Where’s Sara?: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Social Enterprise Accelerator

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Credit: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

Since November, I’ve been honored to be a part of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s (NSP) Social Enterprise Accelerator. This exciting initiative is part of the Foundation’s Nonprofit Support Program. Starting with a series of educational labs, nonprofits were challenged to think differently. Ten nonprofit organizations were selected to complete the business planning process. My work with the groups has focused on raising the startup funds needed to begin their social enterprise.

I’m pleased to share some information on this innovative program as published in their recent press release:

Social enterprise as a self-supporting approach to revenue generation is new to many nonprofits. In response, the NSP launched the Social Enterprise Accelerator, designed to help organizations expand beyond traditional grants and donations when looking for new sources of revenue.
In June, the Foundation announced a matching challenge. For every dollar of start-up capital raised by the ten organizations participating in the Social Enterprise Accelerator project, the Foundation will match dollar for dollar, up to 50% of the goal, not to exceed $40,000. The announcement followed individual “Fast Pitch” sessions, where each organization presented their business plans to current and potential donors and made a direct ask for financial support toward startup capital needs.

“The enthusiasm and effort that area nonprofit organizations have brought to the Social Enterprise Accelerator program has exceeded our expectations,” said Nonprofit Support Program Director Melanie Tavares.

Community Child Guidance Clinic operates a school in Manchester for children ages 3-15 years of age of varying academic levels, learning abilities, and behavioral and emotional issues that serves students for districts throughout the region. One of the challenges for districts, students, families and staff is the cost and administration of transportation to the school. Currently, referring districts contract with different transportation companies to get the students to and from school. Due to safety concerns and lack of vehicle driver training in behavioral de-escalation models, districts typically have to utilize as few as one van or bus per student.

Recognizing these challenges, Community Child Guidance Clinic Chief Executive Officer Jamie Bellenoit and her executive team came up with the idea of using the agency’s vans and teaching assistant staff to provide therapeutic transportation services to the districts they serve. By having trained staff who the students already know serve as drivers, more students can share vans, allowing for the need for fewer drivers, reducing expenses and also providing higher quality services to the districts, the students and their families.

“Participating in the Social Enterprise Accelerator program was a true example of synergy as we had an opportunity to work with our program partners, Hartford Foundation staff, and No Margin-No Mission to fully realize our vision,” said Bellenoit. “Being a part of the nonprofit clinical and special education world, we simply lacked the expertise to develop a cohesive business plan and launch it. With the generous support of the Foundation and the expertise of Larry Clark from No Margin, No Mission as well as Sara Leonard, we now have the resources necessary to begin implementing our therapeutic transportation services this fall.”

Read the full press release.


Additional Articles:


Examples of Enterprises:

 

Don’t Say “No” for Your Prospect

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Who could say “no” to this face at Satchel’s Last Resort? 

Me: “Let’s brainstorm on who might invest in your social enterprise startup capital.

NPO: “We should ask Mrs. Brown. She’s a great prospect for this. But then again, now isn’t a good time for her because she has moved recently. And, she makes a generous gift to our golf tournament. And, she might not like this because she is passionate about our mission and this is a business enterprise. So let’s not put Mrs. Brown on the list.”

This is a common conversation when I start working with the nonprofit organizations who are part of the Margin Mission Ignition initiative of The Patterson Foundation. I guide them through the process of making a prospect list for their new social enterprise. These prospects will be cultivated and if they indicate an interest, they will be asked to make a donation to invest in the business enterprise.

Too often, the staff and volunteer members of the team come up with great prospects but then talk themselves out of cultivating them for one reason (excuse) or another. In other words, they are deciding “no” for the prospect before they’ve even talked to them about the innovative and mission-sustaining business enterprise.

It’s not our job to say no for the prospect.

