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Couchsurfing: Rocky Road from Nonprofit to B Corp & Lessons in Honoring Your Mission and Members

Back in 2011, we wrote about the re-incorporation of Couchsurfing from a nonprofit to a for-profit B corporation.

Couchsurfing Goes From Nonprofit to Certified B Corp

Couchsurfing: Rocky Road from Nonprofit to B corp...In August 2011, the newly-formed company initially raised nearly $8M in venture funding from Omidyar Network and Benchmark Capital before it informed its member base of over 3M users worldwide about its shift.

It wasn’t a smooth transition.

 

The Couch Pulled From Under Its Surfers

Over the course of four years, there has been a impactful decline in engagement along with some major internal restructuring– which at first led to the hiring of new Apple and MTV Alum, Tony Espinoza, as CEO. He would resign 18 months later. Under his watch, it is said that registered users more-than-doubled to 7M, but many of the existing and new users were not actively engaging on the platform. Additionally, reports indicated that October 2013 also saw layoffs of 40% of Couchsurfing staff.

In fact, this Change.org petition was launched on September 15, 2011 protesting the change in legal structure.  Notable excerpts include:

“We represent thousands of Couchsurfing (CS) members, donors and volunteers. We found meaningful work and global connections to each other through our commitment to the ideals of CS as a non-profit organization.

Couchsurfing Intl. was established as a non-profit corporation in April 2003 and registered with the state of New Hampshire as a public charity in 2007. It was dissolved and its assets were acquired by a newly-created for-profit C-Corporation with the name “Better World Through Travel Inc” in Delaware in August 2011. Since its inception, the organization received >US $6,000,000 in member donations and verification fees. Community volunteers freely donated volunteer labor, time and talent which created much of the network’s current value. (12) We find it difficult to believe that the verification income was insufficient to operate a travel website and disagree that these gifts should be sold to investors. We believe that these gifts belong to the community that created them.

We believe these changes betray the relationship the organization had with its network of volunteers and members, the relationship that shaped Couchsurfing into what it is today, and are concerned that its values will not persist.”

While the petition didn’t garner the 1600+ signatures it proposed, 882 supporters did sign as a show of dissatisfaction.

At Innov8Social, we caught scent of this too. Though very few people post comments to blog posts here, there were two lengthy and thoughtful posts by avid Couchsurfing (CS) aficionados challenging the change in legal structure.

Notably “CS host” said:

“Many people were surprised by this move as CS had always prided itself for being a non-profit organization which wanted to be a charity. For those who had seen how volunteers had been used and abused for years by Couchsurfing, how safety measures such as credit card “verification” have been misrepresented, how management covered up repeated sexual misconduct with volunteers by one of its own or how rarely promises were kept none of this should come as a surprise. Reality could hardly be any further from the offical Couchsurfing claim to “create a better world”….

Most will continue to offer their couch, just not for Couchsurfing International Inc. to resell it to travellers against verification payment or optional premium services, but in one of the other more democratic communities organised as non-profit organisations, such as BeWelcome.org or WarmShowers.”

Equally passionately, “Anonymous” noted:

“Couchsurfing and its ‘team’ or ‘board’ or whatever they have constructed now have never kept a promise, certainly not the one repeated for 5 years that “WE WILL NEVER BE A FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION”. Their skill lies in jettisoning devoted volunteers when they ask serious and professional questions.

Instead CS has taken ‘donations’ under the guise of a charity and published delayed audits that always showed they had made hefty margins and had cash in hand.. till suddenly they show up with a $3.9 MILLION debt.

And yes I am still trying to get some equity for my time invested in a proclaimed ‘charity’ -this is why i am ‘anonymous’.”

This is shaping not only in an incredible story of a social enterprise, but a rich opportunity for tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs.

