If nonprofit groups can take advantage of the types of resources the for-profit business world uses, they just might find greater success.
That’s the belief of the Nonprofit Center of North Central Florida, which has been established as an education center to help charitable groups in the area learn the skills all businesses should have under their belts.
This month, the group will take its efforts to another level when it hosts a Nonprofit Summit that will focus on teaching, inspiring and helping nonprofits network.
“Regardless of what sector you’re working in, it’s all about connecting with the resources that are out there,” says Kari Brill, the Center’s director of business development.
Elizabeth Bolton, one of the Center’s board members and a professor of community development at the University of Florida, agrees. A nonprofit organization is first and foremost a business entity, she says. “It has to be started, conceived and run like a business entity because if not, it won’t survive,” Bolton says.
To improve the chances of survival, the Center provides nonprofits with free education, networking opportunities and workshops, including how to solicit funds and save money.
Such skills are important because nonprofits face special challenges. “They’re always having to sell their cause or issue and compete with other organizations for resources,” says Dug Jones, the assistant vice president for economic development at Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development, an “incubator” for developing companies, of which the Nonprofit Center is one.
Outgrowth of Leadership Gainesville
The idea for the Nonprofit Center came from a recent class of Leadership Gainesville, a year-long leadership development program. Classes usually shadow businesses and reconvene to discuss points, and Brill’s class noticed needs in the nonprofit sector. They decided to create the Center as a class project to bring awareness to nonprofits and connect them with the resources they need.
Brill was working in the private sector as a marketing director in health care when the project started. She decided to leave that job and devote full-time to making the Center a success. She contacted Chris Johnson, who worked for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce at the time, to tell him about the project. He ultimately committed to working with her as the Center’s Executive Director.
“It was an easy transition for me,” Johnson says. “It’s been instilled in me since I was very young to seek opportunities and make differences in the community,” Johnson said.
Bolton says she joined the Center because its philosophy was very aligned with her own about nonprofits and business. “When I started talking about that, Chris and Kari just lit up and said, ‘That’s where we’re coming from!’”
Is the Nonprofit Center’s own business model a sustainable one? Yes, Brill says. There are similar umbrella groups in Jacksonville and Sarasota, and there are clearly a large number of nonprofits that can potentially use the local Center’s services. “We opened up our membership April 6, and have 72 members to date,” she says.
“A community that has viable and functioning and well organized nonprofits is wealthier than those communities that do not,” Bolton says. “And there’s a term for that … ‘social capital.’”
When nonprofits benefit so many in the community, Brill says, “I can’t see a reason not to help.”