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Nonprofit Radio for April 6, 2018: A Conversation With Adam Braun

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My Guest:

Adam Braun: A Conversation With Adam Braun

ADAM BRAUN PENCILS OF PROMISE ©ELISABETH CAREN

He founded Pencils of Promise with $25 and in 2014 they had 200 schools globally. Today they have over 450. His book is “The Promise of a Pencil.” Adam was a Forbes “30 Under 30” and one of Wired Magazine’s “50 People Who Are Changing the World.” Today he’s CEO of MissionU. We talked about his journey founding and growing Pencils of Promise, and the mantras that guided him. (Originally aired March 21, 2014.)

 

 

 

 

 


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Oppcoll hello and welcome to tony martignetti non-profit radio big non-profit ideas for the other ninety five percent on your aptly named host oh, i’m glad you’re with me. I’d suffer the embarrassment of telesis if i saw that you missed today’s show a conversation with adam braun he founded pencils of promise with twenty five dollars, and in twenty fourteen, they had two hundred schools globally. Today they have over four hundred fifty. His book is the promise of a pencil. Adam was a forbes thirty under thirty and one of wired magazine’s fifty people who are changing the world today. He’s, ceo of mission you back then we talked about his journey, founding and growing pencils of promise and the montrose that guided him that originally aired march twenty first twenty fourteen i’m tony stick to non-profit radio at ntc, responsive by pursuing full service fund-raising data driven and technology enabled tony dahna slash pursuant to radio by wagner. See piela is guiding you beyond the numbers. Wagner, cps dot com tell us turning credit card processing into your passive revenue stream. Tony dot, m a slash tony tell us here is my conversation with adam braun rather than read his bio, which i would ordinarily do. I’m going to read his auto bio, i have a book coming out in march, the promise of a pencil that i think would really interest you and your readers. I know what he meant. That’s okay, i found it pencils of promise five years ago with twenty five dollars, and we’re rapidly approaching our two hundredth school globally, so i decided to write something for non-profit professionals and millennials with the most important lessons i’ve learned in creating a global movement. Anyway, i’d love to be a guest on your podcast to share lessons and insights around the book that is around the time the book is being released march eighteenth. If you’re interested in chatting further, please shoot me an email. Adam run let’s channel further that’s absolutely glad you sent that email. Welcome. Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure. Pleasure. Um, congratulations on the book. A couple of days old. Yeah. Yeah. I’m really excited about it. Outstanding. You call yourself? I think so. It’s somewhere. Or maybe was in one of your e mails? I’m not sure an impossible list. What’s what’s going on with that? Yeah, actually, i shared that on a couple of speeches, but okay, maybe i saw it on a video then. Yeah, i find that, you know, different people view themselves of different associations. You know, i’m a pragmatist. I’m a realist. And i just realized that the things that excite me, the things that i believe in and pursue, they tend to be that which others demon possible and so just kind of came off the cuff. It’ll talk, and it seems like it’s resident with a lot of people. And so i aptly i will say that i’m a nim possible ist right that’s, quite admirable school on dh. You also say, well, in the book that where you start in life doesn’t dictate where you finish. You’ve had you’ve had quite a journey, and we have an hour to talk about it and pencils of promise, but i like that a lot where you start doesn’t dictate where you finish. Yeah, that’s when the foundational beliefs, i would say that i was raised with on one of the things that dictates a lot of the work that i pursue now, it’s, just this core idea that where you start in life should not dictate where you finish and that where you’re born, i shouldn’t have a bearing on the opportunities and the guess path that you take going forward, and the book is divided into thirty mantra is correct, which are also very cool. I like those let’s, so we’re going to talk about a couple, you know? And then we’ll work our way. Tio, through your journey and talk some good amount. Ah, maybe second half about pencils of promise. Perfect. Um, leave your leave. Your comfort zone is a mantra and you have a little you have a story for each each mantra and it’s a good thing you came up with a nice even number thirteen way had twenty seven. What would the editor of with the publisher have taken you with? Only twenty seven or truthfully, i was trying to stick the twenty five, starting with twenty five bucks. I figured the twenty five most important lessons that i had learned. Good, but truthfully, they they just kept on kind of pouring out, the more that i would write. And so i ended up china, find an even number and went with thirty. Okay. Yeah. Did you have to do? It was with a marginal five difficulty from twenty five to thirty. I was stuck on kind of twenty eight. Twenty nine e take you twenty nine way can’t work with twenty nine exactly one hundred one if you get to one hundred one that’s a very popular number, but exactly all right. So one of them is leave your comfort zone. There’s there’s. A good story around that. Yeah. So, you know, when i was growing up, i guess to even rewind and start things from the very beginning. I was born in new york city, but i grew up in the suburbs. I grew up in connecticut and essentially the town that i was raised in, which was granted connecticut. My parents picked because it had the best public education system. They just kind of mapped out their most important criteria when they wanted to raise children. Both of them came from total poverty. My dad was an immigrant like that in this country when he was three on a boat. His family post holocaust survivors escaping the hungarian revolution. My grandmother worked in a sweatshop for her first ten years. New york after surviving just siri’s of it’s, a horrific atrash cities through her childhood, including being in the concentration camps for about a year and a half, and losing our whole family. And so what they really valued. I think his parents was opportunity attained through education, and so they picked greenwich that’s, where we moved when i was probably about four, and i was just one of those kids who, because of the two things that were valued in my household, being family and education, i poured myself into the books, and i also played a ton of sports basketball being the main one, and so i ended up moving through high school and just becoming really, really interested in working in finance, actually, because so many people in greenwich, our finance professionals and, you know, you look around and you see who’s, the person with the nice car in the big house and we’re going, we’re gonna have a chance talked about bain capital where you were and, you know, you’ve got some good stories from there. Yeah, yeah, eso so i’d actually open up any trade account when i was thirteen, because you could think that and then started working at my first hedge fund that i started working out. And, you know, i wasn’t doing probably very high quality work, but i still on opportunity that they gave me to be inside of a head shine when i was about sixteen. And so then by the time i was nineteen, i was in the summers working at a fund of funds. But the important thing for this mantra, this get out of your comfort zone idea is that i went from, you know, fairfield county. I went to brown university for college, so state in new england and pictured myself going into this financial profession, moving to new york city. And when i was twenty, as a sophomore in college, i ended up seeing a film called