Value Added: The Nonprofit Entrepreneur

By Thomas Heath

I have been tweeting on Twitter (my call sign is addedvalueth) for the last two weeks, wondering why a grown-up would share mundane parts of his personal life ("heading to sleep") with complete strangers on the other end of a computer or handheld. And why anyone would want to read aforementioned drivel.

The most substantive discussion I had on this social networking site centered on the merits of Chicago-style deep dish pizza versus the flat, greasy New York pizza.

I wondered what the possible business applications of Twitter could be. While I was wondering, I got a pitch from entrepreneur Scott Beale, who used Twitter, Facebook, Craigslist and a bunch of other Web sites to win $100,000 from online contests to fund his District startup.

The start-up is a non-profit. Don't press the snooze button yet. Beale approached the project as if he were building the next Google.

The 33-year-old Georgetown graduate and former U.S. State Department employee quit his $42,000-a-year Foggy Bottom career three years ago and, using the same Web skills that President Obama used to raise campaign funds, built what he calls a "Peace Corps in reverse."

His creation is Atlas Corps, which lures highly-skilled non-profit decision-makers from India and Colombia to the United States for a year, running Sept. 1 to Aug. 30.

He concentrates on India and Colombia because he speaks the languages and because they have highly-developed non-profit sectors. They also have a high opinion of the United States, Beale said.

He finds U.S. non-profit organizations to host the visitors; the hosts pay $26,000 for the volunteers. The idea is to help the volunteers learn U.S. non-profit management skills. The non-profits hope to learn something from the volunteers as well.

"I'm using entrepreneurial business skills to make a difference in the social sector, which isn't any different from using business skills to make money in the for-profit sector," Beale said.

Atlas keeps $4,000 of the $26,000 to cover its rent and administrative costs. It gives the rest to the Atlas "fellow," which covers a stipend for housing, food and transportation. Atlas covers health care too (at a student rate of $800).

Chief executive Beale and his company live on the cheap. He has five staffers and sublets a tiny, windowless office space near DuPont Circle in the District. (For its first two years, staffers worked out of their own apartments.) Beale collects a salary in the "low $40s" and his five staffers split $120,000 a year. He travels to New York on $25-each-way buses, entertains over coffee and bagels and uses free space at Synergos, another non-profit (sponsored by a Rockefeller heiress) that works in the developing world.

The group currently has 12 fellows in the program, including nine in the Washington area. Atlas also has helped send three Americans to Colombia. When they are finished with the fellowship, participants must return to a nonprofit in their home country.

In addition to the fee Beale collects from host organizations, he has come up with another source of revenue.

This second stream reminds me of the movie about five years ago called "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," about a 1960s woman who supported her family by winning jingle contests. Beale has entered and won a series of online contests such as AOL mogul Steve Case's America's Giving Challenge and IdeaBlob, which brought in more than $100,000 last year.

The goal of the contests varies, but typically involves amassing the most donations of a certain size or encouraging people to register at a specific site.

To win, Beale contacts old friends from Georgetown and elsewhere, asking them to become captains and contact other friends. The viral network is just like political bundling, where every person you contact in turn contacts five others, and they contact five others, et cetera. To beat the big colleges at the contests, Beale timed his big push for the Christmas break, when students were home relaxing. He asked for money on a YouTube commercial he made featuring his three-year-old nephew.

"During one contest, we had 800 people donate in the last 48 hours. It's just like running a campaign," said Beale, who is working on another $10,000 contest right now.

Beale said the inspiration for his company came from his time in India working for the State Department. He had an idea where people from places like India would come to the United States.

The key hurdle was visas, which allow foreigners to work in the United States but are difficult to get. Beale figured if he could get certified by the State Department to bring non-profit workers into this country under a visa program, he would have a competitive advantage over rivals.
To find people who knew the ins and outs of visas, he advertised for employees on Web sites such as and, listing the job qualifications.

Non-profit fundraising came easy to Beal. He is an extrovert who would routinely throw parties to raise money for charities at his Adams-Morgan apartment back in the early 1990s after graduation. He further developed the non-profit bug while working with Ashoka, a non-profit which sponsors social entrepreneurs. His time in the Clinton White House, where he worked as a liaison with U.S. governors, and for the State Department in India whetted his appetite for using business skills to impact social objectives instead of just turning profits.

