EARN: Not for Profit and Not for Sale

rsz_finlab_2016Last week EARN competed in New Orleans to win one of nine spots in the CFSI “Financial Solutions Lab”. As the sole nonprofit finalist, I was determined to build the case for why nonprofits must be emboldened to leverage technology solutions for the communities we support.

The pitch worked: EARN was one of the winners selected from 300+ applicants. We are honored, excited, and mildly intimidated to be in a cohort with eight start-ups. Can a nonprofit really “do FinTech”?

Every leader has their 3am worries. Mine are about EARN’s transition to a product-focused organization: How do we retain a technology team in a highly competitive market?  Nonprofits can’t provide the promise of sweat equity or a sky-high Bay Area salary. You’ll get your reward in heaven. And what business do I have managing a technology-driven organization? Not exactly what I was planning for when I got that English Literature degree.

My greatest concern; can we sustain ourselves financially as an organization dependent on philanthropic sources of funding that can’t always support the flexibility we need to iterate, fail, reiterate and try again? Can we grow organizationally to achieve the scale we are aiming for and can we get there before the funding clock runs out?

The short answer is, we have no choice but to try. Because it simply isn’t enough to provide products and services to our families that are years behind what technology is capable of providing today. The world is changing and we must change along with it, and sometimes that means stepping out of your comfort zone and giving it everything you’ve got.

With our vision unclouded by the need to generate profits to satisfy investors, EARN will remain 100% dedicated to delivering savings solutions for low-income, hard-working families. Our clients are 90% people of color, 76% women, and earn $21,000 on average. Serving this market is something we will never pivot from.

We work for people like Uzuri Pease-Greene, a Community Builder for Rebuild Potrero, Bridge Housing who started setting aside money with the EARN Starter Savings Program, gained confidence and enrolled in her 401K. Being a nonprofit means we will never compromise our values to monetize people like Uzuri.

Our nonprofit status positions us to achieve something of much greater value – evidence based results that inform nonprofit, employer, and financial institution solutions, and ultimately drive policy change at all levels of government. To me, proof of concept to drive social change is the definition of achieving scale for a nonprofit. EARN is 100% dedicated to this mission. EARN is not for profit and not for sale.

We hope you will support us on our journey.

P.S. Also, Forbes wrote about our big win. Check it out: http://i.earn.org/forbesFinLab
P.P.S. Here’s our official press on the big win: https://www.earn.org/CFSI_Winner