Meet Angela Campbell: IVY Member since 2014, and the Founder and CEO of Agora Fund. Prior to founding Agora, Angela advised large foundations and multilaterals on how to maximize the impact of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they give in grant funding. Individuals give more than $250 billion per year—six times more than staffed private foundations—yet they don’t have access to the same level of support and expertise. Angela started Agora Fund to help everyone donate wisely. Read her story below, and connect with her on IVY!
What’s the biggest misperception people have about the world of giving at the moment?
One of the most challenging things as a donor is that the quality of a nonprofit’s website or annual gala often has nothing to do with the actual impact they are having on the ground. We’re used to consumer markets, where if you see a nice storefront or website you expect the quality of the product you purchase to be high. But in those markets, the payer is the same as the end recipient of the product, so companies have to invest in ensuring their output matches their marketing materials. The nonprofit sector is much harder to navigate, because the payer (donor) is not the person who receives the end product. Many donors feel their contribution goes into a black box.
As a result, people tend to not give as much as they could, or they give based on rough proxies for impact, like ‘overhead ratios’ or to charities where they ‘know someone who works there.’ Would you invest in a company just because you know someone who works there? Would you expect a company to grow and develop new IP without ever spending more than 10% of its budget on research, management, PR, marketing, accounting, and more? Yet we hold nonprofits to these arbitrary standards because no good metrics on ‘impact’ exist today.
What’s the moment where you felt you had to start Agora?
Before I started Agora, I was working in the philanthropic advisory world. More and more often, people were looking to me for advice on where to donate, since there is very little information available to individuals in a synthesized way. I was advising a lot of the big donors—the Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation—and I saw how much energy went into reinventing the wheel over and over again.
The idea for Agora arose after I spent some time working with a nonprofit in Burma. The founders, an inspirational couple dedicated to helping rural farmers rise out of poverty, had to split their time between the needs of their organization and hundreds of one-on-one meetings with donors. I began thinking of parallels to the for-profit investment world, where professional investors were hired to evaluate organizations against a consistent risk-reward framework in an open market. There is no equivalent in the nonprofit space. Instead, nonprofit leaders raise money through diffuse networks where each investment decision is made by reinventing the wheel.
I started Agora in order to improve the philanthropic sector by bringing the transparency, rigor and ease of for-profit investment platforms to charitable giving. We apply an asset management approach to giving, by taking each donor’s unique goals and vision, developing a custom portfolio of nonprofits and facilitating the allocation of capital directly. Our goal is to support a dialogue around impact, by moving away from proxies like overhead ratios and building a universe of metrics focused on real outcomes. Together, we empower the highest-impact nonprofits to achieve their goals.
What’s the hardest thing about starting this business?
There are so many hard things every day! I guess I’m fighting the fact that there’s been very little innovation in the way philanthropic donations are made. Small pockets of people understand the way it can change, but I come across a surprisingly large number of people who feel giving is tired, uncomfortable and uninspired.
How is Agora changing the way donations are made?
We allow individuals to act as philanthrocapitalists—basically, we should all be able to treat our charitable capital like an investment. Individuals can set up portfolios with their ‘blue chip’ stocks, or secure, proven impact funds, ‘venture’ philanthropy and individual nonprofits such as their alma mater. It’s a very cool way to see your whole donation portfolio in one place, and you can give to any nonprofit in the world through our system.
In addition, we recommend exceptional nonprofits for our users to explore and connect with, as donors, advocates, volunteers and more. Our recommendations are based on extensive research by our partners: major foundations and impact evaluators. Every nonprofit recommended by Agora is top quality.
What is one of your favorite non-profits?
One of the fastest growing nonprofits today is GiveDirectly, which literally gives cash to poor people in East Africa, no strings attached. People who feel disenchanted with the charity space love this group because they know the money isn’t being wasted. However, the reality is if you give a poor family $1,000, all they have is $1,000. There are actually a number of nonprofits that can more than double the impact of a $1,000 donation, because in addition to providing poor people with resources, they are working with governments to create fair laws, with schools to enable the next generation, or with hospitals to eradicate diseases to allow people to lead more productive lives. But as a donor, the amount of time and research it takes to find these organizations can be a major barrier. Agora fund uses direct cash transfer programs like GiveDirectly’s as our minimum bar. Every organization in our poverty portfolio has to have evidence that proves their intervention far exceeds just giving cash directly. And, for the first time, individuals can access that type of research.
What are two big world problems that you want solved?
Agora doesn’t put its own agenda out there, but on a personal level, I would say one of the big ones for me is gender equality. There’s so much evidence showing that thinking about the unique needs of women can lead to a tremendous impact. Women are 50% of the population, so they should get 50% of all the resources.
The second is baseline data. It may sound small, but knowing where we are today across a huge number of metrics (earning statistics, health statistics, population statistics) is critical for us to understand emerging and existing problems, and measure what works best as a solution.
What is something that few people know about you?
I’m from Hawaii and I surf! I absolutely love hiking and being out in nature, but I’m a terrible plant owner. I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever had. I also meditate every day. Download Headspace—it’s a free meditation app. I have zero free time, but that app offers a ten-minute meditation session that I listen to on my walk to work. Basically, my work is my passion, and I love thinking about it and talking about it, but I am also trying to find enough balance in life to stay sane.
How can IVY members support you?
Check out our platform or pass it on to other people who care about the impact of their giving! Unlike generations in the past, our generation gives because we actually care about our impact and feel like we can do something to change the world. People at our age are twice as likely to ask questions and understand the impact of our donations, and that number is increasing. If people ask good questions—even, “where is my money going?”—then we can actually alleviate poverty and change the world. There’s a huge movement in the United Nations to end poverty in the next fifteen years, and it comes down to giving to the right places and asking the right questions.
Angela Campbell is an IVY Member (NYC). Connect and collaborate with her here. To learn more about IVY, please visit www.ivy.com.