Pencils of Promise: Non Profit Start Up
School built by pencils of promise / mattjkelley

November 23, 2015; Fast Company, “CoExist”

Crowdsourcing, data analytics, social media mastery, and collaboration are several of the strategies used by successful nonprofits founded since 2000. New business models allow for quick and reliable impact measurement, which is then shared with their donors, both large and small. An article from last month’s Fast Company highlighted examples of several nonprofits and how their strategies allow for agile decision making and small and large donor fundraising.

The role of technology in the nonprofit world is expanding rapidly, and newer nonprofits that don’t have to overhaul existing systems are taking advantage. As digital natives, Millennials tend to place technology at the core of their work, bringing this perspective to the forming of new nonprofits.

Here are two examples of newer nonprofits leveraging technology to frame their perspective:

Pencils of Promise is a high-growth nonprofit that builds schools in the developing world, with schools in Guatemala, Ghana, and Laos. The founder, Adam Braun, credits the rapid growth of the organization to crowdsourcing. They were able to “aggregate large amounts of small donations to create larger composites than you could do otherwise through traditional philanthropy.”

Additionally, Pencils of Promise leveraged its data extensively to create relevant strategies for programs. Braun says that Salesforce underpins the entire organization. Teams in Ghana collect data on the students and then as soon as possible, the data is entered in the Salesforce program. That data is down loaded into an app that tells how many students are in the schools in real time. The data analysis allows them to use statistical means and regression to determine which countries are best for the program and to determine what specific financial resources are needed.

Donors Choose is a pioneer in the field of crowdsourcing, using this to fund teachers’ classroom initiatives. Charles Best, the founder and CEO, decided to make the nonprofit’s data open as a strategy to attract smarter donors. Best convened a group to study what drives “citizen philanthropy,” his description for the giving that happens within Donors Choose platform. This open data policy stands in contrast to traditional nonprofits approach to keeping all data private for fear of giving competitors an edge or inviting challenges by those reading the data.

Best describes Donors Choose as “half charity, half web company.” The statistic that matters most to them is the year over year growth in money given to classroom projects at public schools.

It is clear that these newer technology-centered nonprofits need to be more thoroughly studied so their methods can be put to use by other nonprofits.—Jeanne Allen