Lessons in Honoring Your Mission and Members

Just as hindsight is 20/20, the story of Couchsurfing is ripe with lessons that seem so clear today.
1. Honor Your Mission.  This is true especially when you have a broad membership. Here loyal donors, volunteers, couchsurfers, and couchsurfees were rebuffed in their belief of the mission of the nonprofit to connect travelers and hosts in a safe and meaningful way, without profit motive. With the major shift in legal structure, co-founders Casey Fenton, Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira took a risky bet that their users would stand steadfast even in the face of a major shift in purpose and profit.
The risk didn’t pay off here. Perhaps B corp was new and unknown—such that it didn’t inspire confidence in users in 2011 that the mission of the organization could be pursued meaningfully in a for-profit structure. Perhaps it was a lack of follow through or a case of “greenwashing” — i.e. in using B corp more as a PR move than to honor the initial mission. It is hard to say—but knowing that most co-founders are utterly loyal to their ideas—it seems likely that the heart of the mission was in the right place even with the shift of legal structure—but somehow the intent didn’t survive the transition in a way that made members, volunteers, and donors feel heard and acknowledged.
2. Honor Your Members. With the backlash of members, it is clear that the founders thought they could sidestep informing members and asking them if they would support the new organization. The goodwill created in establishing a global nonprofit seemingly dissolved in the face of the new goal of profit in addition to purpose.
Here, it may have been wise for CS to inform members, or inform power members and rely on them to ambassador the message.
3. Expect Failure, and Adapt.  As we have learned in the “lean” method to startup and social enterprise—startups should expect failure. Here, the founders took a calculated risk (i.e. that members and networks would have no problem with the change) and that turned out not be the case. It was a small failure.
The larger failure came next, when the company couldn’t recognize and adapt to dissent and unhappiness from its target market. Here is where quick assessment and pivots could potentially have steered the company back on course. But, with four years to review, it doesn’t seem that the company was able adopt the ample customer feedback. Perhaps with the restructuring an influx of venture-backed capital, the founders were limited in the actions they could take to right the situation. Or perhaps, what was done was done—and beyond apologizing, the company didn’t know what definitive steps it could take to earn back the trust of its user base.

Couchsurfing in 2015 and Beyond

After the exit of Tony Espinoza, Jen Billock (formerly director of member experience) was tapped for the CEO role. Under her guidance, the site has seen a major re-launch which involved over 30 hours of downtime. Beyond front-end design changes, the re-launch featured improved search functionalities.
Perhaps in a nod to learning from the past, Billock was sure to include robust beta testers in preparation for the relaunch.
Considering the company has raised in excess of $22M in venture funding—there may be a vibrant second life ahead. However, unlike during its initial launch in 2003, it has to contend with neither being a novel concept, nor being the market leader. With rapid growth of companies like Airbnb, peer-to-peer sharing of space as an idea has been validated and perfected to a far greater degree than when CS first introduced the concept.
With innovation, honoring its mission and members, and being ready to pivot—it remains to be seen whether Couchsurfing can adapt and create unique value ahead.

Read More

(Note: Reading the comments for the articles noted is highly recommended. Many are thoughtful notes by former CouchSurfers and provide depth to story and evolution of CS)
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Recap: Dare to Be You and Dare to Give Back #NetIPConf2013

NetIP North America (Network of Indian Professionals) strives to “serve as the unequivocal voice for the South Asian Diaspora by developing and engaging a cohesive network of professionals to benefit the community.”

dare to give back #netipconf2013
“Dare to Give Back” Panel at #netipconf2013 : (from right) Seena Jacob, Bookwallah;
Golda Philip, Hospital for Hope; Neetal Parekh, Innov8Social
[adapted from photos by Kavita T.]

Dare to Be You

One of the manifestations of its mission is the conference held annually at a different compelling metro in North America. The 2013 NetIP conference convened in the heart of downtown San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. The canvassing theme “Dare to Be You,” created a framework broad enough to accommodate a range of topics and bold enough to highlight breakaway paths South Asians are increasingly pursuing.  There were speakers from the CIA, entertainment, entrepreneurship, and even a relationship expert on hand to share what they’ve learned while also showing the potential of unconventional pathways in the process.

NetIP Descends on San Fransisco

Being in the backyard of tech and social innovation, the event also included features cognizant of the SF/Bay Area milieu.
For example, the event hosted its first ever “Fast Pitch” session in which entrepreneurs pitched early-stage startup ideas, and answered tough questions from a panel of experts in hopes of gaining valuable feedback and possible scoring a win on an enticing prize suite of products and services.
Another distinctive feature—which fellow event/conference enthusiasts can appreciate—was the unique pocket-sized program. Measuring just a few inches by a few more inches, the pamphlet could fit in the palm of your hand, in an oversized pocket, and definitely in any size bag or purse.  It was a “fit and light”version of its traditional full-size counterparts—half the calories with the same great taste.

