Editor's Note: Luz Corcuera, executive director of UnidosNow, shares how UnidosNow 'dreams big' with Margin Mission Ignition.
Every fall UnidosNow launches its school-based programming for Latino students of every age in our region. It’s an exciting time, as students and parents learn about what it takes to achieve the American dream. But it is also a very challenging and frustrating time for UnidosNow because we are a small organization trying to fill a wide and ever-deepening achievement gap in our community. We are proud of what we have accomplished in our few short years of existence, but there is so, so much more to do. With this in mind, we recently accepted an invitation by The Patterson Foundation to apply for their Mission and Margin Ignition program, which supports non-profit organizations in generating revenue to support their mission.
UnidosNow was one of 60+ organizations invited to participate. After a series of workshops and homework assignments, we were eventually selected as one of five organizations to receive 30 months of support from No Margin, No Mission, a consulting group specializing in driving earned-income initiatives for non-profit organizations. Our business idea was to offer our college prep services to families with the means to pay. With our track record of getting high-performing, low-income students into top schools, we started to get requests from families of all backgrounds and felt confident that we could help them realize their dreams of going to college, too. We plan to launch Beyond College Now to help students gain admission into “best-value” colleges, namely schools which match a student’s academic and social preferences, but also have a reputation for graduating students on time, with limited debt, and with gainful employment beyond college.
We embarked on our business-plan journey a few months ago, at the same time as the start of some of our most demanding projects. Somehow, we needed to find time to build a business plan, while maintaining focus on our core mission. For a small team of four, this was no easy task, but we knew that a successful launch would go a long way towards ensuring our sustained operations and long-term impact in the community. As each piece of the puzzle came together, we became more and more excited. We learned more about the market and potential customers and competitors, and this increased insight lead to innovative solutions we had never considered at the start. We were encouraged by No Margin, No Mission to dream big, then determine what skills and resources would be required to realize those dreams. We worried about how we would find the initial capital to launch our new business, but we soon found out that part of the earned-income initiative included fundraising for working capital. A key element of the fundraising was a “Fast Pitch” event where we would invite potential angel investors to listen to our pitch and determine whether they wanted to invest.
We were hoping to receive $50,000 to kickstart our new business, but it seemed a little unrealistic at first. However, little by little, we started to see the interest build, and by the day of the event, more than 20 people showed up to hear our pitch. We were only given 15 minutes to tell our story, but we were ready. One by one we saw hands go up to invest in our business and, by the end of the session, we had already generated $17,000 in pledges. To our great surprise, The Patterson Foundation announced that they would match up to $25,000, a target we would meet by the end of that day, as more pledges came rolling in after the session ended. In one day, we raised $57,000, and we are still hoping for more!
We can’t wait to get started on our implementation plan. With the help of the community, we are confident that we will succeed in generating substantial earned income, all of which will be invested in helping low-income Latino students achieve their dream of going to college…an investment that will profoundly impact the future of our community as we prepare these young people to be our next generation of leaders.