Philanthropy is stuck in the past, and gives itself little room to grow and optimize. Too often, especially in New York City, philanthropic organizations operate as silos, giving conditionally or only to a legacy cache of organizations with track records they are familiar with. While this model can be useful, it is increasingly exclusive of new organizations with good models and validated visions, but little capital. Big Philanthropy is failing new social organizations and ventures seeking to make wide impact on problems that assail the global poor.
There is a solution, and it has arrived. Alexandre Mars of Epic Foundation is hard at work on 5th Avenue blending data and philanthropy to change the lives of the global poor. Mars, a serial entrepreneur of 15 years and philanthropist with experience spanning tech, mobile, and business, has a unique vision.
Epic Foundation doesn’t give preferential treatment to old, stuffy organizations, or newer ones founded by well-heeled heirs. Instead, it uses evidence-based data tools to identify innovative social ventures, for-profit or nonprofit organizations, give them the tools they need to be successful regardless of prior track record, and then monitors their progress while working with them to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.
Mars’ team at Epic Foundation continues to accomplish this by creating an exclusive global community of philanthropists and corporate donor partners, giving Epic Foundation a continuous stream of free capital. In this way, Epic Foundation duplicates the Venture Capital. They leverage the capital of the growing global wealth community, together with evidence-based data tools, to give to organizations that need capital to deliver social impact, yet which are able to do so. The organization represents the best in a growing field: social impact. Best of all, they charge the ventures they select nothing in return.
“We track per dollar the amount of change we and the organizations we give to are able to actually grow their impact because in addition to giving them access to capital, we actually connect them with people and other organizations who want to do more,”
Mars told me when I met him at TechWeek earlier this month. When I asked him why his competitors were falling short, he said to me with a chuckle,
“While I’m an entrepreneur, and measure Epic Foundation’s activities against others to create new benchmarks, goals, and ultimately, greater impact, we are not in pure competition with other giving organizations because we leverage the wealth of the broader giving community to continue doing our work. Like-minded organizations, like Robin Hood and even the Gates Foundation, are part of our community and so part of our success.”
However, lots of new foundations pop up every day, and most ventures (95%) fail within ten years or less. Why is Epic Foundation different? Alexandre believes that the way Epic Foundation has set itself up in the world of philanthropy gives it a huge leg-up on the competition going forward.
“We focus on disrupting philanthropy in order to make a wider impact on an even wider cache of entities. We give not only to new organizations, but to NGOs and established enterprises as well. Best of all, doing this allows us to access a wide and growing variety of supporters, which include L’Oreal, Carrefour, and the Great Eastern Shipping Company, to name a few.”
Corporations love Epic’s model because they don’t charge anyone anything and their primary concern is to make sure their contributions unlock their full social impact potential. Because of this, Epic helps corporations fulfill their social responsibility goals, while supporting organizations that make global social impact, whether that be feeding children in Darfur, offering underprivileged children access to technology and higher education courses, or getting homeless people out of shelters in New York and other states.
The proof is in the reporting. Traditionally, nonprofits create annual financial reports that explain the conditions of their finances but don’t explain their effectiveness in creating social impact. Donors approve of Epic’s model because this type of reporting is at their disposal at all times. The Epic app is to credit for this. Its biggest features include the following:
Epic’s app provides donors with visibility on the results of the organizations they are supporting from the Epic Foundation portfolio. Thus, it’s not just Epic that has access to the data, but any supporting organization looking to track the impact of their investments. For example, an organization Epic supports called Bottom Line works to ensure low income students in the United States have access to and succeed in higher education. In the US, by age 24, 77% of students in the top income quartile earn a degree, while only 9% of low income students in the same group earn a degree.
Bottom Line’s program has been shown in a rigorous statistical study to increase the probability a low income student will graduate from college within six years by 27% to 43%. One of the indicators Epic Foundation monitors on a monthly basis with Bottom Line is the number of Free Federal Student Aid applications submitted & finalized.
Successfully applying for financial aid in advance of attending college lowers the financial burden placed on students (wherever they come from), which has a causal effect on increasing college graduation rates in the future. Epic donors can see this data in their app to track the results of the organizations, like Bottom Line, they support.
Epic’s app also provides news, stories, photos, and videos streamed to and curated by their team from each portfolio organizations, creating not only a second high-value data point for donors to monitor, but also a growing stream of content to drive their inbound traffic and marketing. The constant flow of information that the Newsfeed provides shows that their money is working hard and that Epic Foundation and the organizations it supports are constantly in motion.
Epic’s app, lastly, creates an individual profile for each organization the donor supports, where they can view data, news, and background information on any of the organizations they support in their Epic Foundation portfolio. This gives Epic not only the credibility they need to build their donor community, but also leverage to increase their selectiveness, which will only contribute to Epic’s value—and the value of the organizations it supports—in the future.
The world is moving towards a more data-centric future, and the best and brightest in every field will rise to the top. Data-driven organizations like Epic Foundation are the future of philanthropy, and we will be monitoring them on an ongoing basis.