Innovative fundraising strategies for NFPs including case studies Scott Neeson’s CCF, ThankYou and Watsi

ccf-seo-blog1-innovative-fundraising-1500-x-475

The term ‘innovation’ seems to encapsulate the thinking of the 21st century. With such drastic advancement in digital technologies over the past decade, a new era of globalisation and interconnection is upon us, and with it, the attitude that creative innovation is not only possible for every organisation, but absolutely essential if it wants to continue to stay relevant.

The Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector is often overlooked in the conversation about innovation. Too often, they consist of traditional structures bound by conservative thinking, models that prioritise top-down endowments, with outdated appeals and little investment into innovative fundraising incentives. The result is an industry of organisations that are trying to tackle important social issues, but struggling to break out of old habits, utilise new technologies and grasp opportunities to really improve the way they work.

A Changing Landscape for NFPs

The global community is moving away from the act of simply donating. As the Index of Innovation in the Australian Not-For-Profit Sector Report found in 2015, much of the fundraising of the NFP sector relies on old fundraising methods such as mail-outs and street appeals, methods that just don’t appeal to the technologically savvy generations today. They reported that while giving amongst the Gen X and Gen Y has increased, the largest demographic of donors is still those over 60. Hundreds of thousands of charitable organisations are campaigning for donations that are essential for the survival of their cause, but the younger the donor, the more discerning they are about where that donated money goes. It is now more important than ever to create and utilise innovative and engaging ways to compete for the citizen’s wallet share to build a donor base for the future.

Stephen Mally, fundraising veteran and Director of boutique consulting firm Fundraising Force, believes that there is no where near enough innovation in the NFP sector, mainly because few NFPs have the time or the incentive to take risks. “There’s a lot of copying happening across the sector,” he says. In particular, Mally believes that NFPs are often unwilling to experiment with new strategies, using similar and outdated methods year in and year out. “All you need to do is go to your letterbox this time of year. I’ll have 20 appeals in there and if I lie them across the table, firstly they have all arrived on the same day and second of all, they all look the same,” he says.

Being innovative means taking risks. And in an industry that is characteristically both time and budget poor, it is too often the case that charities just cannot risk the chance of failure. “Charities don’t spend enough time on planning because they’re short staffed, they’re short budgeted, and they just have to do do do. So they do these tasks day in and day out without even questioning whether their fundraising methods are having an impact,” says Mally.

A picture of Innovation in the NFP Sector

Tony Lee from Digital Strategy Agency ntegrity, says that the digital economy and intense competition has sparked a rapid change in the way people engage with an issue. “The marketing discipline has changed, and as a result, we see recurring issues such as skills and resourcing shortfalls, siloed communications, and lack of time and vision to truly take NFPs beyond what they are already doing,” he says. “What is needed for innovation is beyond business or digital transformation: a cultural and mindset shift is the key.”  

Lee highlights several ways that NFP should adopt this mindset shift to fundraising. “They must first adopt a growth mindset – that is a desire to evolve, improve and nurture their connections to continue their growth trajectories,” he says. He also believes that NFPs need to have the right communication, tools and procedures to truly engage internally as well as with the customer in a social cause.

In a rapidly changing digital landscape, there can be no doubt that innovation is sorely needed. And while many NFP organisations seem unwilling to shake off old habits and entrenched methods, The Innovation Index last year found that there are also plenty who have taken on new fundraising approaches to newfound success, paving the way for innovation in the NFP sector.

There are several characteristics that make a charity’s funding methods stand out from the rest, but key innovations in the NFP sector include; the implementation of commercial strategies for social impact, the use of social media to creatively crowdfund new startups and the effective collaboration and partnership with external companies to further an NFP’s vision. An innovative charity will utilise these methods to bring in new funding streams and sources. In other words, NFPs are innovative if they adopt a driven, goals-orientated ‘enterprising’ approach to fundraising.

Commercial Strategies for Social Impact – Social Enterprise

A good example of an NFP innovating in these ways is Thankyou, named as one of the top 10 most Innovative NFP Organisations in 2015. Founded in 2008 by Daniel Flynn and Justine Flynn, it sells bottled water, food and body care products, using the profits to provide safe water, hygiene and sanitation to people in need around the world. To date, Thankyou has provided over $4.6 million to projects across 17 countries and it did this by turning the traditional fundraising model on it’s head.

Thankyou is innovative because it applies commercial strategies to maximise social impact. In other words, it identified a consumer demand (we all buy bottled water and sanitary products) and paired it with a social cause (a global need for clean water). This new path for fundraising is known as the ‘Social Enterprise’ and is capturing the young philanthropist’s wallet share. Rather than appealing directly to the public for donations, social enterprises provide a commercial exchange, and we as the consumer are more willing to buy a product if we know the profit is for a purpose.

Professor Fara Azmat is a Senior Lecturer at Deakin University and researcher in corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurship in developing countries. She says that social enterprises are innovative when they secure and diversify funding streams.

“Social enterprises must secure potential source of funding and look at innovative ways – such as crowd funding, use of social media, and the internet – to make their idea happen,” she says.  “The advances in technology provide the entrepreneurs with a huge opportunity for passing on their ideas and pitching it to potential investors and also create a positive word of mouth.”

From Social Media to Crowd Funding

An astute use of social media to further existing communication methods is a key innovation in the NFP sector. Obviously, social media has reduced the cost and furthered the outreach of communication methods for charities, but it has also opened up entirely new possibilities for funding streams.

Crowdfunding is a way of using social media and the internet to bring together supporters of a project to pool their money and get something off the ground. In return, donors receive a creative, often personalised reward in recognition of their support. Philanthropy consultant and blogger at ozphilanthropy.com, Sharon Nathani says that crowdfunding and giving circles break away from traditional approaches to donor development. “It creates a different sense of belonging, ownership and pride for supporters, they provide ways of reimagining philanthropic communities,” she says.

When applied to the NFP sector, crowdfunding allows small startup charities to appeal directly to young audiences online, providing a way for supporters to actively participate in a common cause, track process, and feel personally involved with and rewarded for the impact of a project.  Crowdfunding is a key innovation to the traditional NFP model and reflective of a new generation of digital savvy entrepreneurs who are applying their technical skill set to social engagement. “The benefits of these types of campaigns are in their ability to touch potentially larger and possibly younger audiences, “ says Nathani. “But as with any fundraising, the test is in donor retention and relationship management, and how to keep the loyalty and attention of those who give through these mechanisms.”

An excellent example of this is Watsi, a crowdfunded startup from the heart of tech-mecca in San Francisco. The app allows anyone to directly fund life-changing healthcare for people around the world. Donors can directly view the stories and needs of patients, pledge a sum towards the medical costs of a chosen sponsor, and every month receive emailed updates of their progress. 100% of every donation made through Watsi goes directly to funding the healthcare of the chosen patient. To date, Watsi has raised over $5 million and helped over 5000 patients. What sets Watsi apart is its mentality towards growth and innovation, prioritising the same technological marketing strategies as a for-profit startup, while still keeping to its core mission as a non-profit.

Partnerships and Collaborations for Expanding Mission Impact

Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) is another charity that recognises the need for exploring innovative fundraising methods. Established in 2004 by Australian philanthropist and ex-President of 20th Century Fox International, Scott Neeson, CCF lifts Cambodian children permanently out of poverty by implementing long term education and leadership programs within the community. Recognising the need for external collaboration, CCF has established partnerships with TOMS Shoes and World Housing as an intrinsic part of its fundraising model, innovating and indeed extending the outreach and impact of the CCF core mission.   

