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The mission of the Your Mark on the World Center is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.

Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: October 2017

Founded By A 4-Year-Old, This Nonprofit Is Her Incomparable Legacy

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Alex Scott, the second child and only daughter among four children, must have been born with the genes of a social entrepreneur. Her resilience and her perseverance are the hallmarks of almost all successful entrepreneurs.

Born prematurely in 1996, she manifested her fighting spirit immediately, defying the odds and quickly earning the right to leave the hospital. Her mother, Liz Scott, now 47, says it was a glimpse of what was to come.

Before her first birthday, Alex was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer. She would battle the cancer for the rest of her short life, about seven and a half more years.

Liz Scott says, “Everything they had they threw at her.” Ms. Scott says, Alex demonstrated extraordinary strength through it all. No matter what, she could “find the joy in the day.” When she had a bad day, she would find a way to get through it with grace.

Watch the full interview with Ms. Scott in the video player at the top of this article.

The doctors tried all the conventional therapies, chemo, radiation and surgery. Nothing worked.

They started experimental treatments. They tried Metaiodobenzylguanidine or MIBG therapy that allowed them to perform a stem cell transplant, which works much like a bone marrow transplant to boost the immune system after being obliterated except that they use the patient’s own stem cells.

Even before it was confirmed by the CAT scans, Alex told her parents the therapy was working. In January of 2000, she told her mom she wanted to do a lemonade stand. Given the weather in Connecticut at that time of year—not to mention everything else going on in the complicated lives of a young family with a cancer patient—her mom put her off.

In June, Alex, now four and half years old, says, “I still haven’t had my stand.”

Annoyed, her mother asked, “Alex, what do you want to buy so badly that you need to have this lemonade stand?”

“I’m not keeping the money; I’m giving it to my doctors so they can help kids the way they helped me.”

And so, Alex’s Lemonade Stand was born.

Volunteers working at an Alex’s Lemonade Stand

By the time she was six, she’d raised about $30,000. Her parents were giving the money to fund neuroblastoma research to find a cure for Alex’s cancer.

When Alex found out, she said, “That is so selfish.”

“I wanted to say, ‘I don’t care!’ because I wanted a cure for my daughter,” Ms. Scott says.

Before she could get the words out, Alex said, “All kids want their cancer to go away. We should be giving money to all hospitals for all kinds of cancer.” That statement has defined the nonprofit’s vision ever since.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has now funded research on 25 different pediatric cancers. Researchers apply for grants that are reviewed and scored by scientists. The projects with the best scores get funded, Ms. Scott says.

Alex Scott

Toward the end of her life, Alex knew the treatments had stopped working. She was going to have one last stand and thought if everybody helps, if everybody has lemonade stands on the same day as hers, we could raise $1 million. “She held on to see that goal met,” her mother says.

“She died knowing that she had done this and had accomplished this seemingly insurmountable goal and number,” she adds.

After Alex passed away, the Scotts weren’t sure they would continue the fundraising effort. Alex really was the driving force.

But other people kept supporting the cause. “That put wind in our sails,” she says. Other families were reaching out for help and companies were signaling a willingness to help.

“How could you walk away from the opportunity to help other children?” With that thought, the work of the foundation did continue. Ms. Scott and her husband Jay Scott are the co-executive directors.

Ms. Scott confesses, “When Alex said she was going to cure cancer with the lemonade stand, honestly, I thought it was cute and I was proud. I didn’t think it would make a big difference in the world of fighting cancer.”

That isn’t what happened. Big progress has been made, especially over the past ten years. She says she regularly hears from parents now who say, my child is in remission for one year, two years, three years. It is “indescribable” to think that Alex’s life has had that effect.

Ms. Scott remains personally connected to the families of children with cancer even as the organization grows in scale and impact. “It’s both inspiring and really hard because a lot of them do really well. And some of them don’t.”

Applebee’s partnered with the Foundation beginning in 2005. This year, the restaurant chain raised $1.3 million for Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

“Each year, more and more of our franchise partners and restaurants join our campaign with Alex’s, allowing us to make even more of an impact in many of our Applebee’s neighborhoods across the country, uniting team members and guests with a common goal of curing childhood cancers,” said John Cywinski, president, Applebee’s.

Franchisee Diann Banaszek shared her story:

While this cause has always been important to me, it was brought home in 2012 when my grandson, C.J., was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia at the age of 11. As our family went through our own battle, we came to learn first-hand the enormous difference that ALSF has made in families’ lives. My grandson finally defeated his leukemia, but ultimately lost his life in 2014 from an infection that resulted from his treatment. Throughout his illness, he, like Alex, was passionate about doing anything he could to help kids like himself in the future. We continue their fight to see the end of childhood cancer in C.J.’s honor and are proud to have the Applebee’s family fighting alongside us.

