How Grow Further Launched its Mission with the Help of a True Altruist

Grow Further is defined by a belief that everyone deserves food and that anyone can help create a food-secure future. That anyone now includes, among others, our donors, volunteers, and the grant recipients working directly with farmers to develop cutting-edge concepts as well as advancing traditional knowledge.

In the beginning, however, Grow Further was little more than an idea conceived of by our founder and CEO, Peter Kelly. It was a great idea, but one that could not become reality through Peter’s efforts alone. Luckily, he connected with just the right person to guide Grow Further to where we are today.

“I met Peter about 5 years ago,” Donald Summers recalled in a lengthy interview. “It struck me right away that Peter had a brilliant idea and he was committed to taking this idea to scale.”

An auspicious beginning

Donald and Peter have a lot in common. They are both social scientists and philanthropic entrepreneurs.

Donald Summers is the founder of Altruist Partners, a consulting firm that guides nonprofits through challenging times and growth periods, helping philanthropies organize, launch operations, raise funds, accumulate talent, and execute visions. Altruist Partners is currently working with a client on a multi-billion-dollar overseas development plan. Donald and Altruist are integral parts of Grow Further’s story.

Half a decade ago, Peter and Donald were neighbors at Impact Hub Seattle, a shared workspace for mission-driven innovators and entrepreneurs that closed a few years back. Peter eventually approached Donald to see if Altruist could help advise Grow Further at its inception. Donald said yes, though he knew getting things going would be a challenge.

“Peter immediately showed the courage to understand particularly the size of that challenge and describe how his model could scale to meet it, bringing an entirely new form of financing to food security, which is itself an incredibly high return social impact model completely overlooked by individuals,” he said. “So, perfect example of the type of mission that I founded my consulting firm to serve.”

Over the next three years from their initial introduction, Donald and Peter worked closely to create Grow Further “out of whole cloth” as he put it. They drafted a plan, constructing what Grow Further should look like and how it should operate administratively. Every aspect of Grow Further was built from scratch, including “the organization, the board, the team, the program,” Donald said. The task was made all the more difficult by the simple fact that neither Donald nor Peter had a model or template to work off of—what Grow Further is doing has never been done before. “It was a very sophisticated challenge and it was clear right away that Peter had the commitment,” he said. “He has all the hallmarks of an entrepreneur.”

Donald has since stepped back from Grow Further’s day-to-day operations but continues to serve on our advisory board. His new book went on sale the very day he spoke with us to reflect on his time at Grow Further and his advice moving forward. Available wherever books are sold, Scaling Altruism: A Proven Pathway for Accelerating Nonprofit Growth and Impact took ten years’ worth of experience to conceptualize and five years to write, he said.

Tenaciously flexible

Donald told us that one of the hallmarks of a successful nonprofit like Grow Further is stubborn tenacity coupled with the willingness and fortitude to adjust strategies and approaches where necessary. “Like a dog with a bone, you’re never going to quit, and you’re fixed and you’re anchored to it. That can’t change,” he said. “At the same time, you have to be incredibly flexible and fluid about how you execute it. So, you have to be anchored on one thing and then you have to have a very light grip on the steering wheel with how you get there.”

“Now the challenge will be to scale. How do we attract more members and investors to show that this works?”

Though he was instrumental in helping Grow Further lay a solid foundation for the future, Donald says that hands-on assistance is no longer necessary. We still value his input, nevertheless—he said he and Peter are in contact at least once a month.

When this author first met Donald in person, he described how you can tell the difference between a strong nonprofit and one with a questionable future. At the time, he expressed the utmost confidence in Grow Further, and this was well before our on-the-ground efforts got started. Since then, Donald has helped us through a hugely successful first call for proposals—more than 700 smallholder farming innovators responded. Two research teams are now working in the field and labs to make their visions become reality, with Grow Further’s assistance. More grant awards and project announcements will be forthcoming, so stay tuned.

Grow Further is poised to deliver on its promise to change how food security and small-scale agricultural innovation are funded and executed. Overlooked ideas will be overlooked no more. Donald says the future outlook for Grow Further is very promising, but there is much work left to be done. “The interest that the organization is getting at the international level—again, lots of wins, so we know it’s working,” he said. “It’s not completely solved. We’re still in the phase one of this organization.”

On track, on target

Grow Further is up and running, expanding partnerships and growing its member base while connecting with smallholder farmers in need in the field thanks to Donald Summers and Altruist Partners. “Now the challenge will be to scale,” he said. “How do we attract more members and investors to show that this works?” One key, he advised, is to maintain our current tenacity and determination while remaining flexible and adaptable. Patience will also be required—it will take time to see the social impact of our work since agricultural research is dependent on growing cycles. But results will come, he assured us.

“Grow Further is doing it,” he said. “You have a very capable executive team and strong advisors, and we know we can be optimistic and confident that success will happen, at least at this stage.”

“We’re not spiking the football,” Donald added, “but that’s how I can step back.”

 — Grow Further

Photo credit: Donald Summers, founder and CEO of Altruist Partners.

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