Creativity and innovation are what help nonprofits thrive in tough times
In the world of philanthropy, so much of what we hear about and talk about lately is how bleak things are for nonprofits: how donations are dropping while the demand for services is up, especially in the area of social services.
Although this pretty much sums up the way things are in the nonprofit world, it's not the whole story. In fact, it discounts the many creative and innovative solutions nonprofits are employing to sustain themselves and to meet the increased community needs in these tough times. Nonprofits all across the country, not just here in Southwest Florida, are determined to turn the negative into a positive by thinking outside of the box regarding raising money and providing services in the community. I'd like to highlight some local examples of such innovative thinking.
•Good Wheels provides transportation for the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties. The agency recently expanded its programs to include a charter bus service at a reasonable price for paying clients. This service provides an additional, unrestricted income stream for the organization so that it can better serve clients who cannot afford to pay.
•Habitat for Humanity of Lee County started its Habitat Maintenance and Handiwork Division in 2008 to provide employment for Habitat homeowners facing foreclosure due to job loss or decrease in pay. The division provides trained Habitat homeowners with part-time work in areas such as lawn maintenance, house cleaning, office cleaning and trash removal. This is a win-win situation for Habitat, its homeowners and the community at large. If I'm not mistaken, I think this is the first Habitat program of its kind in the country — right here in our backyard.
A recent article titled "Helping Themselves" in The Wall Street Journal highlighted how nonprofits across the country are experimenting with new approaches to raising funds. After experiencing a 20 percent decline in its direct mail campaign, Covenant House, a New York agency serving homeless, runaway and at-risk youth, realized it needed to strengthen its connections with donors. The agency began enlisting youth who were served by the program to call past donors, thank them for their gift and explain how the gift had helped them. This more personal approach to donor cultivation is starting to have
an impact as donors feel more connected to the cause and see the direct impact of their giving.
Another fundraising avenue for nonprofits is to create a project to generate income, which, according to the same
article, is what the Joffrey
Ballet in Chicago did by offering dance classes to the public to offset a 40 percent decline in ticket sales. This could be a particularly effective strategy for arts and cultural organizations, many of which are taking a double-whammy hit with decreases in individual, corporate and foundation donations as well as in ticket sales to events and performances.
Although it might seem counterintuitive to start a new program or project to generate income during an economic crisis when many nonprofits are retrenching and focusing only on core services, it can be a very effective fundraising strategy if the organization does the necessary research and planning beforehand. According to Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, an agency should only start a new business if there is a market for the service, if the organization has the skills, staff and equipment to manage the service, and if it is a service directly related to the organization's mission and core capabilities.
Good Wheels and Habitat for Humanity demonstrate that creativity and innovation can lead to new fundraising opportunities while at the same time meeting the needs of the community and enabling them to continue fulfilling their missions.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has supported the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties through endowed funds for 33 years and during that time has provided more than $39.5 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit www. floridacommunity.com.