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nonprofit business plan

Financing Not Fundraising: Moving Beyond Nonprofit Startup Mode

staircaseI get a similar question a lot, “We really want to move our nonprofit out of startup mode but don’t know what the right first steps are.”

Although the definition of a “startup” is an organization that has been around for only a few years, there are many nonprofits that are still in startup mode despite their 20+ years of existence.

But the good news is that you don’t have to wait around for a knight in shining armor to save you from the endless startup existence, which is the topic of today’s installment in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising series.

The power to begin scaling the startup wall is actually in your hands. Here are the steps to begin:

    1. Create Your Business Plan
      Probably a big part of the reason that you are still struggling as a startup (more than) several years in is that you haven’t strategically connected operations and financing to your mission. A business plan that answers questions like “How will you finance the business?” and “Who are your target customers (clients AND funders)?” and “What’s the right staffing structure?” and “What are the goals of the business?” and much more. Just because the profits from your business enterprise go back into the organization (nonprofit) instead of into the pockets of the owner or stakeholders (for-profit) doesn’t mean you don’t need a business plan. Figuring out how to align money, mission and operations is the first step to a stronger future.

 

    1. Grow Your List of Champions
      If your nonprofit’s inner circle consists of a founder and a few friends you will never grow. You have to convince people beyond those who already love you to internalize the work of the organization and become actively involved as board members, advisors, fundraisers. But you cannot target anyone and everyone. You have to identify people whose values connect with your work and your mission. And they have to have some specific skills, experience and networks that will help your organization move forward. But if you’ve only ever had your friends behind you, how do you convince outsiders to become champions and board members? Keep reading…

 

    1. Develop a Value Proposition
      If you are unable to articulate among internal board and staff what your nonprofit is hoping to accomplish and the value it provides the community, how can you possibly convince others to become involved? The first step in really taking things to the next level is to develop that value position, or a Theory of Change. A Theory of Change is basically an argument for why your nonprofit exists — how you take community resources (inputs) and create changes to program participants’ lives (outcomes). To move from merely getting by to really making strides, you must create this argument.

 

  1. Convince Others to Give
    Once you have your Theory of Change in place you need to make a compelling argument for how more inputs (funding) will help you create more outcomes. A case for investment is a logical, reasoned argument that helps you to make this case convincingly. Once completed, pieces of your case for investment can be used in fundraising appeals, on your website, in thank you letters, in marketing campaigns and much more. It is the fundamental building block to attracting more dollars to your nonprofit.

It doesn’t have to be a rule that the vast majority of nonprofits subsist in an endless startup mode. If you need some help finding your way out of startup mode, download the Nonprofit Startup Tool Bundle.

Photo Credit: Chad K

 

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Solving Urban Food Deserts: An Interview with Dennis Morrow

In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Dennis Morrow, the Executive Director of Janus Youth Programs, a multi-service nonprofit agency that works with children, youth, and families in Portland, Oregon and Southwest Washington. Janus Youth caught my eye a few months ago when Village Market, a nonprofit inner city grocery store they launched, turned a year old. Their solution to inner city food deserts fascinates me, and I wanted to learn more.

You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: What was the impetus for starting the Village Market in North Portland?

Dennis: In 2006 Home Forward (formerly Housing Authority of Portland) rebuilt the former Columbia Villa Tamaracks, Oregon’s largest public housing development, through federal HOPE VI Project funds. Renamed New Columbia, redesign plans included both subsidized rental units and moderately priced homes for purchase, a new grade school, a Boys and Girls Club, service buildings, and expansion of Janus’ Village Gardens Urban Agriculture Initiative to New Columbia. This expansion included a second community-run garden site, a second children’s garden club program, and an orchard. The new community center included a park, office/community room space for services, and space for a privately run “main street” grocery store that operated for approximately 2+ years before closing.

