In his recent post calling for nonprofits to “get off the sidelines and into the game,” Share Our Strength’s Billy Shore issues a rallying cry. He suggests that the nonprofit and philanthropic community use the imminent federal budget cuts as a call to action for our sector to find greater financial sustainability. He argues that “the lives of too many Americans are so dependent on the health of the nonprofit sector that we can no longer allow budgets and the policies they represent to be something that just happen to us.”
Being in this position can be wholly disempowering for organizations, their staff and the people in the community who rely on their critical services. Unfortunately, many organizations are standing in similar positions today; they are paralyzed as they await the looming budget cuts.
But organizations are not powerless. While no magic faucet of emergency funding exists, Community Wealth Partners has seen dozens of clients achieve newfound resilience and empowerment by adding social enterprise to their funding mix. Of course, social enterprise is not right for every organization but it can be a powerful strategy for some. With a social enterprise strategy, for example, nonprofit leaders get to make decisions about the future of their organizations and how they can best create social good, rather than having to focus solely on keeping their largest donors happy.
I’m reminded of the experiences of one of our recent Community Wealth Collaborative participants: Easter Seals Work Resource Center (WRC). Easter Seals WRC runs a number of innovative social programs and social enterprises that:
- Provide extremely valuable work-skills training for people with disabilities and disadvantages; and
- Bring in revenue to sustain and grow the organization (for example, its recently launched deconstruction venture is on track to achieve sales of $200,000 this year)
In a recent conversation with Community Wealth Partners, Easter Seals WRC’s CEO, Lisa FitzGibbon, highlighted both the independence and the confidence that the organization has found through its social enterprises. She underscored that many similar organizations are highly reliant on government funding and are consequently at the whim of the government’s determination of how their programs should look and who should get to participate. Easter Seals WRC is able to exercise much greater flexibility and control over both its finances and its programs because of the significant role earned income plays in its budget.
It’s such an inspiration to see both the increased social impact and the financial freedom Easter Seals WRC has found! If you’d like to read more, you can read our case study of Easter Seals WRC’s Building Value venture.
I hope, as a community, we can continue to highlight similar bright spots so that those organizations that are feeling paralyzed might be able to see new possibility, new options, and a more sustainable future. If you have other “bright spot” stories, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or shoot us an email.