After the Rejection: Tales of Failed Echoing Green Applications

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If you are young philanthropist with an innovative idea for solving a critical social issue, few greater opportunities exist to get your plan off the ground than to apply to become an Echoing Green Fellow.

Over the past three decades, Echoing Green has invested  $40 million and supported over 700 emerging social change leaders. The organization’s seed-stage funding and strategic foundational support has been critical for the early development of several powerful nonprofit organizations, including Teach for America, City Year, One Acre, and SKS Microfinance.

Given the prestige and support bestowed to anyone that becomes an Echoing Green Fellow, we submitted an application this year, assuming that Unfunded List would be a strong and unique idea that could possibly break through the extremely competitive field. I anticipated that we would make it past the first round of applicants and then probably get rejected in the final part of the competition.

I was wrong. We were bounced in the first round. Looks like WE are a prime Unfunded candidate now. Since what’s good for the goose is good for the gander we have submitted our rejected proposal to our own program and look forward to receiving feedback from our esteemed evaluators.

Our rejection puts us in good company. Echoing Green is one of the best seed organizations for promising social impact organizations, but by no means does this imply that great ideas don’t slip by them. In fact, we could present a very impressive list of individuals who were rejected Echoing Green Fellows.

A Temporary Failure

One of these individuals is Scott Beale. Beale is the founder of Atlas Corps, an organization that aims to facilitate communication in the international nonprofit sector by providing fellowships to rising leaders to volunteer in America for 12–18 months and network and develop skills by working at U.S. nonprofits. Afterward, they return to their home countries to continue their social impact work. I had the pleasure to work for Scott as the organization’s first Partnerships Manager. While there I worked with a very talented team to place 39 fellows from 26 different countries at 31 social sector organizations. It was an amazing experience.

Atlas Corps was founded in 2006, and the organization has enjoyed tremendous success over its initial ten years of existence by using a business model that Beale outlined in his rejected application for Echoing Green. Beale offered his thoughts on this rejection in a recent Facebook post commemorating the 10th anniversary of Atlas Corps (in which he shared his rejected Echoing Green application):

If I had been told 10-years ago, “Scott, you won’t be a Fellow; this wont go exactly as planned; this will be harder than you can imagine; but, your dream of supporting hundreds of leaders from all over the world will come true and they will, in turn, make the world a better place” Then, I would have taken that deal in a heartbeat.

Of course, Beale isn’t the only rejected Echoing Green Fellow to move onto great things. Russ Finklestein – a recent guest on our Wine Grants podcast – is a nonprofit entrepreneur who is the founder of Clearly Next, an organization that helps individuals successfully navigate career changes.

This isn’t the first time, however, that Finklestein has founded a career-centered nonprofit. Over a decade ago, he pitched for an Echoing Green fellowship and was rejected.

Fortunately, this rejection did not hinder their eventual success. You might have heard of this program, in fact: it’s called idealist.org.

Failure as a springboard

The primary lesson we can take from these rejection stories is that they did not signal the end for their founder’s respective ideas. Rather, rejection motivated these individuals to dedicate themselves even more to the cause.

This post isn’t meant to criticize Echoing Green. In fact, we would be hypocrites if we did. Echoing Green receives thousands of applications and inevitably must reject hundreds of great ideas. For comparison, we received far fewer proposals in the first round of the Unfunded List (give us time), and yet we still had to leave several great ideas off the first list.

The truth is that there are too many promising organizations out there for every foundation to recognize with funding. No human being (or algorithm) is the perfect evaluator, and many times, they are caught between several great applicants. This applies to almost every field, from HR managers who have to choose from a deluge of qualified candidates to selecting Best Picture for the Oscars (Crash? Really?). This is a major reason we started Unfunded List; to provide feedback for these rejected ideas and facilitate connections for them to get funding and support.

All of this is to say: next time you are rejected from a major foundation, understand that you are in very good company.

Today, Echoing Green uses Idealist.org to place their job announcements, they host an Atlas Corps Fellow and the Unfunded List evaluation committee has evaluated four Echoing Green supported proposals and looks forward to evaluating many more.