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Aug. 10, 2012 11:00 am

Why not fund local nonprofits instead of importing them? Some question GreenLight Fund’s impact on Philly

What’s the impact of importing nonprofits into Philly? That’s what one nonprofit consultant wants to know, Generocity reported. Last week, we reported that nonprofit funding firm GreenLight Fund, which was founded in Boston but opened an office in Philly earlier this year, had been awarded $2 million from the federal government. The firm is looking […]

What’s the impact of importing nonprofits into Philly? That’s what one nonprofit consultant wants to know, Generocity reported.

Last week, we reported that nonprofit funding firm GreenLight Fund, which was founded in Boston but opened an office in Philly earlier this year, had been awarded $2 million from the federal government. The firm is looking for its first two nonprofits to fund — but it’s looking outside city limits. GreenLight Fund identifies a city’s specific needs and then imports nonprofits who can answer that call, says co-founder John Simon.

In the Generocity article, Ashley Tobin, who owns a nonprofit consultancy, wonders if GreenLight Fund could better serve the city by funding local nonprofits. GreenLight Fund’s executive director in Philly, Matt Joyce, says this question has come up several times already, but ultimately, it’s about finding national nonprofits that can tackle local problems.

“Our model [of handpicking and expanding nonprofits] recognizes that there are outstanding organizations operating across the country,” he said. It’s important to be “open to innovation that’s happening in other cities that may be relevant to some of the issues here.” [more]

Joyce also says that the nonprofits that come to Philly through GreenLight Fund will need local nonprofit partners, and his organization will work to make those connections.

GreenLight Fund has been successful with this model in Boston in the past eight years of its existence, Simon says. The organization imports larger-scale nonprofits, which often have outposts in several cities,  and helps establish them in a new city. These nonprofits maintain their headquarters and other locations, Simon says, rather than shutting down and relocating to GreenLight’s homebase.

The idea is that the nonprofits will stick around in Philly, Simon says.

In that way, GreenLight Fund executives seem to suggest it’s different from an incubator or an accelerator, which might brings startups to a city to participate in a class but has no requirements or plans for the company to stay in that host city.

Updated 8/20/12: On GreenLight Fund’s blog, Joyce explains the fund’s mission in more detail, responding to recent news articles such as this one. Joyce writes:

The recent articles set up something of a binary conversation about supporting local versus non-local groups – but as the sector becomes more and more complex and entrepreneurial, that discussion has become less and less relevant. Today we have national organizations with a strong local presence in Philadelphia and Philly organizations setting their sights on national expansion. The real conversation now is how do we effectively interact with this culture of nonprofit entrepreneurship to leverage all the positive resources for Philadelphia and avoid the inefficiencies of duplication and excess competition? [more]
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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes began as lead reporter at Technical.ly Philly in July 2012. Previously, she was a city services beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, as part of a project called “It’s Our Money.” She is learning to drive, learning to bike (in the city) but is an expert at taking SEPTA. She grew up in North Jersey and Manila, Philippines but she left the tropics for Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in linguistics. She now lives in West Philly.

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