Miriam Matz, the mother of eight-year-old cancer survivor Ellie Matz, shared a similar story:

When my daughter, Ellie was diagnosed with cancer, there were many long nights in the hospital those first few weeks. I was beyond exhausted but too anxious to sleep. I remember googling “Philadelphia” and “Childhood Cancer,” hoping to get a sense of whether there was a community or resources that I could be reaching out to. Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation immediately popped up, and I sent them an email. I was immediately contacted and offered both emotional and practical support, such as connections with other parents, a binder for organizing treatment and related information, and information about navigating the childhood cancer world. Early in our cancer life, our family decided that one way to survive and to hopefully make some meaning out of what we were going through, would be to get involved in helping raise money that could possibly help others. We’ve been lucky enough to be involved in ASLF ever since… being a part of that community has made us feel so much less lonely, and given us a tangible way to feel that we are contributing to help others.

Ellie’s cancer is the most common, meaning that there are several treatment options should the cancer return. Her mother points out that for families facing a rare cancer, there may be only one standard treatment—for some rare cancers, there are none.

It is for these families that Ms. Scott is most optimistic. She thinks curing cancer is realistic. Today’s progress is smart progress, she says. We’re looking at immunotherapies, targeted therapies and precision therapies or personalized medicine. “That’s how it’s going to become possible for every child to have the possibility of a cure.” For the cancers with no treatment and no cure today she predicts the greatest progress in the years to come.

As Alex’s mom reflects on her daughter’s life, she says, “She had to be one of the strongest people I have ever known.” She adds, punctuated by the sorrow only mothers who’ve buried their children know, “You have to remember to be grateful for what you have in your life every single day.”

Alex’s legacy is incomparable. Not only has the four-year-old founder’s organization gone on to raise over $150 million since she started selling lemonade in the front yard, the tally of lives saved and extended is just beginning. By the end of what should have been her natural lifespan in another 60 or 70 years, childhood cancer may be no more threatening than a cold—because she was a social entrepreneur.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Check out my free webinar exposing the three myths that impair and two keys for crowdfunding success.


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

3 Players That Exemplify The Complexity Of The Impact Investing Ecosystem

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Three impact investment players provide an interesting view of the broader impact investing ecosystem and how all the parts work together. Their approach helps to make capital more available to social entrepreneurs and investment opportunities open to more investors, including some ordinary investors.

The three include Impact Assets, New Media Ventures and Better Ventures. Impact Assets, a nonprofit asset manager holding exclusively philanthropic capital, serves as a hub in this part of the impact investing world. New Media Ventures and Better Ventures use Impact Assets in strategic but almost opposite ways.

Impact Assets and Donor Advised Funds

Impact Assets provides a place for donors to place philanthropic capital in what is known as a donor advised fund or DAF. As the name implies, funds contributed to a DAF are donations where the donor gets to advise on the final disposition of the funds. DAFs work like small foundations with fewer restrictions and generally more flexibility. Most DAFs don’t give the donor much influence over the investments, only the final charitable distribution.

Impact Assets is different. Built from the ground up to facilitate impact investments, donors also have significant flexibility in advising Impact Assets on the investment strategy. The only investment options available through Impact Assets are impact investments.

Rick Moss, Better Ventures

Rick Moss, founder and managing director of Better Ventures, approached Impact Assets to access some of the capital. Individual donor advisors or clients were given the opportunity to put as little as $25,000 to work in the fund through Impact Assets. Apart from Impact Assets, the minimum investment was $500,000. This works because only Impact Assets is legally an investor in the fund. The individual donors get their information from Impact Assets and are not recorded as investors in the Better Ventures fund. Moss doesn’t have to worry about the number of individual investors participating because he doesn’t have to deal with them.

Tim Freundlich, president of Impact Assets, says you don’t have to be Bill Gates to have sophisticated impact investment options like big foundations see. The nonprofit has about 850 DAFs with an aggregate value of $350 million under management. Hundreds of the accounts are in “the $5,000 range.”

New Media Ventures, led by Julie Menter, its principal, also operates as a 501(c)(3) charity. To create a vehicle for making impact investments and grants, it opened a DAF at Impact Assets. The investors in New Media Ventures get a tax deduction when they make the contribution to the fund and will not have the capital returned to them. New Media Ventures uses the money both to make grants to nonprofits it supports and impact investments in for-profit ventures it decides to back. They can do both via the Impact Assets DAF.

How Impact Assets Supports Both Better Ventures and New Media Ventures

Freundlich explains that Impact Assets does professional due diligence so that its donor advisors don’t have to worry about doing it themselves. For the clients, the risk is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the money is legally a charitable contribution and can’t be withdrawn by the donor for noncharitable purposes.

