ngoTogether with the best in the business, our partners Larry Clark and Michael Oxman of No Margin, No Mission, we hosted an overview session about earned income with 80 local nonprofits, followed by a 14-week business planning consultancy for a select cohort of four organizations working diligently and strategically to refine their earned-income ideas. The work was fully funded by The Patterson Foundation.
Admittedly, I wondered if we would be facilitating business planning processes for four “new” thrift stores (an enterprise our community is not lacking).
It was remarkable to see the diversity of ideas presented in the application process and ultimately selected for this work:
• Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee: an existing catering/facility rental business
• Easter Seals of Southwest Florida: a toy prototype for autistic children
• SCOPE: customized community data
• Southeastern Guide Dogs: a self-published dog training book
Over the past few months, hard-working staff at each organization developed the marketing, financial and operational aspects of bringing these products or services to market—all with the larger purpose of earning revenue to support the charitable mission.
Four of the realities that emerged from our work on this special initiative have universal application to nonprofits embracing thrivability:
1. Transparency is fast becoming a prerequisite to nonprofit opportunity.
Organizations eligible to apply for the consultancy were required to have an updated profile in The Giving Partner, our community’s public nonprofit knowledge base sharing in-depth financial, governance, management, and programmatic information. As we look to the future, this requirement will continue to become engrained in every opportunity.
2. A strong, committed board of directors is ever important.
Without a strong board, the likelihood of success in new endeavors is minimal. Our team discussed each organization’s board, including personal commitment to giving and board meeting attendance, as a major consideration in the selection process. Other readiness factors were considered, but the board is where the buck stops.
3. The most successful nonprofits will increasingly leverage community members, volunteers and donors for their good thinking, not just their dollars.
When the four nonprofits made their business planning cases for support in a “fast pitch” session with donors, foundation leaders and community members, feedback based on the diverse financial, marketing, product development, and legal experience in the room was incredible. Being open-minded to the perspectives and offerings of others—both “insiders” and newcomers to an organization—can be challenging, but it is also essential in today’s world of engaged philanthropy.
4. New ways of thinking will continue to involve risk.
It’s possible—likely, in fact—that some of the ideas presented may not ultimately be successful or sustainable. Even a “failed” idea can bring team members together, generate new ways of thinking about sustaining a charitable mission, and engage existing and new supporters. Capitalizing on these gifts along the way will ensure that good will come from the investment.
Equipped with the contributions of business planning expertise, peer learning, community input and encouragement, each of the four participating organizations received a great investment. Now we hope that the work will continue, with leadership at each organization committing to the next steps—whatever that may look like. As your organization evaluates potential opportunities, consider the value of collaborative input, board commitment, transparency, and measured risk-taking. It’s worth the journey.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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