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GCN launches the Nonprofit Entrepreneurial Accelerator to help women, minority-led nonprofits start businesses

Many nonprofits have innovative ideas that could change their world; the trick is turning those into reality. And reality requires cash.

“Nonprofits are the backbone of any community. The problem is you often take your designation—nonprofit—too seriously,” said Milton Clipper, former president and CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta and current affiliate consultant at GCN. “If you don’t have funding, you can’t help anyone else. And nonprofits are too valuable to be in that position.”

This year, four nonprofits are coming together to take part in GCN’s new Nonprofit Entrepreneurial Accelerator (NE Accelerator) program, designed to help women- and minority-led nonprofits create earned revenue efforts that support the mission. The program is taught and coached by five consultants from GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group, in partnership with The Coca-Cola Foundation. Those coaches are Senior Consultants Sir José Bright, Jeanne Drake Ward, and Karin Douglas, along with Affiliate Consultants Clifford and Robert Yeldell.

"The Coca-Cola Foundation is excited to partner with GCN on the Accelerator, giving these entrepreneurs fuel for their social businesses,” said Wanda Rodwell, director of global community affairs and communications for The Coca-Cola Foundation. “We believe strong women leaders in our communities are critical change agents, and can't wait to watch these social businesses blossom."

NE Accelerator consists of five classroom sessions and two educational networking events in which nonprofits learn how to create income-generating activities, build successful business plans, and align it all with their core mission. In addition, they’ll learn how to pitch and market their venture to funders.

Each nonprofit came with a vision for how they plan to monetize their social business in order to help their organization aid its constituents.

Participating nonprofits, along with the entrepreneurs and their project are: Andrew J. Young Foundation ED and CFO Kathy J. White is using aquaponics to grow food in food deserts; Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential (GCAPP) President and CEO Kim Nolte is developing parent-education and sex-education products; Moving in the Spirit Director of Opportunity Heather Infantry is working on a line of private label dance clothing; and Community Assistance Center ED Tamara Carrera is focused on expanding and redesigning their thrift boutique.

“The money is there. The resources are there. It’s just about finding them,” said facilitator Jeanne Drake Ward. “We’re here to shift your mindset, from one that focuses on a lack of wealth to a mentality of abundance.”

Carrera said that the Community Assistance Center (CAC), located in Sandy Springs, is scheduled to not only expand the size of its small thrift store, but to redesign it completely with the look and feel of a high-end boutique—but with the same low prices.

“This is Sandy Springs, which appeals to a higher clientele. So our service has to be first class,” said Carrera. “Rather than a shopping experience where you have to dig through a pile of clothes, we want you to have the kind of experience you’d have at a place like Nordstrom’s.”

Although each nonprofit came with its own unique idea, the reasons are the same: They’re doing it to thrive.

“We’re starting to see for-profit organizations moving into the nonprofit space,” said Accelerator coach José Bright. “They are nonprofits’ new competitors.”

At the same time, Bright said during the first Accelerator session on April 18th, “People who have money still want to give it, but they want to see that you have impact.” That means “sometimes it’s hard to get donor support for the programs that really matter to you. We’re going to teach you how to use earned revenue to support programs that you can’t get donors to fund.”

“You have to be sophisticated to get access to resources,” Bright added. “You have to expand your opportunities by building social capital and partner with others to complement your organization.” The next session, in May, helped participants build a sustainable revenue model fort heir nonprofits, and set them up to pitch their venture at last week’s Philanthropitch Atlanta, a fast-pitch social-impact idea competition where participants competed for financial and human capital resources, including $61,500 in cash grants. 

In subsequent sessions, participants will learn how to identify their leadership style and master a personal brand in order to better lead their income generating activity; align their business plan with the organization’s mission; manage their business in a changing economy; and effectively market that business with the capital they have in hand.

“The money is there. The resources are there. It’s just about finding them,” said facilitator Jeanne Drake Ward. “We’re here to shift your mindset, from one that focuses on a lack of wealth to a mentality of abundance.”

David Terraso is communications director at GCN. 

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