why. What was so captivating about a defunct federal penitentiary?

When Connors asked the kids to share what they were reading, the girl’s arm shot into the air. “I really like this book,” she announced, showing her classmates a picture of a cell. “Now I know what it looks like where my dad sleeps.” Connors tensed. She didn’t want the girl to disclose too much. As the daughter of a convict (Connors’s mother was incarcerated while pregnant with her), she wanted the girl to feel dignified talking about her dad, the way other children are.

“From that moment, I began to think, ‘How many other kids don’t share?’” Connors wondered.

She teamed up with her colleague Mary Joyce Laqui to ease communication about loved ones who are locked up, launching the greeting card line Write to Matter. Inscribed with Hallmark-style messages, the notes cut past stereotypes about the incarcerated as dangerous criminals to express affection for people who’ve made a mistake. While the enterprise is still in its infancy, it could eventually provide an invaluable service to those dealing with the corrections industry, including an estimated 44 percent of black women with a family member behind bars.

“Our greeting card line came out of that need, people who need to be able to communicate with their loved ones,” Connors says. “Because when your family member or the person you love gets in trouble, you still have to show up at work. Your church member knows your son got arrested; they don’t want to mention it, but they want to say something. The cards give us access to do that.”

The schoolteachers initially stamped the cards’ front cover with their own artwork. But after meeting an artist through Fortune Society, they’re pairing with inmates (current or former) who provide photos and drawings that adorn the outsides.

At first, Connors and Laqui set up Write to Matter as a social enterprise, selling cards at a profit that could be reinvested in the company’s operations. But something felt wrong about charging a fee. Now in the process of applying for nonprofit status, the teachers send cards to whomever emails them. They’re also planning to distribute them at Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal to families heading to prisons upstate and right outside Rikers Island, New York City’s troubled jail, to those about to enter the visiting room.

Despite their distance, each inmate still matters to his relations on the outside; Write to Matter’s words are making it just a little easier to say so.

Homepage photo by iStock.

MORE: The Hope-Filled Program That’s Keeping One-Time Criminals from Becoming Serial Offenders