Much like the Thankyou initiative, these partnerships utilise existing consumer-demand for a positive social impact. TOMS works on a one-for-one model where for every pair of shoes sold, a pair of shoes is donated to CCF who can then distribute these donations through their on-the-ground facilities in Cambodia. TOMS has helped CCF size and distribute thousands of pairs of shoes to children in the CCF leadership program.

World Housing meanwhile, works to facilitate the flow of capital from individuals, businesses, and real estate partners to fund the construction of new homes and communities in the developing world. So far, over 360 homes have been built for deserving families with children studying at CCF, and these are not just homes but entire villages that provide gardens, social areas, clean water safety and security.

Rather than seeing other NFPs as competitors, CCF builds and maintains lively mutual relationships with outside service suppliers. These networks not only provide a way of sharing and maximising resources and funds but also a co-productive way of sharing ideas and creatively collaborating in a way that helps the maximise sustainable impact.

Foregrounding Innovation in the NFP Sector

Innovation doesn’t have to stop with the for-profit sector. The crux of the matter is that new digital potentials have not only furthered existing fundraising models for NFPs, but also opened up entirely new ways for charities to tell their stories, capture young audiences and collaborate across sectors. Charities like Thankyou, Watsi and Cambodian Children’s Fund are taking advantage of these new potentials, just as NFPs everywhere should be exploring these options.

Interview with Stephen Mally from Fundraising Force

What is your understanding of innovation in the NFP sector?

SM: Now you want my opinion on it I believe there is not enough innovation in our sector, particularly in the Australian NFP sector. And that might sound critical but at the end of the day, Australian charities are doing the same thing year in year out. Without any eye on measurement, without determining whether or not the activities that they’re doing are having any impact. Too many charities do the same thing year in year out and also anticipate that they’re going to get different results, when they do the same thing year in and year out. So I find it frustrating that there’s not enough innovation happening and that there’s a lot of copying happening across the sector. All you need to do is go to your letterbox this time of year and I’ll have 20 appeals in my letterbox and I can lie them across the table. Firstly they’ll all arrive on the same day and second on all, they all look the same.

Why do you think it’s hard for NFPs to prioritise innovation?

SM: I think they don’t take to plan and they don’t take the time to measure the impact of their activities. If you look at the reporting and the analysis that happens across the sector, its a bare minimum. And in fact, a lot of the measurement that happens is done by the same suppliers who are hired to generate, in that example, those mailbox appeals. So they’re self measuring and self-reporting. Shame on the charities for not conducting independent analysis of reporting on those activities and shame on them for relying on the suppliers to give that report. So that’s just one example. I also think it’s not only a lack of analysis but also a lack of planning. Charities don’t spend enough time on planning because they’re short staffed, they’re short budgeted, and they just have to do do do. So they do these tasks day in and day out without even questioning. Ask a charity how many appeals they do a year and they’ll say four. Ask five more charities and they’ll give you the same answer, But ask them why they do four appeals and they would never be able to tell you. They can’t tell you if it’s the right number, the right time or if they’re asking in the right way. I mean appeals in terms of direct marketing because it’s so abundant in our sector. They send out mass appeals through the mail or they might do a multi-channel approach in terms of telemarketing and some electronic marketing in that mix and everybody is doing the same thing at the same time and nobody is standing out as a result of that because if you’re not innovative and you’re not doing something that is out of the norm you’re hidden amongst the masses and that’s bound to be frustrating. I think if I was the head of fundraising for a top charity in Australia, Id want to make darn sure that what I was doing was at least slightly different from my colleagues so that I stood out. Whatever it is you gotta stand out because everything blends together.

How have digital strategies like crowd funding and viral social media campaigns changed the landscape for NFPs? Should they be keeping up with those trends?

SM: I think it could change the landscape but not enough charities are jumping on the bandwagon. There are very few charities that one could name that are keeping ahead of the curve. And I think those platforms and those types of strategies could help charitable organisations stand out amongst the landscape. I just think that they feel that they don’t have time they don’t take the time to plan appropriately to execute those strategies.

So what do you think would make someone more likely to give to a charity?

SM: Quite frankly none of this is rocket science. You give to a charity because you’ve got an affinity with them. Whether it’s a health charity because you’ve got a family member or a friend or you yourself and dealing with a health issue, maybe it’s a university where you went to school. Or its a charitable organisation that represents a cause that you believe in, you’ve got an affinity with that organisation and you give as a result. You might also give because someone ASKED you to give. And in Australia, in my opinion as an American transplanted here, we don’t target people’s heart-strings enough and we don’t ask often enough. So if a charity is only asking less than four times a year, they’re not asking enough because when you’re not in someone’s letterbox someone else is. So your competition beats you to the punch so to speak.

How important is a business-minded outlook for NFPs?

SM: Charitable organisations see themselves as very different to the corporate sector, and I believe that we have more in common with the corporate sector than we have differences. At the end of the day, while we don’t return dividends back to our shareholders in terms of stock, we certainly do return dividends back to the public sector. And while we’re meant to be a NFP, we certainly can turn a profit at the end of the year and keep that on our books. So while we don’t have as much difference from the corporate sector as we’d like to believe and therefore there are things that the corporate sector does that we could emulate in the charitable sector, there’s lots of stuff happening out there that we can beg borrow and steal in terms of great marketing strategies that Commbank, NAB or Telstra might be deploying, we can use that and implement it in our sector.

Do you have any imparting wisdom to share?

SM: Lots of people ask me when I’m doing fundraising trainings, how fundraising is different in the US from the UK and Australia. And Australian’s often feel like they’re ‘behind’ other countries and in fact Australian NFPs are quite innovative in terms of their regular giving programs, what they ask donors to give, signing up automatic transactions. Australian charities are light years in front of the US in terms of giving and other areas so I often times get asked how different is it in the US and UK and in terms of giving Australia gets a lot of credit compared to their US counterparts. The key difference is, Australian NFPs are less diverse in their fundraising compared to their US counterparts. US counterparts are raising far more in the nature of gifts, corporate partnerships and trusts and foundations are just more diverse in terms of the fundraising portfolio. So I hope that the Australian sector becomes more diverse in terms of their fundraising portfolio and perhaps less reliant on regular giving so that there’s less risk all around, we’re not putting all of our eggs in one basket.

 

Related Reading:

Camilla Cooke is the Head of Strategy at Catalyst MDC and formerly marketing director at CBCF the NFP ranked #1 for innovation she can be reached at camilla@catalystmdc.com or connect  on Linkedin.

 

Scott Neeson of CCF and the business-minded leaders innovating the NFP sector

 

ccf-blog-3-business-minded-nfp-innovation-1500x475

In 2013, activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta suggested that the way we think about not-for-profit organisations is wrong. “For 40 years the not-for-profit sector has not been able to wrestle any money away from the for-profit sector,” he said. “Financial incentive has been exiled from the realm of charity so that it can thrive in the area of making money for yourself.”

In his now legendary TED Talk, Dan sparked debate worldwide by highlighting some of the key limitations present within traditional charity structures, mainly that they spend their money inefficiently, prioritising low overheads over innovation and expansion. He believes that a NFP should be run like an intelligent enterprise. In other words, it should relentlessly drive for success as much as a for-profit company drives for capital gain.

The question of how a NFP should spend their precious finances has always been a point of contention, and the notion that a charity should be ‘business-minded’ seems to undermine the very purpose of a non-profit organisation. Palotta’s ideas may be progressive, but at their core his message is simple: in order to help more people, we need to expand the NFP sector, not just sustain it. And the best way to do this is to innovate in the same way for-profit businesses do – taking risks, utilising new technologies and collaborating across other sectors.