As Village Gardens continued to expand leadership opportunities for residents in New Columbia and the adjoining low-income Tamaracks Apartment Complex (also a Home Forward property), residents and garden leaders voiced the need to reopen the local grocery store selling healthy, fresh, culturally relevant food (no alcohol/tobacco/lottery tickets) in New Columbia where 33% of the 3,000+ residents lack personal transportation and faced a 45 minute bus ride each way to the closest grocery store. These community members also had a vision that the store could be community-run and could provide additional employment opportunities for teens/adults. They also saw the store as a central meeting place for the exchange of information (focused on healthy eating/healthy living) and a community meeting place for New Columbia’s diverse residents.

Janus had worked in and with this North Portland community for over 15 years and had established ourselves as trusted partners who see our mission not as “doing for” or “doing to” but rather “working with” the community to realize the vision they have for their neighborhood and their families. Both Home Forward and the surrounding community specifically asked Janus to assume a leadership role in planning and overseeing the development/operation of the Village Market. With support from Janus’ Village Gardens staff, Janus’ Administrative Team and the Janus Board, New Columbia leaders spent nearly two years researching/surveying the community on the products that would be important to sell in the store, interviewing potential vendors, developing a business plan, and designing the store’s layout which included neighborhood murals. In 2011 after having secured foundation/public funding for start-up and operational capital, the Village Market was opened as a non-profit, community-run healthy corner grocery store.

As with every new initiative of Village Gardens, the impetus for the store came directly from the resident community’s expressed needs and desire.

Nell: The grocery store industry is a really competitive one. Do you think being a nonprofit store, instead of a for-profit one, puts you at a competitive advantage? Why or why not?

Dennis: There are definitely both pluses and minuses to our nonprofit status. The advantages it creates is that it was possible to secure public and private funding (literally worth over $800,000) for start-up and initial operational costs because of the programmatic issues also being addressed by the store including community health, employment for low-income teens and adults in an economically challenged area of Portland, community development/revitalization, social impact, and public safety. It has become a positive symbol of success for the community and in the community. What we do not know yet is the degree to which being community owned/managed and a nonprofit actually impacts on consumer behavior: do folks actually shop with us because of that? Our Store Advisory Committee is in the process of beginning customer and neighborhood surveys to answer this question more directly.

One disadvantage of being a non-profit operation is that there are very few models of success nationally to draw on. As a nonprofit youth-serving organization, running a retail business is also not part of our corporate skill set. We have a very good consultant who works hard to “train us” into the intricacies of successful store management. Ultimately, however, it is not the nonprofit status which represents our greatest challenge—it is the “healthy food” concept. The grocery industry is very competitive and, in a largely low income community, also very price sensitive. Margins on products/sales need to be much tighter than in a traditional store, and there is a smaller product mix due to space limitations. This makes it essential to have the right products on shelf so product moves, to manage inventory control very tightly, and to track pricing very closely. Featuring organic produce, for instance, instead of beer is a much more significant challenge in terms of shelf life and spoilage. Eliminating sale of alcohol/tobacco products and lottery tickets essentially removes the primary profit generators from a traditional convenience store. Essentially this puts us at a competitive disadvantage with for-profit stores but the disadvantage is not in being a non-profit but in being a small, organic/healthy food store.

Nell: One year in, it looks like Village Market could be a model for solving the growing problem of food deserts in poor, urban areas. Do you think your particularly model could be a solution to this growing problem?

Dennis: We do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to food deserts. The Village Market offers one potential road map. But remember, the essence of Village Market is that it was “birthed by” the community—not Janus, not Home Forward, and not some federal grant program. We trust each community to find solutions that will work for them—but in order to do this, you have to have an incredible faith in people who live in that community. We also refer to Janus as the “vehicle” through which the Village Market vision was made real, not the “owners” of the Market. A study was just completed by the Oregon Public Health Institute on Village Market which details out the various elements that have gone into its success so far, and this study could be a guide for other communities exploring these issues.

One element which does excite us is the core concept that the Market is much more than a store. It is a community hub where neighbors can gather, it is employment opportunities in a neighborhood where there are few, it is an educational program serving as home base for a team of Community Health Workers, it promotes inter-generational growth with a “Healthy Kids Snack Corner” designed by children from the neighborhood school, and it represents a beacon of hope that the community can thrive.

