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Charities Want To Launch Businesses

Pilot Program Shows Them How To Make Extra Money

February 14, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

With a common goal of developing a business venture to generate income, eight local nonprofit organizations are participating in a pilot project funded by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

Working in partnership with the consulting firm Community Wealth Ventures, the foundation has developed the Hartford Community Wealth Collaborative to teach nonprofit agencies how to develop a business idea into a money-making enterprise.

"It's a pretty exciting project," said Christopher Hall, vice president for programs and special projects at the foundation. "In addition to [providing] supportive grants and services, one of our principal roles is strengthening the nonprofit sector."

More than 30 Connecticut-based nonprofit agencies applied to participate in the project after attending an information session. The 12 selected were required to make a presentation on their business proposal to a group of business owners and venture capitalists. There were not many restrictions on the types of ventures the nonprofits could pursue, said Hall, only that the idea be well researched or already underway and that it be related to the organization's mission.

"No branching out into something completely different that would take them away from their core mission," said Hall. "We didn't want, say, an arts group opening a gas station."

The eight finalists - the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Connecticut Housing Investment Fund, Co-Opportunity Inc., the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Jewish Family Services, Manchester Area Conference of Churches, Riverfront Recapture Inc. and the Urban League of Greater Hartford - were chosen after a screening process that included site visits and interviews. Once selected, the organizations were required to make a financial commitment of $5,000.

"The service we are getting is far more valuable than $5,000," said Donna Taglianetti, executive director of Co-Opportunity, which plans to develop a home improvement business that would not only create more housing in Hartford, but also provide employment opportunities. "I think all of us wanted to get into this making money for our organization, but we are not going into this starry-eyed. Building a business takes time."

Other ventures include an arts and education program for older adults by The Bushnell, a homemaker referral program by Jewish Family Services, retail sales and product development by the Stowe Center, expansion of an existing thrift shop by Manchester Area Conference of Churches, a web-based employment service by the Urban League, a marketing package for existing outdoor programs by Riverfront Recapture and a loan servicing business by Connecticut Housing Investment Fund.

Officials from the nonprofit agencies take part in 10 months of training. They meet monthly as a group to talk with peer nonprofit leaders and experts in business development and receive individual consultant sessions on such topics as planning and starting a business and financial and marketing strategies. Business executives from Hartford-area corporations also serve as mentors.

"The support they have given us has already been phenomenal," said Richard Brown, vice president of human resources at the Urban League, which plans to start a web-based diversity employment service. "Traditionally, thinking as an entrepreneur is not what a nonprofit considers itself. The focus is on grants and fund-raising and although Hartford is a wonderful community, it is a small one and we do tend to tap the same sources for money over and over."

Anne Danaher, executive director for Jewish Family Services, said the West Hartford-based organization plans to expand its current homemaker referral program by making changes to its internal operations and increasing its visibility through marketing strategies.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity for us. The timing is right. We are really ready," said Danaher. "For nonprofits to sustain themselves and to build and plan for the future we need to create better plans to sustain ourselves. This will help us to do this."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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