• Scrub Daddy, a sponge based startup was valued at $1M in 2012, in 2015 they had over $20M in Revenue.
  • Breath-o-meter, a breathalyzer that connects to your smartphone was valued $3.3M in 2012 had revenues exceeding $9M in 2015.
  • Tower Paddle Boards, a sporting goods startup was valued at $500k in 2012, in 2015 they had $7.2M in sales.

What do they all have in common? They were on ABC’s reality TV show, Shark Tank.

There is a reason that ABC’s Shark Tank is popular. For the uninitiated, Shark Tank is a show where real-life entrepreneurs request investments from industry moguls aka Sharks. Sharks such as Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, have the tough job of discerning what ideas are good investments and what ideas aren’t. In addition to the successes listed above, the Sharks have their fair share of failed investments. A company called Toygaroo, like a Netflix for children’s toys, once received a $200,000 investment only to file for chapter 7 bankruptcy a few years later. Shark Tank is just one show, but there are real conversations happening every day between venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to determine where investments should be made. Much like the show Shark Tank, investors are pitched concepts: new companies, inventions, ideas. Problems are solved. Questions are asked. Risks, challenges, opportunities, and goals are identified and evaluated. Investors and entrepreneurs collaborate.

So what does philanthropy have in common with ABC’s Shark Tank?

I think philanthropy has a lot in common with Shark Tank. Funders and investors alike have a limited amount of resources to maximize their impact. For a Shark that impact is a financial return on investment or ROI. Being able to say for every dollar you invest in me, I can give you back $1.25. That is a pretty compelling statement. So how does that translate to philanthropy? Every grant has an impact and foundations are interested in knowing what that is going to be. Sure the return isn’t necessarily a return of wealth to the foundation. But, the return is populations served, greater social good, or an advancement of the foundation’s goals.

Foundations (especially the well-established ones) get a bad rap for being stodgy and cloistered. This is magnified by the new generation of philanthropists on the rise—millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, millennials respond to incentives more than any other generation. This is important because they are approaching grantmaking the way the Sharks evaluate investment opportunities. They are asking questions in the mahogany-walled boardrooms that may have never been asked before. The statement “we typically fund the same nonprofits every year” isn’t going to be good enough for this new generation. If you are a family foundation, are you starting to think about the next generation of board members? And for independent foundations and public charities – how does your organization engage the younger participants in philanthropy?

Millennials won’t just be the next generation of board members, millennials will be the next generation of founders too. Look at Mark Zuckerberg, Aziz Ansari, Emma Watson – all are making the world a better place without starting a foundation in the traditional sense.

My challenge to philanthropy is to think more like investors. Ask yourself—which of your grantees are giving the highest ROI? What makes them successful, and what can you do to better partner with your grantees to ensure their (and your) success?

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Jeff Melando is a philanthropic-minded professional who helps grantmakers strategically assess technology. As an account manager for foundation management technology solutions at MicroEdge + Blackbaud, he is passionate about ideas and ways to optimize processes so they are efficient and effective.

Jeff is a jack of all trades, master of pun, an avid Birdwatcher, and a fervent motorcyclist. He also proudly displays a framed rejection letter from NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Program on his wall (apparently they look for related education and experience).

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