Pencils of Promise

This is the story of Pencils of Promise.

Adam Braun was an American tourist, backpacking his way around India, who gave a child his pencil–and then went on to found PoP, whose mission is to build schools and create educational opportunities in the developing world.  In March, he took time out to talk with CauseTalk Radio about how Pencils of Promise has grown in five years from a $25 investment to an organization that has built 200 schools worldwide.

Adam delivers a set of simple but powerful messages in his interview. Among them:

Great things start with small and reasonable acts.

From handing a pencil to a young boy in the streets of India to putting $25 in a bank account with the hope of someday building a school, came the seeds of Pencils of Promise. It didn’t happen overnight. But it started with a very small act of giving.

Understand that vulnerability is vital.

Adam describes himself as “very reluctant” to fundraise. Here is a summary of what he had to say:  In the first few years, I never made an outright ask. I would describe the mission and hope that people would support us. Then I realized that I needed to ask people for money in order to accelerate our organizational growth. I took a fundraising course, where I learned that I was not asking for myself, I was asking for the kids. And it became an honor to ask for gifts for these kids.

Nonprofit is a tax status.

In Adam Braun’s world, “nonprofit” has been replaced with “For Purpose.” He asks the question:  Are you working for a purpose, solving a critical issue for the benefit of society?

Leaders working for purpose need a personal high tolerance for risk.

He describes, for example, how social media was a new idea when he started PoP. He didn’t know much about it; not many people did in 2008. But he sensed it could turn into something powerful.

People are starting to care a lot more about outcomes than outputs.

Among Adam’s beliefs: Today’s donors are investors, more likely to respond to a nonprofit that operates like a great business than to an organization that only gives us sad stories.

Listen to the interview. Then if listening to Adam’s story makes you want to learn more, you can order a copy of his new book, titled The Promise of a Pencil, from your local bookseller or online.

Mine is on its way.