Dare to Give Back

I was honored to join a panel titled “Dare to Give Back” which was designed with the focus of sharing stories of social innovation from those who have launched projects in the field. The panel:
The time slot of Saturday morning at 10:30 AM to noon did a couple of things. It likely dissuaded the faint of heart—whose interest in this topic hasn’t peaked or who didn’t realize there were sessions that started before 1pm on a Saturday. And, it brought together those who were inexplicably compelled by this topic. That latter group made the session an exceptional exercise in sharing, learning, being vulnerable, supporting each other, and generally getting fired up.
In our introductions we learned so much about each other. Not only was Golda working with an amazing team with audacious goals of creating rippling impact in healthcare for hundreds of thousands of villagers, she is also the youngest sister of two college friends who are phenomenal leaders in their own rights. Connecting with her brought back fond memories of undergrad leadership, and her quiet eloquence served to inspire those thinking about giving back in health care capacities in South Asia and beyond.
Seena disarmed the panel, audience, and attending media early in the session. Her vibrancy and honesty about the ups and downs of being a social innovator and nonprofit leader were genuine and uncoated. Bookwallah has maintained its vision of sharing storytelling and books with children in South Asia, but she quickly pointed out how the methods of effecting the vision have pivoted to adapt to actual and unforeseen needs and challenges the project faced. Her story and passion moved members of the audience to find out how they could help. A participant in one of sessions later in the day, wrote her a check on the spot to contribute to her work.
dare to give back #netipconf2013I shared what I have learned in launching a blog on social innovation, understanding the need, setting (and re-calibrating) expectations, and–most importantly–the actionable learnings about legal structure and business models for social innovation and social enterprise.

Power of Sharing

The session went from great to exceptional when we shifted the spotlight from the panel to the audience. With over a dozen audience members and nearly an hour left on the clock we invited attendees to introduce themselves and their ideas for stating a social enterprise, nonprofit, or what drew them to the session.
The responses were remarkable. Not only did we learn that attendees hailed from Washington D.C., New York, the Bay area, and the Midwest—we heard about work they have been doing, resources they have to offer, and the ideas that are just seedlings looking for ways to develop. As each person “pitched” their giving back aspirations, remarkably, everyone in the room conspired on ways to help. Golda, who herself is based in DC, was keen to follow up with the east coasters for a local DC follow-up gathering. Seena offered her organization as a volunteer opportunity for those looking to connect more deeply with projects around literacy.
There were attendees practicing law in one field but trying to find out how to help victims in more impactful ways outside of work hours. Health care professionals voiced interest in volunteering in South Asia in the developing world in new ways. One attendee shared a personal story of attending the session in honor of a dear friend dedicated to service, who passed away suddenly some years back—and how she actively sought ways to honor her friend’s memory.As people felt more comfortable and encouraged, they opened up and said aloud ideas that may have just seemed to be fleeting but whose repetition was cause for notice.

Singing the Body Electric

I remember picking up a Ray Bradbury book called I Sing the Body Electric! at a garage sale as a middle-schooler. I had been so taken by Fahrenheit 451 that any book by the author caught my eye. I can’t honestly remember any of its the short stories—-but the title has stayed with me.

1969 ... 'I Sing the Body Electric' - Ray BradburyWhen you engage in something you are passionate about—be it sports, fashion, art, tech, or service—there is a certain electricity that is generated when you recognize that common passion in others. Even though we had each descended to this session from different parts of the country, with varying levels of experience and interest, and different end goals—our common passion for service and working on ideas bigger than ourselves created an unmistakable melody of positive current.

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Interview with Gene Takagi, Nonprofit Lawyer and Managing Attorney of NEO Law Group [AUDIO]

Gene Takagi has been a friend of Innov8Social nearly from the start. He demonstrates a dedication to nonprofit and social enterprise law and uses social media in innovative, nuanced ways. It was a pleasure to interview him and learn more about his path into the the social enterprise law space as well as the future he sees for the field.

Meet Gene Takagi

Gene TakagiGene is a leading attorney in the nonprofit law space and is an active voice for social impact on social media.

He is the Managing Attorney of NEO Law Group (Nonprofit & Exempt Organizations), based in San Francisco, CA. His presence on social media includes regularly blogging on the Nonprofit Law Blog and tweeting as @Gtak. He also posts a weekly series called “Nonprofit Tweets of the Week“.