He’s not the only thought leader pushing for NFPs to innovate. Catherine Brown, CEO of the Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation, blogs about the need for NFPs to lead the way for social innovation. “In a time of change and disruption, it is essential that NFP leaders are able to explore new ideas and test new solutions to social and environmental challenges,” she says. The next key step in the social innovation process is the having the courage and support to help test ideas and build that future.”

From a Funding Model to a Business Model

In order to innovate, it is becoming increasingly more important for NFPs to apply a cross-sector approach to aid. Managing Director of Spark Strategy Company George Liacos believes that NFPs should think beyond funding models to unearth a sustainable business model.

“NFP leaders must do two things: anticipate the long term future demanded by their communities; and generate ideas for adaptive business models to deliver this future value better than anyone else,” he says in his blog about sustainable NFP Models on Probono Australia. He argues that for-profit organisations stay relevant by delivering more value than their competitors, and the not-for-profit sector should be no different.” This constantly shifting value demand landscape will call for the collaboration of different skills at different times, which is another shift that will – and indeed already is – fundamentally changing how the sector operates.”

Collaboration and ‘Boundary Riders’

The pressing need for NFPs to collaborate calls for more of what lawyer, NFP consultant and Director of Social Impact Legal Libby Klien refers to as ‘Boundary Riders’. Boundary Riders are NFP leaders who have experience in more than one sector, and because of this, can facilitate collaborative efforts to aid service. “It used to be that not-for-profits were regarded and felt themselves to have a monopoly on doing good, and conversely that corporates thought they had a monopoly on making profit and they had nothing to do with doing good,” she says. “Thought leaders in both sectors are now realizing that regardless of whether you’re for profit or not-for-profit that you really need to be very concerned both about your purpose and your profit.”

For businesses, it means re-imagining markets and thinking of innovative ways to supply low cost products profitably. For NFPs, it means reimagining relationships with corporates and government. “Rather than taking money and doing good with it, there are ways [NFPs] could achieve much greater social impact if they worked collaboratively with partners,” says Ms Klien.

It’s called shared value, and Klien suggests that it could be the answer to how social problems are solved on a massive scale.  

Case Study Scott Neeson CCF

Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) is a great example of a NFP that is utilising shared value. And it is not afraid of collaboration – seeing other charities such as TOMS Shoes and World Housing as partners, not competitors. CCF lifts Cambodian children permanently out of poverty by implementing long term education and leadership programs within the community. Since its inception in 2004, CCF has drastically improved the living standards, livelihoods and career potential of impoverished Cambodian children and their families. And it has done so by applying a business-like approach to charity, completely innovating the NFP model to attack poverty at a systemic level, and collaborating across sectors to create programs that achieve these results.

The success of the CCF can be attributed to founder and ‘boundary-rider’ Scott Neeson. Originally a high-school dropout from South Australia, Scott built up a successful career in the film industry from scratch. From a projectionist job in a cinema in South Australia, he rose to be CEO of 20th Century Fox international, and over his 10 year tenure was responsible for the release of blockbuster movies such as Titanic, Braveheart and the Star Wars Trilogy.

After a life-changing trip to Phnom Penh, where he witnessed hundreds of children scavenging through the Steung Meanchey garbage dump, Scott quit the business world forever and established CCF. But with such a firm grasp of the corporate world, he did not set it up like a traditional charity. He applied a ‘whole systems thinking’ approach to the problem of poverty in Cambodia, which entails looking at the interrelationships between all parts of a problem. By incorporating a range of perspectives, conditions, connections and capabilities Scott gained from having a foot in both corporate and NFP worlds, he was able to create a program that attacked the whole system of poverty, rather than trying to construct solutions from within a limited focus.

“I think that as a result of my background, CCF’s structure is more corporate; we’re an organization that requires accountability and responsibility, and where financial and operational measures are applied,” says Scott. This results-driven approach to running an NFP is most evident with CCF’s 65 comprehensive programs that address 6 core areas (access, housing, food, healthcare, mentorship, support) preventing a child from receiving a quality education.

The programs transform children who previously scavenged on garbage dumps for money into bright, ambitious and inspired university graduates who will work to transform their own community and country. “The CCF model of integrated, interconnected programs has wonderful, quantifiable outputs,” says Scott. “School absenteeism has dropped from 55% to 5%, school retention has moved from 58% to 96% and maternal care, once a dire 8 – 12% (estimated) amongst new mothers has maintained zero deaths in the last 7 years and 1,100 births, since the establishment of the Maternal Care Program.”

The Business-minded NFP leaders like Scott Neeson are a unique combination of idealistic and pragmatic, applying the professionalism and tirelessness usually associated with profit to the goal of creating the greatest social impact. “I’ve often been accused of running CCF more like a business than a charity, and I agree with those sentiments when it comes to the infrastructure, staffing and general organizational aspects,” says Scott. “The for profit sector can drive better efficiencies, accountability and financial management in the nonprofit sector and this was highlighted this year with CCF’s 100% score from Charity Navigator, an award received by only 51 of 8,500 evaluated NFPs.”

Scott may attribute the success of CCF to his firm grasp of the corporate world, but he also emphasises that a deep understanding of community needs is a key characteristic that sets CCF apart. “CCF started by looking at the most obvious issues of education and need for medical care and has over the years evolved the program and services so that the community is more involved, has greater governance and the empowerment to make decisions,” he says.  “With this approach, we have set up a structure that has a better educated and higher functioning community and one that will certainly outlast CCF.” Scott’s goal is one that utilises business-thinking, but ultimately transcends it: CCF will be truly successful when the community it helps no longer needs it. In other words, redundancy is written into Scott’s business plan, and that is something that a solely for-profit leader could never imagine.  

Case Study: FONA

FONA is another charity pushing boundaries for cross-sector orientated NFPs. FONA is an organisation committed to bringing global expertise into a local setting where communities most need help. With an initial focus on villages in Nepal most affected by the 2015 earthquake, FONA is providing state of the art technology and learning hubs, resilient housing support and restoration programs to rural and remote communities.

Amit Thapa, chairperson and co-founder of FONA, says that the innovative “benefit mindset” model adopted by FONA is what set it apart from other aid organisations. It is a process that looks at the opportunity and potential of people and a community, playing to their strengths. FONA’s whole systems approach involves both the consultation with local communities and the collaboration with global partners in order to find a solution that promotes long term well being and collective benefitt. “We’ve gone straight into communities with the goal to determine what their real aspirations are, what inspires them,” he says. “And then we bring in leapfrog solutions and technologies that regenerate their community and connect them to the rest of the world.”

Partnerships are a critical element of FONA’s model, a priority that Amit attributes to his extensive experience in the business sector. “Myself and my co-founder, we work at dynamic international organizations where innovation and collaboration is the forefront of what we do and what we’re trying to do was replicate the model in a not for profit situation with FONA,” says Amit. “ So rather than donations, what we’re finding is that some people are giving us $100, 000 worth of their time and their capabilities, and to me that’s priceless.There is so much to gain on both sides from creating relationships between a partner and our benefactors.”

FONA recently hosted a “think  tank” with the University of Melbourne, IncluDesign, Thrive Research Hub, Cohere and Biourbem to workshop the design of a world class education and community hub  facility in the Purano Jhangajholi village in Nepal, a state-of-the-art centre that will meet global resources with cultural community needs. Each facility will be uniquely designed collaboratively with a community, using FONA’s replicable methodology. “What we’ve seen through our work is that people are willing to wait for the long term benefit if they are communicated with and they are engaged to be part of the solution,” says Amit. The education centre is the first of many in Nepal, and part of a program they plan to roll out in communities across the world. “At the end of the day,every human being whether they live in Australia, Nepal or elsewhere in the world, seeks to grow, improve, progress and thrive. The Education Centre is a really metaphor for what a thriving community looks like, through education and holistic infrastructure. We think it’s possible to create a scalable model that respects the unique, cultural needs of a community.”