baraka that was shot in twenty four different countries, just beautiful, beautiful cinematography. But most importantly, it showed these indigenous cultures and these beautiful geographic wonders all around the world. And i just thought, if these things are existing somewhere, i need to see them with my own eyes. I need to absorb them myself. And i just got this this mantra, this kind of phrase in my head get out of your comfort zone and this kind of restless voice picked up in may and said, you know, until you leave the comforts of what you know, you’re really not going to discover who you are, and so it led me tio go on semester at sea, which was the first i would say, a significant experience outside of the bounds of what i was familiar with, and that just changed my whole life, all right? And we’re going to we’re going to continue further, but semesters si has a great story. Uh, where you have quite a quite a harrowing experience on the ss you assassin explorer as explorer. So, you know, one thing i will just say as i am, could not be a bigger advocate of semester at sea. It was the best and most important thing i’ve ever done in my life. Outside of getting engaged, i would say, okay, fiance, right, right. Good. And so i went on a semester at sea in spring two thousand five. We left from vancouver headed towards korea, and the expectation was that i would get to see ten different countries and you have forty six days. To travel through each country completely independently as backpacker, do whatever you want and just make it back to the ship by whatever. Tuesday at five p, m and you’re studying about each of these cultures before you get there. So it’s just an incredibly enriching experience and my ship eyes. One of the kind of more famous voyage is over the last fifty years of semester at sea. Usually if you’re famous on sametz see it’s because something went wrong, but my my voyage was struck by a sixty foot rogue wave about eight hundred miles from land while crossing the north pacific in winter, and the way that hit us as we’re going from vancouver to south korea shattered the glass in the area that house the navigational equipment. So we lost all power to our engines, and we were in this kind of mega storm being tossed around by forty five foot swells on each side. And so we had basically this, this kind of panicked announcement that was made that said, get to the fifth for hyre helped women, children up the stairs and get to your muster stations, you know, keep on your life jackets. And your muster stations there were you evacuate a ship from so that type of call is, is that those of us who’ve been on a cruise? You visit your muster station once exact beginning of the cruise, right? And then you never go back and that’s the assumption for for all cruises and all all sea voyages. Exactly. So we had, you know, we’re college kids, and so we’re messing around, playing with the little lights on life jackets and, you know, you’re looking around thinking, is there someone that i can probably maybe china floor with, like, you know, you’re nervous kid? And so so we don’t pay much attention to the whole muster station exercise, and then suddenly you get this announcement. That’s what you mean muster station that’s where we evacuate from and look outside, we can’t evacuate, and so, um, i had what i would call a certain death experience. I really genuinely believed that i was goingto perish in the next few hours. And when you go through something like that, a taste in my case too, things happen. The first was you asked the question of why am i here in the first? Place if i’m about to perish like, what is the reason for my existence? And then the second is when i’m gone, what will i have left behind? And because of that, i just became i would say pretty obsessed with this. These two questions one what is my sense of purpose? And then too, what are the footprints that i can leave behind amassing significant personal wealth, getting a big house suddenly that became pretty deep prioritise this is all going through your mind as you’re at the muster station way never even actually made it up there. This happened in my room. Oh, this is all in your room. Things are being tossed around, right and furniture’s falling. This was but yeah, it was it was it was pretty wild. Alright, we went upstairs and then waited upstairs for several hours. All right, we’re going. We’re going to go out to a break right on middle of this great story deliberately because there’s a good story about a tattoo coming up and obviously he survived and we’ll continue the journey from there. Hang in there, it’s. Time for a break pursuant. The current paper is demystifying the donor. Journey two weeks ago, i talked about this with taylor shanklin, i know you remember that from pursuant, so you don’t need the paper. But how about a friend? Someone who can use help with donor stewardship help keeping their donors so they don’t have to replace them year after year, which, you know is expensive and a waste of time, you know, because you listen, get somebody who doesn’t you got somebody in mind if you don’t you’re not thinking hard enough. Think again. Get it, get it. Okay, you got somebody? Send them to the paper at tony dahna slash pursuant radio and if they want more, send him to the march twenty third show. Demystifying the donor journey. Tony dahna slash pursuing radio now back to adam braun. Lost at sea welcome back to big non-profit ideas for the other ninety five percent. All right, adam braun, you’re you’re in your room. Things are being tossed around. You’re you’re having your having cereal, you’re questioning your existence in pretty serious ways, right? S o i thought, what a cliffhanger believe latto yeah, eyes is high adventure. Yeah. Non-profit radio. Yeah. No, it is. I mean, the just to give away is that i did survive. I’m still here, so yeah, i mean, the part about the tattoo is i got a tattoo when i was yes, eighteen, which is pretty crazy to think about, but i got a tattoo it’s the mirror image of two words and those two words, i believe. And so there were image of, i believe, yeah, yeah, so it’s a name? I mean, two words in hebrew and ah, they ii see it correctly in the mirror was meant as a very kind of personal thing. Onda kind of, i guess, just reminder that whatever’s in front of you, whatever you think you can’t kind of conquer if you have that self belief that it can be made real. And so, you know, i’m sitting the rumors going around about my tattoo, you know, right now live well, i’m glad you took your outer sweater off. Put your shirt up picture that i can it sze literally that crystal and i wouldn’t really can’t picture. All right, i’ll get pictures of you, but not i i will point to where it is on my body. Okay, on dh so it’s it’s a little it’s over my heart, and so i basically, you know, kind of said my prayers ask the big questions and this this kind of knowledge, this calmness, this stillness came over me and suddenly just kind of, i guess knew that it wasn’t my time, ondas soon as i knew that it wasn’t my time that it wasn’t my kind of data. Parrish i recognized right that’s for a reason. There’s there must be a reason that i’m here in the first place, and now i kind of value the sense that whatever comes next is probably gonna have a much more depth to it and that’s after we survived, when the next thing that happened is we fortunately, we’re able to travel through the developing world for the very first time in my life. I’ve never been exposed, teo poverty at that level to just indigenous cultures all around the world. It’s just not part of what we did when when we were kids growing up on dh so fortunately ship doesn’t go down there’s mass hysteria for about four or five hours, but semester it’s, he just did a miraculous job of weathering some obviously tough conditions. And then from the administration actually making sure that our semester could continue because most other probably woulda latto just get cancelled or something. And so