In 2006, an attorney friend helped him file the papers with the Internal Revenue Service to create a non-profit. Cost: $500.

To find board members and non-profit sponsors, he tapped a long list of contacts in the non-profit world and from the federal government. Ashoka signed up to pay $17,000 for a fellow the first year.

At the time, Beale had a long commute. Without a job, he was living in Bogota where his wife worked at the U.S. Embassy.

He wooed prospective donors in Washington, where he slept on friends' couches and knocked on non-profit doors. It was a crazy lifestyle. He took his phone calls, whether he was in Bogota or D.C., on a 202-area code telephone link through Vonage.

But the craziness paid off. Beale got $80,000 from Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar and $20,000 from DuPont Corp. to get off the ground.

"I am just like a business entrepreneur, but instead of making a big paycheck I try to make a big impact," he said.

His competitive advantage lies in his certification from the State Department, allowing him to bring in experienced non-profit managers.

At last check, 500 people were applying for this year's 12 positions.

By Dan Beyers  |  March 15, 2009; 8:00 PM ET  | Category:  Value Added
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Posted by: | March 16, 2009 3:29 AM

Great chance for non profit leaders. Atlas Corps is a good global idea!!

Posted by: carol_mondragon | March 16, 2009 5:45 AM

Atlas Corps is the type of program that in the long run can make an important contribution to international peace and understanding. It is low cost and appears to be run by people more interested in making a difference than getting rich. The media should give more attention to these organizations and assessing their effectiveness.

Posted by: DonReinaldo | March 16, 2009 6:42 AM

"The start-up is a non-profit. Don't press the snooze button yet."

I won't, and neither should anybody who cares about our economy. Nonprofits are businesses. They employ tens of thousands locally and put billions of dollars into our regional economy. Rather than dismissing innovators as starry eyed, good-deed doers while ignoring the economic impact of the organizations they run, I would suggest that now is the time to truly explore their potential, analyze their imapct, and respect their role.

Step UP, Business Page!!

Posted by: regger1 | March 16, 2009 6:59 AM

Thanks for the interest in Atlas Corps! For people who want to learn more, please visit and if you want to help us win another $10,000 this month, please donate $10 at: Scott Beale

Posted by: scottbeale50 | March 16, 2009 7:06 AM

I have to agree with regger1, the immediate expectation that people will be bored by nonprofit status is far from the mark. First, the nonprofit sector employs 11% of the working population in the United States, more than the automobile and financial sectors combined - which as we have seen are NOT doing much beneficial to our economy now. Plus, Atlas Corps is a unique organization in that it could have been a for-profit with a social purpose or a nonprofit with a business edge. And these types of hybrid organizations will be at the forefront of getting people to work and expanding the new economy IF legislation gets passed like it did in Vermont and elsewhere. L3C's, Low-profit Limited Liability COmpanies, which combine forprofit status with nonprofit motives are going to be a big part of recovery and will get a lot of attention with the possibility of a White House Office of Social Entrepreneurship. Atlas Corps is trying to recruit the best of developing world grassroots and nonprofit organizers in order to develop this part of our economy at a low low cost. Many other organizations can take a page from their playbook.

Posted by: sacharkj | March 16, 2009 8:01 AM

The energy surrounding Atlas Corps is exactly what you would expect from a start-up, non-profit or not. I'm so glad that the enthusiasm and conviction they have was conveyed in the article.

A lot of for-profit businesses could learn a lesson here: success comes a lot faster when you're 100% committed and truly passionate about the context of your business, not just the money involved.

Posted by: furnituregirl | March 16, 2009 9:22 AM

Atlas Corps has jumped many hurdles and in my opinion is a success!
Not only do nonprofit leaders exchange culture and ideas through work, but also through a unique training program once a month. This is not mentioned in the article, but nevertheless an important aspect of the Atlas Corps program.

Posted by: marytempleton | March 16, 2009 9:49 AM

Atlas Corps is a great idea, especially if they can get certification from the State Department. Without this certification I wonder if they can sustain and can grow. It would be interesting to check back in with them in a year to see how they are doing.