Listen to the Interview

Interview with Gene: key takeaways

How did you get involved in social enterprise law?
  • Gene started as a science major in college, graduated with degrees in Zoology and Oceonography
  • First worked in for-profit sector, including role in operations of Duty Free Business in San Francisco.
  • Realized he wanted to work in non-profit sector
  • Then pursued graduate studies in non-profit
  • Worked at SPCA in San Francisco, learned about the power of advocacy
  • Attended law school to develop skills in nonprofit law school
  • Worked at a big law firm as an associate in corporate and securities law, leading him to reassess his interest in working in nonprofit law
  • So, started own law practice focusing on nonprofit 8 years ago
What role do you see social media playing in the nonprofit/social enterprise space?
  • Plays a huge role in sharing of information, potential development of networks, collaboration among organizational leaders—it is already showing an impact
  • In social enterprise law space, however, there aren’t currently a lot of players on social media—why? Lawyers tend to be risk-averse and there are not many attorneys in this space.
  • However, for small firms/solo practice firms—they can share more valuable information that can be helpful and informative. There is more of a willingness to share over social media.
  • Tries to get the conversation started about key issues in the space through his social media
What do you think of new legal structures for social change? 
  • The movement is tremendously valuable and the time has come
  • Sees a gap between for-profit and nonprofit that new legal structures might fill
  • It is incredibly valuable
  • There is a misconception that as a board member of for-profit, the primary purpose is to maximizing shareholder valuable. Gene doesn’t think that is exactly true, but notes that there is a grey area in how board members can promote social cause.
  • On a case by case basis, it can be more challenging to recommend a new structure because of the lack of case law and untested treatment by courts, ability to attract institutional investors
What tips or advice do you have for social entrepreneurs who are considering what legal structure to adopt?
  • Become educated about the process
  • Read For Love or Lucre, Stanford Social Innovation Review which outlines some key considerations and options for traditional and new legal structures
  • “Hybrid” legal structures used to refer to situations in which for-profit and nonprofit entities were affiliated in some way
  • Talk to a knowledgeable consultant or attorney early in the process before setting your heart on a particular structure
Do you have any tips for new attorneys, JD’s, and policymakers interested in the social enterprise space?
  • First off, follow your passion into the social enterprise space
  • You can maintain a traditional career and also start working with clients in the nonprofit space
  • If seeking to work at a traditional firm, get tax and corporate securities background before joining a firm dedicated to nonprofits
  • If you do engage in a solo or small firm practice, cultivate a business acumen so you can effectively run a practice
  • Invest in your networks and developing knowledge in the social enterprise law

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Interview with Bright Funds, a New Way to Manage Charitable Giving

How do you manage your charitable giving?

For many people donations are impulse investments—a friend is running a race to fund cancer research, you see a photo of animals being mistreated, a natural disaster impacts thousands of individuals and you want to do something, you strongly support a cause on principal and want to vote with your dollar.

Bright Funds, a New Way to Manage Charitable Giving

Bright Funds, an innovative social enterprise startup launched in 2012, takes an investment portfolio approach to charitable giving. Bright Funds is an online platform that makes the process of donating more like investing—where you can create an individualized portfolio, diversify your giving according to interests and causes, and research relevant non-profits within your selected “Bright Funds”.

Julie StreuliMeet Julia

Innov8Social had a chance to catch up with Julia Streuli, Head of Communications of the lean Bright Funds startup team to talk about the inspiration behind the idea, how the platform works, and what’s ahead for the company.

Read the Interview

Q1 | Innov8Social: What problem is Bright Funds addressing?

A1 | Julia Streuili, Bright Funds’ Head of Communications:

In talking to Julia her enthusiasm for the concept behind Bright Funds and its potential to shift how we think about charitable giving is immediately apparent.

Julia highlighted the fact that high net worth individuals and philanthropists often hire people to research nonprofits to receive donations, noting however; that there are not many tools available for the average individual to track, research, and design charitable giving.

credit: brightfunds.org
She explained that Bright Funds provides an investment approach to individual giving to ensure that donor dollars are channelled to non-profits that are highly impactful. There is a certain pattern in giving: 1) choose where to give and, 2) give; however, missing from the usual equation is 3) find out what impact your giving had on the cause. Julia noted that Bright Funds closes that “feedback loop” between donating to a nonprofit and following up on the impact of your donation by featuring non-profits that have a track record of being highly impactful in certain core sectors.

Specifically, Bright Funds uses multiple lenses to identify impactful nonprofits including assessments from platforms such as: CharityNavigator, Charity Watch, Universal Giving, GiveWell, and Philanthropedia.Individual donors (i.e. Bright Fund investors) choose the percentage of giving for each of four broad sectors: water, poverty, environment, education, health, or they can choose their own fund of non-profits not included in the Bright Funds list.  They can then research and select specific non-profits that serve their interest in the sector.Julia said that creating a portfolio based on sector was by design—because it shifts the focus from charities to the causes they champion. By aligning yourself with causes that are important, you can better assess impact on the issue, rather than the organization.

Q2 | Innov8Social: What tools does Bright Funds offer?

A2 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia overviewed the quick protyping and release of Bright Funds offerings. The startup launched a consumer-facing site in 2012 on #GivingTuesday, enabling anyone to create a profile and begin designing and tracking their charitable giving—all for free. The team is now in the midst of launching an enterprise platform.

The enterprise tool integrates with a company’s benefits system. It lets employees design and track donations and customize the list of nonprofits featured. So far, Bright Funds has seen interest in the new tool by various Fortune 500 and mid-sized Bay area tech companies. Many companies already feature allocated giving programs, but most haven’t designed a holistic approach to help employees manage their giving. Bright Funds sees potential for more-effective platform for personal giving, that can allow for efficiencies such as direct deposit (from an employee’s paycheck) as well as utilizing a company’s donation-match policies.