A Cross-Sector Approach for NFPs

Paul Ronalds, CEO of Save the Children, is another thought leader pushing for a ‘whole systems thinking’ approach to running an NFP. In his closing address in the ANU workshop ‘Cross-Sector Working for Complex Problems: Beyond the rhetoric,’ he talked about the pressing need for the government, not-for-profit and for-profit sectors to collaborate effectively in order to solve the challenges faced by society. As a former member of the Cabinet in 2010, he has experience across sectors and believes that the biggest challenge we face is the challenge of change. “What we need most of all to make progress is to change the current system’s incentives,” he says. “Only by changing the incentives of politicians, public servants, civil society and the private sector can we hope to achieve the type of progress we are all seeking.”

Ronalds believes that the social aspects of any solution must be integrated with economic aspects to support a joined-up, long term solution. “We need government and philanthropists to support capacity building and sector consolidation. We need to ensure we are thinking about the economic underpinnings of social interventions and vice versa.”

Philanthropic Corporates and Social Enterprises

Paul Ronalds emphasises that collaboration isn’t just about NFPs rethinking their models but about for-profit companies taking on a more philanthropic approach too. Bank of America’s partnership with the Khan Academy on Better Money Habits was of course an exercise in content marketing by the bank, but in a context where the outcome was to genuinely improve financial literacy and outcomes for ordinary Americans. Arguably, Amex’s Shop Small is also benefiting communities, as a “movement dedicated to helping small businesses.” In fast food, Chipotle actually eschewed all other forms of marketing when it found that its ‘Cultivate Foundation’ (dedicated to education around and provision of better nutrition in poorer communities) worked harder to drive business for them – in other words, philanthropy making great business sense – the perception of these two facts being at odds is increasingly receding. There are many examples of corporates now looking at building social impact and shared value structurally into their business model to replace outdated CSR contributions.

Just as corporates are building purpose into their model, so not-for-profits are building business into theirs – hence the birth of ‘Social Enterprise’ – classic examples being Thankyou Water or Tom’s Shoes and World Housing. Libby Klien says that while a social enterprise model may not suit every organisation, it is the social enterprise mentality that is defining the future landscape for NFPs. “I think the social enterprise mentality certainly is the way of the future because it is based on the idea of making profit and having a positive social impact,” she says. “So charities or organizations with charity status can also of course adopt that mindset and that approach even though they may not label themselves as social enterprises.”

These businesses operate within, and compete with, the for-profit sector, but offer consumers the chance to spend their money on a philanthropic service. Other examples include STREAT, who provide employment for young people who are homeless or at risk of long-term unemployment; Pollinate Energy, a company that works in India selling low cost, efficient energy appliances to unpowered slums and Zambreros, who provide a meal to the developing world for every meal sold in their restaurants.

Driving the NFP Sector towards Change

Just as NFPs need to become more like corporates, corporates need to become more like NFPs. For charities, this means working in collaboration with other sectors and taking on a business-minded approach to innovation and expansion. For businesses, it means looking for ways in which social impact can be integrated into a company’s business model. In order to move forward, we need more ‘boundary riders’ like Scott Neeson and Paul Reynolds to lead NFPs down a more innovative path; forging relationships across sectors and ensuring that the best resources and minds are pooled together to provide aid to those who need it most.

Interview with Libby Klien from Social Impact Legal

To start, could you briefly describe in your own words what you do?

LK: My firm is Social Impact Legal. So I describe myself as a strategic legal and governance advisor for organisations intent on making a positive impact. And that means I work with social enterprises and impact investors and corporates who are needing help with governments or local arrangements. And I do that because I think that if they get the governments and legal arrangements right then they will have greater impact and be more successful.

A lot of thought leaders are now saying that NFPs need to learn from the for-profit sector. We need to really reconsider the way we run our charities, not so much driving for profit but driving for success like a for-profit company would. Do you agree?

LK: It’s a fascinating area and the real thing that I that I keep seeing and – I think it’s a really important trend – is that thought leaders in both sectors are now realizing that regardless of whether you’re for profit or not-for-profit that you really need to be very concerned both about your purpose and your profit. It used to be that not-for-profits were regarded and felt themselves to have a monopoly on doing good, and conversely that corporates thought they had a monopoly on making profit and they had nothing to do with doing good. So I think that we’re seeing a little bit of convergence conceptually by some people in those sectors. And of course there’s a lot of potential for skepticism. Rightly so. On both sides but particularly, people say ‘oh yeah sure a big multinational cares about doing good.’ Actually some of them do. And many of them of course don’t. But just because there are some who don’t doesn’t mean that there can’t be some corporations who actually do both profit-making and positive social impact.

It’s also about where that drive innovation comes from. And a lot of the time it does come from a need to show results to consumers, but that drive to show results is what can translate back into the to the NFP sector and that’s really where innovation comes from, that mentality you have to deliver.

LK: Yes definitely. However what I’ve found is in my work – I’ve done a lot of work with executives and boards of charities and not-for-profits – is that it’s not infrequently that a CEO will have an innovative big idea about something that has the potential to really scale up the impact that the organization can have. But they find that the directors are very conservative more so probably than if those same directors even were around a corporate table. So I think that the inherent continuing conservatism of a lot of not for profit boards is probably holding back innovation that might otherwise be happening.

Dan Palotta’s TED Talk touched on this. And that’s quite a point of contention I feel in NFP sector that people either strongly agree with or strongly disagree with because his approach is about just that – having an innovative idea and being able to follow through with it even if it means spending more money than what is traditionally considered to be acceptable the NFP model.

LK: I’m in full agreement to that. Why shouldn’t a not for profit have the same tools at its disposal and the same attitude towards achieving its objectives as a for-profit? If it needs to invest in order to achieve its objectives in the medium or long term, what’s wrong with that?

From your experience how can these separate sector companies collaborate to create greater social impact?

LK: It’s a really interesting question and I was at an impact investing conference last week in Sydney. There was a lot of discussion about even just the language difficulty between the sectors. So an investment banker talking to a government person who’s in impact investing department of Commonwealth or state and also talking with a not-for-profit or service provider and they all have very different language and not only have they often not spoken much with each other in the past but they need to learn each other’s lingo.

What about the concept of ‘whole systems thinking’ the idea that you know to solve a complex problem like a social issue, you need to incorporate different lingo different connections and collaborations. Do you do you think that this is type of thinking is being integrated? Have you seen ‘boundary riders.’?

LK: Yes definitely. But I think not enough people put themselves out there or clearly demonstrate that they can do that. So they’re not putting themselves out there as being able to bring those sectors together. An example would be JB Weir who I know do a lot of fantastic work. They run workshops for social enterprises and not for profits to help them understand the idea of becoming ‘investment ready.’ And that is really getting at this idea of ‘Boundary Riders’. Because it’s all very well to be fantastic in what you do. It’s great that you are thinking about attracting significant capital but you need to present yourself in a way that will be understandable as well as attractive to potential investors. And that’s what a lot of those organisations don’t get. There are some that do and they’re the successful ones. But many of the large profile charities and so far away from even understanding the concept.

What about social enterprises? Where do you think they sit with the future of the NFP sector? Or do you think perhaps that they are the future?