Posted by: kellyh99 | March 16, 2009 10:40 AM

Atlas Corps is an incredible, innovative idea that really puts into practice the notion of a global sharing of ideas and practices. The nonprofit sector is increasingly more important and this program works to strengthen and expand connections, exchanges, and commitments to making big social change.

Posted by: mam277 | March 16, 2009 10:41 AM

Atlas Service Corps is a great opportunity for advanced professional development in the international nonprofit sector! The exchange of experiences and knowledge between the fellows in Colombia, India and the US, and the active learning that takes place on the job, is what makes this fellowship unlike any other!

Posted by: nyluv00 | March 16, 2009 10:48 AM

Thanks for featuring a non-profit and social entrepreneur. It's really interesting to read about how social organizations are able to survive and thrive in today's economy.

Posted by: KatyDP | March 16, 2009 12:12 PM

It’s always refreshing to learn of creative ways to earn capital for great causes. Scott Beale’s approach and strategy for his Atlas Corps definitely warrants the attention he received in today’s Value Added installment. It makes perfect sense on how he applies his business money-making skills from the for-profit sector to build assets for his nonprofit. His big impact, low pay tactic is inspiring!

Posted by: matthagan | March 16, 2009 12:24 PM

What a lovely article. That's a group that I'll be watching!

And yes, I wish people would not be so dismissive of non-profits. Outside of government, defense, and IT, I believe it is the largest industry in the DC area. Personally, I've worked for 6 different non-profits (both 501c6 and c3) and am fortunate to have an attractive salary and benefits that cause envy in others. And that's on top of knowing we're doing good things for people and truly make a difference. It's a real job that requires real experience and a solid education.

Posted by: jljardon2 | March 16, 2009 12:25 PM

have to respect anyone trying to bridge cultures and make a difference... nice piece tom... Hope the Post is smart and makes sure to make you a focus of their business section... it's human interest stories like yours that people read the section. I can go anywhere to find a stock quote but I can only go to Value Added to find YOU.

Posted by: baseballindc | March 16, 2009 1:05 PM

thanks baseballindc!

Posted by: heatht | March 16, 2009 1:43 PM

Scott Beale is the real deal - a true visionary. Hoya Saxa!

Posted by: mikeg4 | March 16, 2009 2:05 PM

Atlas Service Corps sounds like a great idea for bringing both innovation from young leaders in India and Colombia to non-profits in the US as well as helping develop their capacity to share what they learn back in their countries afterwards. Scott Beale truly displays the rare blend of entrepreneurship and creative social commitment. Let's hope grows into a larger, sustainable organization.

Posted by: MikeM18 | March 16, 2009 9:16 PM

Atlas Service Corps sounds like a great idea for bringing both innovation from young leaders in India and Colombia to non-profits in the US as well as helping develop their capacity to share what they learn back in their countries afterwards. Scott Beale truly displays the rare blend of entrepreneurship and creative social commitment. Let's hope grows into a larger, sustainable organization.

Posted by: MikeM18 | March 16, 2009 9:16 PM

I think that if we had more people like Scott Beale, working for the global economy instead of the 'global sized bonus paycheck', then we wouldn't be in the economic mess we are in right now. I hope that more newspapers consider bringing attention to projects and people like Scott instead of those that are taking advantage of the system like AIG! Thank you, Washington Post.

Posted by: kristin_jm | March 18, 2009 8:56 AM

So if this entrepreneur brings in social impact and not financial profit... tell us about the impact. How well have prize winnings been spent? What are these Atlas Corps Fellows up to in DC and what do they do once back in home countries?

Posted by: robinbose | March 18, 2009 8:59 AM

Atlas Corps. is an inspiring and innovative concept that I am proud to support! Scott Beale is a model of purposeful, smart leadership.

Posted by: lcdduke03 | March 18, 2009 9:39 AM

I love it that Atlas Corps is no longer an "idea" that could change the world - Atlas Corps IS changing the world. I've had the pleasure of meeting many of their fellows and that these people will create global social change is a certainty.

Posted by: kristy3 | March 18, 2009 9:44 AM

I believe Atlas Corp's work sends a message of hope to a world where international relations have been marred by lack of solidarity and commitment. Keep up the good work and tell us more about it!

