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The Patterson Foundation's Margin Mission Ignition Revitalizes the Nonprofit Landscape

Posted on December 17, 2019 by John McCarthy, Executive Director, Gulf Coast Heritage Association / Historic Spanish Point

While participating in The Patterson Foundation's 3rd Annual Margin Mission Ignition (MMI) Thrive and Dine information-sharing event, I looked out from the windows of Northern Trust and saw our community through a blanket of beautiful trees. At the same time, I thought about the hardships faced by so many in our community, and how adapting to hardship and challenge is part of the legacy of our region.

As an example, for newly arrived pioneer settlers, wildland fires were a spectacle to be feared; however, the settlers soon observed the speedy green recovery and an increase in deer, turkey, and quail. They learned that fire was part of a revitalizing cycle of life that is embedded in the natural ecosystem.

After listening to the MMI participants share the best practices that are advancing their missions, it was clear that their success had been boosted by the application of fresh ideas allowing organizational growth. Seeing a connection, I thought back to those wildfires and how organizations also need periodic life-sustaining revitalization.

In Florida, wildfires have been rejuvenating the natural landscape for thousands of years, providing nourishment to the soil, pruning aging limbs, and catalyzing reproduction. This revitalizing cycle has worked its magic for so long that Florida's environment is dependent upon it. Lacking fire, many plants and animals enter a long slow decay, often followed by a catastrophic event, causing undue damage to the woods and its inhabitants. Even the venerable long-leaf pine cannot create the forests of the future without periodic fire to germinate the next generation of seeds. On the ground, hundreds of species are dependent upon the deep burrows created by the humble gopher tortoise. With so many species depending upon its burrows, the tortoise is likewise dependent upon fire to sprout sustenance in the form of fresh shoots of green grass. Without fire, there are no tortoises; without tortoises, many other species suffer. These and other reasons are why natural-lands managers now apply carefully planned, prescribed fire to reinvigorate the landscape as nature has done for eons.

In our communities, we have similar relationships. Like the tortoise burrows, our local nonprofits provide for the needs of thousands of members of the community. In turn, they need periodic fire to induce their own fresh shoots of green — In this case, the legal-tender kind — to grow their missions in the community. Thanks to The Patterson Foundation, a multi-disciplinary group of 20 nonprofit organizations from Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte counties have been inspired through MMI. With coaching by business burn-bosses Michael Oxman and Larry Clark of No Margin, No Mission, the resulting prescribed fires applied over the three-county region have reinvigorated the nonprofit environment in many ways.

Through MMI, a diverse set of community-serving organizations have learned to prune dead-end limbs, overgrown shrubs, and errant saplings. They've responded to the local environment to find their unique niche in the world of social entrepreneurship. They have sprouted new seeds — ideas to take the forest into the future — and they have received nourishment deep in the soil to sustain them on their journey to a robust and sustainable financial environment.

Wildfires are measured by acres burned and how the woods respond with fresh, green growth. MMI's impact is measured in the green dollars that are transformed through the nonprofit's mission to make a difference in our communities.

With five years of carefully executed "prescribed fire," 20 organizations have earned a combined net revenue of 10-million dollars and are discovering what it is like to thrive. This is an amazing return on The Patterson Foundation's investment in these vital nonprofits. Like the future forests rising from pine seeds germinated by the heat of a summer wildfire, the ripple effect of MMI is fueling a revitalized generation of nonprofits to serve our region into the future.

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