Impact Assets has a broad range of investments across all asset classes and across all geographies. The company can’t hope to manage all those investments directly. Instead, the firm has brought in 55 funds like Better Ventures to make direct impact investments. The donor advisors can choose whether they want their DAFs to invest and if so how much, subject to the constraints of minimum investment sizes.

Impact Assets also has relationships with about ten firms like New Media Ventures, where they have assets in donor advised funds from which they make impact investments, grants or both.

Tim Freundlich, Impact Assets

Freundlich says not only that Impact Assets was built from the ground up to facilitate impact investing but also that the democratization of impact investing is important. You don’t need to be an accredited investor to establish a DAF and to begin making investments. That said, he acknowledges that to participate in the most sophisticated investment options you may need an account with $200,000 to $2 million. Still, at that level, donors get access to investments that otherwise may be open only to institutions and individual investors with greater than $25 million in net worth.

In addition to the relationships with asset managers like Better Ventures, Freundlich says Impact Assets does make direct investments in social ventures but only on behalf of clients. Last month, he says, the firm made six such investments at the request of donor advisors.

Investment Strategy

Certainly, among the readers of this article will be some who are interested in the investment strategy for both New Media Ventures and Better Ventures.

Menter’s New Media Ventures developed her vision for investing after realizing that business as usual could solve some but not all the world’s problems. She recognized that our beliefs are influenced by the media we consume and so she wanted to invest in and support media companies and nonprofits that support her progressive view of the world. She’s raised $2.6 million to do so and has invested in “nine or ten” media companies.

She describes three buckets into which the firm invests or makes grants. The first is media, companies like Upworthy, Daily Kos and Blavity. The second bucket is what she describes as movements and the technology to support movements. Examples of investments in this arena include Indivisible, Swing Left and Sister District. The third and final bucket she describes as non-partisan civic engagement platforms like Vote.org and Turbo Vote.

“We’re interested in how we essentially bring the levers of power into the hands of more people and we believe that over time that will create a more just, environmentally friendly world,” she says.

She acknowledges that the media space is challenging. “It’s still not clear how you make money in media.” She hastens to add, however, that Young Turks just raised $20 million, suggesting hope for the media industry.

Moss’s Better Ventures begins with this: “Our basic investment thesis is that mission-driven entrepreneurs outperform.” He believes that passionate entrepreneurs will work harder.

He focuses on firms that have impact with every sale so “the bigger they get the more good they do.”

Moss indicates that they look to invest in companies that have at least two founders that are solving an important problem. He notes that the companies don’t need to have a lot of revenue or historical growth. Typically, they have an MVP or minimum viable product in the market before Better Ventures invests.

Message to Those Passed Over

Most people don’t get investments. Moss acknowledges that when he started the fund he expected to be writing checks all day and instead ended up saying “no” all day.

To the companies he likes but doesn’t invest in, he usually says, keep making progress. He finds they come to him too early, before they are ready for his investment. He encourages them to raise money from family and friends and from angel investors first.

Menter reflects on the difficult “power dynamics.” She says, “I have all the power yet the entrepreneur is actually the one who’s actually making the world a better place.” Motivated by this philosophy, she says she’s developed the ability to deliver bad news well.

She tries to give specific feedback, identifies gaps in the team, business model or marketing strategy that need to be closed. She also encourages social entrepreneurs to get creative with funding, recognizing that not everyone has a network that will support them financially. Some, she points out, finance a startup by winning lots of business plan competitions, others keep their day job to support the work until outside financing comes in.

Evolution of Impact Investing

Freundlich has been working in impact investing for 20 years. A lot has changed in that time with a great deal more attention and capital devoted to the space today. Of the momentum in the impact space he says, “I remember 20 years ago thinking that it was like watching icebergs melt.” He reminds himself—and the audience—that others in the sector had been there for 20 years before he got there.

He sees the entrepreneurs as the real heroes, echoing Menter’s remarks. “Every single one of these tenacious, crazy people who are living a dream, eating ramen soup with the extra job while they crowdfund their way into some amazing venture… deserve the most support and admiration.”

He also admires the successful entrepreneurs like Seth Goldman of Honestea who sold his business to Coca-Cola and now gives back by investing much of his capital in startups and by serving actively on boards.

Business Models

The three firms profiled in this piece participate synergistically and differently within the impact investing space. Impact Assets, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, earns fees from the clients that contribute to donor advised funds, much of which is tied to the size of the portfolio.

Julie Menter, New Media Ventures

New Media Ventures gets donations, earns some revenue from events and service contracts, plus takes a percentage of the donations to the NMV Innovation Fund. The nonprofit operates with just three full-time employees with the help of some contractors and volunteers. Menter describes the firm as an impact first investor.

