Checking in with New York’s Philanthropic Middleman, Inspiring Capital

About a year and a half ago, I connected with the founder of Inspiring Capital, Nell Derick Debevoise, who made a business out of connecting grantmakers, grantseekers and donors with nonprofits and for-profit social ventures. Quick recap: Inspiring Capital was established to help socially minded ventures become self-funding. Its mission is to help nonprofits develop revenue sources, while simultaneously helping donors make a larger impact with their money.

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

Since this is a pretty innovative business model, with new ideas floating around all the time, I figured it was high time to check in and see what Inspiring Capital is up to these days. So I scheduled a chat with the organization’s new strategy and operations associate, Alexandra Hanken, to ask a few questions.

Hanken updated me on Inspiring Capital's latest activities and plans. For example, IC recently hosted an event for the current participants in its Women’s Program to wrap up their five-week training program. Participating women performed 60-second personal pitches that they prepared during the training to advertise their skills, expand their networks and find meaningful work.

And coming up soon (December 9), IC will host program alumni, advisors, investors, former and current clients, prospective clients and prospective sponsors at an event to introduce its new client offerings and plans for a March event that will allow qualifying prospective clients to pitch their enterprises for the chance to be sponsored for access to Inspiring Capital's professionals.

Alex also told me about a new “curator recruiting” program that IC is working on. At this point, IC isn’t looking for sponsorship or investors, but is instead using a revenue-based model to find donors to invest in their clients. Gaining a spot on the Inspiring Capital Curator Committee requires a $4,900 donation, which comes with the right of refusal to invest in winning organizations at a March pitch event. This opportunity is pitched as a fulfilling, high-impact way to give back, and it’s the first time the organization has targeted philanthropists and investors in this way to identify early-stage organizations that it will support.

Essentially, it’s a pitch for talent, not capital. It's a unique annualized membership model that we really haven’t seen elsewhere. Alexandra shared that the goal of this curator program is to target individual donors, but maybe later will target foundations or corporate donors.

But it’s important to note that Inspiring Capital isn’t just in the business of assisting nonprofits. There’s a drive to work with for-profit social ventures here, too.

For nonprofits, IC is targeting groups that are looking to switch to earned revenue models and steer away from the fundraisers and galas that have marked traditional philanthropy. Instead, IC wants to help nonprofits become more sustainable by focusing more time on programs than on funding. Both early-stage and well-established groups are fair game.

In New York City, IC has been especially interested in the impact investing scene and turning more in this direction. Women are also of particular interest right now, and the Women’s Returnship Program is worth a look if you’re unfamiliar with it. Alex and her team have noticed that women often have a difficult time talking about their positions, why their work is important to them, and how to switch careers without feeling like they're at fault. These 60-second pitch and resume-building programs aim to address those needs and make women more competitive and successful in the workplace—it's a big issue with women-focused funders these days. Beyond IC's work with women, Alex mentioned that it is working on developing a young professionals program, too.

Another newsworthy update is that Inspiring Capital has teamed up with Cornerstone Capital Group to "advance their shared goal of mainstreaming sustainable business and investment practices." Capitalism, collaboration, and female leadership are at the heart of this sustainable finance partnership.

Many of the nonprofits that Inspiring Capital works with are based in New York City, and you can view a list of current clients on the organization’s website. IC advises nonprofits that it’s a much better "ask" if you already have a sustainable plan in place. Seed funding is the target, and they haven’t needed to dabble in multi-year funding with this model. On the flip side, IC encourages foundations to look beyond specific programs they want to support and rather invest in the entire nonprofit through seed funding, human capital, and professional training.

It’s all quite a bit to wrap your head around, but it’s certainly an interesting business model that seems to be working, especially in New York City. You can get involved with Inspiring Capital by visiting the Hire our Talent page and the Apply pages. General questions about ways to leverage financial, human, social, and intellectual capital can be submitted via online form.