Monthly Archives: December 2009

Snow Days for Grown-Ups

From when I was 4 until at least 17, there was little I could wish for more than a good, deep, snowday. I'm sure I wasn't alone in that wish – as soon as the weather started to cloud, and the radio blared that a storm was on the way, I'm sure I was joined by millions of small prayers hoping, wishing, desiring for another day to stay home.

But now things are different. I'm 30, I've built up a small nonprofit over the past few years out of the investment of a friend and my own, and we're betting over 60% of our income right now on earnings that materialize if we deliver the goods: train social entrepreneurs who will either launch revolutionary ventures tackling social challenges for the Jewish People, or train cutting-edge employees and leaders for organizations, Federations and foundations who will help upgrade their institution's operating processes.

And so when the NYTimes says this is an Epic Storm, and when American Airlines cancels my flight out to LA — leaving me fighting for a place on the standby list — I can't be any more different than the 7 year old version of me, sitting by the window willing the flakes to fall faster.

I started thinking about this distinction because I recently saw a heartfelt article by my colleague Dan Sieradski, about how one needs to be independently wealthy to start a new venture. In the article, Dan laments that he had to withdraw his application from a program that might help start his new venture because he realized "it would be virtually impossible for me to do this fellowship without undertaking a massive lifestyle change."

I feel his pain, and went through a lot of the same questions when we started PresenTense. Back then, when we started PresenTense Magazine, we applied for grants and sponsorships but got none. Bikkurim said no, UJA-Fed's COJIR said we weren't their type, and Natan was also skeptical. We projected we'd need $10K to get the first version out so we can start selling ads and subscriptions, so we took out new credit cards and took the risk that earned income from ads and subscriptions would pay us back. Luck was with us — we've printed 10 magazines since then, and run hundreds of events — but it could easily have been a crash and burn. And that would have hurt.

 
About a year and a half later, when Aharon and I launched the first Institute in 2007, we put another chunk on our cards — taking advantage of low interest to take the risk that our consulting income would rise. It wasn't until the Spring of 2008 – after two years of carrying debt — that we had our first big win: the AviChai Fellowship. Sure, we could pay back our interest through earned income — and even paid down a bunch of the principal — but it was AviChai that gave us the runway to take the venture to the next level.

But that took two years, and a ton of sweat equity. No, we won't make a mint because the only "shares" we own of PresenTense are the share of mindshare from the hundreds of volunteers from around the world.

During those two years the story of PresenTense is similar to that of most start-ups: we worked other jobs, everyone was volunteer, and I moved into my parents house for two years to save on rent. If it wasn't for my parents house, and use of storage space in my dad's office for magazine boxes, I'm not sure where PresenTense would be. But luckily we used the resources we had and now we're earning almost $2.10 from tuition and services for every $1 of grants.

As for our fellows, from my knowledge, out of the 41 ventures we've launched, only 47% have received follow-on funding; 81% of our fellows, according to a count a few months ago, now work full-time in the Jewish World — but that means that most of them found other jobs for Jewish Organizations. A win for the Jewish People? Sure – they got passionate, entrepreneurial folks with PresenTense's training. A loss for the fellows? I'm not sure what they'd say.

 
Is there a way to change this level of risk — I'm not sure. But I do think that we can have the Jewish People benefit a bit more and partially remedy the angst Dan expressed so well. Here are a few suggestions:
 
1. Every organization should invest at least 5% in launching new ventures within their structure, and should make those positions available to folks with ideas — an RFP for entrepreneurs-in-residence. This is good for folks like Dan with good ideas, and even better for organizations — just think: every year you get to test out new employees who come with their passion and drive to push forward the mission of the org.
 
2. Every foundation should provide at least 1% of their funds to organizations who have running programs with 0-4 employees. It might not seem like much, but that amount would radically transform the ability of small start-ups to run programs that generate revenue — leveraging donations to increase the size of the pie.
 
3. Funders should demand organizations who have marketable products to grow their earned income base by 10% a year — and reduce funding accordingly unless the organization can make the credible claim that a new investment will enable additional earned income. Of course, follow-on funding should be tied to benchmarks to ensure the organization made good on its word.
 
