There are plenty of accelerators around almost in every business sector you can think of. However, discovering the one for charities was quite a surprise for me. But it makes perfect sense – while technological innovation and new disruptive business models are changing the way we make money, they can also change the way we give, and the way we engage with the third sector. The Rainmaker Foundation is a community with a mission to innovate the charity sector by bringing the same resources and tools available to commercial organisations to not-for-profits. The community of Rainmakers come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring their experience, talent and connections to the charity accelerator programme contributing to providing the opportunity to everyone who wants to make a positive impact to have the tools, resources and connections to do so effectively. I spoke to Cosmina Popa, their CEO, to understand better what can and what needs to be changed in the way charities function…
In order to be sustainable and competitive social enterprises need to be able to come up with creative ways to generate funding.
Cosmina, can you briefly describe what the Rainmaker Foundation stands for?
We aim to bring disruptive thinking into the charity sector through new technologies as well as new business models. The main aim is to help charities become more efficient, more impactful, and also financially sustainable. We work with entrepreneurs and founders, advise on business models, and pool resources to position the charities for sustainable growth. By collectively challenging the status quo in the charity sector, we aim to create more agile, transparent and effective charities for the 21st Century.
The change in the way charities operate is very much needed. They are meant to solve problems. In order to solve problems of the 21st century, they need to have access to tools and resources of modern world, use the new business methodology and technology. Most importantly, in order to be sustainable and competitive charities need to be able to come up with creative ways to generate funding.
What are the biggest challenges for charities that you’ve witnessed so far?
Skills gap is a big one. It’s quite hard to find the right talent. Lack of time is another one that comes out of the previous one, as they are trying to do a lot with very small teams. We connect them with mentors and resources, and even just being able to digest and integrate new learnings can be a challenge. The biggest one, obviously, is funding. I’m very passionate about helping charities to find that creative “startup” way to get monetised without having to go out with a ‘begging bowl’ and depend entirely on donations.
Another big issue for charities is scaling. Out of a total of around 200,000 registered charities only 1.3% reach annual revenues of £5m and up, which in commercial terms is not a lot. Also it’s worrying that 1 in 6 small charities believe they will collapse in the coming year… Even a little improvement can completely reshape the sector making it way more efficient – and result in doing more good! A great example of the new type of charity is Charity Water, who managed to raise more than $200m over 10 years by being very clear in their messaging, technology driven, transparent and having a 100% impact model.
Tell me more about the current alumni and the problems they are solving…
Three of the alumi work with women’s issues. We have a charity that works on FGM awareness, which is a big problem and a much discussed antiquated practice. We have another charity that works in India to help tackle domestic violence issues from early days teaching boys to practice gender equitable behaviour. We have three charities working on criminal justice issues. One – helping women with criminal convictions find employment. Another – works with young inmates who are currently imprisoned, providing life coaching to encourage them to think about what they will do when they come out of the young offenders’ institution. Another one within that criminal justice theme works with overturning wrongful convictions, which is an awfully long legal process.
Then we have the children’s issues group. We have a charity in Hull, aiming to raise aspirations for young children from poor backgrounds, where their families live on benefits for generations. They organise trips to bring the children to London and have all these active learning days ‘being’ MPs in the House Of Commons, or being News Reporters at the BBC, or just connecting them with an exciting world, which they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. And another charity is working on connecting professional women with girls from underprivileged backgrounds to help mentor and inspire them.
Now we’re in the process of selecting the next group of charities to take on the program.
What kind of companies are you looking for to accelerate?
They need to be purpose driven, have their main focus on solving a problem (social or environmental). It so happened that most companies we have worked with so far are registered charities, however, that doesn’t need to be the case.
How do you think businesses can change?
Change in business starts with bringing awareness – on the leadership level, within the way the company communicates, or the way it engages with stakeholders. And it will create change. It can happen at any stage, but I do believe it’s very important to engage with companies as early as possible. Once they grow they naturally follow the same path, then when they are a corporate – it gets harder to change… But when you work with early stage founders, excited and engaged, it’s easier to get social awareness ingrained in the company strategy and the mindset of the people who run it.
How are you funded?
Rainmaker Foundation is funded by the community. Rainmakers, we call them. They contribute at different levels, upwards of £1,000 a year. Some Rainmakers have more money to give, others are really passionate about the engagement with charities and are happy to give workshops and volunteer. We are in the process of becoming a 100% impact organisation – meaning 100% of the annual donations from Rainmaker will go directly to supporting innovative projects our charities explore during the accelerator journey. But, becoming a Rainmaker isn’t just about funding, it’s about being called up to do something good for someone.
What is the right way to give for you?
I think it’s deeply personal. In terms of reasons to give – I don’t really believe in the notion of “giving back”. It somehow implies that you need to be given or taken too much to begin with, to feel the need to give something “back”. In a recent trip to Bali I was amazed at how incredible the culture of giving was – everywhere you go, there are “offerings”. It could be just a beautiful flower by your bathroom sink, or something more elaborate. They just have a ritual of giving – it is heartwarming, and it encourages everyone to contribute. And I think it’s very important to be doing it… But in terms of amounts and ways of giving, it’s deeply personal for everyone.
ABOUT RAINMAKER FOUNDATION
As technology continues to play a growing role in disrupting traditional industries and shaping the future market economies, charities have to find ways to adapt to new realities in our changing world. They must learn to use these shifts not just to retain their relevance, but to thrive. We exist to build a bridge between small charities with big potential and the most brilliant and generous business minds with a strong focus on innovation.
In 2016 the community of Rainmakers supported 10 charities in the pilot accelerator with the fundraising and demo day held at The London Stock Exchange on the 30th January. Join us in doing something good.
JOIN US IN DOING SOMETHING GOOD.