New Year, New Sustainability Strategy

First, a peaceful, satisfying and productive 2013 to all!

And then: We realize we have been remiss in posting to this blog in recent months, but we have a good reason. It’s rooted in sustainability.

Like many nonprofits, we struggle to raise the funds to continue our work. This is doubly difficult for the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund because we are a startup organization, and we seek to raise substantial enough funds to permit us to extend our work beyond our PSA and online advocacy to include direct aid to asynchronous kids and their families, starting in California, but eventually a national model. Launching that part of our program requires substantial funds because we need to do outreach to school districts and homeschool groups alike to find the families most struggling to meet the intense needs of their kids, and to do so fairly and transparently.

Many nonprofits start with seed funding. Seed funding is the starting investment, usually from the founder or a single donor, that’s large enough to launch the program and keep it going for a few years until staff can begin development efforts, including ongoing fundraising. Our startup funds were extraordinarily modest, limiting the Fund’s initial program to advocacy alone. The funds our generous donors contributed allowed us to continue that advocacy work for almost two years, and we have reached thousands of people with that advocacy. We cannot thank our donors enough. (Thank you, again!)

But we are nothing if not divergent, like the kids we seek to aid. We started to pursue more serious seed funding, and realized that we would rather generate the source of our own core funding, launch our direct aid program to prove its impact, and then seek more substantial donations based on those successes.

This brings us back to sustainability. One of the most successful nonprofit sustainability strategies is to set aside funds to create an endowment, the income from which provides sufficient income to sustain the core program and operations of the organization. Another strategy includes for-profit endeavors that generate profit that is donated to the charitable arm, including earned income and social enterprises. The Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund holds as a goal the creation of an endowment, but the second strategy is more appealing because if done correctly, it holds the promise of generating enough funding to allow both full program development and the creation of an endowment.

Our target audience includes a great many homeschoolers, because many families with seriously asynchronous children turn to homeschooling out of desperation when they find that the school system really won’t fit their kids, or vice versa. Homeschoolers have long been viewed as a fringe group, but it’s becoming more common than ever (at least since the spread of compulsory education in the United States a century ago), especially among those with asynchronous children. Homeschoolers tend to excel at creating tools to serve their needs, like using Excel to track their kids’ educational progress, or creating templates that other homeschooling families can purchase to do the same. But with respect to those who have created tools this audience can use, many of the tools that exist are too limited. And we think that education-tracking tools that would truly meet the needs of asynchronous homeschoolers, would also have a natural audience in the population at large. We’d like to create those tools.

And thus, in honor of asynchronous homeschoolers, the Fund’s board of directors agreed that the Fund should continue our advocacy activities, but delay our other fundraising efforts while our founder builds a for-profit startup edtech company that creates just that set of tools. A portion of the profits from the startup will be dedicated to funding the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund.

Building an edtech startup while maintaining a small (but ambitious) charitable organization is no easy task, and we hope you’ll forgive us for letting this blog languish in the process. We expect to return to more frequent, if briefer, posts in the new year. In the meantime, we hope you’re off to an excellent start to the year of the post-Mayan-apocolypse-that-wasn’t. We’d love to continue to hear from you with your own successes and challenges with asynchronous kids, and we promise in turn to continue our advocacy, helping people better understand how challenging it is to be a kid who is many ages at once.

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