Unorthodox Philanthropy (UP) funds social impact ideas that have the potential to achieve outsized impact with a finite amount of philanthropic capital. They uncover ideas through a diverse network of scouts – creative thinkers, connectors, and agitators in their fields – and consider ideas from any sector or geography.
UP is sponsored by the Lampert Byrd Foundation in San Francisco, and grew out of their previous efforts to identify extraordinary ideas, including a 2010 challenge that helped to launch GiveDirectly, their 2013 Unorthodox Prize awarded to Evidence Aid, and their seed support of New Incentives. UP works closely with the team at the Global Development Incubator to source, vet, and support their awardees.
Unorthodox Philanthropy approaches funding differently. Most foundations direct funding to nonprofit organizations that rely on a continuous cycle of philanthropic dollars to remain viable and grow – despite the fact that such capital is scarce relative to the vast capital markets. This constrains the impact of many nonprofit efforts, where even some of the largest organizations can only reach a fraction of the population they set out to serve.
In contrast, UP searches widely for rare opportunities that require a finite amount of philanthropic capital to embark on a pathway to spread widely without additional philanthropic funding. They believe there are many pathways to achieve social impact at scale that don’t require building massive organizational infrastructure dependent on ongoing donor capital.
Their goal is to encourage applicants to think creatively about social change and to articulate how they will realize their ultimate endgame. They want to kickstart teams’ drive toward sustainability and help them achieve philanthropic independence for their ideas and endeavors. They tend to be contrarians, believing that the opportunities with the greatest potential exist where others aren’t looking. Otherwise, they are sector- and geography-agnostic.
Finding Unorthodox Ideas
Unorthodox Philanthropy believes great opportunities should drive their funding decisions, not a predefined agenda. They seek to foster a system that enables great ideas to flow upwards toward capital, rather than allocating funding downwards from specific issues or causes. They source opportunities through a variety of methods, including a diverse network of scouts that are creative thinkers, connectors, and agitators in their fields. They actively recruit individuals and networks that can help them identify initiatives with breakthrough potential, with an emphasis on outreach to communities that may not typically engage with private philanthropy.