Andrea Smith, Director and Chief Executive Officer Advanced Operationssaying philanthropy has not kept up with the needs of her clients.
Two problems many nonprofits face are rising costs and more cash-strapped donors. In order to balance their budgets and serve clients, many of them have had to take commercial and profit-making steps to make ends meet.
Milestone: 55-year-old Senior Action shows no signs of slowing down
It is spawning a new era of philanthropy, one in which the old ways of simply opening a fundraising basket are no longer the focus — instead, nonprofits are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial to meet modern challenges.
With its main office located at 3715 E. North St., Suite K, Greenville, Senior Action provides many services to seniors, including wellness, financial assistance, and outreach. Nonetheless, the customer base is growing rapidly as the northern region’s older population grows.
A few years ago, the organization’s old office space was outstretched, but there was no funding to relocate. It decided it would be best to start the business by buying a shopping mall, formerly home to Bi-Lo, where it now houses its offices, and where it could lease retail space.
The move not only doubled the space at Senior Action’s headquarters, but also allowed the organization to venture into real estate. The success of the program has allowed Senior Action to add 2,000 seniors to its client base.
“We’re always looking for more innovations,” Smith said. “We can’t just focus on the mission.”
House of Innovation
The idea of making money independently to supplement your organization comes from groups like this Habitat for Humanity and bona fidehas used retail stores to supplement income for years.
Greenville County Habitat for Humanity President and CEO Monroe Free said recent economic factors have forced a historic change in Habitat for Humanity’s business model. At the same time, he said they were building and restoring more homes than ever before.
In fact, Habitat for Humanity no longer services its own mortgages, but outsources them to third-party lenders to keep rates low.
Habitat has also been competing with retailers for workers. Free said they raised wages to $21 an hour at ReStore stores, Habitat’s retail division. Not only that, but he said their other costs were up about 20%.
“Nonprofits are like every other business — we have the challenge of inflation,” Free said.
Pat Michaels, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries in Northern South Carolina/Midlands, said the idea of creating value in otherwise overlooked areas is what drives the organization to operate the iconic thrift store .
The stores have long funded Goodwill’s mission to provide training and job opportunities to workers across the country. Therefore, Goodwill retail stores can serve as job training in their own right, or they can only complement Goodwill’s mission.
The goal of the thrift store is to provide a clean, well-lit store that can rival big box retailers like Walmart and Target while keeping prices affordable, Michaels said.
Goodwill uses things like e-commerce sites to auction off potentially more valuable items to maximize the value of each donation.
Greenville Goodwill’s mission extends far beyond the retail store
Most recently, the organization opened a new thrift store, Auten’s Loft, at 524 Chapin Columbia Ave., to sell more upscale designer goods and maximize donation revenue. Michaels said there’s been a lot of buzz, and he hopes it continues.
“The trick is to maintain that buzz,” he said.
He hopes there will be enough quality donations to keep the boutique open and keep customers looking for the “thrill of discovery”.
For those looking to adapt to a more pragmatic approach, Michaels offers some advice.
“Know what your mission is and stick to it, and make sure you have good partners,” he said.