LK: Yeah I do largely and certainly in the social enterprise model. I think the social enterprise mentality certainly is the way of the future because it is based on the idea of making profit and having a positive social impact. So charities or organizations with charity status, can also of course adopt that mindset and that approach even though they may not label themselves as social enterprises.

So it’s more the social enterprise mentality that you see is the future for NFPs?

LK: Yes. So for example if I was sitting recently in the ACNC Seminar and there were a whole lot of professional advisers around the table talking about charities charities charities, and the ACNC of course their view is ‘charities full stop’ they don’t even extend to non charity not for profits let alone for-profit or even social enterprises.  So there’s a real a regulatory distinction between charities and social enterprises that are structured as for profits. And people in the charity sector sort of think of themselves as ‘it’; where all the action is. But there is this whole universe of social enterprises that are structured as for-profits doing a lot of similar work. It’s an interesting and artificial distinction in some ways. It’s artificial conceptually.

How do you think NFPs need to rethink their models?

LK: I do think that a lot of not for profits and charities and social enterprises for that matter would really benefit from thinking about what they’re doing in their business model framework. So I love the business model canvas and various variations of that. The social enterprise adaptation of that is KNODE. There’s also the social LEAN canvas. That one is referred to by the NAB investment readiness fund. So I think it would help charities and not for profits and social enterprises to think differently if they utilize those frameworks. I like the Business Model Canvas because you can you can get value out of it in terms of helping develop your thinking without having to go through six months processes of detailed redesign of your business model, you can do it in a light sort of way and then take it as far as you want to.

What’s a question you wish people clients or companies asked you more often?

LK: “How can you help us think about how we can best achieve Positive social impact profitably?”

 

Related Reading:

Camilla Cooke is the Head of Strategy at Catalyst MDC and formerly marketing director at CBCF the NFP ranked #1 for innovation she can be reached at camilla@catalystmdc.com or connect  on Linkedin.

Helping People Help themselves: Scott Neeson’s CCF innovating the NFP model

ccf-blog-2-nfp-people-helping-them-selves-1500x475

Among the thousands of charities appealing for support it can be difficult to determine where our donations are best placed. From the outside, many charities look the same; impoverished children and their families need sponsorship for immediate aid, healthcare and the education that (many claim) will break them out of a cycle of poverty. When traditional NFP models too often evoke cliched ‘me too’ child imagery and a rhetorical promise to ‘teach a man to fish’, it’s hard to determine the difference between NFPs that are providing a bandaid solution and those that are really doing something progressive to change people’s lives in a lasting way.  

Success not Survival

Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) is a charity that lifts Cambodian children permanently out of poverty by implementing long term education and leadership programs within the community. Claiming – as many charities do – that they are ‘helping people to help themselves’, the innovation of the CCF may not be immediately apparent.  But its sophistication comes from founder Scott Neeson’s rejection of the conventional model of helping as many people as possible; CCF concentrate on helping a smaller number but far more effectively, so that those they help then become powerful agents of change in their own community – a system inherently not only more sustainable, but progressive and regenerative. CCF focuses on a single community based around the former garbage dump of Steung Meanchey – but properly, providing the facilities and holistic mentorship for impoverished Cambodian children to achieve education right through to a university level. It recently capped its numbers of students in order to focus on further improvements and innovations in its programs.

“We don’t want to teach a man to fish, we want to teach him to be Minister of the Department of Fisheries.” – Scott Neeson

Scott Neeson started CCF in 2004 after a sabbatical trip to Phnom Penh changed his life forever. It was there that he witnessed hundreds of children scavenging through the Steung Meanchey garbage dump. Soon after his return, he resigned from his position as a top executive at Sony Pictures in LA (he had previously been President of 20th Century Fox International), sold his possessions and ended a 26-year career in the film business to focus all of his energy and passion into keeping Cambodian children off the garbage dumps forever.

Moved by the simple plea of the children ‘Som tov rien’ (‘take me to school’), and driven by a results-orientated mentality from his business background, Scott set up education and basic care facilities in Phnom Penh, but this has since developed into multi-faceted services that tackle the whole system of poverty in Steung Meanchey. CCF provides innovative programs that essentially strengthen its community beyond simply surviving – they create the opportunity for Cambodian children to achieve a very real prosperity and success.

“Innovation is most needed when dealing with social issues,” says Scott. “I feel there’s too much emphasis placed on the capacity of programs as opposed to the depth and understanding of root causes which have a longer and more sustainable effect than the gross number of beneficiaries.” CCF now implements over 65 comprehensive programs that address 6 core areas (access, housing, food, healthcare, mentorship, support) that prevent a child from receiving a quality education. These programs are transforming children who previously scavenged on garbage dumps for money into bright, ambitious and inspired university graduates who will work to transform their own community and country.

ABCD Development

This approach reflects a growing movement in development theory that believes that rather than focussing on a community’s weaknesses, charities should draw upon and build existing community strengths to create more sustainable communities for the future. The approach, known as Asset-Based Community-Driven Development (ABCD), is a way of perceiving a community in need as a glass-half full – with the potential to strengthen and prosper.

University of Newcastle Lecturer and blogger Graeme Stuart writes extensively about the attributes of ABCD Development in his blog Sustaining Community. He says that when communities are labelled as needy and deficient, people living in that community can internalise this portrayal and see their situation as hopeless. “As a community is labelled as unsafe, toxic and deficient, residents stop turning to each other for support and can become scared of their own community and relationships within the community thus start to deteriorate,” he says. While often the best way to obtain funding for a place is to emphasise community problems, this tends to feed a downward spiral of negativity – especially if these external services fail to address a socio-economic problem at its very core.

CCF have implemented a series of on-the-ground programs that reflect ABCD development in action. While it may be a leading international NGO, it has a grassroots impact that aims at strengthening the community from within, building on the communitarian instincts of the Cambodian people, supporting them through programs that provide healthcare and food support, and capitalising on the hunger for education of its children.

“We firmly believe in building from the ground up with an intimate understanding of each individual, each family and the overall community,” says Scott. “When a program originates from a place of understanding then there is generally an inherent sense of dignity and collaboration for all parties which is often absent from a top down approach.”

CCF’s goal is to move Steung Meanchey beyond a dependence on aid, and towards independent sustainability. In other words, Scott will have achieved his core mission only when the CCF services are no longer required.

The CCF Programs

The key pillars of CCF are education and leadership. Resources, support and facilities are provided, not only to Cambodian children in CCF programs, but to their family and the community around them. The goal is to ensure that the path out of poverty is one that is taken permanently.

The education program works with the Cambodian public schools, assisting and strengthening the system rather than working outside of it – they work closely with teachers to ensure high attendance rates and academic performance. The program has a strong focus on developing English, Khmer, maths, science and the arts. But beyond this, Cambodian children are also taught to develop a world view and think critically about their individual responsibility and ability to bring about change. Encompassing the holistic approach that is intrinsic to CCF, education doesn’t end with merely improving classes. Teachers are given resources for improving the quality of teaching, school uniform and study materials are supplied and university fees and transportation are paid for by CCF.

With a focus on building and strengthening community assets, the CCF leadership program is the ‘glass half full’ of the Cambodian community. Children are mentored to become inspired young leaders who can work to transform their own community. They mentor and teach, feed hungry children, care for youngsters and spend time with elders. In return, they gain an in-depth connection to their own culture. And beyond this – they are empowered to believe that they themselves can bring about positive change in their community, fostering an independence and potential beyond the support of CCF.

