By William K. Alcorn
Challenges of collaborating include putting the good of the clients ahead of personal agendas.
HOWLAND — Nonprofit social service organizations need to find ways to make money, not just depend on government or philanthropy for their income, if they are to survive and grow and best fulfill their missions.
The concept, called social enterprise, is the direction touted by Bill Shore, founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, featured speaker at a nonprofit community summit this week sponsored by the Raymond John Wean Foundation.
Share Our Strength (SOS), a national nonprofit organization working to end childhood hunger, was begun by Shore 23 years ago with $2,000 in borrowed funds. To date, it has raised and spent $220 million, one-third of which came from philanthropy. The rest of the money was generated by efforts that come under the umbrella of commerce, said Shore, named one of America’s Best Leaders by US News & World Report in 2005 and author of three books.
His presentation, “Getting Started with Social Enterprise,” sponsored by The Youngstown Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, was part of the day-long summit that included interactive workshops, panel discussions and keynote speakers.
Goals of Share Our Strength included funding organizations that already existed and creating wealth rather than just redistributing it.
“Those have put us in the position of not having to compete with other non profits and having no strings attached to the way we spend our money,” he said.
Social enterprise is not for everybody, and it has to be done the right way, which means creating assets in mission-related activities. To do both is a challenge, he said.
During trying economic times, an incredible load of social service responsibilities is put on the nonprofit sector. As first responders, in a sense, “we have to make sure we have the resources to respond ... by creating a cash flow so we have access to capital.”
Another key topic of the summit, collaboration, was addressed in a panel discussion called “Working Across Borders.”
HMHP chose collaboration, or partnering, because it reduced costs, improved quality of service and helped protect and expand market, said Robert Shroder, president and chief executive officer of Humility of Mary Health Partners.
The Humility of Mary sisters believed that seven acute care hospitals in Warren and Youngstown would not be viable, and in the mid-1990s, bought Warren General Hospital and closed it and moved St. Joseph Riverside Hospital into the former WGH facility. Boards were also combined, which resulted in a substantial reduction of cost per unit of service, he said.
“When you consolidate to save money, it means fewer people and eliminating jobs. Combining boards means someone no longer is a part of it. But, you get through it and come out stronger,” Shroder said.
Sister Patricia McNicholas of Beatitude House and Michele Merkel of Junior Achievement of Mahoning Valley also discussed collaboration and combining organizations.
The challenges, Sister McNicholas said, include making sure boards are interested and involved and putting the good of the clients ahead of personal feelings.
Common mistakes during consolidation discussions include beginning without board approval, assuming a superior attitude toward your potential partner, and not keeping staff and the board informed throughout the process, said Merkel.
Joel Ratner, president of the Wean Foundation, said one of his goals is to help the community understand the importance of the social services safety net provided by non profits and the economic impact of the agencies and organizations.
Non profits are undervalued and the challenge is to not internalize that attitude, said Ratner.
“We need to trash that attitude. We have incredible potential to move the Mahoning Valley forward,” he said.
Gordon B. Wean, chairman of the Wean Foundation, thanked the representatives of the nonprofit community in attendance for “being our valuable partner in improving the quality of life in our community. We are keenly aware that without you we might have to abandon our goals. You carry them out.”