A consulting firm has been helping local nonprofit organizations “think like a business” and raise much-needed funds without having to solely rely on grants and donations.

During the pandemic when so many lost their jobs and businesses were shuttered, there was little money left over to donate to favorite charities. As a result, nonprofit organizations were struggling.

Enter the Patterson Foundation, which funded consulting firm No Margin, No Mission to reach out and help six area nonprofits: Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, Charlotte Players, Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Sarasota and Manatee counties (NAMI), Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Gardens, and the Peace River Wildlife Center Foundation.

No Margin, No Mission co-founders Michael Oxman and Larry Clark offered a customized five-week online course, “Advancing Mission Thrivability” (AMT) to help nonprofits plan a business model to bring in revenue from sources other than donations or grants.

Oxman said they founded their consulting firm in 2011 “specifically to help nonprofits become strong enterprises.” In 2012, No Margin, No Mission joined forces with the Patterson Foundation.

You might say that Oxman and Clark were teaching others the “art of capitalism.”

“AMT was a really great thing for us; we are creating a strategic plan for the next three to five years,” said Carrie Stahl, executive director of Peace River Wildlife Center.

This was not the first time Peace River Wildlife Center engaged in a No Margin, No Mission program.

“We participated four years ago through the Patterson Foundation,” she said.

As a result, Peace River Wildlife Center launched a professional e-commerce-like website that accepts donations, sells products, and gives information on tours, its history, news, and upcoming events.

Stahl added, “The Patterson Foundation is amazing; they have a different angle — they don’t feed us a fish, they teach us to fish.”

The foundation’s programs “helped us to delve deeper into our organization to create more opportunity,” she added.

Luckily for Peace River Wildlife Center, although the pandemic “took a chunk out of our savings,” it never shut its hospital doors or laid off staff, Stahl said. She attributed this to the center’s frugality and a PPE loan that enabled it to cover payroll and even hire a couple of part-time rehabilitators.

No so lucky were many others. But Clark and Oxman helped them devise a game plan.

Scott Biehler, executive director for Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program, in which mayors in both counties plus the two county commissions participate, said the demand for food spiked in the pandemic.

His nonprofit works this way: through food drives overseen by the governing bodies in each community, the food is distributed to participating pantries. Any food pantry may join forces with Mayors’ Feed the Hungry.

Biehler said No Margin, No Mission suggested he hold a food drive each month, in a different town near or at city hall to generate more donations.

When the lights went out on Broadway, so did the lights at the Charlotte County Performing Arts Center (CPAC), where the Charlotte Players held performances. After being shut down last spring, they began to perform again in July, at their own Langdon Playhouse.

In the midst of the online course, CEO Sherrie Moody said it was allowing her to “look at our business plan long-range.”

Now the Charlotte Players are back on the stage, but audience capacity has been halved to 52 seats; performers wear face shields “in rehearsals and during performances,” she said, and the nonprofit invested $700 in a fogging machine to disinfect the theater.

Adriana Quinones, executive director of Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Gardens, said cultural nonprofits are the ones hurt the most, as what little dollars are available for donations, go to organizations serving people with essentials needs, such as the Homeless Coalition.

She said the AMT course has served as a “sounding board” and allowed her to “critically think” about programs the Gardens might plan for the future.

It has already had success in its “Gardens Aglow” event in December, where “we more than doubled the amount of people who came here,” Quinones said.

She would like to have a similar event each season, and the AMT training would help her implement plans to “move the gardens forward.”

For Colleen Thayer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Sarasota and Manatee counties, one of 650 such affiliates nationwide, the online course offered by No Mission, No Margin “was really helpful, but we’re not done.”

Offering mental health counseling, classes and programs to patients, their families, and caregivers, fundraising is not part of NAMI’s operation.

The course gave her the opportunity “to take a step back and see what should be our priority, and what we should tweak a little bit.”

The information learned will help her, she said, to update NAMI’s strategic plan.

“For us, it’s like a pacing thing.” Thayer said NAMI will look at things “not working for us right now,” and “where we should take a fresh look.”

Oxman said, “Our belief is when nonprofits even suggest an organization in that sector (nonprofit) exists to not generate any revenue, we remind them nonprofit is a tax status and not a business model.”

He said, “We help them understand it’s OK to seek those opportunities (which bring in) revenues.”

In closing, Oxman said, “The pandemic provided a really strong need to look for opportunity to strengthen their (nonprofits’) decision-making.”


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