Consultation is Key

Catherine Brooks is a principal at Moores Legal, a firm that deals extensively in NFP strategy. She says that consultation is key when integrating innovative new aid programs within a community. “Change management should not just be given lip-service and the community (staff, service users, potential new clients) should be assured that any new innovation / changes will only occur if it will have a positive impact for the cause.”

When implementing an innovative program like CCF’s, it’s not just about fostering the strengths of a community, but communicating the strengths of the program itself is also paramount. “Positive communication messaging is key and must be strategically carried out across multiple social media platforms to gain traction,” she says. “We regularly assist with this process and help our clients lead the way when it comes to engagement with staff and the broader community of a NFP.”

Excellence before Expansion

A key innovation of the CCF program is that it has always valued quality over quantity, turning the ‘no child left behind’ rhetoric of the traditional NFP model on its head. While it educates a large number of children, it has always retained its focus on the community, and when it had finally reached as many of those children as it could, it did not seek further growth but instead focused on improving quality and outcomes.

This came about as much from a change in community needs as it did from a change in approach. CCF are no longer growing and this has been a conscious decision. When they started out, the original goal was to help 45 children, but at one point they had up to 2400 because they kept seeing students who were in need. However, because of the success of their programs in reaching local children and in strengthening the community, they are now seeing far fewer new children who need CCF’s services in their target areas; this diminution is a sign of success.

CCF has instead been shifting its energy into further improving the quality of programs and education. A recent testament to this is the newly built Neeson Cripps Academy (NCA). Funded by the Velcro Group of companies, the NCA will focus on Science, Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) education. This reflects a true focus on improving the education that CCF provides, and ensuring its students truly flourish in their time with CCF. The NCA will provide further education opportunities through enhanced learning spaces, new technologies, teacher training with a focus on STEM, but more than this, the modern, state-of-the-art facility injects positivity into the Phnom Penh community, acting as a beacon of hope in that neighborhood.

Blogger and STEM educator Taylor Williams writes extensively about the benefits of STEM education on his blog Mr Williams Stem. “STEM is a collection of disciplines that are very much focused on helping students develop skills of logic and creativity, mathematical analysis and modeling, scientific inquiry, and computational thinking,” he says. “A small amount of time studying computer science can profoundly impact the way students analyse the world around them in the future, regardless of their career choice.” A key element of the NCA facility is that it symbolises an excellence and prosperity that all children deserve, and that Cambodian children can now achieve for themselves in the future.

Innovating the Model

CCF takes on the future-orientated goals of ABCD Development. Its greatest innovation is in Scott’s rejection of understanding ‘aid’ as merely ‘sustenance’. Instead, he has tackled the problem of poverty in Cambodia at its core, building a sustainable community for the future from the bottom up. This is done so through strength-based, positive community development and what Clara Miller of the Heron Foundation calls the The ‘Rumpelstilkskin Effect’; spinning financial donations, partnerships, local resources and infrastructure into the ‘gold’ of lasting social value.

Most importantly, while it currently operates and focuses only within Cambodia, the true innovation of the CCF model is that it’s replicable. Scott’s innovative model can be rolled out in any community where the cycle of poverty exists.“The goal for 2017 will be to record the model and all of its programs,” says Scott. “Having the interdependence of these programs recorded with the parallel funding model will allow the model to be tested in other areas.”

The considerable success of CCF has encouraged Scott’s dream to establish a franchise type model that can apply to the needs of any developing country, as the core mission of empowering communities through education, leadership and support can be effective at any local level. “That’s the beauty of CCF’s model – the nimbleness and awareness of local issues and the preparedness to react accordingly.” From Myanmar to Bangladesh, Scott hopes to soon provide life-changing education across the developing world.

Interview Scott Neeson, CEO of CCF

What is your understanding of innovation in the NFP sector?

For CCF I prefer to look at innovation as defined as meeting unarticulated needs. Rather than take the approach of finding a solution to issues that can be scaled up to a country level, we have instead peeled away layers within a single community. In 2004, we started in Steung Meanchey, the country’s, if not the region’s, most impoverished, dysfunctional community; home to 11,000 people who largely survive on garbage scavenging. The area was still a working landfill with appalling rates of domestic violence, abuse, lack of education, children living and working on the dump, a high maternal death rate and a plethora of social issues.

Focusing on a single community requires enmeshing within it. That is how the construct of a series of interdependent programs, big and small, was achieved.

I firmly believe that the future of international aid will be the replication of community models, as opposed to the top down approach where the priority is on scaling to a national level.

Scaling is certainly most effective when focusing on a single problem with a successful solution, such as the eradication of smallpox. However when dealing with social issues such as girls in education, domestic violence and nutritional deficiencies, the most effective solutions will always be found by a close, intimate understating of the community.

 

And so with that in mind, why do you think it’s hard for an NFP to prioritize innovation?

The accountability of many NFPs requires them to meet specific goals. For those receiving aid from the larger organisations, this accountability stymies their ability to innovate. The funding is for specific projects and goals, and I feel that there’s less ability to adapt to the changing conditions.

We work within a defined community and learning root causes is an everyday occurrence. We’re required to rethink previous ways of working, sometimes because they’re outmoded, other times because they are ineffective, and most often because the working environment changes. Innovation is essential to our understanding and growth

 

In what areas do you think innovation is the most needed?

Innovation is most needed when dealing with social issues. I feel there’s too much emphasis placed on the capacity of programs as opposed to the depth and understanding of root causes which have a longer and more sustainable effect than the gross number of beneficiaries. Again, this doesn’t apply to NFPs with a single cause such as eradication of diseases or supply of fresh water, but to be effective on social issues it’s essential that you understand core problems as opposed to presumptive or inappropriate “best practices”.

When a program originates from a place of understanding then there is generally an inherent sense of dignity and collaboration for all parties which is often absent from a top down approach.

CCF firmly believes in building from the ground up with an intimate understanding of each individual, each family and the overall community.

 

In terms of marketing and digital strategies is there any particular way that CCF is implementing something that’s more creative or a bit more innovative than perhaps other NFPs?

CCF is largely defined by our desire to remain personal and relevant both within our community and externally. We’re funded by private donations which allow us the ability to be more candid about the issues, frustrations, challenges and benefits. It’s not all a rosy picture and we need to present the challenges as well as successes.

There is mutual benefit in bringing a better understanding between the different cultures and between areas of financial disparity. Being able to tell the stories of the people in our community provides perspective to those in developed countries where values, family structures and priorities are often vastly different. There’s still value in wisdom here which I feel has been lost to instant information and “shallow” knowledge in the developed countries.

Also, in terms of fundraising ethics, if you’re going to show a child in need then you’re also obliged to show what you have done for that child. It’s exploitative to show a sad, hungry and dirty child who “desperately needs your help” without also showing what has been done for that particular child.  The child is objectified but the message is designed to hit a personal level. They stop being a person with a life story and become only a subject of pity in order to raise funds. People, especially donors, should ask “what happened to that child? What did my donation do to help him or her?”

 

Another school of thought for innovation is that NFPs can learn and perhaps collaborate with the for-profit sector, implementing a lot of the business strategies that they use. What is your opinion of this? Can CCF could learn from those kinds of tactics?

I came from a hardcore corporate background working as president of 20th Century Fox International. I hadn’t worked in the nonprofit sector and as a result CCF’s structure is more corporate. We’re an organization that requires accountability and responsibility, and where financial and operational measures are applied.

