The Connectors: How Nell Derick Debevoise and Her Team Make Grants Happen

Perhaps you stumbled upon our recent article about a teacher in the South Bronx whose tiny organization focused on urban gardening and healthy eating scored a $125,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. (Read: "From Crack to Cucumbers: How the Rockefeller Foundation Funds Healthy Eating in the Bronx.")

If you run a small NGO yourself, you know that it's not at an easy feat to pull down big money from major foundations. Sometimes it's about how successful you've been in the past, or how innovative and "hot" your new program is, or—as is very often the case—whether you're well-connected at a foundation.

Or it can be about something else: A third party that brings grantmaker and granteseeker together to make things happen.

Shortly after “From Crack to Cucumbers” went live on Inside Philanthropy, I was contacted by Inspiring Capital, an organization that worked behind the scenes to reassure the Rockefeller Foundation that a grant to Green Bronx Machine—the organization founded by the South Bronx teacher Stephen Ritz—would be used for strategic growth and sustainability planning. This middleman not only helped Green Bronx Machine secure the Rockefeller grant, but begin looking for additional revenue sources as the program expands to other states.

Inspiring Capital was founded by Nell Derick Debevoise to help socially minded ventures become self-funding. Its mission is to help nonprofits develop revenue sources, while simultaneously helping donors have a larger impact with their money. To learn more about Inspiring Capital, I asked Nell a few questions about her company's involvement with the Green Machine grant and others like it.

IP: What exactly was Inspiring Capital's role in facilitating Green Bronx Machine's grant from the Rockefeller Foundation?

Debevoise: I first met Stephen Ritz after seeing his incredible talk at the Social Innovation Summit (Spring 2013). We discussed the possibility of him helping develop aeroponic gardening programs for another Inspiring Capital client in the Middle East. I connected him to my colleague before they both attended Columbia Business School's Social Enterprise Conference, and they got along famously. The Rockefeller Foundation grant was on the table at that point, but it didn't look likely to work out because of a mismatch between the foundation's expectations and Green Bronx Machine's existing capacity for management and growth. 

We were confident that Inspiring Capital's expertise in program development, business planning and strategy, and revenue models and strategy would ideally bridge the gap between Rockefeller and Green Bronx Machine. Luckily, Green Bronx, Rockefeller, and ourselves at Inspiring Capital all recognized this opportunity and moved fast to forge a collaboration that enabled the Rockefeller grant to GBM to go forward, including Inspiring Capital to help with strategic planning, business development, and organizational management and growth for GBM.

Does Inspiring Capital primarily provide services to nonprofit organizations, individual philanthropists, corporate foundations, or private family foundations? Can you provide some examples of the work you do for these different entities?

Inspiring Capital is unique because we work on both sides of the philanthropic "market." We provide strategic and hands-on support for not-for-profits, like the cooperation with Green Bronx Machine described above. Our focus is helping not-for-profits (or social enterprises, regardless of their tax status) achieve sustainability by thinking creatively to identify and develop revenue generation opportunities. 

This hands-on experience with not-for-profits enhances our offering to the donors we work with, which include financial firms, companies, individual philanthropists, and family foundations. Inspiring Capital helps these donor clients to expand and/or integrate their philanthropic giving to generate more impact, and personal satisfaction for their giving. We can help identify and vet great causes, strategize internal or external communications, engage your employees or family members in giving programs, or otherwise optimize donors' activity. The integrated Inspiring Capital approach allows donors to have a more strategic and satisfying impact on the causes they love, ultimately leading to a powerful legacy.

What types of organizations that would benefit from working with you?

The most important success factor for our clients is a desire to apply the same level of strategy and quality to their philanthropy as they use in their business and personal lives. This goal of developing a professional and intentional approach to giving is what Inspiring Capital helps clients achieve, whether they are an asset management firm, operating company, family foundation, or otherwise. We provide the specialized talent, deep sector knowledge, and dedicated human resources to help clients optimize their giving more efficiently than they would be able to do on their own.

Are there any other thoughts you'd like to add?

Our market of strategic philanthropy and social enterprise is an emergent one. There is still a lot to learn and prove about the potential of a more business-minded approach to giving, but all the trends, including business and social challenges, personal interest in and commitment to mission-driven activities, and economic shifts in how social programs are funded (or not), are in favor of our approach. We are proud to be on the leading edge of this progress toward a more creative, collaborative, healthy, and prosperous world!

That all sounds neat to us here at IP. We write all the time about fledgling nonprofits with big ideas but small capacity that could use help. And we know there are plenty of funders that don't just want to support the usual suspects. 

For more information about Inspiring Capital, Nell Derick Debevoise can be reached directly at or by phone at (917) 658-2733.