Category: Resource Development

From “Breakout Idea” to Business Plan

By on May 21, 2015 under Leadership, Resource Development, Strategy & Planning

Accelerator Mentoring

Jack Nokes, Greenlights’ Consultant and Brad Carlin, Managing Director at Fusebox (2014 Accelerator)

Accelerators first appeared in the early part of this century as a response to the intense competition and rapid pace of change in the technology industry. Success for tech entrepreneurs depended on (1) getting to market quickly (2) with the right idea or product and (3) scaling quickly before the idea became yesterday’s news. While business accelerators have been around for a decade, the concept is just beginning to be applied to the social impact arena.

For nonprofit entrepreneurs, similar stakes are on the line. Enterprising organizations that are set out to address complex social issues and find themselves with a proven program that they want to scale or grow for the biggest impact, may find that an accelerator can help get them there. The benefits of accelerator participation are largely the same for businesses and nonprofits; i.e., shared learning around new tools and ideas; access to people with experience launching and scaling products and services; and an accelerated path to market.

With Greenlights’ second Accelerator class just getting underway, I wanted to give a look at what a nonprofit accelerator looks like and how you can use practices and theories on your own personal mission. (continue reading…)

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Trends in Social Financing: Pay for Success

By on May 15, 2015 under Evaluation & Measurement, Resource Development, Strategy & Planning

Goldman Sachs - Click to view full infographic

Goldman Sachs – Click to view full infographic

What if there was a way to grow successful nonprofit programs, improve the lives of the less fortunate, and save taxpayer money all at the same time? That’s exactly what the Pay for Success model aims to do.

Greenlights’ recent research on Austin’s nonprofit community confirms what we’ve all suspected: nonprofits are struggling to meet an ever-growing demand for services. Nonprofit leaders see long-term sustainability as both a challenge and a priority, and are exploring new financing and business models, with Pay for Success being a compelling new option.

Pay for Success (sometimes called social impact bonds) is a financing method that is becoming increasingly popular, and is now being explored as a solution for Austin organizations.

How does Pay for Success work?

The Pay for Success model can get complicated quickly, so here’s a basic look at how it works. (continue reading…)

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Accelerator spotlight: Easter Seals of Central Texas

By on December 04, 2014 under Resource Development, Strategy & Planning

Last April, Easter Seals of Central Texas, along with seven other finalists, pitched to a sold-out crowd at Philanthropitch. All eight nonprofits had one goal in mind: to gain support and funding for a program that would dramatically impact Austin. The wonderful folks at Easter Seals delivered an outstanding pitch which earned them $53,075 and entrance into Greenlights’ first-ever Accelerator, a rigorous, four-month program designed to help enterprising nonprofits grow or scale an innovative program or service.

Instead of enjoying a relaxing summer, Easter Seals was one of five select nonprofits that worked alongside nonprofit experts, business entrepreneurs, mentors and consultants to build out their business plan. “The Accelerator program was intensive,” said Tod Marvin, CEO of Easter Seals of Central Texas. “Greenlights brought very successful, local entrepreneurs to each meeting. We were able to hear from a host of people who have been in our shoes. To be given access to that level of expertise was amazing.”

The initiative they were hoping to grow is called Easter Seals Lawn & Landscape Services, a residential and commercial landscaping business with huge potential to create jobs for people with disabilities.  One such employee is Bruce Marshall (pictured below), known by his co-workers as “Bubba” and “Big Dog.” Bruce is a landscaper employed by Easter Seals Central Texas’ Paid Job Training program who has become totally responsible for his own personal, financial and medical needs. In addition to job placement and regular incomes, Easter Seals provides additional ‘wrap around’ services to help their workers, like Bruce, live independently, and that’s where the team at Easter Seals sees the most potential for growth and expansion. (continue reading…)

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All Aboard for Fund Development!

By on April 30, 2014 under Culture, Resource Development

all aboard

Image from All Aboard Cafe & Inn

My father was the long serving director of a local nonprofit agency in Austin. Because of this, I have many child memories of sitting around the dinner table with my family as he discussed ideas for the next big fundraising event (anyone remember the Volleyball Tournament or Festival of Trees?).  While I had an understanding that these fundraising efforts were important, I don’t think I had much awareness or appreciation for all of the hard work my dad and others were doing to sustain and grow the organization.  Later, as I pursued a degree in social work, my interest and focus was  learning how to work with clients and develop and manage programs. While I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit, I again lacked a full appreciation for fund development staff, and viewed the work of fundraisers as something very much separate and distinct from my own.

It has only been more recently, after having worked for several nonprofits and served on a board, that I began to understand that fundraising is something that everyone in the organization must understand, value, and embrace. Unfortunately, as the national study UnderDeveloped first reported, many organizations struggle to build the organizational culture that leads to fund development being seen as a shared responsibility. In Greenlights’ own soon-to-be published benchmark study of local fundraising practices, we found that many Central Texas nonprofits do not have sufficient involvement from everyone across the organization, and staff and board may not always value the work of fund development staff.

Check out the following stats: (continue reading…)

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How Long Should a Project Take? (As Long as It Takes to Do It Right)

By on March 27, 2014 under Resource Development, Strategy & Planning

Has your nonprofit planned or completed a major new program or capital project? How did the end result compare to the project originally envisioned? Did it take longer than expected? Was there a relationship to the amount of planning that went into it and the quality of the end product? Just how long does it take to do a project right?

Come along, boys, and listen to my tale
 I’ll tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm Trail
Coma ti yi yippy, yippy yea, yippy yea
 Coma ti yi yippy y, yippy yea! **


Jesse Chisholm, 1806-1868, Indian trader, guide, interpreter, spoke 14 languages (source: Oklahoma Historical Society)

Back in the 1870s, a young cowboy in need of money could sign on to wrangle longhorn cattle from South Texas, up the Chisholm Trail all the way to Wichita, Kansas. Provided he survived, he would get paid a handsome $20 most of which he would “invest” in a shave, a bath, new clothes, a steak, whiskey and women. (The rest they squandered.) Most were broke when they got back home (and most never drove cattle a second time), but they were rich with stories to tell.

I learn this and much more at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero, Texas. Just opened last November, this gem of a small-town museum tells the fascinating stories of the early history of Dewitt County and surrounding counties in South Texas.

The museum in Cuero didn’t just happen overnight. In fact, it took 14 years in the making, and how it came about has everything to do with how a nonprofit comes into being … at least when it is done right. (continue reading…)

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