It all started, like a lot of good ideas do, with a problem. A couple of problems, actually.
I was standing in Haiti in my early twenties, looking into the eyes of families who’d been living under tarps for years since an earthquake devastated their former homes four years earlier. Not that their homes were much better, anyway. These were families who, for decades, had been accustomed to living without the fundamental things we consider human rights: a safe place to sleep, a door to lock, and a roof over your head. This, obviously, was a problem.
But there was a problem behind the obvious problem.
In my mind, the traditional charity model couldn’t be the answer. Many charitable organizations raised millions of dollars to help these specific people directly after the earthquake that wrecked Haiti in 2010. From where I was standing, it was clear that those millions hadn’t made it to the ones who needed it most. Charity, at least in the traditional sense, didn’t feel like the solution because it seemed to rarely serve the people it claimed to help.
In my mind, we needed to hit refresh on the traditional operations model used by charitable organizations. So, along with my co-founders, we began to piece together a vision for an organization that did things differently. As we began this journey, we realized we weren’t the only ones with this vision — other forward-thinking charitable organizations like our friends at charity: water and Watsi were already blazing the trail. With help from some inspiring organizations and guidance from our time at Y Combinator, we set forth to create a new story in how we’d build a next-generation kind of charity.
Here are a few of the ways we operate differently from most charitable organizations:
1. Innovation and Technology-focused.
While many charitable organizations lag behind the curve in technology, from day one, we have always believed that technology is a force multiplier for good. Leaning on and even building our own smart technology only enables us to tackle the multifaceted issues of homelessness faster. This is why we’ve had a software development team ever since the early days of New Story and knew from the beginning we’d need to have a significant R&D budget. In our current team of 26, we now have a total of 6 engineers focused on building software for our team. Recently, we launched our Survey Impact Tool, designed to make data capture more efficient for nonprofits who want to measure their impact. In early reviews from our partner, the tool has made them 400% more efficient in the process of surveying families before and after they move into their new homes.
Generally, nonprofits likely avoid investing in technology because it seems peripheral to their mission. Why spend precious money on hiring a software engineer when you could spend it on building one more home? To that, we’d say two things. First, the 100% model allows us to make great hiring decisions without compromising on homebuilding dollars. Second, investing in technology enables us to address homelessness better and faster, by providing breakthrough innovations like 3D printed homes. Though it may seem like a risk, it’s actually a wise investment in the impact our organization can have long term.
2. Transparency minded and data-driven.
After seeing the problems in Haiti, a direct giving model was a no brainer for my co-founders and me, even from the early days of our organization. We believe donors should know exactly where their donations are going, and not have to worry about the 20% or even 2% that’s being deducted for overhead. We also believe in tracking data so donors can understand the impact they’re making with each dollar: better sleep, higher income, or whatever the effects of a home may be. To make all of this possible, we have an incredible group of visionary leaders called the Builders who cover all of our overhead and innovation costs, so donors who want to give to homebuilding can see 100% of their donations making an impact in the field.
We knew this would be a good decision, but using the 100% model has brought more positive effects than we ever expected. Not only does it enable a fully transparent giving experience, but more strategically, it enables us to have dedicated innovation and R&D capital. One of the best results is the incredible, close relationships we’ve been able to develop with the 50+ amazing families who fund our operations through the Builders program. They are more than donors — they’re big believers in New Story, and they consistently blow us away with their generous belief and backing.
3. Team of founders centered.
This one’s essential for any successful team, not just nonprofits, but very few companies are willing to fight for it. It’s simple, really: we don’t hire anyone who doesn’t have a founder’s mindset. What I mean is, everyone on our team takes ownership over the mission and vision we all share. No task is too small or large to take on, and everyone is empowered to think and act like a founder. We believe our culture is truly the magic that makes us able to accomplish very ambitious things as a young startup.
We’re only a few years in, and we know we don’t always get everything right. But as New Story rounds the bend on our fifth anniversary, I’m grateful for what we’ve built so far: a tenacious team passionate about ending global homelessness, who love and care for one another well in the process.