FJC Supports Innovation at Benetech

By Benetech, posted on

As the CEO of Benetech, I have two key roles: leading a terrific team passionate about making the world a better place for all… and hunting for funding that enables us to focus on this social mission. For a nonprofit like Benetech, unrestricted operating funds are especially vital. I’m therefore delighted to share here that FJC—a New York-based foundation of donor advised funds—has recently made two philanthropic commitments to Benetech to address this need for unrestricted funds.

Why is unrestricted support so crucial for us? The most important reason is that it’s our fuel for innovation.

Let me explain. Benetech generates 85% of its budget through a mix of government contracts, revenue and licensing fees (income we receive from our products and services), and almost all of the rest in the form of project-restricted foundation grants. Both these types of funding are effectively restricted to running and expanding our social enterprises that operate at scale—such as Bookshare, our accessible, online library for people with print disabilities, or Martus, our secure, open source information collection and management tool for the human rights community. But what’s next? In order to meaningfully advance our mission and to continue to make lasting social impact, it’s necessary for us to go beyond our existing enterprises.

In fact, our team is regularly presented with exciting new opportunities for tackling humanitarian problems through technology applications. At any given time, we have dozens of requests for enhancing our tools, for expanding our services, and for exploring new software-for-good projects. We’d love to further pursue all these in Benetech Labs, because we feel they could become successful new services and social enterprises that empower entire communities to improve their lives. This exploration process involves risk-taking, requires the freedom to prototype rapidly, and… that’s right, depends on unrestricted support.

When I recently met with representatives of FJC, they asked me what Benetech’s greatest need was. I told them just that: what we need most is unrestricted support to allow us to use technology in new ways, so that we can help many more people and make ten times the social impact.

I’m thrilled and thankful for FJC’s generous support. With FJC’s help, Benetech met with a generous donor of theirs who has a Donor Advised Fund and other philanthropic programs there. This has led to two commitments that build unrestricted support for Benetech.

The first is a $50,000 matching challenge-grant through July 31, 2014. A first-time experiment for Benetech, this challenge-grant provides an excellent opportunity for us to appeal to new donors to support our work with unrestricted operating funds. It encourages donors to act now, rather than delay their support until year-end. We hope that at least some of these new supporters join us as Benetech Labs Partners—donors who make a significant annual contribution to Benetech and become involved in our new projects. We’re very excited about the opportunity to welcome new supporters to the Benetech family and to engage with us in figuring out which software social enterprises will be the next ones to deliver large scale benefits to underserved communities.

Second, FJC has awarded us a $350,000, five-year term endowment. This is a new kind of impact investment tool for us, essentially structured as a zero interest loan. During the five-year term, Benetech shall receive all of the income off the principal in the form of unrestricted support. The principal remains untouched and Benetech is obligated to repay it at the end of that period. Though this mechanism, FJC is providing us the type of flexible and long-term funding that we need in order to deliver effective programs as well as to open new frontiers at the intersection of technology and social change.

This level of recognition from FJC is a great honor and we are deeply grateful for their helping us address our most significant philanthropic need. It is the commitment of supporters like FJC—who share our vision of a future where the advantages of digital information touch the lives of all people, not just of the richest and most able five percent of humanity—that will enable us to make more impact than ever.