These Two Millennials Are Taking on Big Urban Problems — and Winning

As Scott Benner sneakily took a few sheets of blank paper from the public library’s copy machine, he kept an eye out for employees who could bust him for stealing. Walking between the public library’s bookshelves, he recognized several men from the local homeless shelter in Quincy, Mass., where he was living, waiting in line for the bathroom or surfing the web. Slumping in a chair, Benner used a ballpoint pen to doodle, distracting himself from the travails of his life. In the five years prior, Benner had lost everything: his 20-year foreman job at a steel plant, his two-bedroom house. Even his wife left. Kept awake at night in the shelter by men moaning from withdrawal and hacking with sickness, Benner doubted he would ever experience the life he once imagined for himself.
For weeks, Benner kept sketching, giving away his artwork until a shelter worker suggested he sell it. Some brief online research using the library’s wifi led Benner to ArtLifting, an online marketplace like Etsy for homeless and disabled artists. A couple of months later, in May 2014, he sold his first piece. Investing his earnings in a pad of high-quality paper and a set of pens led to even more sales. “It’s selling in ways that I’ve never imagined,” he says. But beyond the cash, “it was just that sense of hope that I was going to get out of the mess that I was in. There was a light at the end of the tunnel now because ArtLifting was there.” Recently, Benner moved into permanent housing.
Behind Benner’s success is a little-known group working to maximize ArtLifting’s reach. Tumml, a nonprofit San Francisco incubator, assists for-profit entrepreneurs scale their companies to solve urban problems. For ArtLifting and the 32 other young urban ventures it’s assisting, Tumml attempts to bridge the funding and mentorship gap business founders face by connecting them to investors, city officials, journalists and advisors from Silicon Valley giants like Airbnb and Yelp. On average, participating businesses raise $1.1 million and hire 10 new employees. Collectively, 2.2 million people have used the products and services offered by companies in Tumml’s portfolio.
Tumml co-founders Julie Lein, a one-time political consultant, and Clara Brenner, formerly in real estate development, caught the highly infectious “startup bug” while at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. (“When you are surrounded by talented technologists and entrepreneurs, it makes you want to push yourself to do more and to solve big, hairy challenges,” Brenner explains.) There, they collaborated on a white paper about the challenges entrepreneurs confront. Combining their findings with their love of cities led the business-savvy duo to launch Tumml. “We saw a lot of people talking about these issues, and we want to see more people actually going out there and tackling these challenges,” says Lein.
APPLY: Tumml is an NBCUniversal Foundation 21st Century Solutions grant winner. Apply to the 2016 program here.
During its four-month-long program, Tumml provides entrepreneurs with free office space, trainings and lectures and any other support they need to obtain seed funding. “Usually, we are the first outside person for these enterprises,” says Lein. “They are at a critical juncture, and they need help getting their business off the ground.” For ArtLifting specifically, the two women helped the nonprofit network with government personnel, investors and journalists.
Applicants undergo a rigorous vetting process (Tumml’s acceptance rate rivals Harvard), and at first glance, there’s little commonality among participants. A handful create software platforms that make government work more efficiently: Sprokit helps corrections departments transition former inmates back into society by allowing agencies to share real-time data on a single platform, and Valor Water Analytics assists utilities conserve through meter technology. Several are social enterprises that benefit vulnerable populations: HandUp replaces panhandling by allowing those in need to crowdfund donations on a mobile app; WorkHands is a LinkedIn for tradesmen looking for work. And many simply ease the stress of urban life for city-dwellers: Farmery sells high-quality fresh food grown indoors, and Hitch (recently acquired by Lyft) allows passengers to carpool on ride-sharing apps. What unites the enterprises, however, is the belief that the markets can offer a solution when government or charitable services aren’t enough.
“Maybe two generations ago, if you wanted to solve a problem, you ran for office; maybe a generation ago, you ran a nonprofit or set up a group to lobby on behalf of the issues you care about,” says Brenner, Tumml’s CEO. Today, “the success of the entrepreneur presents a path forward to see a difference in their communities,” she continues. Her colleague Lein explains, “People see the power in taking the bull by the horns in a startup that directly addresses challenges. It’s a really powerful motivator to make the change that you want to see.”
After losing his job in 2009, Scott Benner personally experienced how the business, government and nonprofit sectors weren’t enough. Short-term gigs and unemployment checks couldn’t keep him afloat, and he was forced to enter the shelter system — shocked and enraged — with just a backpack of clothing.
But ArtLifting’s social enterprise seemed to provide a new, self-sustaining way to offer services to the homeless. Thanks to assistance from Tumml, ArtLifting has networked with government personnel and investors and has received media coverage. Benner’s drawings — explosive black-and-white symbols that repeat across the page — now hang in homes across the country. With his bank account replenished, he says his whole world-view has been changed by his interaction with ArtLifting. He wants to see more social enterprises like the ones Tumml fosters: “I would never think of running a business and not giving back anything now. I wasn’t callous and uncaring before, but I just didn’t entertain the idea. Today, it’s why not?” he says.
Currently, four out of five Americans live in urban areas, a figure that only continues to grow. Tumml’s co-founders recognize their importance to improving 21st century living, but Brenner stresses that no one can solve urban problems (homelessness, crime, overstressed infrastructure) on their own. “We need startups dedicated to solving the challenges that come with this massive population shift,” she says. Across the country, ambitious, young entrepreneurs are leading the charge for urban innovation, and Tumml is fueling the groundswell behind them.
Tumml is a recipient of last year’s 21st Century Solutions grant powered by the NBCUniversal Foundation, in partnership with the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations. The grant celebrates nonprofits that are embracing innovative solutions to advance community-based programs in the areas of civic engagement, education, environment, jobs and economic empowerment, media, and technology for good. Apply here for a chance to be one of the 2016 winners!
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated where Benner’s artwork hangs, how Tumml provided assistance to ArtLifting and ArtLifting’s revenue and expenditures. NationSwell apologizes for the errors.

The Newest Way to Solve the Country’s Biggest Problems

What if there was a way to invest in a nonprofit and earn a financial return based on impact? What if donors made performance-based donations that catalyzed investment capital and unlocked impact data? These are just some of the questions that San Francisco resident Lindsay Beck asks herself as she sets up NPX, a company that’s transforming the way impact is financed in the nonprofit sector, along with her cofounder Catarina Schwab. Similar to social impact bonds in that participating ventures would be able to expand much faster than usual, the infusion of private dollars would come from citizens making investments on the exchange. Beck, a Wharton business school grad who founded her own nonprofit for cancer patients, spoke with NationSwell about combining the private and nonprofit sectors.