Q3 | Innov8Social: How does Bright Funds vet the nonprofits featured in its funds?

A3 | Julia, Bright Funds:

As mentioned, Bright Funds has identified major five major categories, each of which form a different Bright Fund (i.e. there are currently 5 Bright Funds: water, poverty, environment, education, health, or customized fun).

If donors are interested in supporting a specific cause or effort, they can read through the descriptions of the non-profits for each Fund to identify the “facets” (or focus areas) for each non-profit and can select or deselect individual non-profits to support on that basis.

Julia noted that Bright Funds strives to be objective in selecting nonprofits to be in porfolio offerings. As mentioned, Bright Funds looks at 5 different insititutional charity evaluating bodies, each of which has its own criteria to identify funds. Pooling information from various assessment platforms enables a more holistic view of non-profits—so as not to favor more-established charities over newer ones, etc.

Notably, Julia added that consumers can add any nonprofit/favorite nonprofits. For companies, if they support a group of local nonprofits, Bright Funds can build company fund portfolio.

Q4 | Innov8Social: Can individuals support social enterprises in their Bright Funds portfolio?

A4 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia said that at this time, individuals cannot support a social enterprise in their Bright Funds portfolio. She noted that Bright Funds has a non-profit foundation, through which donation is channelled. So it is possible that a donation to social enterprise could go through the Bright Fund Foundation.

Q5 | Innov8Social: What legal structure has Bright Funds’ selected?

A5 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Bright Funds is structured as a for-profit startup and non-profit foundation. Specifically, the for-profit entity is a commercial fundraiser– which means that it has signed contracts with all charities in the fund to act as a fundraiser for the nonprofit.

Julia noted that originally both cofounders considered becoming a nonprofit, but wanted to be able to leverage the initial investment. The decision to become a commercial fundraiser was based on idea that 100% funds should be tax deductible.

Q6 | Innov8Social: Is Bright Funds scalable?

A6 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia noted that since Bright Funds is a cloud-based platform, it is relatively easy to scale.

Q7 | Innov8Social: How has Bright Funds been funded?

A7 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia shared that Bright Funds has been backed by investor funding. It closed its first round of funding from angel investors around time when consumer platform launched in 2012. It is also a portfolio company at Hattery in San Francisco. She also mentioned the immeasurable assistance and mentorship that Leila Janah, Founder of Samasource and Bright Funds Board advisor and mentor, has provided.

Q8 | Innov8Social: How is Bright Funds monetized?

A8 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia explained that with its commercial fundraising status, Bright Funds takes a percentage of the raise. And noted that the amount taken is often about half of what the non-profit would budget for marketing and attracting donations.

Note: This post was edited to clarify distinctions of categories and types of Bright Funds. 
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Interview with Andrew Hening, Manager of Employment Services and Social Enterprise at Downtown Streets Team

If you wonder what positive steps are taking place to support homeless populations in suburban areas, you just need to visit the Downtown Streets Team Facebook page to see uplifting updates.There is Joe who used to sleep under stairways, who now sleeps in his own home with his dog Mollie. There is Jesus (aka “Chuy”) who gained employment in catering and food services and completed his first shift earlier in February. There is Keceziner (sounds like “Cassina”) who found permanent housing through Downtown Streets Team and is enrolled in classes to become a pharmacy technician.

The FB page showcases many more examples of successful transitions, dedicated volunteers, and progress in the mission to address local homelessness.Downtown Streets Team

Meet Downtown Streets Team

Downtown Streets Team (DST) is an innovative 501(c)(3) non-profit organization envisioning creative solutions to addressing local homelessness. Looking beyond unhoused populations, DST collaborates with multiple stakeholders including social service agencies, government agencies, individual communities, private sector to empower, prepare, and equip unhoused individuals with the skills and resources that will make their transition a success.

Meet Andrew

Innov8Social had a chance to learn more about DST and its new social enterprise initiatives from Andrew Hening who oversees Employment Services and Social Enterprise at the growing organization.
Andrew Hening
Andrew studied Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia and interned at the Department of Economic Development in Richmond and clerked as a paralegal before heading west as an Americorps VISTA fellow. He worked on homelessness initiatives with the City of San Jose and continued his work in the field by joining Downtown Streets Team in 2011.
Andrew was a 2012 New Leaders Council Fellow and serves on the Steering Committee of Starlight REACH, a panel of local community leaders working on mental health outreach plans for local youth.

Andrew shared a little about the history of DST, a for-profit social enterprise arm that he is working on, and what is ahead for the organization.

Interview with Andrew Hening, Manager of Employment Services and Social Enterprise at Downtown Streets Team

Q1 | Innov8Social:   How do you define social innovation?

