Margin Mission Ignition … An 18-Month Learning Journey to Launch Friends of Sarasota County Park’s New Venture “Shade is Good”

Margin Mission Ignition … An 18-Month Learning Journey to Launch Friends of Sarasota County Park’s New Venture “Shade is Good”

Posted on February 16, 2017 by Jodi Caroll
Editor’s Note: A number of organizations participating in Margin & Mission Ignition -- The Patterson Foundation’s initiative designed to help nonprofits grow entrepreneurial capacity, boost revenue, and increase mission impact -- recently developed business plans to launch or grow an earned income venture. To help bring their business plans to life, each organization was seeking a financial “mission impact investment” from donors, funders, and investors toward their needed startup or growth capital required for successful implementation. As an added incentive, The Patterson Foundation offered a generous match opportunity to jumpstart each organization’s venture.

Over two years ago, The Patterson Foundation invited the Friends of Sarasota County Parks to an information session about how to enhance the financial sustainability of our organization to achieve greater social impact. Huh? Exactly … the invitation came from The Patterson Foundation so we thought, well, if The Patterson Foundation believes in this process, we know it will be worthwhile!

Not quite knowing what we were getting into, the Friends of Sarasota County Parks threw their hat in the ring and participated in the Margin Mission Ignition educational labs. These labs came with REAL HOMEWORK and eventually created the business concept called Shade is Good, a social enterprise in which the Friends of Sarasota County Parks sell high quality, UV rated sun safety products. The proceeds fund the purchase of shade structures in key areas throughout the Sarasota County Park system.

Ultimately, with perseverance and demonstrating leadership, willingness, readiness, capacity, and culture, we advanced to the full-blown Margin Mission Ignition initiative and became part of a group of entrepreneurial nonprofits in our region known affectionately as the “Super Six.”

And so began our intensive 18-month journey involving weekly one-on-one coaching and technical assistance sessions to develop and implement our business plan. Seems simple and straight forward, right? Not so fast!

We were taxed with creating a business plan, critical section by critical section. Our coach and consultant, Larry Clark, actually read our plan, asked the ‘tough’ questions, and we in turn worked hard to respond with data-driven answers. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention, we are a VERY SMALL organization. We have 12-members, all volunteer Board of Directors that meets monthly, and two 10-hour-per-week independent contractors. That’s it!

So picture this … one Board Member and the two of us contractors huddled around the computer for our weekly consulting sessions. We would get off the phone with Larry, figure out our next steps, then every Sunday morning, we got together over coffee at Panera to complete our ‘homework.’ The consulting sessions were admittedly painful at first, but as time went on, the picture of where we were going became clearer and the pride in our accomplishment toward the launch of a social enterprise began to take shape.

In all honesty, I think each of us secretly wondered if Shade is Good would really happen. We faced some fairly significant obstacles, however, timing, tenacity, advice, and counsel from our consultant and The Patterson Foundation allowed us to move forward.

We participated in a business plan Fast Pitch, fundraised for our startup capital (generously matched dollar-for-dollar by The Patterson Foundation), researched our product line, and hired a marketing consultant who assisted us with branding and creation of a new website.

Shade is Good officially opened for business in October 2016. We have a sleek e-commerce option on our new website AND you can find our product line at the Phillippi Farmhouse Farmers Market. Sales are increasing and we are looking to expand our reach and our product line in 2017.

In retrospect, the Margin Mission Ignition opportunity to work with Larry Clark, Managing Partner of No Margin, No Mission, and The Patterson Foundation came at the right time. The Friends of Sarasota County Parks was facing a bit of an identity crisis. We needed structure and direction and this process gave us both. In addition to assisting us with developing our business plan and launching Shade is Good, this process gave us the confidence we needed to know that we could succeed, could raise money, and give back to the community in big ways.

We are grateful for the opportunity and appreciate the assistance and guidance from our consultant and from The Patterson Foundation. Shade is Good products can be found at the Phillippi Farmhouse Farmers Market on Wednesdays during October–April and online at foscp.org/shop.

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