I’ve often been accused of “running CCF more like a business than a charity” I agree with those sentiments when it comes to the infrastructure, staffing and general organizational aspects. However, the focus on those who we serve, whether children, adults, grandparents or the community in general is one of care and tirelessly trying to improve the lives of beneficiaries. The for profit sector can drive better efficiencies, accountability and financial management in the nonprofit sector. This was highlighted this year with CCF’s 100% score from Charity Navigator, an award received by only 51 of 8,500 evaluated NFPs.

 

It seems to reflect this expansion approach to building an NFP from the ground level, as opposed to just consistently sustaining a certain amount of aid from international sources. So CCF is innovative in its ability to have these long-term infrastructures that are constantly expanding and constantly making the worth of the entire charity tenfold.

CCF’s innovation and ability to change according to the environment are core aspects of our success. Being closely engaged with the community means we are able to learn of problems that would otherwise be impossible for an office in Sydney or New York (for example) to discover. It also allows us to identify the best solutions to the problems. The CCF model of integrated, interconnected programs has wonderful, quantifiable outputs such as education measures where absenteeism has dropped from 55% to 5%, school retention has moved from 58% to 96% and maternal care, once a dire 8 – 12% (estimated) amongst new mothers has maintained zero deaths in the last 7 years and 1,100 births, since the establishment of the Maternal Care Program.

Being able to first define then replicate this model in other dysfunctional, impoverished or war torn communities is, in my mind, the future of foreign aid delivery.

 

So how intrinsic do you think your outlook and approach is as an ex-CEO of a huge company?

I came here without a firm vision per se. In retrospect, one of the great advantages was being aware of just how little I knew about Cambodia, the community we were dealing with and how to resolve fundamental and often life threatening problems. CCF started by looking at the most obvious issues of education and need for medical care and has over the years evolved the program and services so that the community is more involved, has greater governance and the empowerment to make decisions. With this, we have set up a structure that has a better educated and higher functioning community and one that will certainly outlast CCF.

 

Yes so it’s a model for an NFP that can be applied to other places and other charities. It’s a system of really helping from the ground up that can be can be used in the future.

The goal for 2017 will be to record the model and all of its programs. There are approximately 65 programs, projects or services from the large, such as education, to the small such as the daycare drop-in. Having the interdependence of these programs recorded with the parallel funding model will allow the model to be tested in other areas.

For example, I had looked at the Myanmar/Bangladesh boarder as a place to replicate the CCF model. Certainly it is not necessary to replicate every program and much like CCF, whoever is implementing this NFP will have their own challenges and will require their own solutions. That’s the beauty of CCF – the nimbleness and awareness of local issues and reacting accordingly. I’m looking to establish a franchise type model where someone working in a similar environment can open the franchise box that shows them how to replicate the same model as CCF in part or in full and with a guide on the fundraising components, especially as it relates to child sponsorships. I had thought in the early days that once I’d set up CCF I could move to another location but I’m emotionally attached to the people we serve here and feel too old and too tired to do it all over again!

 

Related Reading:

Camilla Cooke is the Head of Strategy at Catalyst MDC and formerly marketing director at CBCF the NFP ranked #1 for innovation she can be reached at camilla@catalystmdc.com or connect  on Linkedin.

An unconventional success story: Scott Neeson of CCF

ccf-blog-4-scotts-sucess-story-1500x475

Scott Neeson’s journey to establishing the highly successful NFP, Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) could read like the script of a blockbuster film. The dramatic arc of his rags to riches to rags story is ironic to say the least – as the ex-CEO of 20th Century Fox International, he of all people must appreciate the appeal of a great story.

 

Born in Edinburgh, Scott moved to South Australia when he was five. The son of a cleaner and a defence force employee, he dropped out of school at the age of 17 and soon found himself on the unemployment allowance. Eventually, through a government supported program, he found a job at a local cinema as a projectionist. The story could have ended here, but with a drive and ambition that still defines his philanthropic work today, Scott fiercely climbed the ladder in the film industry. From film promoter to film buyer, he eventually became the managing director of distribution for the Australian arm of 20th Century Fox.

 

By 2000, Scott had moved to LA and landed the job of a lifetime, Director of 20th Century Fox International. He was on a million dollar annual salary and brushing shoulders with Hollywood’s A-listers – it was a perfect story of success. But in 2003, just weeks before starting a new role at Sony Pictures, a six week trip to Phnom Penh changed everything.

“The moment I stepped there it was the single most impactful moment in my life. I was standing there facing into the abyss.”

While on this sabbatical, he witnessed hundreds of children scavenging through Steung Meanchey, a massive 18 acre garbage dump with over 1000 children living and working on it. Scott had it all – a powerful job in the film industry, a big house, celebrity friends and a boat. The Cambodian children and the families he saw had to sort through trash just to survive. It was a disparity that Scott couldn’t fathom, and an inequality he was suddenly impassioned to change. Soon after his return, he resigned from his new position at Sony, sold his possessions and ended a 26-year career in the film business to focus all of his energy and passion into keeping Cambodian children off the garbage dumps forever.

 

Today, Scott lives by simple means in Cambodia, devoting his time to the ever-expanding programs of education, support and leadership that form the pillars of CCF. The core mission of CCF is simple; provide quality education and supporting facilities to children and their families so that they can do more than survive, so that they can succeed and prosper, leading all of Cambodia to a brighter, more independent future.  

 

“I came here without a firm vision per se,” says Scott. “In retrospect, one of the great advantages was being aware of just how little I knew about Cambodia, the community we were dealing with and how to resolve fundamental and often life threatening problems.”

 

From a purely corporate background, Scott launched into a career in the NFP sector with no previous experience in philanthropy. But the characteristics that saw him rise to such heights in the film industry gave him a unique outlook when running CCF. A tireless drive for results and ceaseless measurement of program effectiveness –  an approach usually associated with the for-profit world  – means that CCF has been innovating since it’s inception; it has been at the forefront of revolutionising the NFP model for the last 10 years.

 

“CCF started by looking at the most obvious issues of education and need for medical care,” says Scott. “But over the years we have evolved the program and services so that the community is more involved, has greater governance and the empowerment to make decisions. With this, we have set up a structure that has a better educated and higher functioning community and one that will certainly outlast CCF.”

 

CCF rejected the conventional model of helping as many people as possible, instead choosing to help an initially small community (those at the Steung Meanchey garbage dump) but properly and in a lasting way. “Scaling is certainly most effective when focusing on a single problem with a successful solution, such as the eradication of smallpox,” says Scott. “However when dealing with social issues such as girls in education, domestic violence and nutritional deficiencies, the most effective solutions will always be found by a close, intimate understating of the community.”

 

CCF set about to provide quality education, world class facilities and holistic leadership and support programs to children from kindy to a university level. The results, Scott says, are measurable proof that the CCF model works. “Absenteeism has dropped from 55% to 5%, school retention has moved from 58% to 96% and maternal care, once a dire 8 – 12% (estimated) amongst new mothers has maintained zero deaths in the last 7 years and 1,100 births, since the establishment of the Maternal Care Program.”

 

The key innovation of CCF is it’s ‘whole systems thinking’ approach to the problem of poverty in Cambodia, which involves looking at the interrelationships between all parts of a problem. By incorporating a range of perspectives, conditions, connections and capabilities Scott gained from having a foot in both corporate and NFP worlds, he was able to create a program that attacked the whole system of poverty, rather than trying to construct solutions from within a limited focus. “We work within a defined community and learning root causes is an everyday occurrence. We’re required to rethink previous ways of working, sometimes because they’re outmoded, other times because they are ineffective, and most often because the working environment changes,” says Scott. “Innovation is essential to our understanding and growth.”

