What Makes Uncommon, Uncommon? More on the Business Model

When we set out to build Uncommon.org, our goal was to create a scalable nonprofit that would eventually bring high quality technology education and employment opportunities to people all around the world. Scalability though, requires sustainability.

As a team of creatives and entrepreneurs, we challenge ourselves constantly to think differently about our approach to sustainability. Our goal is to take best practices from both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors to design a business model from upon which we can scale.

In addition to grants & donations, here are a few of the ways we do, and plan, to generate revenue – all of which must, by law, be reinvested into sustaining and scaling our nonprofit mission.

Uncommon Development Business

One of the first ideas we had was around how to monetize the skills we teach. Every day, we’re investing our time, resources and energy into training unemployed young adults for the technology workforce. When they graduate, they’re going on and adding value at all sorts of companies, often design, development and marketing agencies.

So what if we built our own agency within Uncommon, and hired graduates to work for us? Not only would clients be getting high quality products, they’d also get to know that the money they pay for the project would be used to further our education mission.

Client gets a great product, more kids and young adults get to learn how to code – everyone wins!

The fact that we’re a nonprofit organization means that any income we earn must be reinvested into our mission. No shareholders getting rich, just more young minds getting the opportunity of a lifetime! We see this as the ultimate differentiator in comparison to our for-profit peers. As we continue to improve the quality of our work / client experience, the time to deliver, and maintain competitive pricing, our goal is to become one of the premier development agencies in the world.

We’re looking forward to more happy clients and bringing technology education and employment to thousands of amazing youths & young adults! If you’d like to learn more, check out our portfolio page.

Branding Our Innovation Hubs

We love our Innovation Hubs. They’re beautiful, inspiring, made from recycled materials and totally off-grid! Our students and instructors are proud to work there, and the Hubs have become beacons in the community.

Could these iconic spaces become valuable to other companies as well? The thing about working with shipping containers is that when they first roll into the workshop, they do so with big, beautiful block letters and company logos. We recognized the opportunity immediately.

Today, we sell the branding rights of our Hubs to corporate sponsors. When a corporate partner signs up, not only are we branding the inside and outside of the container, we’re also branding the certificates and fliers that get distributed to our students and throughout the community.

Each year, an average of 1,000 school children participate in our after-school coding program, per Hub. That means 1,000+ households will receive a certificate that says, “Your child’s computer coding education was paid for by XYZ company.”

In our communities where families are large and living spaces communal, 1,000 students easily translates to 5,000-10,000 meaningful impressions.

If your company sells bread and you’re struggling to distinguish yourself from your competitors which offer the same styled loafs at the same price, sold in the same market on the same display – why not be the brand that makes people think, “This is the company that pays for my daughter’s coding education.” ?

If you or your company wants to learn more about sponsoring an Innovation Hub, please email hubs@uncommon.org

Future Revenue Streams

While building the development business and signing up more corporate sponsors are our two main priorities for now, we’ve got a few additional revenue streams we’re excited to explore.

The Income Sharing Agreement is a model that many Bootcamps around the world employ. It goes something like this…

You join our Bootcamp for no upfront cost… We help you get a job… You pay us x % of your first year salary.

While this is definitely a model we’re considering, we’re also looking into ways to transfer this cost to the Employer rather than the Employee (our graduate). Acting as a recruiting agency and charging a fee to Employers makes a lot of sense to us. If we can prove that Uncommon makes the hiring process easy and effective, we believe company’s will pay for that.

While we haven’t launched either of these ideas yet, they’re both concepts that we’re looking more into.

Products

We have some very interesting projects in the works right now that we believe will truly set us apart as a nonprofit. While these products are currently under development, and therefore not something we can go into too much detail about, transitioning from just a technology education nonprofit to an EdTech nonprofit with scalable tools / products and paying customers is really exciting. If successful, this could be the milestone that opens up doors we can’t yet imagine.

Conclusion

When we first launched Uncommon, many friends and advisors saw the profit generating potential and urged us to consider becoming a for-profit company. These conversations were provocative and insightful, yet we never left convinced a change was necessary. The thing is, we believe that being a nonprofit is what will ultimately fuel our growth and allow us to scale, beating our out for-profit peers and impacting millions of lives.

We have chosen to always prioritize impact over profit maximization. This doesn’t mean we won’t learn from our for-profit peers and try to build the most robust, sustainable and scalable business model we can. It just means that every dollar we earn will be reinvested into education and employment opportunities for our program beneficiaries.

We believe that the timing is right for purpose-minded endeavors and we’re eager to work with and learn from whoever we can. If you’d like to get involved, please shoot a note to hello@uncommon.org

Monthly Donor Community Funds Education in Kambuzuma

This is one of the more exciting announcements we’ll ever make.

All of the costs associated with running our Kambuzuma Innovation Hub are being covered by Monthly Donors.

107 people from all over the world, giving an average of $23 per month, have joined together to provide technology education and employment opportunities for hundreds – and soon thousands! – of young Zimbabweans. 

We launched our first Monthly Donor campaign in response to COVID-19 which thrusted us (and so many other organizations) into a very perilous financial position. As a startup nonprofit, how would we survive without being able to throw an annual, in-person fundraising event?

Truthfully, we really weren’t sure…

With our backs against the wall we decided to lean into our Uncommon community and ask for support. Would anyone be willing to give a few dollars a month to ensure our students could continue learning?

The response was unexpected and overwhelming. Within a few months, we’d gone from zero to 100 Monthly Donors. At the time, this allowed us to continue operating in Zimbabwe while simultaneously working on developing more long-term oriented revenue streams.

The result was that not only did we survive the early days of the pandemic, we doubled in size!

The next question was, how could we properly thank the donors whose support came at such a critical time for our organization? After some thinking internally and chatting with donors, we came up with an idea. What if we dedicated 100% of a Monthly Donor’s contribution, not to Uncommon as an organization, but to the amazing youths and young adults we’re here to educate.

No funds to help cover overhead, admin or fundraising expenses. Nothing to construction. Everything to education.

This decision marked a major turning point for our organization. From this point forward, 100% of all Monthly Donations will be used exclusively to fund education.

When you sign up to become a Monthly Donor, you’ll be matched with the community we’re currently fundraising for. Throughout the year, you’ll  be introduced to the students you’re supporting and will receive quarterly updates on their education & job search progress. If a corporate sponsor signs up to cover the OPEX of that Hub, we’ll use your donation to support students from another community.

Our promise to you is that 100% of your monthly donation will support education, forever.

If you’re reading this and would like to get involved, please consider becoming a Monthly Donor or sharing this story. Together, we can do so much.