we start traveling through these different countries, and i had a habit of asking one child per country, what do you want most in the world? And i figured i would get this this kind of material answer of what they want, and i haven’t write it down on a piece of paper, and then i could make a collage in my dorm room back-up college of, like, the different kind of cool things that kids were interested in buying around the world and that’s when i got to india, which is where i wanted to see most before i left on the trip and when i was there, it’s just it’s very devastating to see the levels of poverty that you witnessed there because oftentimes there’s a suffering associated with it, like there’s, just pain on people’s faces and you feel pretty helpless you feel like you can’t really do anything, especially as a twenty one year old at the time. And so i asked this one boy who was begging on the streets in northern india. He was like my one kid that i decided i was just so interested. Like, what would he want? You know, would it be a house would be a car? Would it be a boat? And i said, if you have anything the world, what would you want? And his answer was a pencil, and it just blew me away. And so i kind of started to ask some more questions, and i realised he had never been to school before and that anything that he was given was taken away from him money kind of candy, etcetera. But i guess in his mind, you know, he saw there boys coming back from school with pens and pencils, writing on piece of paper and that the one thing that he wanted to pursue was unlocking his own creativity, opportunity, curiosity, imagination and that access to education would do that. And so i gave my pencil. He lit up, and i just started passing out pens and pencils everywhere that our travel after that because it opened up conversations often times with with young people about their hopes and dreams, and if not, i would give it. To a mother in a market so i could ask her about what she wanted for a child, and it just always came back to quality education. And so from that point forward, i just became obsessed with creating, you know, world there are at least helping to create a world in which every single child has access to quality education and r and you site in the book the our global education crisis. Yeah, yeah, right now, there’s fifty seven million children without any access. Teo basic education what’s justus bad, because that really focuses on the access issue, but i’m really happy to see that a lot of the global leaders on education are focusing on second element, which is quality learning on dh. So you have two hundred fifty million children who are in classrooms but cannot read or write their own name by the end of fourth or fifth grade. And so it’s more than just getting kids in rooms it’s, it’s actually making sure they have quality teachers and that learning outcomes are being valued as well. Part of one of the monsters that you you touched on in the story of the ss explorer is andi travels that came after? It is that tourists see and travelers seek yeah, you’re clearly a seeker. Yeah, that that was one of my firm for probably two or three years. That was my main mantra that i just wrote on any piece of paper that i could as a reminder to myself. Because when you, when you really start traveling, you take a lot of pride in being a traveller. And you almost disassociate with tourism. Yeah, it’s, sort of. Well, the tourists will just sort of rattle off the country’s, right? Oh, i’ve been there. I’ve been there. I’ve been there, right? Right. I mean, tourists and my mind are are interested in seeing and and it’s not to discount tourism, because now i have vacations where i just want to be a tourist sometimes. But that’s when you’re kind of interested in seeing what i would say the quote country has to offer, like the museums, the moss, the churches, the center guys the most, you know, kind of beautiful sights when i think about being a travel that’s much more about what the people have to offer and so that’s about, you know, getting into individuals, homes, you know, eating the local food with local people, seeing what actual you know, the regional customs are and how people lived, not how they present their historic artifacts to those that are interested in the tourist elements of that culture. And so, you know, it’s, not the discount either one of them, but i find and certainly when i was in my early twenties and i was traveling country after country after country for extended periods of time, i was interested in seeking and almost finding answer is not just, you know, seeing beautiful sights, you were pretty comfortable at another place where you ended up not doing internship, but working, obeying you had had an internship there first, right? You know, so so i don’t i held different internships in a financial industry so again, since i was kind of sixteen on words most summers, i would work either hedge fund’s fund of funds or institutional banks and then came back after some of my travels and went through interviews with investment banks and consulting firms in private equity, and i landed up ended up at bain and company, the consulting firm, which eighty percent of people had been capital to private equity firm are form being consultants. So in my mind, i was going to bane and company to then work at bain capital, and you were you were comfortable there hyre from outward appearances, but but there was, ah, discomfort internally. Yeah, very much so. And i know that i speak about this in the book and again, i’ll say i mean, i’m a z big of a proponent of banning companies possible. I had such an incredible experience there. And truthfully, there’s no way that pencil a promise would have become what it became without my my training and experience and the goodwill of the people at bane that i worked with. But, you know, coming out of school, i was so passionate about this one issue, but time and time again, when i would share with people i want to go build a school, and i wanna go help kids in this one country, whatever that country might be that i was passionate about at the time they’d say to me if they knew me. Well, well, this sounds great, but you’ve always had a business background. You speak the language. Of business, why don’t you try and get some more formal business training? And then maybe even a mass some personal wealth and with that wealth start something and with your network and resource is etcetera build something based off of your kind of business career and kind of reluctantly took their advice and saw it for what it was and it was pretty sound. And so i went to work in vain, but with the whole time i was there, i viewed it is a form of paid business school, and i think that’s really important for any young person in any job is to not go into the job thinking all right, what’s my salary and, you know, prioritized the prestige of my business car, but it’s really, about how much can you learn? Because because that’s what’s, valuable in your first two or three jobs is kind of creating the foundation for your like operating system in the business world going forward. And so i went to maine and, you know, it was working on these great fortune five hundred or forty one thousand companies learning a ton, but i just what couldn’t get passionate about the clients that we worked on and it’s just the industries i wasn’t intrigued by. And so i was at the time, living in this really beautiful apartment. And in new york city. Yeah. I mean, i had this great apartment on union square. Onda had, you know, access to really fun parties and a bunch of my friends from high school and college and different travels were used to go to republic. The noodle shop? Yeah. It’s. Really good. I like it noisy, but yeah, they have very, very good, pat. Yeah. And so from outward appearances, i was working at a very prestigious firm, eyes twenty three going on twenty four on dh. So i was making good money. I had business opportunities that were absurd