We had the good fortune of connecting with Banks Benitez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Banks, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
Uncharted works at the intersection of social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and impact investing, so we navigate multiple industries. But in the philanthropic industry, I was surprised to learn that 95% of the assets of most foundations are not spent on their social impact endeavors. Instead, they are invested in the financial markets. Every year, the IRS mandates that foundations spend out only 5% of their assets, so if a foundation gives out $5M per year in grants to the community, they are most likely not a $5M foundation, but a $100M foundation. The objective of many foundations is to exist into perpetuity, so they must generate a return of greater than $5M on the $95M they invest. This way, they never run out of money. Some foundations are challenging the idea that they need to exist forever, and they are “spending down” now by exceeding the IRS minimum of 5% in their grant-making. One strand of logic behind this decision is that more impact can be created by spending more money addressing root causes earlier instead of just spending out the minimum of 5% per year. Other foundations are reckoning with how their 5% grant-making arm is working to address issues that are only being further entrenched and perpetuated by their 95% investing arm (for example, a foundation that makes grants to mitigate climate change on the philanthropic side of their business while investing in fossil-fuel companies on the investing side). There are many ways the philanthropic sector can be adapted to move into the 21st century and align impact and financial goals, while also more effectively and efficiently moving money out the door to the organizations that are transforming those dollars into long-term positive societal outcomes.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Uncharted is a social impact accelerator. We’re focused on finding, funding, and accelerating the most audacious entrepreneurs addressing one of the biggest issues the US will face in the next 30 years: economic inequality. We search for radical ideas, new businesses, untested policy proposals, and other solutions that are not yet in the mainstream, and we do everything we can to help them succeed.
Underneath what we do is why we do it. We believe in giving a chance to someone, in taking a bet on someone, in finding the overlooked entrepreneur and giving them access to the network, funding, and support they need. We believe that we can have the most impact when we support the most early-stage entrepreneurs. We believe that taking a risk when no one else will sets us apart, both in strategic positioning and also in the message it sends to the world: that when the odds are stacked against you and things seem impossible, we’ll help to make it possible.
We’ve been around for 11 years, and it has not been an easy road. We’ve stumbled and fallen and got up and reinvented the business multiple times. Building this company has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and the most rewarding. It’s taken every bit of me and also blessed me in ways I would have never imagined. I started out as an intern and stepped in to be our CEO three years ago, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that 1) when I am trusted, I am smarter and more capable, and 2) when our team is trusted, they are smarter and more capable. Underneath the entire concept of a company and a team is the simple idea of trust.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I was born and raised in Denver and love this city. There’s great coffee (I’d take them to Amethyst Coffee on Broadway), great food (I’d take them to Uchi in RiNo), great parks (I’d take them to Jazz in the Park at City Park), and great humans. But I love Denver because of its proximity to the mountains, and I’d go to Crested Butte and hike up Snodgrass, I’d go to Telluride and do the Sneffels Traverse, I’d go to the Eagles Nest Wilderness and find Wheeler Lake, and I’d go get lost in the Sand Dunes in southern Colorado.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would be no where without my parents or the Uncharted Team. For my parents, they have been the most formative influence in my life since the beginning. Their kindness and generosity exists to this day. For the Uncharted Team, I make less than 5% of our company’s decisions, and the success of Uncharted is due to our collective efforts, our ability to have courageous conversations, our willingness to forgive, and our grit to keep going and keep making magic.