A1 | Andrew Hening, Manager of Employment Services and Social Enterprise at Downtown Streets Team:  For me, social innovation is any for-profit/non-profit/hybrid/program/project/initiative that deliberately looks beyond the profit motive and disrupts the status quo in order to address a societal challenge.

It is not just a company, for example, using environmentally mindful production processes because it is cheaper or the PR Department recommends it. Rather, it is a company that explicitly embraces going green in the mission statement and is trying to introduce a product or service that fundamentally changes the way we think about our relationship with the environment.

Q2 | Innov8Social:  What is the mission of Downtown Streets Team (DST) in Silicon Valley? How long has the organization been around?

A2 | Andrew:  DST strives to end homelessness by restoring the dignity and rebuilding the lives of unhoused men and women. Appreciation of other people ‘s own autonomy is essential, and to that end, we simply do whatever it takes to empower individuals to embrace their own change.

The program was created in Palo Alto in 2005 with just four Team Members and a $25,000 budget. We are now in Palo Alto, San Jose, and Sunnyvale with almost 100 Team Members and a budget close to $2,000,000. Though more importantly perhaps, in every community we’ve entered, we have helped shift the dialogue away from the homeless being the problem and, instead, to them being seen as part of the solution.

Q3 | Innov8Social:  What are the major barriers for homeless job seekers? How does DST address them?

A3 | Andrew:   Homeless job seekers face an array of barriers, such as large gaps in employment, criminal histories, and/or mismatched skill sets due to changes in the economy. Fortunately, we have had a great deal of success with helping people overcome these challenges. In the past 18 months, over 40 Team Members have graduated into employment, including people who had not worked in 20 years, people who have multiple felonies for assault and theft, and people who have had to completely retrain themselves in a new career field.

The fact of the matter is, all of our Team Members have so much talent to offer employers, and the real challenge, really the most significant barrier we see, is helping Team Members realize that themselves. Our work experience contracts, our weekly success meetings, our Participants of the Week awards, our peer-based management structure, and our commitment to treating people with respect and dignity are all designed to help people see the best in themselves again or for the first time.

Q4 | Innov8Social:  Can you tell us a little about the Social Enterprise initiatives of DST, such as the training class for homeless entrepreneurs?

A4 | Andrew:   In 2012 DST ran two business-planning classes for our more entrepreneurial Team Members. The curriculum fundamentally aims to show our Team Members that there is more to a business than the idea itself, which is a lesson I have had to learn myself. During the four week class we work with students on creating a business plan that includes: market analysis, sales and marketing strategies, organizational structure, product description and research, and basic financial information.

Of the ten Team Members who have taken the class, two people are actually in the process of launching their businesses, which could more accurately be described as micro-enterprises at this nascent stage. A Palo Alto Team Member is using his experience in power-washing to start a small contracting business with local restaurant franchises, and a San Jose Team Member has already obtained his business license and seller’s permit for a portrait business. It’s incredibly exciting to see the progression from a raw idea to an actual money-making endeavor.

On top of helping our Team Members find creative revenue streams for themselves, we are also in the process of starting a “for-profit” arm of DST. We are working with an organization in Berkeley to launch a “triple-bottom-line” weatherization company that will employ Team Members with all types of backgrounds and barriers. The company will be working on weatherizing homes in order to reduce energy usage in the Valley, and all profits will be reinvested in the company, so we can hire more Team Members, or they will be donated to DST’s “non-profit” services.

Q5 | Innov8Social:  What are goals for DST in 2013 and beyond?

A5 | Andrew:   In addition to starting the “for-profit” arm, one of our major goals for 2013 is to launch a new team in San Rafael. If and when this happens, it will mark our first expansion beyond Silicon Valley and will be a major test for the scalability of our program. DST has witnessed amazing growth since our founding, and the success of these two initiatives will propel our mission and our operating values to previously unimaginable levels. Our entire staff is extremely excited about the impact that awaits.

5 Things You Should Know About #GivingTuesday

Social innovation is about recognizing a pain point, and innovating a solution. One could say that a pain point about the holiday season is finding ways to make donation and charitable giving go ‘viral’ the way Black Friday and Cyber Monday do.

 Giving Tuesday
Enter, #GivingTuesday. There is a new initiative to designate the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a day to support, promote, and social  media-ize your favorite local charities.
So, what’s the skinny on #GivingTuesday? Here are 5 things you should know:

5 Things You Should Know About #GivingTuesday

 

1) This is its first year. If you can’t remember how you celebrated #GivingTuesday last year, you’re off the hook. This, 2012, is it’s debut year—and it will be great to hear back from the charities and non-profits on its effectiveness in kicking off the giving season.
 