for somebody of my age. I mean, back then, this is kind of two thousand seven, so it was just before a lot of the crash happened. So we were getting calls from major private equity and hedge funds that were offering us two hundred fifty thousand dollars until yvaine. And i’m you know, like twenty forgetting offered two hundred fifty grand toe leave my job. That’s already a good job on dso. From all outward appearances, somebody who said like, wow, this is a guy that’s really got it made, but internally i was living a life that was one of you would say, exclusively self interest on dh that’s just because i was, i don’t know just a young kind of single guy in new york with a good job and obsessed with getting into a party or how much money i could make our, you know, just something about myself, and i kind of realized one day that i wasn’t living the type of life that i had aspired to live, and when i thought back to that day on semester it see where i recognized both purpose and the value of legacy i wasn’t pursuing either, and i needed to find a way to get back to that. And the single most powerful way that i could do that was by focusing on honoring or service to another person. What do you think brought you to this evolving introspection had what? Is there a trigger or just it’s? Looks like it’s snowing inside or what is it that brings you to think, i think it’s two things and again i would advocate for anyone else that they pay attention to both of of any age, by the way o for sure doesn’t only latto millennials, for sure. I mean, i’m now thirty, and i paint china pay attention of both as often as i can. The first is the restless voice that keeps you up at night on dh that’s, one of my montrose that i’ve used for years is just embrace the late sleepless nights like the things that keep you up at night actually don’t try and turn those off every so often just try and dive into them and see what it is that’s gnawing at you and pulling you, and it says that tattooed on, you know what? Maybe one? Okay, everyone day still very meaningful to you not to minimize it, right? Right? And then the second thing is writing so written in usually like, i’ll buy a really nice kind of leather bound journal, because i find that if you have a journal that you really love, it’ll lead you to write in it mohr and write better content rather than just kind of buying like a John cheap $:10 barrel bound that’s. Been my you know, my dreams, aaron spiral bound, you know, because i could rip them out when they don’t come true. It’s it’s and then i just buy a new binder after i’ve exhaust one hundred fifty sheets one hundred fifty dreams gone now just got two pieces of cardboard and a wire holding them together, right? I just throw the whole thing away and start again so so yours or i’m gonna get you one of the but, like, fifty dollars leather valente’s gonna drive, but i’m telling you, once you have a nice day journal, you almost feel like i this thing is going to be around for a while and made my crane kids will read this one day, so i have to write realists kind of essential truths that will carry forward. And so so every so often i try and write, and when i write, i just look at the words on the page and it’s like, why am i not following this? And so that those are the two things that helped me pull pull things out that, i guess lead to the introspection that you’re describing? Um so despite thea, i don’t know either encouragement to wait or discouragement. Tio start immediately from mentors and family, too. You know this advice? That seems sound, but it was still troubling to you. You started with you started pencils of promise with twenty five dollars. Yeah, s so what ended up happening was that bane has something that they called their ex turned ship opportunity and it’s usually in your third year where you can go work for anyone else for six months and come back and it’s really nice way for to get industry experience for them. Teo also keep you within the company while giving you the opportunity to, you know, test your your foot in the waters of one of the industry’s you might be interested in. And so most people leave their work at one of the main portfolio companies or they’ll work at in the financial sector, hedge funds or private equity. Some of these places that are calling you you’re like, hey, i can try it out for six months being doesn’t pay you the company does and so it’s a really incredible thing that they do. And so i just started thinking about all right, what can i do. What can i do? I have six months. And then i got this idea in my head. I was like, why don’t i just tap back into my passion around education in the developing world and work for someone that i’ve been, you know, volunteering for for years i’ll go out to cambodia for this one organization that cambodian children’s fund and volunteer with their founder, who was a real hero of mine. And then i just want what’s that person’s name. Ccf. Yeah. So the ccf, his name is scott neeson. Ok, shot. I mean, you mentioned your your fiance? Not by name. What’s your fiance’s name? Tequila. Okay. Won’t shut her out too. Yeah. Okay. All right. So scott was very meaningful. Well, he was another one of those people. That just that was a really changed my life. And so i suddenly got the itch to do something entrepreneurial. Andi had done little entrepreneurial things throughout my life, but i realised maybe i can start a new organization. And rather than volunteering with scott for six months, i could actually find a way to build one school. Do it on that. You know this six? Month extension. And then, over the next twenty years of my career, i could have this organization that built the school a year, you know, that was kind of the ambition. And so i went to the bank, had this kind of big epiphany night, and i realized the name pencils of promise could really kind of capture the spirit of things. And so i went to the bank and in my hometown, and i said, what does it take to open up a bank account? I want to start an organization called pencil promise. I wanna build one school and ideally dedicated to my grandmother and the woman on it was debbie said, well, i like the name i said, metoo thank you. And she said, well, you need at least twenty five dollars, to open up a bank account, a bank of america i said, okay, that’s, a good sign. I’m turning twenty five this month, so i’ll give you twenty five bucks on a chance for, you know, put in twenty five bucks and tow this new account and literally bootstrapped it from there to now the, you know, millions of dollars that we raise annually on. Dedicated to your grandmother worked in a sweatshop, you’d said, yeah, yeah, i mean, i really thought about how could i, you know, fulfilled this sense of purpose, not only for myself but for somebody else and, you know, eventually, you know, now we have schools dedicated to each of my grandmother’s, my grandfather’s, my parents, there’s one as well, my brother’s, etcetera. And, you know, we broke ground on over two hundred schools in each of those schools are now dedicated to an individual that the person who helped bring that school to freshen eyes close to and so that’s a really beautiful part, i find of the work that we d’oh but but, yeah, she she’s obviously sacrificed a ton so that i could be in the, you know, the life position that i’m in now. And so that was a big part of it, you know? And so over two hundred so my my intro was a little out of date you’re over two hundred? Yeah, wait, we’ve broken ground. I’m just over two hundred schools, ok? We’re going toe i’m going to transition. Teo tony’s take two very briefly and that’s a perfect point for adam. And i to kick off and we’ll get into some of his advice about scaling from twenty five dollars, to a million and possibly beyond and how that gets done because i know that you’re all in small and midsize non-profits and you’d like to know how pencils of promise did it. We need to take a break, wagner, cps they’ve got an archival webinar webinar that i employ you to check out, prepare your nine ninety for success if you are one of the fortunate organizations that is enthralled to complete the full nine ninety not that pure all easy form or the end, even the postcard then listen to wagner’s webinar and i’m doubling these wigan ours it’s a wagon r it includes common mistakes and most damaging mistakes you want to avoid those also how to use your nine ninety is a marketing tool click goto weinger cps dot com click resource is then wagon ours now time for tony’s take two non-profit radio will be back at the non-profit technology conference this month. It’s eighteen ninety see, the hashtag is eighty ninety see, we’re going to be in new orleans. It’s april eleven to thirteen non-profit radio will be at booth three. Oh, five will be recording tons of interviews. