Being a value-added intermediary isn’t easy. In most cases, funders and nonprofits don’t need an intermediary standing between them. In others, an intermediary adds some value but not enough to justify its costs. Sometimes an intermediary that once added sufficient value to justify its existence no longer does so because of some change in the environment such as technology, funding streams, the state of knowledge, etc. In other cases, intermediaries spend much of their time and money marketing their services rather than actually doing the work. And all too often intermediaries offers services that are largely duplicative with those offered by others. SeaChange has a three-pronged approach to ensure that we add-value:
We focus only in those limited situations where we have demonstrated a value-added role on a pilot/test basis. These tend small, unproven, risky (or perceived as risky), and “dry” (i.e. quantitative/ analytical/financial) areas which play to our strengths as “bankers at heart”. And we stay disciplined by regularly revisiting each of our activities to ensure that we are still adding value.
We are committed to staying small. This makes it easier to be disciplined in terms of the areas we get into (and out of). It ensures that we can maintain a consistently high-quality team with the right mix of skills and experience. It means that we don’t waste too much time fund-raising rather than working on the transactions which are our reason for being. It keeps our fixed costs low giving us more reserves (relative to expenses) and more ability to take risk.
We work in partnership wherever possible. Having positive, cost-effective social-impact is a team sport and SeaChange is just one small player. We do not have the programmatic expertise to do our work without piggy-backing on the knowledge of our funders. We would not be economically efficient absent pro-bono (or low-bono) assistance from Davis Polk, Proskauer, Willkie Farr, Amalgamated Bank and Oliver Wyman. We could not find opportunities on a cost-effective basis without referrals from our network. We are proud to work closely with other members of the ecosystem that help underlying nonprofits do better (e.g. the Human Services Council, United Neighborhood Houses, the Lawyers Alliance, etc).
Our economic model is simple. Our grant-making and lending is organized into funds (see “Our Funds”) each of which pay SeaChange a management fee to cover our costs – mostly staff time – of doing the associated work. In addition to being the manager, SeaChange is a meaningful participant in each fund. We also earn revenue from our advisory services work. Our research and insight-sharing is funded though a combination of our own unrestricted resources and supporting grants. New or pilot activities are generally funded from our own unrestricted resources. While foundations provide the majority of the funds from which we make grants and loans, wealthy individuals provide the majority of the unrestricted resources – in effect the “equity” – allowing us to pilot new things.