While my passion for positive innovations has shaped my business and investing experience, it has also influenced my role in philanthropy. I’ve found little to be more rewarding than contributing to the causes I care about–those that make the the world a better place. Of the many types of charities I’m involved with, those that aid children’s health and education are a subset very dear to me.
You may have heard of Pencils of Promise before. It’s an organization that builds schools across the world, specifically in developing countries that lack the resources to do so adequately. Many of the charities I involve myself are local to me in Long Island, New York or New York City; Pencils of Promise, though based in NYC, is one that expands beyond my local boundaries, beyond state lines and the US border.
Pencils of Promise was founded by Adam Braun in 2008, and the name comes from one particular his experience traveling abroad in India. When Braun asked a small child what he wanted the most, the answer surprised him: “a pencil,” he said. Braun gave him one, and this moment inspired the name “Pencils of Promise.” The organization has grown far beyond distributing pencils through programs that improve and build schools for children in need of stronger education systems.
Their core belief, you see, is that all children are deserving to equal access to quality education. Even if it’s ultimately impossible to ensure worldwide equality, helping those that are underserved can make a huge difference–not just to the kids, but to their families, their futures, their communities and countries.
Now, as an investor I pick my charities carefully: that is, I want to influence as much change as possible, rather than have my money go to waste–a problem more charities have than you might be aware of. Pencils of Promise has a success rate and business model that bolsters my confidence in the organization.
Pencils of Promise’ model is different from an average charity; in fact, Braun likes to call it a “for-purpose” organization rather than a non-profit for this reason. This approach blends the head of a for-profit business with the body of a humanitarian non-profit, resulting in a hybrid that rigorously measures every dollar’s impact; their bottom line, instead of profit, is efficacy.
Since operational costs are covered by private donors, 100% of donations go directly into educational programs. In other words, you know where your money is going, and it’s not to fancy fundraising events–it’s to the kids and their communities.
Even better, every school built is monitored evaluated carefully instead of left to a potential decline. Thus far, every single school built is fully operational and educating children to this day. That’s 353 schools in total and 33,883 students as of May 2016.
Pencils of Promise is an example of what Forbes referred to as an example of a “charitable startup” in 2013. This is due to the organization’s startup and business-minded mentality.
“Across both startups and the not-for-profit sector,” Braun said, “people are driven by intense passion around purpose and mission – they’re there because they believe the company is doing something that wasn’t there before.” Pencils of Promise is mission and results oriented, and even its fundraising efforts are transactional: partnerships are beneficial to big companies on the marketing and social media end. Partnerships with communities allow locals to raise 10-20% of costs, giving them a stake in the program’s success.
This type of model is one that I believe could inform the future of nonprofits, keeping them accountable for donations money and goal-oriented in mission.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that musical phenomenon Justin Bieber has been a spokesperson for Pencils of Promise since its early years (his manager Scooter Braun is Adam Braun’s brother). The superstar became the organization’s first “global ambassador” just this month. One dollar of every ticket sold for his upcoming Promise tour will go toward helping improve children’s education.
As a father, I know how important education is in allowing children the tools to succeed in life. While my children have been lucky enough to have access to quality schools here in the states, it is rewarding to donate to an organization with values that align with my own, along with being both noble in mission and success-oriented in execution. For these reasons and many others, Pencils of Promise is an organization I’m proud to support.