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get thirty or more. That was what it was two years ago when i was there. Interviews all smart people. You know what this is about? This is using technology smarter and quicker, more efficiently so that you can focus on goals and mission. And you know, that is not just for technologists. Are we living through this year after year? It gets so boring to hear it over and over. But we have new listeners. You got to know it is not just for technologists. So anybody who’s using technology that includes word wordpress? Are you using these things? Unless you’re still on index cards, you should be at ntc the non-profit technology conference because this is what antenna non-profit technology network is all about. Smarter use of technology for non-profits non-profit technology. It’s all linked together. All right, so if you go into the conference, check us out at booth three. Oh, five will have the bright lights because we’re shooting video and there will be lots of smart interviews to come along in the future. Months on. Non-profit radio, i don’t have any books yet, but lots of invitations air out, so i know there’s going to be we’re going to be covering like blockchain, which coincides with bitcoin, i hope you know that if you don’t, you’ll learn it. If you do, you’ll learn even more, but that’s just getting started. I mean, we got social media interviews that i’m sure we’re going to book. Um, um, planning oh, yes, strategic planning around technology, we’ve got a couple interviews that into invitations out. I’m sure we’ll get interviews for that, too. All right, so that’s coming up non-profit radio at the non-profit technology conference now we got to do a live listen love and what comes right after that. And then after that so the live love goes out? Yes, where i am a p recorded today. Um, so i can’t shout you out by city and state or country, but, you know, we got the we got the regulars, the regulars are always dropping by there’s always somebody in california there’s always multiple new york, new york there’s often staten island and brooklyn. We don’t get queens and bronx too often, so we’re going to assume that those people are there, and then there’s, new brunswick, new jersey, and new bern, north carolina. You know the regulars. Um, but if you’re not among the regular live listener, love goes out to you. Nonetheless, the podcast pleasantries thank you for listening on whatever device, whatever time, thank you for building us into your schedule and the affiliate affections to our many am and fm listeners throughout the country. Affections to you. Now we return to my conversation with adam braun and the pencils of promise story. Okay, adam, you’re still here. You hung around. Yeah, thankyou ways. We’ll keep talking since you, since you stayed around. Yeah, sure. Um from twenty five dollars, to now you’re over, you got over two hundred schools. Eso globally. Eso. We’ve broken ground. I’m more than two hundred, you know, once you break ground, it takes a couple months toe open him. So we’re right on the cusp of the two hundred being open, but we’ve broken ground on more than two hundred, okay, all right. What was what was day two? Like after the after twenty five dollars, now you’re still employed? So you you sort of bootstrap this, right? Right. So so bane gave me, you know, they said once i persuaded them to let me go do this because people hadn’t done entrepreneurial things through this external ship, okay? They said on dh, they’re not paying you during this now, so they let me keep my health insurance, which was nice of them, all right? And that i think they gave me, like, you know, very, very, very small stipend, monthly little income, but it wasn’t as much. So, you know, right after that they said to me, okay, we’ll let you go do this, but it has to be off the ground when you leave to pursue it so you can’t leave to create an organization, you have to work for something that’s in existence, so we need to at least see the filing, the registration, all of that kind of good stuff. So it took me about five months to get that done, and i knew in my head that i wanted teo start in march, that was just kind of the time frame so i had from october to march to get it off the ground, and the first thing obviously was i’m going to raise the money and my birthday is on halloween, and so i’d always thrown really fun halloween, you know, parties and often school. Since i was twenty one on words, i had always said, you don’t get five or ten or whatever dollars at the door and that’s going to go towards the charity of choice, oftentimes the cambodian children’s fund. And so i ended up basically during this big party in new york, saying, give twenty dollars at the door or whatever you want twenty five if you want, from a twenty fifth birthday and wait, about four hundred people came out come out, and we raised a thousand dollars and then friends, mind on people that attended the event said, wow, this is really great. I want to support pencils of promise more let’s do another one. So we threw another big event, which was a masquerade party, and then i had people in my apartment for new year’s, and i said, give whatever you want instead of paying, you know, some overpriced. Party in new york give whatever you can afford and, you know, we’ll put it towards helping build this first school, and so we end up raising the funds to build the first school just over those first three events, and at the same time, i was, you know, meeting after hours with, you know, probono lawyer to help get the registration done and when i started to do is kind of coal ah lot of different young professionals across new york who are interested in our work on dh say to them, ok, this is volunteer for all of us, but come meet at the main office are the goldman sachs office or what? Bbh was on advertising agency that one of the key people worked that we’d meet there, like nine, ten at night, we’d white port, a ton of stuff, and, you know, it was like a fun project at the time. I couldn’t even believe the first time that we had a white port session, i took a photo and was like, i can’t believe that pencil promises so real that we’re right here front dahna white-collar you know, it was such a big hurdle for us. And then i started teo late night. Just email anybody that i could that was associated with education in laos. Because that’s really what i wanted to start. I travelled the thanh and really found love of southeast asia. And i wanted to work in one of the areas that had very low ngo density. Not like one of the ones it’s kind of over served and saturated with ngo’s. I wanted to work in kind of the most underserved. Is that why you chose laos over cambodia? That was one of the big ones. Yeah, yeah. Now, that was one of the biggest reasons of the second one was that louse just from an economic indicator standpoint, has greater poverty, as does myanmar. But myanmar was politically cut off in two thousand eight. You’re gonna get in the country. So when i thought about the region i loved most plants just really fit all the kind of buttons that i was looking at the potion. So fortunately, after a lot of people either ignoring