 

Scott continues to drive CCF to innovate and provide life changing programs and resources to Cambodian communities. A recent testament to this is the newly built Neeson Cripps Academy (NCA). Funded by the Velcro Group of companies and due to open early next year, the NCA will focus on providing Science, Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) education to impoverished Cambodian communities.

 

Scott’s story ends in Phnom Penh, a place that has changed the trajectory of his life forever. But while his future rests with his continuing work in Cambodia, the future of CCF is expanding. “The goal for 2017 will be to record all of the CCF programs so that the model can be tested in other areas,” says Scott. “I’m looking to establish a franchise type model where someone with a similar environment can open the franchise box that shows them how to replicate the same model as CCF, in part or in full, anywhere in the world.”  

 

Interview with Scott Neeson, CEO of CCF on innovation & NFPs

What is your understanding of innovation in the NFP sector?

For CCF I prefer to look at innovation as defined as meeting unarticulated needs. Rather than take the approach of finding a solution to issues that can be scaled up to a country level, we have instead peeled away layers within a single community. In 2004, we started in Steung Meanchey, the country’s, if not the region’s, most impoverished, dysfunctional community; home to 11,000 people who largely survive on garbage scavenging. The area was still a working landfill with appalling rates of domestic violence, abuse, lack of education, children living and working on the dump, a high maternal death rate and a plethora of social issues.

Focusing on a single community requires enmeshing within it. That is how the construct of a series of interdependent programs, big and small, was achieved. I firmly believe that the future of international aid will be the replication of community models, as opposed to the top down approach where the priority is on scaling to a national level.

Scaling is certainly most effective when focusing on a single problem with a successful solution, such as the eradication of smallpox. However when dealing with social issues such as girls in education, domestic violence and nutritional deficiencies, the most effective solutions will always be found by a close, intimate understating of the community.

And so with that in mind, why you think it’s hard for an NFP to prioritize innovation?

The accountability of many NFPs requires them to meet specific goals. For those receiving aid from the larger organisations, this accountability stymies their ability to innovate. The funding is for specific projects and goals, and I feel that there’s less ability to adapt to the changing conditions.

 

We work with in a defined community and learning root causes is an everyday occurrence. We’re required to rethink previous ways of working, sometimes because they’re outmoded, other times because they are ineffective, and most often because the working environment changes. Innovation is essential to our understanding and growth

In what areas do you think innovation is the most needed?

Innovation is most needed when dealing with social issues. I feel there’s too much emphasis placed on the capacity of programs as opposed to the depth and understanding of root causes which have a longer and more sustainable effect than the gross number of beneficiaries. Again, this doesn’t apply to NFPs with a single cause such as eradication of diseases or supply of fresh water, but to be effective on social issues it’s essential that you understand core problems as opposed to presumptive or inappropriate “best practices”.

When a program originates from a place of understanding then there is generally an inherent sense of dignity and collaboration for all parties which is often absent from a top down approach.

CCF firmly believes in building from the ground up with an intimate understanding of each individual, each family and the overall community.

In terms of marketing and digital strategies is there any particular way that CCF is implementing something that’s more creative or a bit more innovative than perhaps other NFPs?

CCF is largely defined by our desire to remain personal and relevant both within our community and externally. We’re funded by private donations which do allow us the ability to be more candid about the issues, frustrations, challenges and benefits. It’s not all a rosy picture and we need to present the challenges as well as successes.

There is mutual benefit in bringing a better understanding between the different cultures and between areas of financial disparity. Being able to tell the stories of the people in our community provides perspective to those in developed countries where values, family structures and priorities are often vastly different. There’s still value in wisdom here which I feel has been lost to instant information and “shallow” knowledge in the developed countries.

Also, in terms of fundraising ethics, if you’re going to show a child in need then you’re also obliged to show what you have done for that child. It’s exploitative to show a sad, hungry and dirty child who “desperately needs your help” without also showing what has been done for that particular child.  The child is objectified but the message is designed to hit a personal level. They stop being a person with a life story and become only a subject of pity in order to raise funds. People, especially donors, should ask “what happened to that child? What did my donation do to help him/her?”

Another school of thought for innovation is that NFPs can learn and perhaps collaborate with the for-profit sector, implementing a lot of the business strategies that they use. What is your opinion of this? Can CCF could learn from those kinds of tactics?

I came from a hardcore corporate background working as president of 20th Century Fox International. I hadn’t worked in the nonprofit sector and as a result CCF’s structure is more corporate. We’re an organization that requires accountability and responsibility, and where financial and operational measures are applied.

I’ve often been accused of “running CCF more like a business than a charity” I agree with those sentiments when it comes to the infrastructure, staffing and general organizational aspects. However, the focus on those who we serve, whether children, adults, grandparents or the community in general is one of care and tirelessly trying to improve the lives of beneficiaries. The for profit sector can drive better efficiencies, accountability and financial management in the nonprofit sector. This was highlighted this year with CCF’s 100% score from Charity Navigator, an award received by only 51 of 8,500 evaluated NFPs.

It seems to reflect this expansion approach to building an NFP from the ground level, as opposed to just consistently sustaining a certain amount of aid from international sources. So CCF is innovative in its ability to have these long-term infrastructures that are constantly expanding and constantly making the worth of the entire charity tenfold.

CCF’s innovation and ability to change according to the environment are core aspects of our success. Being closely engaged with the community means we are able to learn of problems that would otherwise be impossible for an office in Sydney or New York (for example) to discover. It also allows us to identify the best solutions to the problems. The CCF model of integrated, interconnected programs has wonderful, quantifiable outputs such as education measures where absenteeism has dropped from 55% to 5%, school retention has moved from 58% to 96% and maternal care, once a dire 8 – 12% (estimated) amongst new mothers has maintained zero deaths in the last 7 years and 1,100 births, since the establishment of the Maternal Care Program.

Being able to first define then replicate this model in other dysfunctional, impoverished or war torn communities is, in my mind, the future of foreign aid delivery.

So how intrinsic do you think Scott Neeson’s outlook and his approach is as an ex-CEO of a huge company?

I came here without a firm vision per se. In retrospect, one of the great advantages was being aware of just how little I knew about Cambodia, the community we were dealing with and how to resolve fundamental and often life threatening problems. CCF started by looking at the most obvious issues of education and need for medical care and has over the years evolved the program and services so that the community is more involved, has greater governance and the empowerment to make decisions. With this, we have set up a structure that has a better educated and higher functioning community and one that will certainly outlast CCF.

Yes so it’s a model for an NFP that can be applied to other places and other charities. It’s a system of really helping from the ground up that can be can be used in the future.

The goal for 2017 will be to record the model and all of its programs. There are approximately 65 programs, projects or services from the large, such as education, to the small such as the daycare drop-in. Having the interdependence of these programs recorded with the parallel funding model will allow the model to be tested in other areas.

For example, I had looked at the Myanmar/Bangladesh boarder as a place to replicate the CCF model. Certainly it is not necessary to replicate every program and much like CCF, whoever is implementing this NFP will have their own challenges and will require their own solutions. That’s the beauty of CCF – the nimbleness and awareness of local issues and reacting accordingly. I’m looking to establish a franchise type model where someone with a similar environment can open the franchise box that shows them how to replicate the same model as CCF in part or in full and with a guide on the fundraising components, especially as it relates to child sponsorships. I had thought in the early days that once I’d set up CCF I could move to another location but I’m emotionally attached to the people we serve here and feel too old and too tired to do it all over again!

Related Reading:

Camilla Cooke is the Head of Strategy at Catalyst MDC and formerly marketing director at CBCF the NFP ranked #1 for innovation she can be reached at camilla@catalystmdc.com or connect  on Linkedin.