So what is our job? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some ideas:

  • It’s our job to talk to everyone we encounter about this exciting venture. I like to borrow the concept original to Gail Perry in “Fired Up Fundraising…”: the board should be sneezing. If your organization is embarking on a business planning process for an earned income venture, you should be talking to everyone you know about it. Picture sneezing and spreading your message all around – yes, I too was grossed by the visual at first.
  • It’s our job to share our enthusiasm. Creating an earned income strategy is an exciting undertaking and that should be shared with the people inside and outside your organization. It’s an opportunity to create a mission-sustaining income stream. What supporter wouldn’t want to know the organization they love will be sustained for years to come?
  • It’s our job to cast the vision. Business planning is a forward-looking process. Your organization has given it a lot of thought and it is part of a larger vision for the future of your nonprofit. Don’t keep all that to yourselves. Share it with those who are passionate about your cause.
  • It’s our job to invite them to be a part of the life-changing work of your nonprofit. Many times we are so close to the work of our organization that we forget that every day we are saving lives, changing lives and making our communities better places to live. When we ask for an investment in the business enterprise, we are inviting the donor to be part of that life-changing work.

When we decide “no” for a prospect, two bad things happen. First the prospect misses the opportunity to be a part of the amazing work of our nonprofit. Second, our nonprofit misses out on much-needed financial support. Next time you find yourself thinking of all the reasons a prospect might not support your nonprofit – STOP. You’ll be glad you did and surprised how contagious your enthusiasm can be.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

Stewardship of Social Enterprise Investors

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Fish Painting at The Folk School at Florida Maritime Museum

Successful social enterprise requires capital investment. I am honored to work with the organizations participating in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignitioninitiative. My role is to support their capital investment fundraising efforts. Social enterprise business planning is hard work and not coincidentally, raising the capital can be hard work, too. Once the business plan is complete, the hard work of implementation begins. At this critical moment organizations can be tempted to move on full speed ahead without thinking about their donor investors. Warning: this is a terrible idea. 

Just like other types of fundraising, capital investment fundraising requires careful stewardship of donors. How should you steward them? I’m glad you asked! There are 3 major steps: Appreciate, Engage, and Listen.

Appreciate
First, make sure they know they are appreciated. This starts with an accurate, well-crafted thank you letter. Be sure to spell the donor’s name right and use their preferred title. If it’s a business, ensure that the letter is addressed to the right person so it doesn’t get lost.

But don’t stop with the letter from the organization. Look for other ways to say thank you. For instance, if a board member helped secure the gift, ask that board member to write a personal note or send an e-mail directly to the donor. You can’t really thank someone too much.

Providing updates on your capital fundraising efforts is another way to appreciate donors. When you show progress toward your capital investment fundraising, you are reassuring the donor that their investment is being joined by others. For instance, the Margin Mission Ignitionorganizations had a stated goal and were fundraising to secure matching funds by a deadline. By providing timely updates, early investors got to share in the celebration.

Engage
Second, keep them engaged. By the time you raise the gift, you’ve probably had multiple conversations with the donor about your earned income venture. Don’t go silent at that point. Update them on your business planning and implementation. They want to know that you are still making progress and likely can help in one way or another.

You can also engage donors by asking them to share their expertise. For instance, if they have a marketing background ask them to review the drafts of your new website. If they are an accountant ask for their help in creating your new accounting system. Donors like to be valued for more than just the checks they write us. Keep in mind though, only ask for their expertise if you’re willing to listen to their ideas.

When appropriate, invite donors to participate as customers. You could offer a coupon and make it comfortable for them to invite family and friends to join them. If your new enterprise includes a “soft opening,” invite donors to be a part of that. Ask for their honest critique of their experience.

Listen
Third, listen. With each of these interactions suggested above, listen to how your investors respond and act accordingly. Some questions to consider:

  • Are they investment donors and might want to do that again?  Then keep them in mind if you need additional capital investment or if you embark on another business plan.
  • Are they committed to your mission and would be likely to support other parts of your organization? Look for the next big thing that will intrigue them.
  • Do they like numbers? Keep them updated on the business plan and the adjustments you are making throughout implementation. 
  • Are they more interested in the impact on your mission? Send them stories about how the proceeds change and save lives at your organization. 

Here’s a bonus tip: as you appreciate, engage and listen – a picture is worth a thousand words. Keep the photos coming. Every communication doesn’t have to be a major design work of art. Spontaneous e-mails with photos attached can be very meaningful. When your donor investors visit you, be sure to snap and share photos. When the proceeds of your enterprise impact your mission, share photos. As an example, the photo above is from Margin Mission Ignition 2016 organization Florida Maritime Museum’s Folk School.

