More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“Emergence”

"In a field that is supposed to be color blind, [black Americans] face some of the toughest hurdles raising money in Silicon Valley. Largely shut out of this closed network of investors, investment bankers, lawyers, and business people who regularly meet for breakfast at Buck's in Woodside and schmooze over dinner at Il Fornaio in Palo Alto, a growing number of black entrepreneurs are doing something about it. They 're forming networks of their own to raise the profile of black businesses and increase their numbers." -From "Blacks Do End-run on Venture Woes" by Jessica Guynn, Contra Costa Times , June, 2001. (See www.ascendventures.com .)

Charles Crockett is a partner in Ascend Ventures ( www.ascendventures.com ), a venture capital firm that invests in early stage technology companies.

All four of our company's partners are African-American. Before we started our own business, we were all senior executives at investment banking and private equity firms. All of us would run across attractive investment opportunities, but our respective firms didn't necessarily have an interest in them. So we decided to pool our own financial resources and invest in private companies. As word got out in the marketplace that there were four African Americans willing to put their own risk capital to work and aggregate the capital of others (sometimes amounting to more than a million dollars), before we knew it, we had a portfolio of sixteen companies. We decided to leave our firms and form the Ascend Venture group.

The biggest way that money has changed things for us is that, because all four of us had been financially successful in our individual careers before we started the firm, we were able to take capital and deploy it in other situations. We could have done other things that were not nearly as risky, but the money gave us the flexibility to take risks. If we hadn't had the capital to lose, we would never have considered it. If we hadn't first been financially successful, there is no way we could have thought about making these investments in early-stage technology companies.

What distinguishes us from other venture capital firms is that we leverage our own network of women and minorities to find good investment opportunities. For example, we'll find an investment opportunity because we have a relationship with a minority entrepreneur, or we'll hear about a new company because we're close to an African-American student business association, or we come across a company through an organization that is promoting female entrepreneurship. This network allows us to identify attractive business opportunities to which other venture capital firms would probably not have access. The companies we invest in still have to be held to the same standard as other businesses.

Our business model is investing in good businesses. The value of creating successful new businesses can't be underestimated. For us to play a small part in establishing new small companies that will employ hundreds of people and assist many other businesses to become more efficient is important in and of itself. A by-product of our sourcing strategy is that many of the businesses we help create are led by women and minorities. Of far greater importance, however, is that we have to make profitable investments for our limited partners. Otherwise we won't continue to have capital to invest. It is so important for us to have capital to enable others to pursue their dreams.

-From a conversation with Pamela Gerloff


Laura Loescher is director of programs for Changemakers ( www.changemakers.org ), a national foundation that gives grants to organizations practicing and promoting community- based philanthropy; it also helps donors direct their giving toward social change.

To me, community-based philanthropy is the point where personal transformation and societal change intersect. In this model of philanthropy, diverse groups of people come together to create a common vision for a better future, and this enables change on many levels. Everyone comes to the table with different resources. Some have financial capital; others, in the words of Wayne Muller ( www.breadforthejourney.org ), have "wisdom capital." Grantor and grantee decide together where and how to use the available resources. Through community-based philanthropy, those of us with access to wealth can more fully understand that the real authorities on how to solve social problems are the people who are experiencing those problems directly. Having never been poor or hungry, how fully can I understand what is needed to create systemic and sustainable change in communities where everyone has experienced poverty? As people come together as equal partners in creating community change, they often go through incredible shifts in their perceptions of and actions toward others. I've seen people who wouldn't otherwise cross paths inspire each other to give more , take action on an issue, and be more patient with people who are different from them.

Not only does community-based philanthropy help us make better grant decisions, but the process of making those grants can transform people's lives by helping us break through the barriers that separate us from one another. Then philanthropy is no longer about helping "those" people; it is about creating a circle of giving and receiving in which we are all nurtured and celebrated.

-From a conversation with Pamela Gerloff
1 For an interview with Wayne Muller, see More Than Money Journal issue #26, Effective Giving: Finding Your Own Path.


"...many of America's most ambitious and creative nonprofits have concluded that handouts are no longer enough, that government and altruism can't improve the lives of the poor. The new nonprofits want to harness themselves and their causes to the unparalleled power of the marketplace." -From "Charity For Profit: How the New Social Entrepreneurs Are Creating Good" by Carl M. Cannon, National Journal , June 16, 2000 (See www.community wealth.org .)

Bill Shore is founder of Community Wealth Ventures, Inc. (CWV), based in Washington, D.C. Community Wealth Ventures ( www.communitywealth.org ), is a national for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. CWV helps nonprofits generate new sources of revenue to support their work.

Nonprofits need to stop expecting donations simply because their cause is noble. They have valuable, and sellable, assets-expertise, networks of volunteers, long experience in helping people. They need to stop thinking of how to get donations and start thinking of how to market assets. Nonprofits can create their own wealth, enough to effect social change on a vast new scale-lasting, radical social change.

Community wealth is financial wealth that is "owned" by the community rather than by its shareholders. It is tangible wealth, and it can and should be used to benefit the community. It is wealth that is "earned" by rather than transferred to a nonprofit organization. For example, CWV worked with a large health care services provider and discovered that its IT division was providing outstanding technical and computer related assistance to the organization's employees. CWV helped the organization formalize these activities and offer them as for-fee IT consulting and training services for all are a nonprofits. The organization's nonprofit expertise and technical personnel were key competitive advantages that have helped them grow in this market.

Whether or not organizations succeed in creating community wealth depends on their ability to think in new ways about assets they may have taken for granted or not initially recognized as such. It all begins by understanding that you are worth more than you think.

You may wonder: how do we do this without compromising our values or selling our soul? I think what you have to do is to view it as a means to an end. Is thinking this way a distraction? Well, maybe. Is it as distracting as spending six weeks of the year talking on the phone to people to get them to come to a fundraising dinner they don't really want to come to in the first place?

This is what is at stake in creating community wealth: it will determine whether we address our most pressing social needs with whatever leftover resources are available, or instead with the best resources available; it will determine whether our progress is incremental or monumental; it will determine whether our grant recipients and community partners have the ability to do not only what is popular, but what is right; it will determine whether our grant recipients and community partners have the freedom to invest in themselves and their own operating capacity; and it will determine whether those who live in and work closest to the communities they serve have the freedom to run their programs their way. For these reasons, community wealth means something far more important than money. It means dignity.

- Excerpted and adapted from The Cathedral Within by Bill Shore and "Profit with Honor" by Tracy Thompson, Wall Street Journal, December 19, 1999.


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