my emails are telling me to go away. One organizations important lesson there never, never discouraged or maybe discovered, but never stopped by people. Turning you down flat? Yeah, it wasn’t like i just said, i want to build a school class and i emailed somebody and they said yes, then there was silence for a long time. There’s ah, similar lesson i’m thinking of the academy awards were just a couple nights ago on dh matthew mcconaughey won best actor for dallas buyers club, and i saw a clip of him saying that the production of the movie was turned down one hundred and one hundred thirty seven times one hundred fifty seven times he was counting, but over four years, obviously the film got made, and then he just won best actor and the supporting actor one the coast doctor was won best supporting actor. Yeah, so not to be, you know, don’t it? I mean, matthew mcconaughey gets turned down, adam broadened, gets turned down a lot. You don’t, you don’t stop. Yeah, i mean, i can’t remember for the how the line was phrase in the book, but there was something about it got iterated a bunch of times over different drafts, you know, it wasn’t a changing stuff, but one of the things that i tried to really share. With people was that, you know, the kind of best friend of any entrepreneur is resilience that you’re going to get turned down over and over and over again, and people are going to come in and out of your organization and some of them you’re going to think are kind of the savior and going to make everything perfect on and some people you’re going to say like they’re not doing anything on dh, they might end up being really fantastic, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have significant resilience and just this kind of done, like no matter what happens undaunted sense, you know that to the idea of being an impossible list it’s, like you get excited when people say it’s impossible, and so people keep on saying to me like, oh no, this can’t happen or you don’t want to work here one reason or another white shouldn’t be, and i just knew it had to be there, and so i just wouldn’t stop until i found the right person that could help me get a foot in the door. And unfortunately, this married couple that was living in new jersey, they had an office further small business in new york city, i said, yeah, we built almost twenty schools of the last decade in laos. We’d love to chat with you, and so i took the n train down after work from times square, toe prints street and weigh enough spending four hours together and they were like, yeah, we’re working in the exact region where you’re interested, and if you’ve raised the funds already, we can help you get in the foot foot in the door, and we have ah, local coordinator named tong chan, who lives in long for bunkhouse so he can help you on the ground. And so it’s a crate, i’ll fly out there, i’ll figure it out, you know, get my backpack on last second of buddy of mine came with me, and then this is when the bangkok airport riots happened in two thousand eight, and so he had to turn around because he’s, south african at these issues. So now i’m like, alone on a bumpy ten hour bus headed upto laos land in a backpacker guest house for ten dollars a night and that’s where i stayed and this guy took me around and introduced me. The education ministry helped set up the creation of our very first school. And then eventually, when i needed my own staff, the first woman that i went to was the young lady who did the dishes and clean the sheets at the guest house where i’m staying. And i asked her to become our first coordinator as a volunteer. She said i would love to, but you need to ask my mom for permission sight that put on like my one deed up button down that was in the bottom of a backpack that i was carrying with me. Ask her mom and her mom kind of said, yeah, but only under these conditions and long story short, that woman is now our country head on. Allows she manages a forty person staff. And when the southeast asia games happened a few years ago, she was the mohammed ali. She let the torch in the middle of understand. What did you see in her? As the woman who was doing the house, keeping at the the guesthouse? It’s tough to explain, but she’s just one of those people who has a light about them when you spend time with her, she just makes you happy. She just has immense. I would say dignity, you know, she she just and that’s one of the things that people always ask me as well, how do you know to trust people and make sure that money doesn’t get lost when you work in the developing world? And that was one thing that was really essential to me is that we would build a model where every single dollar was used as efficiently as possible. And that meant not paying out outside contractors and funding, you know, outside entities, but actually keeping money in our organization, hiring our own staff to execute on our programs. And this woman illinois she’s, just one of those exceptional people. You can’t meet her and not believe in her on dh. So you know, she she made it easy on me, and she spoke great english. That was another thing. It was really tough to find anyone who spoke quality english and her english was actually fantastic. Something in your gut, though, to hell for not having called god with her. And it was it’s proven. I mean, she’s like the star of the organization the’s a great lessons for scaling. All right, so the first school gets built, i’m goingto go through seller accelerated version. We have an hour, but we only have an hour. How do you continue to scale the organization to getting to know a quarter million dollars a year budget? Half million dollar year? Yeah, eso won. We realized, ah, that our events could make you know, let’s say between five and thirty thousand dollars and that that at the time, for me, it was really exciting. Like, wow, we made twenty five thousand. I mean, we didn’t have a single thousand dollar donor at the time. Ninety eight percent of pencils of promise is donations in await no nine were in amounts of one hundred dollars or less. So, you know, getting like a five hundred dollar donation was huge if somebody bought a fifty dollar ticket to one of our events and then paypal later on, so i don’t know there was an error and gave them their money back. I was like hounding them for the fifty dollars. So so that’s, how small we were. And fortunately, one of the girls that was on our leadership team who was volunteering on the side had worked on building a non-profit previously, that was also a kind of small organization built by young professionals on the sides of their job, and she just said out, right, i will not participate in this if our fund-raising model is event based, its just not scaleable we can’t keep doing events that that’s an important lesson, a lot of small shops, you need to know that it’s it’s just not not scaleable, not sustainable, exactly events just so time consuming, and you don’t draw the right kind of people all the time consistent, you know, long term don’t type people for sure. And i remember when she said that i was frustrated. It sounds like we’re doing really well, why not going my model, right? Yeah, i mean, when you’re starting and you know, something like five or ten or twenty thousand dollars feels like a huge amount. It’s it’s really hard to say no, no, we’re not gonna keep doing this, but that’s the only way that you’re going to get to a bigger level so you were willing to let her shake you up to oh, definitely, i think that’s one of the essential parts of leadership is to surround yourself with people who are better than you at most of the leadership characteristics that you need within an organization, and to find the kind of one nugget where you are fantastic, or you could almost have an unfair competitive advantage over anybody else in the world and in my case, that’s telling the story of pencils of promise and believing in it with relentless conviction to the point where people can’t turn away from it. That’s