Posted by: cmartinco | March 18, 2009 10:47 AM

Scott is passionate about his vision and mission, which I think comes through in this article, but it comes through loud and strong when he's speaking in person about Atlas Corps. It's very exciting to see this smart, young man succeeding. Non profits are businesses, and Scott brings high ethics and clear vision to the non profit world.

Posted by: snoozn | March 18, 2009 11:11 AM

What an inspiring article...thanks for bringing this amazing organization to my attention! I will be watching for all updates about Atlas Service Corps and Scott Beale. Thank you.

Posted by: JM993616 | March 18, 2009 12:13 PM

This is a REALLY good idea. I would love to hear more about this in the future.

Posted by: Drew7 | March 18, 2009 12:37 PM

Atlas Corps sounds like exactly what we need - grassroots innovation, and helping to improve things from the bottom up.

Posted by: lkeithle | March 18, 2009 12:59 PM

I was on a panel with Scott recently, and he is very sharp and has all the right motivations. Really impressive what Atlas Corps is doing. Great to see this kind of coverage in the Washington Post.

Posted by: cschorr | March 18, 2009 1:43 PM

robinbose. stay tuned for more coverage in future. we will talk about the impact. this was purely the business side. thanks for your interest.

Posted by: heatht | March 18, 2009 1:46 PM

how refreshing to read this article side by side with A.I.G bonuses.

Posted by: anat1 | March 18, 2009 2:05 PM

How nice to see Atlas Corps reviewed! I'm Executive Director of a Colombian NGO named Somos Más (We're more) and we're currently working with a former Atlas Fellow (Sergio Zuluaga). He is now managing the biggest entrepreneurship network in the Colombia, with over 12.700 entreprenuers (
Keep the good work!

Posted by: nicolasmartinj | March 18, 2009 2:05 PM

Tom -

Thanks for including non-profits in your column. I wish we heard even more about them (hint, hint). This sound like a terrific one. I wish them well. Good work.

Posted by: abmcc | March 18, 2009 7:54 PM

Atlas Service Corps is a great idea! Fostering networks and exchange of information among leaders from different countries will surely help build stronger nonprofits and innovative solutions at a local level. Scott, congratulations on a great initiative!

Posted by: cam220088 | March 18, 2009 10:26 PM

Thank you for this article. The creative approaches used by Scott Beale and Atlas Corp provide an inspiring example for small-business entrepreneurs, non-profit start-ups, and anyone who wants to make a positive impact in their community (whether local or global). I, too, would be very interested in follow-up articles profiling some Atlas Corp fellows, both during their activities in the U.S. and upon return to their home countries.

Posted by: Wendy-SwimmingLizard | March 19, 2009 7:07 AM

As someone who knows Scott, I can truly say he is an innovative communicator and his passion is contagious. I'm so glad he and Atlas Corps are getting the recognition and kudos they deserve.

Posted by: mlekat | March 19, 2009 2:21 PM

As a fellow Social Entrepreneur, I have had interactions with Atlas Corps and have been very impressed by their vision and strategy. Often the information flow is from the "Global North" TO the "Global South" --however, Atlas Corps is flipping that stereotypical notion on its head by providing US-based NGOs the opportunity to host/learn with/from NGO professionals from the "Global South". These outstanding Fellows are able to not only contribute to day to day tasks within the NGO where they are stationed, but also share invaluable knowledge and experience from civil society in their home country --thus, making a lasting impact on the organization. This is the kind of international cooperation and interaction we need in the 21st century. Information flow needs to be a two-way road --and that's what Atlas Corps is building. Atlas Corps is a fantastic example of a non-profit filling a niche in society in a way that adds value to the U.S. and abroad. Bravo!

Posted by: JessRimington | March 19, 2009 4:19 PM

One of the most interesting and inspiring articles I've read in the Business section. Great profile and what an impressive organization!

Posted by: fdalleo | March 20, 2009 1:34 PM

I am so impressed by this initiative, and can't wait until you can expand this program to more foreign countries. Really inspired by this wonderful story, Scott!

Posted by: saramariemercado | March 20, 2009 6:53 PM

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