2) It has some major org power behind it.  Over 45 organizations, corporations, and entities are listed as Founding Partners of the #GivingTuesday initiative on the official website, aptly named givingtuesday.org. HuffPo credits the launch of this day primarily to the efforts of the United Nations and 92nd Street Y and has done an entire series of posts around it.
3) Each Founding Partner has committed to do something to support it. Perhaps to avoid support ‘in name only’ the #GivingTuesday website details what each Founding Partner is doing. And though some of the Partners have issued a general commitment to support, others have pinpointed specific actions. For example, Discover committed the following:

 

“We are engaging the Discover community in giving by offering a 2% match to donations to the national chapters of our charitable partners. We will also waive transaction fees to our charitable partners for donations made on #GivingTuesday. And finally, our cardmembers can donate their cashback bonus to our charitable partners and receive a 2% match”.

4) It embraces technology. Just like it’s cousin, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is a product of 2.0 parents. While there may be a number of live in-person events recognizing the day—the real action will be online—on your Twitter feed and your Facebook Timeline. Look for your friends calling out their favorite causes and for corporations matching donations or making donations for each action that you take (i.e. liking a charity, commenting on a news item, or posting in support).

5) It’s real, innovative, and is calling…you ! In case you don’t have a favorite charity to support—I am happy to intro you to one of my favorite. Second Harvest Food Bank has been one of my go-to volunteer locations for the past few years. Well-run, it is a place where bulk food is donated, sorted, packaged, and redistributed—daily! It runs with an amazing efficiency and whether you spend an hour or a whole day volunteering there—your time will feel well spent.

For every photo or post on the Second Harvest Food Bank Facebook page, @LiveOps is donating $5 (or 10 meals) to the non-profit.

So, flex your viral social media muscles—and make it a successful #GivingTuesday!

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6 Key Takeaways for Social Entrepreneurs from Social Media for Nonprofits Conference (#sm4np)

Social Media for Nonprofits, San FranciscoSocial Media for Nonprofits delivered its 8th conference in its popular series to a packed room of hundreds at the Marine’s Memorial Club in San Francisco last week.The conference kicked off with an engaging video–complete with vivid statistics and action-inspiring music—and filled the day with sessions on social media from noted thought leaders in the industry.

Social Media Learnings Apply Across Sectors
And though the conference focused on providing social media tools to progress the non-profit space—there was ample for social entrepreneurs to learn it from too.
Here are a few takeaways that social entrepreneurs can implement today to make their social media campaigns more effective, farther reaching, and more impactful.
6 Key Takeaways for Social Entrepreneurs from Social Media for Nonprofits Conference (#sm4np)

1. There are no social media experts. Conference convener and emcee Darian Rodriguez Heyman and various other speakers including Victor d’Allant of SocialEdge emphasized the point that in the fast-paced world of social media–there are no bonafide experts. We learn so that we can ask better questions.

They may agree that it is valuable to strive for inexpertise—so that you can come closer to knowing what you don’t know about social media. And so you can focus on asking better questions, testing out bolder hypotheses, and tracking more far-fetched metrics so you can develop a better understanding of this space.

2. Learn to ask. Something I picked up was the need to be able to ask your friends, followers, fans, and readers to take action. The recommendation to avoid “press-release” verbiage and instead opt for open, frank communication with a humble request was helpful. Especially since it came from non-profits, foundations, and websites with massive followings and ambitious goals to create change. It makes sense that a personal appeal with individuals who you already have a personal connection with is often far more impactful in broadening reach, raising funds, and spreading a message.

3. Create the best content. I loved the talk by Evan Baylin, author of Outsmarting Google and his upcoming release, Outsmarting Social Media. Maybe it was because it tied so directly to the daily efforts related to Innov8Social—creating compelling content, connecting with what Google bots register as good content, and focusing on “long-tail” keywords rather than popular keywords was telling. Evan’s view of excellent content? Puppies, babies, love; fascinating images; and clever commentary.

4. Measure, set goals, evaluate…even if its like root canal. One of the speakers made her presence felt in many of the sessions preceding her. Beth Kanter is a known and beloved thought leader in the non-profit social media space and is the author of  The Networked Nonprofit. She polled the audience on whether using social media measurement tools felt more like root canal or like being in a candy shop.

Kanter outlined four stages of sophistication with regards to measurement analytics, and offered tips on defining results and establishing SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) results. It reminded me that no matter what stage our social media efforts are in, there is great value in measuring, projecting, trying, and then evaluating our efforts. Something I plan to put into effect…now!

5. Reward and recognize your fans. If Netflix has reminded us of anything, it is to value our fans and followers. This theme was reinforced by speakers such as David Boyce of Fund.ly. He drove home the point that we all want to be winners (especially those who support us) and that we should take every opportunity to recognize, reward, and celebrate our collective achievements.