What’s the best advice you have ever been given on leadership?
What I see in others that I aspire to be most like is presence in a moment. We’ve all been in meetings where someone runs in: they’re late, they’re scattered, they spend 15 minutes telling you how busy they are and then finish by telling you all the things they have to do next. By contrast, I have had meetings and personal experiences where people come in and don’t bring any of that with them. We sit down, conquer whatever the agenda is, and I feel like the center of their universe. To me, that is the most powerful and very hard. It requires behind-the-scenes systems, a mindset and help to get there.

What’s on your nightstand?
I am trying to read three books a month right now, so I currently have “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” by Bryan Stevenson, which I’ve been told is amazing and is teaching me more about recidivism in the U.S. justice system. I also have “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future,” by Steve Case, which is brand-new and everyone’s raving about. And then I have “How to Raise an Adult,” by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She’s the former Stanford dean who wrote the book about how we’re all ruining our kids and how to fix it.

What’s your favorite movie of all-time?
The movie that had the biggest impact on my life was “You’ve Got Mail.” This might sound funny, but when I saw it, I was recovering from surgery. I was a cancer patient [Beck is a two-time cancer survivor], and I had just been told that chemotherapy would render me sterile. I didn’t know what to do about that. In the movie, one of the characters goes off to freeze her eggs. Literally because of that movie, I started calling every [in vitro fertilization] clinic in the country and found a way to freeze my eggs before I started chemotherapy. It was not necessarily my favorite, but it changed the trajectory of my life and many people’s lives after that.

What innovations in your field are you most excited about right now?
I am excited about all of the blended finance — some people call it social finance, and it can be grouped with impact investing — that are linking capital with impact. We’re finding new, creative ways to fund and finance solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. Up until recently, the nonprofit sector (or more largely, the impact sector) had been very opaque and inefficient. There’s been a lot of money flowing without knowing what works, what doesn’t and where something’s better. We haven’t applied some of the traditional free-market principles to that sector: there’s not robust information flow or sufficient capital flow tied to impact. That’s changing. With increased transparency and efficiency, I think we can better identify and fund what works and more quickly stop what doesn’t.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started this job?
I feel like everyone told me it, I just didn’t hear it: it is going to take a long time. Relax, be patient, slow down. Don’t rush it. Being an entrepreneur there’s a sense of urgency, but it’s exhausting, and everything takes twice as long as you think it will. It’s okay to slow down and wait for the world to be ready.

What inspires you?
On a micro level, I want to see this change in the world. I’m really driven not to sit back and hope other people do it, but to play an active role in creating the change I want to see in the world. On the macro level, I am motivated by having a purpose larger than myself and my own little world. In my past job and past career at Fertile Hope, a nonprofit telling cancer patients of the risk to their eggs and providing them options, I had the perfect nexus of passion-driven career that left a positive legacy and I was able to get paid for it. In the Jim Collins Venn diagram, at the center, that is utopia. I had that, and I created that in the nonprofit. Now I’m in the place where I’m trying to re-create that.

What’s your biggest need right now?
Our biggest need at NPX is an innovative philanthropist who’s willing to try something new. Everyone says they are both innovative and willing to try something new, but the reticence to act is surprising sometimes. We need someone who is ready to try and experiment, in terms of how they give. Whether it’s a person or foundation, they need to feel, “I’m tired of the existing playbook, and I’m ready to jump in the ring to try something new. I’m ready to act.”

What’s your proudest accomplishment?
It’s a little bit of a mix between personal and professional: becoming a mother, having my first child, because everyone told me I couldn’t have everything and all I had to overcome to do it. I created the organization in that spirit — to live it and believe it and preach it — but it was another thing to actually realize that dream. It’s an extraordinary day-to-day impact on my life, being a mom, especially after being told that’s not going to happen for you.

What something most people don’t know about you?
Once upon a time, I was a taxi driver. (You’d never know by reading my LinkedIn profile.) On Martha’s Vineyard, I was there for a summer in college, and that was supposedly the most lucrative job on the island. A bunch of my guy friends decided they were going to be cab drivers, and I said, “If you can do it, I can do it.”

To learn more about the NationSwell Council, click here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.