According to research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk, donors (and investors) are most interested in knowing that you put their money to work as they intended and don’t mind if you made some mistakes along the way as long as you can show that used those mistakes as learning opportunities. That is reassurance that their money is well spent. Taking the time to steward your social enterprise investors will be time well spent.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

Raising Investment Capital and Fundraising – Not the Same

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Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In 2016, I worked with five nonprofits engaged in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignition program. After completing a strenuous business planning process, it was time for these organizations to implement their plans. A key part of any social enterprise plan – and ultimately successful implementation – is raising investment capital.

It’s not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to pursue social enterprise activities to diversify their revenue. However, even organizations that have previously had great fundraising success, sometimes find challenges when trying to raise the investment capital needed to implement their social enterprise endeavor.

Fundraising for social enterprise investment capital is different than regular fundraising – but, not completely different. All types of fundraising share some basic principles.

You’ve likely been part of fundraising before, so let’s start with the similarities.

Cultivation
Fundraising is about building relationships on behalf of your organization and cultivation is the biggest part of this. Sometimes when we are so excited about an idea (like our new social enterprise), our enthusiasm leads us to skip the cultivation step – a big mistake! To cultivate a potential investment capital prospect, a nonprofit must reach out and seek to build a relationship.

Listening
The most critical skill in fundraising, both traditional and investment capital, is listening. When cultivating investors, our natural inclination is to “pitch” our idea by doing all of the talking. STOP TALKING and listen to your prospect (they are often filled with great ideas). The more we listen and learn from them, the more they will engage with our project.

Ask
After all of that sharing and listening, surely the prospective investor knows we need their support, right? NO! Every successful investment invitation needs to include an ask. If you’re not specific in what you need, the prospect could either give you something you don’t need or nothing at all.

Shared Values (Mission)
Investment capital donations have the very same core as all other donations: shared values. A social enterprise may have the strongest business plan, leadership, etc. but if the mission of the organization does not inspire the prospective investor of their shared values, no investment will ever take place.

 

See, you’re more prepared that you realize. Now, let’s talk about how raising investment capital and fundraising are DIFFERENT.

Non-Financial Support and Engagement
Social enterprise investment donors don’t want to write a check and walk away. They want to participate and provide support beyond cash contributions. This participation varies by investor, so you have to pay attention (see Listening above) and respond to each donor accordingly. As you cultivate the relationship, think of how their expertise could bring value to your new venture – marketing, leadership, mentorship, coaching. Be careful not to see their desire for engagement as a threat to your plan. Instead, use it as an additional research opportunity and battle-tested resource.

Business Plan Required
Donors who invest in social enterprise want to see that careful planning has gone into the project. Your organization must be ready to demonstrate how you conducted research that lead to thoughtful planning. As a general rule, a nonprofit should never embark on a social enterprise without careful planning. Knowing your investors will want to see that plan just reinforces the importance. Don’t take their questions (sometimes challenging) as lack of interest, they are looking to make a good investment.

Innovation Appealing
Typically, donors who invest in social enterprise are attracted to innovation. While creating your business plan, take the time to highlight new ideas (and understand them thoroughly) so you can share them with potential investors. Some social enterprise ideas aren’t brand new but are new to your nonprofit. Make sure that you focus on that innovation.

Risk Tolerant
Investment donors tolerate more risk than typical nonprofit donors — with innovation comes risk. Investors know that a venture may not succeed. They are often more comfortable with the risk than the nonprofit leadership. But when a project fails, the investor wants to see that you learned from it and take the time to make improvements going forward.

Performance Measurement
Investment capital donors are interested in how things are going throughout the implementation of your social enterprise. Be sure to have a plan for communicating with donors once your enterprise is operational. Measure performance and communicate with investors. Don’t worry if all of your measurements aren’t exceeding expectations. But, be sure to include what adaptations are being made so they can see that their investment provided an opportunity for your organization to learn and improve.

While there are some new things to consider while raising capital for a social enterprise, you and your organization have completed some of the hardest parts through the research and plan development process. At the funding stage, everyone is excited about getting this new project started and you can use that excitement to make an impression on potential investors

I hope with the realization that you can build on what you already practice in fundraising in your organization, that you approach this with confidence.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.