The reason that Innov8Social is still here (after nearly 6 months) is not due to my interest in the subject alone. It is because you have shown up and shown me that there is interest and value in this content. It has given my work a unique sense of purpose and given me the next challenge of how think bigger and grow these efforts into something useful and sustainable.

6. It’s all about the story. We have heard it so often, tell a story. Perfect your pitch. Describe your journey. These all make complete sense—and the conference provided a unique perspective about this advice. As I saw tens of speakers share their social media learnings, I realized that I remembered best the ones who presented a compelling story about the issues their organization is trying to address, why they individually are involved, and how their social media efforts have progressed. One such speaker was Christina Samala of the Story of Stuff. She told the story of the stories that her site produces. I am intrigued and look forward to their release of “The Story of Broke” on November 8th.

Volunteer at Second Harvest: Saturday 10/8/11 in Santa Clara, CA

Inspiration takes form when we take action. If you have read any of the dozens of posts that have been published on Innov8Social, you may be ready to continue exploring through action.

Second Harvest Food Bank logoVolunteer

We are coordinating with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties to volunteer at their facilities on Saturday, October 8th, 2011 from 9AM to 12PM. We invite you to join in!It is a way to see how sustainable, organized efforts to address food shortage, distribution, and poverty work at a local level.

 

RSVP
Spaces to volunteer are limited, so if you are interested please email contact@innov8social.com as soon as possible.
More About Second Harvest

This video outlines what Second Harvest is, how it works, and what you can expect as a volunteer.






Habitat for Humanity’s Social Innovation Response to Foreclosures

I had a chance to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity a few weeks ago. Before gearing up and installing sideboards on a 36-unit complex in Daly City (by climbing on the scaffolding!), all of the volunteers were given an orientation about the organization, initiatives in the community, and safety.Habitat for Humanity Foreclosure Buying ProgramThe volunteer coordinator explained Habitat for Humanity’s innovative response to the spike in local foreclosures over the past few years. Building a house from scratch, is time-consuming and requires many steps from acquiring land, to designing a home, to building the home.
Habitat For Humanity
Re-furbishing an existing home, in comparison, can be a more efficient use of resources. And can enable Habit for Humanity to create more home ownership opportunities for more families.With that end result in mind, Habit for Humanity has begun partnering with banks to purchase foreclosed homes. The organization than utilizes its team of volunteers and staff to update the home and make it move-in ready.

NIMBY 

The volunteer coordinator alluded to Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) sentiment that many neighborhoods hold with regards to new Habitat for Humanity build projects. (i.e. “sure, it’s great that Habit builds new homes, but NIMBY…”

Refurbishing foreclosed homes is a completely different ballgame. And often has neighborhood residents singing a different tune.

Updating older homes, improving their curb appeal can have a rippling positive effect. Other neighbors in the area often also decide to update their homes to keep pace, and neglected neighborhoods have the chance to take steps toward revitalization.

Read more:

Banks help Habitat for Humanity buy empty homes (SF Gate)

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An Investor, Non-Profit, B Corp, and Social Entrepreneur Walk Into a Room, at SOCAP11

This blog promises to explore social innovation. And at SOCAP 2011, there was a unique opportunity to do so by talking with individuals coming from diverse sectors of the field.

If you have been following recent posts and interviews on Innov8Social, you will have seen a few of these perspectives represented.  The interviews (or perhaps more aptly, interview-ettes) are 1-2 minute introductions that provide simple insight into the missions, goals, and structure of the various organizations represented. Enough to give a you a feel, with info on where to go to find out more.
Waiting for the punchline
And, just as no human is an island–social innovation does work in a vacuum. More often than not, you need the dialogue, the critical ‘buy-in’ from different sectors, to make an idea take off or continue.
So, in case you missed the individual posts, here they are compiled in one place. Four unique individuals representing four fascinating ventures. You can click the link associated with each video to read the full article where you will learn more about the organization and find related resources.
4 Perspectives at SOCAP 11, in Video

Impact Investing at SOCAP11: An Interview with Absolute Impact Partners



One World Youth Project’s Executive Director at SOCAP11


Namaste Solar’s Co-Founder Talks About Being a B Corp at SOCAP11




DayOne Response Waterbags Deliver Clean Water After a Crisis, SOCAP11

More on SOCAP11 from Innov8Social

You can follow our coverage of this year’s conference by clicking on the SOCAP11 tag on Innov8Social. You can also catch up on tweets from SOCAP11 (Sept 7-9 2011) @innov8social on Twitter and can search #SOCAP11 on Twitter for related tweets.