April 2016
Progress Newsletter
The Purposeful For-Profits
by: James Higa, Executive Director

I recently witnessed a tectonic shift in the making, which could lead to massive social impact. YCombinator (YC) is Silicon Valley's best known and most influential incubator.  Companies that are household names like Airbnb and Dropbox had their start in YC. YC has undoubtedly challenged the way we think about how startups are launched and funded.  At their most recent Demo Day, I was challenged to think about nonprofits in a different light.
YC broke down a wall and started accepting nonprofits into their hyper competitive program.  I have to give YC props - they've stuck to their commitment to support nonprofits.  Every Demo Day, the number and quality of these nonprofits have increased. 

Lots of networking at YCombinator
At this Winter's Demo Day, co-founders Rose Afriyie and Genevieve Nielsen of mrelief pitched a screener for Food Stamp eligibility so that people in the Southside of Chicago don't have to wait up to 7 hours for services they may not even qualify for.  It was doubly heartening for me to see that mrelief is building on top of the Ohana open source directory of services - a tech solution that PVF funded - that was developed by San Mateo County and Code for America.
In addition to these nonprofits, what struck me was the emergence of a new breed of purposeful for-profit companies that want to have social impact.  
"Maybe it's time for us to begin breaking down the walls in the ways we think about nonprofit or for-profit." 
At Demo Day I spoke with Copia's CEO, Komal Ahmad, and heard her story of inviting a homeless vet to lunch near the UC Berkeley campus and seeing the irony of Berkeley's dining hall just across the street throwing away thousands of pounds of food.  This compelled her to start for-profit company, Copia.  Corporations around the Bay Area like Google can request a food pickup via Copia, and the surplus food is matched to nearby shelters, food pantries, low-income housing or organizations.  Their technology enables these corporations to receive a tax write-off and a reduction in the disposal costs for providing meals to communities in need.  
During Super Bowl 50 weekend alone, Copia recovered over 28,000 pounds of gourmet food from events and venues throughout the Bay Area and delivered food to 14 different non-profits who provide over 23,000 meals to people who need it.  Copia's revenue comes from a percentage of the tax savings they proactively save for Silicon Valley companies.  Think about the size of the impact they can have if they go national.  

One of the many demos at YCombinator's Demo Day

Unfortunately, most of these companies find it difficult to raise capital.  Traditional venture capitalists see them as too small to matter, and traditional foundations can't make investments in for-profit companies.
Maybe it's time for us to begin breaking down the walls in the ways we think about nonprofit or for-profit.  Maybe we ought to be looking at the actual scale of impact and changes organizations can power and not whether they are nonprofit, a tech nonprofit, or for-profit.  What if a philanthropic fund to invest in all of these great purposeful for-profits could be created? 
PVF has always aspired to be a demonstration foundation of what philanthropy could be. In this spirit, we will continue to ask the questions that pushes all of us to boldly go where philanthropy has not gone before.  Are there any adventurous and bold donors out there who are ready and willing to think out of the box to support innovative startups like these that are redefining the labels 'for-profit' and 'non-profit'?

Read more about purposeful for-profits here.
It Takes a Village - and Some Effective 
Fundraising Efforts - to Rebuild 
Located on the edge of a mountain range is the remote Nepali village of Siman Singh Okhreni. A year ago, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, virtually flattening this village. Residents have been living in temporary shelter ever since.

When assessing how to tackle the daunting task of reconstruction, the villagers decided their first step should be rebuilding their drinking water system in order to prevent water borne diseases that arise when there is a lack of access to clean drinking water. For assistance they called on the Society for Partners in Development (SPD), which is the philanthropic arm of Senge Adventures, a tourism company that organizes expeditions in the Himalayas. SPD worked quickly after the earthquake to deliver customized relief packages to their Sherpa trekking staff and 130 of the most affected families in the region...read more on our blog!

Residents of Siman Singh Okhreni

About the Editors

James Higa
James Higa, Executive Director, brings 28 years of executive experience from Silicon Valley, working with Steve Jobs to change the face of technology. He was at the birth of the personal computer revolution as a member of the original Macintosh team and was deeply involved in the creation of many products and services at Apple over 3 decades. He has a long history of public service as a board member of Stanford's Haas Center and in grassroots relief efforts. 
Bill Somerville, Founder, has been in non-profit and philanthropic work for 50 years. He was the director of a community foundation for 17 years, and in 1991 founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation where he serves as President. Bill has consulted at over 400 community foundations, on creative grantmaking and foundation operations. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker. 
About PVF

PVF is a demonstration foundation practicing unique forms of grantmaking and innovative philanthropy. Our primary interest is in the creative and significant use of the philanthropic dollar.