what i’m uniquely qualified in exceptional to dio now executing an event, there’s a lot of people that are better than me at that fund-raising design digital there’s all people out there that can do those things better than me, and my job is to give them an opportunity to manifest and to become the best version of themselves through this organization by doing what they love most and what their most capable and so so, yeah, i was very open toe her belief that that was the, you know, the path that we needed to take was not to become over dependent on our events, and so we had to. Kind of take a risk in another direction. I think that’s also a really important part of anybody that’s trying to chief scale is you have to try and predict where the world is going, then position yourselves ahead of the curve and then, you know, grow into that next phase and it’s it’s, scary and it’s risky, because if you’re wrong, you’re organization potentially shuts down, but what i did is i took two bets. I would say the first one was on the rise of digital on social media. I keep mine. This is two thousand eight early two thousand nine you know, twitter was essentially, you know, not really on the scene at all. Instagram hadn’t even started the dominant social platform at the time was rapidly becoming facebook, but it certainly wasn’t used by non-profit professionals as significant area of dahna engagement people were thinking about direct mailing, they were thinking about, you know, face-to-face communications and they were really focused on major gifts, and so i was mark zuckerberg xero in college s o he started facebook at harvard as a sophomore in two thousand for i was a sophomore at brown at the time. And my best friend had a identical twin who went to harvard, and so we were like the beta testers from facebook, and so all of my friends were on the platform, and i could see that all these other people were going to be coming on soon. So if we became one of the most, i would say present organizations and kind of lead the way on how to engage people through digital on social media, it could really elevate our brand status and game kind of significance for us. So that was the first kind of bet was focusing on building a digital community rather than going after major donors and just saying, all right, let’s focus on the quality of our work and the scalability of a model on the ground. Our core programs let’s focus on building community specifically through digital, and then the third one was betting that cause marketing would become really relevant for major brands and that if they were interested in investing their dollars into creating social good, that we as an organization that built schools all around the world would be a really good fit for some of those corporate contributions. And so that’s, what i focused on in two thousand, i would say nine in early two thousand ten when i eventually would like to schools, and i left man to do this full time. I didn’t focus on high net worth individuals and in focus on major fund-raising focused on programs community on dh, eventually getting a story that would draw in corporate engagement, and by late two thousand ten, suddenly we had all three in place, and this is another mantra in the book is you only get one chance at a first impression, and so i didn’t do a single interview. I didn’t tell our story in any platform for two years, until we have more than ten schools, at which point i felt like we had a great story that could travel and at that point in time shared it with ah writer at the huffington post, and much to my surprise landing on the the cover of huffpost impact on the story was like how one backpacker built fifteen schools with just one pencil on so it’s kind of this story that could travel and next thing i knew, i had tons of corporate saying hey, we want to work with you, you know, startup brands, and we suddenly had our choice to say yes, we will take your dollars in this fashion if you build this campaign with us and we jumped up from you know, about less than fifty thousand dollars the first year less than one hundred thousand dollars the next year and by two thousand ten, we’re raising over a million dollars. We gotta go out for a couple minutes. We’ll be right back. I’d love the cliffhanging moments. Outstanding. Hang in there. Got to take a break. Tell us the credit card payment processing company you want to get affiliated with them, you want to check them out? People have been going to the web site let’s get them actual leads. Because this is a long tale of passive revenue for your organization. Check out the video at twenty dahna slash tony tello’s. That explains everything. The basics of it is are the basics. Are that’s a plural? The basics of it are that you get businesses. Local businesses that take credit cards, name one that doesn’t. And you encourage them to support your organization by switching to tell us. For their credit card processing. Okay, they they have a processor now it is a good chance is a bank. The fees are high, you’ve got lower fees. And as they switch and do transactions, you get fifty percent of all those transactions ad infinitum, that’s the long revenue tail. Tony dahna i’m a slash tony tell us now, back to adam braun. Welcome back, big non-profit ideas for the other ninety five percent. Andi, we’re talking about a non-profit that went from small to deeply midsize, but lots of lessons for everybody who wants to scale an organization, which is a lot of people. I get a i get a lot of enquiries from organizations that are one or two people, you know? How do we get to the next level? And adam, you’ve laid out, you know, three your story, probably half a dozen valuable lessons. What else? What else would you say to people situated like that? So for us to continue scaling after kind of taking those almost calculated bats on the places that we thought that the industry would go, i kind of started to really hit the road and speak as much as i could in front of audiences. And this is another, i think, really important lesson for anyone. That’s, that’s, tryingto grow, and it goes beyond just the direct lesson, but it’s something that i found more than just in public speaking engagements, but anywhere that i end up, which is this mantra, focus on one person in every room. And so i thought initially, if i give a speech and there’s twenty five, people there that’s, twenty five potential donors and every single one of them needs to leave the room, becoming a supporter of pencils of promise and so it’s kind of this funny story in the book, but the first speech that i gave was that oklahoma state university, one of largest colleges in the country i’m picturing like dahna stadium with like, throngs of cheering college students, you know, thousands of kids like yeah, we want. And i went to my speech that visualization tohave, though, was wonderful did not come to fruition on, so i walk in the room and there’s one person at my first speech. Ah, and so i had, like, a forty five minute speech prepared that i had to give tow my four. Friends that were already there traveling with me and then this this one girl, chelsea. And much to my surprise, she became this incredible advocate of the organization, started our first college chapter, launched a kind of campus network, brought it down to the high school level, spoke at her alma mater, got this one kid on in that room, completely engaged around the organization. His name’s andrew gray. He became obsessed with our work here. It ended up taking over the chapter when he went to oklahoma state. He became so interested in what we do know that he then went on semester at sea. He just spoke at the u n in geneva like months ago on dh there’s all these incredible stories of individuals taking our work and making it their own and kind of becoming the next torchbearer and helping scale what we do. But it it’s not a deluded set of convictions across a mass scale of people it’s actually having fewer but more deeply engaged people. That