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This Stamp-Sized Medical Lab Could Bring Hospital Services to Our Poorest

Your smartphones and laptops aren’t the only gadgets getting smaller and sleeker as progress marches on—behold, the postage-stamp-sized medical lab.
That’s right, Harvard-affiliated biotech startup Diagnostics for All has a tool in the works that looks like a computer chip but can diagnose diseases using just a drop of blood, reports Forbes. Once it’s ready for public use, the tool will be perfectly suited for populations who live in regions lacking hospitals and electricity. What’s more, the “lab on a chip” is so inexpensive to make and use that its cost shouldn’t exceed 10 cents in developing countries.
To start, DFA is targeting the liver, with tests that allow HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients—whose regular medications can damage the filtering organ—to determine whether their drugs are breaking down liver cells. Slightly further down the road are tests to flag milk spoilage and pregnant cows, which it will test in an East African dairy collective, and another to spot aflatoxin, a poisonous mold that afflicts corn and other crops.
Strange as it is that everything in our lives seems to be shrinking, sometimes—as DFA evidences—that can be a very good thing.

7 Key Drivers to Turn Social Innovation into Success

Today’s headlines are flooded with news of high poverty and unemployment rates, failing schools and political gridlock. But American innovation has painted a bright spot in an otherwise grim picture with the help of community leaders, social innovators and entrepreneurs.
Though chances of making it big in social innovation are far and few between, the sheer amount of ambition to drive national progress gives Americans a renewed sense of hope and something to look forward to, according to social innovation expert Kim Syman.
Syman is a managing partner at New Profit, where she focuses on innovative and high impact social enterprise strategies.
“What’s notable today is that we are now seeing pathways from small-scale progress exemplified to full-scale impact with the potential to meet the huge needs that still exist among our fellow citizens,” Syman said.
By focusing on seven key principles, Syman writes in Fast Company, social enterprises can unlock the key to success:
Growing Smart 
Scaling has historically been the primary concern of growing nonprofits, but Syman contends that organizations are now leveraging distribution partnerships to obtain a greater reach. Health Leads, which focuses on health systems, and Single Stop USA, which helps low-income families with social services, have both used partnerships to grow their strategies.
Embracing Data 
Data is undoubtedly reshaping policy and strategy across both public and private sectors, becoming one of the single most important drivers in successful social enterprise. The Family Independence Initiative’s model embraces data to help its clients set goals and track their progress out of poverty.
Empowering Constituents 
“Power to the people” is just as relevant in today’s cultural landscape. By empowering constituents, social innovators and community leaders are engaging people to be a part of shaping the change they seek. For example, LIFT is an anti-poverty organization that uses its recipients as advocates.
Harnessing Technology 
Aside from data, using technology to connect and create has increasingly become more important to nonprofits. By using platforms, software and other modes of technology, social enterprise can play a greater role in the digital world. Y Combinator, a tech incubator that supports social startups, is one example of harnessing technology for the greater good.
Creating Marketplace Demand 
More innovators are understanding the need to create a demand (and a market) for a problem they wish to solve. “This encourages the market to nurture and catalyze solutions that work, to create new pathways to social innovation financing, and to grow previously untapped opportunities that drive social impact,” Syman said.
Nurturing Ecosystems 
Cross-collaboration has become an important tool in today’s social innovation sector. By combining stakeholders such as lawmakers, philanthropists and business leaders, social enterprise can leverage more resources and strategies to address a problem and find a solution that works for everyone.
Driving Policy Innovation 
While part of social innovation is to work around political gridlock, creating policy at the local, state and federal level can lead to finding new ways of solving problems in some of our social programs. The bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is currently in Congress and could lead to better outcome-oriented approaches, according to Syman.
These seven principles will not drive progress alone, but injected with more optimism and commitment, social innovation has the potential to pave the way for a better and brighter America.
For more on Syman’s pathway to social innovation success, check out her Op-Ed here.
MORE: The Rise of the Innovation District

