Mission-driven: The path to nonprofit entrepreneurship



By Erica Quineaster

As printed in the Bangor Daily News


Entrepreneurs – successful ones – learn to keep an eye on the proverbial bottom-line. Mission-driven entrepreneurs often have their sights on a dual — or triple — bottom line: they see a need and want to meet it. If you want to do good and do well, how do you know what model is best for your venture?
Are you a philanthropist? You can leave a legacy through your personal and corporate giving, supporting causes that matter to you by contributing a portion of your personal income or the revenues generated by your for-profit business.
Is your business built around social purpose as much as profit? Consider a low-profit limited liability company (L3C). These hybrid enterprises enable businesses with a social mission to attract philanthropic investments as well as private capital, putting charitable purpose on equal footing with the pursuit of profit.
Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co. is an example of how mission meets product in the L3C model. Its mission is “to educate the consuming public on the value and intrinsic worth of preserving the local family farm while developing a line of premium quality milk products that support this mission.”
Like any business, MOOMilk aims to create a sustainable bottom line for producers. Its L3C status ensures that decision-making follows mission as well as money. It also opens the door to funding from foundations and endowments, sources that are typically only available to nonprofit organizations.
If your primary goal is to solve social problems and meet community needs, you may be a nonprofit entrepreneur.
“Nonprofit entrepreneurship is similar to for-profit entrepreneurship, as nonprofit entrepreneurs need creativity and a commitment to find ways to meet the needs and wants of their stakeholders,” Scott Schnapp, executive director for the Maine Association of Nonprofits, said.
The difference for nonprofits, Schnapp said, is that “the customer needs to be defined more broadly. Nonprofits have the commitment to meet the higher standard of promoting the common good.”
Danielle Ireland, founder of Silent Sidekicks, came to Women, Work and Community to develop her business idea. Like other entrepreneurs, she saw a need and a way to meet it. “I couldn’t find an organization in Maine that provided animal-assisted therapy, although it is prevalent in other areas of the country,” Ireland said. “I chose to found a nonprofit organization because I felt that it was the best way to help the most people, inspire others to get involved and volunteer to help others in their communities.”
Ireland built a board of directors, developed her business plan and launched Silent Sidekicks. “Our goal is to recruit and train a network of volunteers, then match the Silent Sidekick teams with health care facilities, hospitals, schools and libraries that would like to have animal-assisted therapy/activity programs.”
Through their “Reading to the Animals” program, children have the opportunity to improve their reading and communication skills by reading to Morgan (Ireland’s canine co-founder) and other animal volunteers. Silent Sidekick teams also visit people in health care facilities, civilian and military hospitals, veterans’ facilities, and nursing homes, and provide in-home visits for home-bound individuals.
While grants, volunteers and community support may sound enticing, the nonprofit model is not for everyone. When you start a nonprofit, your idea becomes bigger than you. Your board of directors is where the buck begins and ends, a challenging dynamic for many entrepreneurs who are used to calling the shots.
Scott Schnapp notes that “because nonprofits are relatively easy to start but very challenging to sustain in this kind of environment, we strongly encourage that all potential collaborative options be explored before embarking on starting a nonprofit.”
You can join forces with an existing nonprofit to develop programs, deliver services, and secure resources for your community project. You can ask another nonprofit to serve as your fiscal agent, accepting grants and tax-deductible donations on your behalf and administering the funds for your program.
Pursuing your mission, meeting the needs of your community, and building a business can go hand in hand. Entrepreneurship takes many forms, and finding the right fit for your idea will help you structure your enterprise for success.