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Find a common goal and decide what you want to accomplish together with your classmates or group. Brainstorm, poll classmate ideas and interest in participating, discover what excites your group and what will engage them in a mutual effort.
After extended discussions, Project Redwood settled on its mission to provide funding, expertise, and connections to social entrepreneurs who address the challenge of global poverty. We found it helpful to define both the purpose of our efforts as well as desired impact.
Decide what your fundraising mechanisms will be, what level of funding you need, and what your sources of financial support are, both for the work you want to support and for the organization you establish. Your funding stream should be affordable and sustainable. Be careful to avoid a model that requires you to spend more time on fund-raising than on your mission.
Project Redwood asked classmates to commit to be “partners” and make a financial pledge. Some classmates make larger donations; others donate less but contribute significant volunteer hours. We also sponsored a fundraising activity -- a basketball game at our 30th reunion that raised over $250,000 divided between Project Redwood and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Apply for non-profit 501(c)3 status or affiliate with an umbrella 501(c)3 organization that can act as your fiscal sponsor (for example, a community foundation or a donor advised fund).
Project Redwood considered filing for 501(c)3 status, working with a community foundation, and creating a donor-advised fund. The legal process to obtain a 501(c)3 is not very complex, but approval takes a while, and once established, managing the accounting and tax filings require time. So we concluded it was most practical and time efficient to align with a fiscal sponsor introduced to us by one of our classmates. Project Redwood became a “sponsored project” of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), one of the few focused initiatives sponsored by RPA. RPA provided Project Redwood with its tax-deductible 501(c)3 status, managed our funds, and helped vet grant applications. Note: that function has been transferred to Tides Foundation in San Francisco, CA.
Decide whether your mission extends beyond providing financial support and seeks to offer support services such as consulting and planning advice.
Project Redwood’s mission includes providing our classmates’ expertise and connections to our grantees under the direction of our Project Support Committee. In addition, some classmates are involved directly with grantees as Board members, project volunteers, or management advisors. This requires a large time commitment, and one that has to be sustained over the years.
When you think you have the answer about the amount of time required, double it. Be realistic and consider carefully whether you will rely on volunteer efforts to operate and manage your venture or whether you want to allocate funds to cover management or support staff.
Project Redwood has no paid staff. We invite all of our classmates to participate, and since our launch nearly half of our class has contributed in some way. However, about 20 classmates carry ouy or oversee most of the operational work to keep our venture running smoothly, with many others participating and contributing their skills in specific tasks. Our Board of Directors of 12 classmates meets monthly via conference call, and several standing committees focus on specific areas. There are probably about 10 classmates who donate between 10 and 25 hours a month, and some even more.
Use an application process, classmate recommendations, internet searches, web presence, or other methods.
Once Project Redwood established its mission, we invited our classmates to recommend prospective grantees, and act as sponsors of organizations they know. Occasionally an organization will approach us without a classmate sponsor. If the organization is a good fit with Project Redwood criteria, we try to find a classmate willing to sponsor it.
Determine the characteristics by which you will evaluate the kinds of organizations you wish to target, and whether the skills and experiences for evaluating recipients of funds reside in your group or should be carried out by outside experienced evaluators. Project Redwood supports a select group of projects with grants of up to $25,000 each based on the following: I. Magnitude of Expected Impact on standard of living for a population of considerable size and need, and any plans for scalability to other locations or organizations. II. Achievability of Proposed Project,including an assessment of the managerial competence of the applicant team and governing board and sustainability of project benefits III. Entrepreneurial: Ability to leverage local capacity (land, labor, know-how) to create and build human and financial capital and ability to help populations to help themselves out of poverty IV. Ability to effectively use Project Redwood's financial and non-financial resources
Project Redwood partners decided to evaluate projects on their impact on abject poverty, and the significance of our involvement to the project (we wanted to know that our efforts could advance the progress of the grantee's work). We determined that the following criteria provide the best measures for evaluation:
Project Redwood supports a select group of projects with grants of up to $25,000 each based on the following:
I. Magnitude of Expected Impact on standard of living for a population of considerable size and need, and any plans for scalability to other locations or organizations.
II. Achievability of Proposed Project,including an assessment of the managerial competence of the applicant team and governing board and sustainability of project benefits
III. Entrepreneurial: Ability to leverage local capacity (land, labor, know-how) to create and build human and financial capital and ability to help populations to help themselves out of poverty
IV. Ability to effectively use Project Redwood's financial and non-financial resourcesBeginning in 2016 we will also consider how the applicant would use a larger grant of up to $50,000. Project Redwood's Grant Review Committee (GRC) devotes significant time and expertise each grant cycle. Applicants often comment that completing and discussing their application with the GRC provides them with valuable consulting that helps them improve their strategy, fundraising, and service to those in need.
Establish methods of follow-up reporting by those whom you support. Determine how you will measure the success of individual grantees and of your initiative as a whole.
Project Redwood grantees are overseen by the Evaluation and Impact Committee. Grantees are each required to complete an interim report on milestones during the grant year and a final report on use of funds and achievement of goals. This information helps Project Redwood provide better support to grantees, improve our grantmaking, and report to our partners on our overall short-term and long-term portfolio success.
First, decide how much risk you are willing to tolerate in selecting grantees. Then establish controls and monitoring so that any problems can be addressed in a timely manner. If an 'investment' still goes awry, use lessons learned to improve procedures so that you match your success rate to your level of tolerance of risk.
Since many of Project Redwood’s grants are to early-stage projects, we realize that we are accepting some risk. When problems arise, we do our best to learn from what happened and to help our grantee overcome its obstacles. We then apply what we learned to improve our own decision-making and monitoring processes. If appropriate, we share the insights with our other grantees.
CLICK HERE to contact Project Redwood for information. Directly observe or participate in the operation of Project Redwood to gain experience. Ask for assistance and we will advise you about creating your own social initiative.
Project Redwood encourages individuals and classes or groups to discover their passion and find a way to give back. PRW stands ready to assist you with materials from our model, through conference calls, and via involvement in our operation.
Structure your initiative to be centered on a common goal and shared values that your group is passionate about, and if working together toward the goal engages them and results in a positive experience, there is a very good chance they will stay involved.
We have found that these are the main reasons for our classmates' on-going commitment:
They feel they have a better philanthropic experience due to the pooling of our resources and knowledge. Together we have a larger impact, and a better learning experience, than most of us could achieve on our own.
Classmates are delighted by the camaraderie that comes with being part of the group. It is an opportunity to work with a lot of smart and interesting people with whom we have had a shared experience. Many of us didn't have enough time or common interest to involve ourselves with numbers of other classmates when we were in business school. Working on Project Redwood gives us a second chance.