Forget Washington: These Innovators Are Solving Our Nation’s Problems—Together

Constant gridlock, short-term budget deals and nasty political debates have shown us that politicians are seemingly allergic to compromise — even within their own parties. We know that Congress has trouble working together. But thankfully, as authors William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan have detailed in their book, “The Solution Revolution,” a number of business, nonprofit and innovative individuals are working together to solve the problems once reserved for government. From traffic decongestion to waste management, “The Solution Revolution” examines how government outsiders are teaming up to bring creativity and innovation to problem- solving and offers ways for organizations and individuals alike to get involved. Here, Eggers talks to NationSwell about what inspired this revolution, how it’s changed the way we confront challenges and why anyone can participate.
Why the title “The Solution Revolution” — what exactly does that mean?
We wanted to look beyond the impact of this new way of problem-solving and focus on the solution ecosystems that were emerging, where you had players from business, government, philanthropy all converging around problems to create value. This is really the antithesis of how society has traditionally solved problems. Now you see people volunteering time toward these efforts, crowd-funding capabilities, the rise of socio-entrepreneurial capital, all aligned around common objectives: from providing safe drinking water to promoting healthy living.
What was the impetus for this change?
First of all, you have technology that’s enabled organizations to scale much more rapidly than ever before and to connect with other organizations and individuals. We’ve radically reduced the cost of getting involved. Secondly, you have a talented millennial generation that has put purpose over simply making money, whether as consumers in terms of what they purchase, or what companies they go to work for.
Millennials are driving changes in business ethos. And No. 3, you have this huge transfer of wealth, which has gone into these giant foundations, like the Gates Foundation, which have professionalized philanthropy in terms of applying business principles to it and creating markets around solving problems.
Are there examples where this kind of problem-solving doesn’t work? Would health-care reform have benefited from a more collaborative process?
You’d be hard pressed to find an issue today that government or the nonprofit sector is fixing all alone. There will be failures — and you want there to be failures because innovation requires experimentation, and experimentation ends up in failure — but unlike the dot-com bust, this isn’t a business-to-business market. This is more of an approach that’s going to be refined over time.
How can someone who doesn’t have an entrepreneurial or activist background participate in the revolution?
They can raise money for causes on sites like Network for Good or Crowdrise. They can match volunteer requests to their skills on a site like Spark. And there are all sorts of opportunities to do micro-volunteerism, to visit social innovation incubators and get to know some of these models.
What does the Solution Revolution look like 20 years from now?
I think you’ll have an even better capability to distribute problem-solving and get millions of individuals all contributing a little bit, which in aggregate helps to solve a problem much faster. We’re taking massive projects and modulizing them into tiny, tiny components that either humans will do, or computers will do, or a combination of the two. Crowdsourcing policy, distributed problem-solving, the mechanisms of engaging lots of people simultaneously — all of that is going to become more efficient.
You survey a number of innovative approaches to problem-solving in this book, such as Citizen’s Connect, a mobile app that lets Boston residents send in photos of problems like graffiti or potholes, which are then used to generate a work order. Is there a particular area of innovation that impresses you most?
I’ve spoken at over a dozen business schools and startup incubators, and I’m absolutely fascinated by the business models that students and young entrepreneurs are creating around solving problems. They’re so creative, so ingenious. Just 20 years ago, they would have been inconceivable.
Everything from Waste Ventures, which is using carbon credits and other models to give a better life to waste pickers and change how waste is picked up, to Recyclebank, which is using gamification to incentivize recycling. I’m also impressed by the various startups working on food recovery — 20 years ago you would have had public service announcements telling us to stop wasting food. Now you have entrepreneurs saying we can create markets around this. And that’s incredibly exciting.
MORE: How Much Food Could Be Rescued if College Dining Halls Saved Their Leftovers?

Better Health Through…Texting?

As a diabetic himself, Vineet Singal knows first-hand that being on top of his condition is the key to staying healthy. That’s what inspired him to create his business Anjna Patient Education when he was a senior at Stanford. The company helps people stay in closer contact with their health providers with a simple, text-messaging app that sends appointment and medication reminders and tips on eating better. It’s already been picked up by a few California hospitals. They pay Anina for the app, and then provide it free to their low-income clients. Singal’s app even snagged him a $40,000 Hitachi Foundation Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program award this year.

The Ingenious System to Grow More Food With Less Water

If there’s one high school competition I’d love to see, it would be schools competing for which one can do the best job of teaching students how to live more sustainably. Third generation farmer Kaben Smallwood has my vote for creating an aquaponics greenhouse at a rural public school in Kiowa, Oklahoma. Kids are harvesting crops for their school lunches while learning about water-thrifty systems that combine fish and plant farming. His company now has $40,000 and mentoring support to keep growing, with an award from the 2013 Hitachi Foundation Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program.