4. Funders should learn from VC to give larger investments, but benchmark those investments to performance targets. Sufficient runway is key for takeoff. Some organizations will take 4 years to get stable, others will take 2 years. Funders should be able to value the organization in accordance with its plan and put their money down in accordance — so the organization will know they're covered for the next few years if and only if they succeed.
5. Grant officers should rotate into organizations in the fields they fund, so they learn how organizations run — and so they can develop realistic metrics and grant reports to help organizations achieve their aims, and not add additional burden on leadership. Not sure if this addresses the problem at hand – I just think it would be a good idea.
 
And these five are only the beginning of a long list we have been kicking around in PresenTense — and hopefully, by the time we are done partnering with Federations and other large network organizations such as the JCCA, institutional support for start-ups and new ventures will become the norm and not the exception.
 
In the end, what we should not lose sight of is that the Jewish People is benefiting from passionate and creative people like Dan despite our inability to provide the support he needs to launch something independent. We should not lionize entrepreneurs at the expense of individuals who are working for organizations; both have their role, all are in this for the same higher purpose.
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Who is your hero? @presentense runs the first every havdallah event at 92stY Tribeca with a @jewishrobot attended panel on heroes

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@joshfialkoff at the @bostonfellows kick off event

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@bostonfellows kick off dinner

The @cjp / @presentense @bostonfellows are gathering tonight at @jessicabloom ‘s house to celebrate the launch of the new fellowship. And so it is official! The year begins.

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Challah for Hunger Chase’s the Scale

If you have a moment, Please take a moment to vote for Challah for Hunger–the project of PresenTense 07 Fellow Eli Winkelman–in the Chase Community Giving contest on Facebook. 

Vote now!!  http://bit.ly/2O6Iph

Chase Bank is giving grants of $25,000 to the 100 organizations with the highest number of votes.  Voting ends December 11.  That's this Friday!

Challah for Hunger chapters bake and sell, to raise awareness and funds for hunger- and disaster-relief.  Through the challah enterprise, other impacts are achieved: community strengthening and bridge building, Jewish identity development, education and advocacy, leadership training, critical philanthropy training, and more.

When Eli came to PresenTense in the summer of 07, there were two chapters of Challah for Hunger.  In May 08, there were six.  Now, there are almost thirty, based mostly on college campuses in the US.  And Eli has a list of more than 40 other people who want to start chapters in their communities!  In 2009, Challah for Hunger has raised more than $60,000 to donate to other organizations, by baking and selling more than 20,000 loaves of challah.  They are projecting donations of $100,000 in 2010. 

The Chase Community Giving grant would allow Challah for Hunger to better support its existing and new chapters.  Please vote today and encourage everyone you know to do the same.  http://bit.ly/2O6Iph

If you want to take one more step to help, make tweet / update your Facebook status: "Help Challah for Hunger win $25,000 from Chase Community Giving.  Vote NOW! http://bit.ly/2O6Iph"

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Representing @presentense at the Gvahim panel on entrepreneurship in Israel

@gvahim is an interesting new start-up breaking out of the Israeli-French market to serve business-oriented immigrants in Israel in general. I’m looking forward to speaking on the panel and representing social enterprise in Israel and around the world.

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Tel Aviv Fellowship and Center Launch – but what is next?

It was a packed night at the launch of the Telavivit/PresenTense Fellowship and Center steering community building effort — over 70 people tried to squeeze into a space meant for 30, and some were turned away. So what's next?

Well first, if you want to get involved, fill out the form below and we'll be in touch within 24 hours. Second, January 2010 is the official launch of the Steering Committees — so if you'd like to join in one of three workstreams for the Fellowship (Curriculum, Admissions and Marketing) or in the Steering Committee for the Center, tell us through the form below.

October 2010, if all goes according to plan, we will launch the Tel Aviv fellowship in a way similar to our fellowship in Boston, www.bostonfellowship.com — and the Center in Tel Aviv like our Hub in Jerusalem (www.presentense.org/cities/Jerusalem). Looking forward to it? So are we! So tell us how we can get you involved, below.

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Get Involved in Social Impact in Tel Aviv

If you're interested in getting involved or learning more about the Telalivit/PresenTense effort to connect Olim and Sabras through a social entrepreneurship training program and a community center for entrepreneurial energy, sign up below. No Spam.

First Name

Last Name

Email *

I would like to…

  • Join the Steering Committee for the Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship
  • Join the Steering Committee for the Telalivit Center
  • Launch a new venture and want your help
  • Join the community and come to events
  • Hear from you from time to time about opportunities
  • Write or edit for PresenTense Magazine
  • Other:

Thanks so much — we'll be in touch!

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