adds trends value to your work as an organization. So now when i go into room, i’m looking for one person in every single room that could be the anchor and then it’s up to them to build the community. It’s not up to me on dso and i share that very openly, and you’d be amazed with the traction that it gets if you’re giving a speech and you say, i’m looking for one person here and almost creates this area exclusivity and people want things, yeah, i want to be the person. No, no, i want to off you the minute. I mean, after after speeches now consistently have somebody come up here and say that, you know, you spoke for thirty minutes. He spoke for ten minutes. You spoke for an hour, i just want, you know, when you said that i’m looking for one person, i’m that person. This is what i’ve been seeking out. You just gave me the opportunity. I’m going to be your one, and then they feel accountable, teo helping make sure that we succeed as an organization. And so what do you do if the next person walks up and says the exact same thing? I say you two should talk and see who will be the one you duke it out, all right? At least you’re honest. You don’t say, oh, well, great, great! You’re the first one who came alright, i duplicitous, um, there’s half a dozen more behind you. Yeah, exactly. Sorry. S oh, yeah, that was a really, really big important lesson for and then another one eyes this this mantra fess up to your failures. I think that a lot of times we in individuals that work in this space, we feel like we could never be wrong because one the nature of the work doesn’t, you know, promote failure. If you’re trying to help somebody else, no one wants to see you fail, and you certainly don’t want to speak about your failures. And then secondly, it’s such a uphill battle to begin with that it seems counterintuitive to say, oh, no, i feel that i failed miserably and let me tell you about that failure. But one of the things that i’ve seen is that the times that i fall down the times that i fail, if i really accepted my own and i speak about it openly it’s amazing to see one the opportunities for growth that come out of failure, it’s usually not when you’re succeeding that suddenly you’re able to grow tremendously as an individual are as an organization, but it’s, when things go really wrong. In our case, we had two staff members basically jumped and held up at knifepoint in guatemala and up until that point, you know what? We were all kind of twentysomethings excited about the work like, hey, we’re helping out these kids in these communities, and suddenly we realize the weight of responsibility that we had, we don’t have any like, you know, kinda would say policies or procedures set upfor ramifications of what happens if there’s a disaster in country, and we suddenly said, like, wow, this is a lot more serious this work that we’re doing them, we’re realizing and it’s time for us to step up as an organization, that means tightening up two screws, not just in our inn country policies, but what happens in our home office in new york. What happens if one of our external event something goes wrong and it really forced tremendous growth for us as an organization than as individuals that forced us to become really close together as it’s? Kind of, you know, not know so they friends but colleagues and you know, having friendship type relationships within our work together and so that’s, another big one for me is just when things go wrong, she’d see that as an opportunity for growth and, you know, fessed up to your failure admit what went wrong because you’ll find that people who want to see you grow and succeed will start to invest more heavily in your long term success. What is next for pencils of promise that’s on the horizon? So we have some now really big, ambitious goals beyond our school building we’ve launched in the last few years, programs on teacher training and student scholarships, so putting up the four walls, making sure the community’s air heavily invested andi do that through a lot of things. Probably the most well known ofwhich is ten to twenty percent of the funding from every one of our school’s comes from the community itself, and since they don’t have any, you know, oftentimes there, unless in two dollars a day, they don’t have the dollars to pay for it. What they’ll end up doing is they’ll provide that contribution through materials and labor will physically build their own school, which is really you know, leads to significant ownership in investment. And so we realized we need to go beyond just the four walls. We need to make sure we have great teachers. So teacher training scholarships. But the biggest thing for us is one sharing with people that, you know, for twenty five thousand dollars, they could build a school for two hundred fifty dollars. They can provide a scholarship for five hundred dollars, they can train a teacher, and then ultimately, we recognize that education is changing. And so we’re launching a series of innovation pilots to incorporate new technologies and new teaching methods in the classrooms, including your three d printing. Yeah, it’s not yeah, yeah, so we’re incorporating three d printers in laos. Teo, create literacy in a box. Tool kits were putting e readers in our classrooms in ghana piloting, seeing how those go we’re looking into building a long distance radio program. Teo get increased storytelling into rural communities. And m i t a think tank out of them. It is helping us build that. And so it’s really exciting what’s ahead and we have to go out with this. What is it that you love about? The work you’re doing, i love that that it makes people come alive on that. It brings them a sense of purpose and fulfillment and meaning. Thank you very much out of brian. Thank you. The book is the promise of a pencil. The organization is pencils of promise dot or ge and you’ll find adam and adam braun dot com again, thanks very much out of my pleasure. Thank you for having me my pleasure. Next week we’re going to remember the ice bucket challenge twenty fourteen. If you missed any part of today’s show, i beseech you, find it on tony martignetti dot com were supported by pursuing online tools for small and midsize non-profits data driven and technology enabled tony dahna slash pursuant radio, whether see piela is guiding you beyond the numbers regular cps dot com and tell us credit card payment processing your passive revenue stream tourney dahna slash tony tell us are pretty creative producer is claire meyerhoff sent liebowitz is the line producer shows social media is by susan chavez, and this wonderful music is by scott stein of brooklyn. Be with me next week for non-profit radio big non-profit ideas for the other ninety five percent go out and be great. Hey! 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Nonprofit Radio for March 21, 2014: A Conversation With Adam Braun

Big Nonprofit Ideas for the Other 95%

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My Guest:

Adam Braun: Pencils of Promise

ADAM BRAUN PENCILS OF PROMISE ©ELISABETH CAREN
Adam Braun

He founded Pencils of Promise with $25 and it’s now close to 200 schools globally.

His book, “The Promise of a Pencil” was just released! Adam Braun is a Forbes “30 Under 30” and one of Wired Magazine’s “50 People Who Are Changing the World.”

We’ll talk about his journey and the mantras that guide him. He’s got a great story!

           


Top Trends. Sound Advice. Lively Conversation.

You’re on the air and on target as I delve into the big issues facing your nonprofit—and your career.

If you have big dreams but an average budget, tune in to Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio.

I interview the best in the business on every topic from board relations, fundraising, social media and compliance, to technology, accounting, volunteer management, finance, marketing and beyond. Always with you in mind.

When and where: On Fridays at 1pm Eastern: Talking Alternative Radio

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