Landing a Big Bet: How Nonprofits Can Attract and Prepare for Substantial Investment

In a recent webinar from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, grantmakers and recipients of “big bets” discuss the criteria that donors are looking for and the steps that grantees can take to prepare for heightened levels of funding. The webinar was moderated by Mark Edwards (Co-Founder of Upstream), William Foster (Partner and Head of Consulting at Bridgespan), Chuck Harris (Managing Director and COO of Blue Meridian Partners), and Eric Nee (Managing Editor at SSIR).

The market for big bets has increased dramatically over the past decade, with more than double the number of billionaires and triple the number of $25 million gifts. However, there is a significant gap between the eighty percent of philanthropists motivated by social change and the twenty perfect of big bets that go to social change organizations. Part of the challenge, as explained by William Foster, is that few of these nonprofits are ready with $10 million “investment concepts,” where funding is the only missing component. Further, donors typically make big bets after four previous, smaller donations — a prolonged period of trust and relationship building. Bridgespan has found that most nonprofits can successfully explain the compelling nature of their focus issue and how their efforts stand out, but they often face challenges in connecting the two.

Blue Meridian Partners, a collaboration of funders with the capacity and willingness to invest as much as $200 million in a single organization, focuses their big bets on six criteria: proven empirical results, strong leadership, a compelling vision, a track record for growth, a pathway to scale, and a sustainable economic model. The group plans to award $60 million over seven years to the nonprofit Upstream, which was successful in demonstrating how reducing unplanned pregnancy through IUDs and other forms of contraception has a measurable impact on reducing intergeneration poverty. Developing their explicit vision and scaling strategy required a year-long planning process with Bridgespan, a process which provided the framework for both their operational success and ability to secure funding. Both Upstream and Blue Meridian Partners consider the strength of their funding relationship to be founded upon the articulation of an achievable set of outcomes and a clear plan to get there.

Learn more at the Stanford Social Innovation Review.