On the other hand, we are not yet a solution because we do not yet know for sure if the model is sustainable over time. Sales have gone up every month for the last seven months—but due to the lower profit margins inherent in the healthy food concept, we are still “living” on our start-up subsidy funds. The outstanding question now is whether a store like this can self-sustain or whether it will require some form of ongoing subsidy. If a subsidy is required, then there is a major policy issue of where it should/could come from—in essence, who will step up to provide the irrigation necessary to turn a food desert into an oasis?

Nell: How do you integrate Village Market with the other core homeless youth work of Janus Youth? Have you ever been concerned that the market might distract the organization from your mission?

Dennis: Janus’ organizational mission is to “be a leader in creating innovative community-based services that enhance the quality of life of children, youth and families by working in partnership with others to create a safe and healthy community.” We are actually not a homeless youth service agency but a multi-service agency for children, youth, and families. Janus operates over 40 different programs at 20 different locations including long-term residential treatment, a full continuum of services for runaway/homeless youth, home visiting/parent training for teen parents/infants/children, a youth scholarship fund, and Village Gardens. Our organizational chart is actually a tree reflecting different branches of service with each leaf being an individual program. The Village Gardens limb actually has several leaves besides the market including two community garden sites, a community health-worker project, a flock of organic hens, and an organic farm run totally by teenagers. The Village Market is a “stretch” for Janus, but it is a natural leaf on the Village Gardens limb—and when we were asked to be the vehicle for this community vision, our mission clearly tells us that is exactly what we should do. Each of Janus’ “limbs” of service operate with a high level of autonomy but with a core set of values based in Safety and Respect: creating a Safe environment for staff, youth, and families to grow, learn and heal and building Respectful relationships with others which empower them to find effective solutions for themselves. So the Village Market does not so much “integrate” with our mission as it “fits” within our mission.

Nell: The Village Market was obviously a big risk for Janus Youth to take on. Were board and staff initially concerned about the risks and how did you overcome those fears?

Dennis: This type of venture represents a huge risk to any organization. Our leadership staff and Board were extremely concerned particularly around the financial area. Starting up a new business requires substantial start-up capital as well as subsidized operational capital for an initial period of time. One of our Board members owns a business consulting firm, and he personally worked with the community planning team to build a sound business plan. This plan also had substantial input from our “grocery store consultant”. We then worked with Home Forward to solicit funding for the business plan and were successful in raising over $800,000. Home Forward contributes free rent and utilities as part of their investment. The Board approved opening the store based on two parameters: 1) We would not open until all of the start-up/operational capital in the business plan had been raised; and 2) Once open, we will operate the store as long as it does not require a subsidy from Janus. We were successful in meeting “1” and are now in the process of testing out “2”—but the Board is clear that we cannot afford to drain resources from other program areas in order to support ongoing operation of the store. Either it will reach a “break-even” point as a stand-alone business or we will need to find the operational subsidy necessary to maintain it on an ongoing basis.

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New Tools to Launch a Social Enterprise or Grow Your Nonprofit

In our ongoing effort to develop tools to help nonprofit leaders grow impact and create financial sustainability, we are releasing today a new tool on our Tools page.

It is a step-by-step guide to creating a business plan for an earned income or social enterprise venture. This tool is perfect for a nonprofit looking to start a new earned income business or a social entrepreneur looking to start a for-profit, social mission business.

Both endeavors, a nonprofit earned income venture and a for-profit social business, require a well-thought out business plan to be successful. Without going through the exercise of articulating what the business is, who your customers are, their willingness and ability to pay, how you will reach them, what you will charge them, etc. your business has a high likelihood of failure. You cannot go to market with a new product or service without doing your homework.

The business plan guide will help you create a business plan to successfully:

  • Find customers who want what you are offering and can and will pay for it
  • Price your product/service
  • Market the business
  • Staff the new business
  • Determine what it will cost to run the business and if/when you will make a profit
  • Raise the start-up money necessary to launch the business
  • Overcome roadblocks and risks

You can find all of our tools, including webinars, e-books, and additional step-by-step guides on our Tools page.

As always, please let us know what you think of the tools we offer. We’d love your feedback so that we can continue to develop tools that provide value. Thanks!

Photo Credit: HikingArtist.com

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