Better Ventures relies on venture capital returns for its operating revenue. The seed fund has $21 million under management. He notes that the operates are profitable today. Moss says the firm seeks to back those who can achieve impact on a massive scale using technology. He says, he like to give founders a safe place to admit they care more about doing good in the world than they do about making money.

These three impact investing players don’t encompass and represent the entire spectrum of activity within the impact investing arena but they do help to demonstrate the breadth of approaches, business models and the necessary collaboration that make it work.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Check out my free webinar exposing the three myths that impair and two keys for crowdfunding success.


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

For This Family, The Bigger The Problem, The Bigger The Opportunity

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that “roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted.”

Recognizing the journalistic injunction to avoid hyperbole, that truly is an enormous problem.

Justin Kamine, his brother Matthew and his father Hal determined that was just what they were looking for: an enormous opportunity. The Kamines have been developing infrastructure scale-projects since the senior Hal got into the cogeneration business in the mid-80s.

Justin Kamine joined me for a discussion about the company the family founded, KDC Ag, to tackle the problem.

The food waste problem also gives them an opportunity to address social and environmental problems they feel a desire to fix.

Food waste contributes to climate change as all the food that ends up in landfills required substantial energy to get there. Furthermore, the soil we use to grow crops is being consistently depleted; chemical fertilizers fail to restore all of the nutrients lost.

Justin Kamine, KDC Ag

Those chemical fertilizers, Kamine says, are overused. The first 50% of the nitrogen added does 80% of the good; the second 50% largely is lost to runoff, resulting in huge dead zones, especially in areas where runoff is concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Matthew Weatherley-White, Managing Director at CAPROCK, asked for comment, said, “Petroleum-based fertilizers mean, as Michael Pollan is fond of saying, that we are all eating oil.”

KDC Ag’s board of directors is comprised of luminaries, including former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman and philanthropist Howard Buffett.

Kamine cites Buffett as suggesting that conventional farmers need to be “much more environmentally sensitive and progressive.”

Six years ago, the Kamines invested in California Safe Soil, which has been working with the University of California at Davis to develop a process for converting waste food into fertilizer and animal feed. With that technology now commercialized, the Kamines formed KDC Ag to bring the technology to infrastructure scale with a goal of eliminating food waste over the next five years.

The new process mimics human digestion; they sometimes refer to it as compost 2.0. Waste food can be converted to fertilizer or animal food in three hours and is available for use the next day.

The KDC Ag process starts with virtually any supermarket waste food, including fruits and vegetables, meats and baked goods. The food pellets that result taste “like raisin bran,” according to Kamine. The pellets are fed to chicken and pigs. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits feeding the products to cows.

The liquid fertilizer can be added to a farmer’s drip irrigation system providing for precision agriculture that returns a broad range of nutrition to the soil. Food contains relatively little nitrogen so conventional farmers have KDC Ag add nitrogen to the liquid fertilizer. Organic farmers use it as it comes out of the system.

Craig Wichner, Managing Partner of Farmland LP, which invests in conventional farms and converts them to organic production, notes, “Using supermarket food waste to create fertilizer is completely philosophically aligned with organic production. They are taking a known good product (food at supermarkets), and closing the loop on the waste, converting it quickly and efficiently back into food for plants.”

The production process is sufficiently benign to be conducted in urban areas near the supermarkets supplying the food, allowing for an efficient backhaul distribution model employing trucks that deliver food to the stores to return to the farms carrying feed and/or fertilizer.

Because post-consumer food typically contains too much salt for a healthy soil amendment, those food wastes are not good candidates for the KDC Ag process.

Kamine was recently invited to participate in a clean tech competition hosted by the Prince of Monaco. Against 30 invited competitors, KDC Ag won the Clean Tech Equity Award.

What initially appealed to the Kamines, who report having $3.5 billion of infrastructure in their other businesses, is the scale of the opportunity. They hope to be operating in all 50 states within five years.

They earn approximately the same margin on both the feed and the fertilizer, allowing them to adjust according to demand without an impact on the bottom line. The margins are good enough, according to Kamine, to allow the company to invest quickly to scale up the business.

The KDC Ag process will reduce chemical fertilizer use, reduce carbon emissions, increase crop yields 10 to 40% and reduce water consumption all while reducing food waste at a potentially massive scale.

Weatherley-White’s reaction:

As an impact investor, I’m intrigued. Clear benefits to healthy soils. Equally clear benefits to landfill management and organic waste therein (including landfill-released GHG reduction). Using organic, composted fertilizer on crops is a fantastic benign-by-design chemical replacement. And the potential for scale is certainly compelling: the combination of food waste reduction and ag chemical substitution could be a massive opportunity.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!
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