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Rethinking “nonprofit”: New conference opens discussion for charitable organizations

A new regional event seeks to change the idea that nonprofit organizations cannot create their own revenue streams.

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, local thought leaders, investors, and nonprofit workers will join together for the first-ever “Taking the ‘Non’ Out of Nonprofit” Conference, held at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center at 900 Senate Street in the Vista.

The conference is the product of over a year of imagination and brainstorming from leaders at 1,000 Feathers, a nonprofit consulting firm launched last year by Forrest Alton, who had previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy for over 10 years. Alton also currently serves as the chairman of the Board of Directors for TogetherSC, formerly known as the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations (SCANPO).

1,000 Feathers is hosting the event in a collaboration with Venture Carolina, an organization that offers assistance to start-up business and entrepreneurs, and Venture South, an early-stage investment firm. The day-long event is open to executives, board members, donors, and development staff of nonprofit organizations, with the goal being to offer sound business wisdom and stimulate creative thinking for fund-seekers.

“ ‘Nonprofit’ is just a tax status, so there’s no reason non-profit organizations can’t start thinking like for-profit organizations to advance their missions,” explained Alton. “We want to open the discussion up about how nonprofits can find other ways to bring in revenue to support their services.”

According to Alton, it is common for nonprofit organizations to secure funding from grants and donors to support their programs. But thinking outside the traditional fundraising framework could lead to added income streams for charitable organizations to provide financial sustainability and increase their programs’ outreach. “There’s an almost negative connotation about being a nonprofit or a charity, like you are always worried where the next funding source is coming from,” Alton explained. “But we want to generate some discussion about how nonprofits can think differently and work with their investors to ensure long-term stability, and not be so reliant on continuous fundraising.”

One of the nonprofits participating in this year’s conference is Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands.  “In many nonprofits, earning revenue is taboo,” explained STSM’s executive director, Mary Dell Hayes.  “Earning revenue doesn’t mean gouging consumers, though.  We can be practical about what our services, programs, and intellectual property is worth.”

Many nonprofits have noted a decrease in the lack of available grant funding and sponsorship opportunities. Thus, several local organizations have already become eager to join 1,000 Feathers for the conference, including Justice 360, a South Carolina non-profit that works with reforming criminal justice policies related to capital punishment.

“Conventional fundraising is a formidable task in 2017, especially for those of us who represent organizations viewed as questioning the status quo,” said Justice 360’s executive director, Mandy Medlock. “Needless to say, receiving pointed, exceptional fundraising advice is not an opportunity I am going to turn away. I know that Forrest and his team at 1,000 Feathers will leave the non-profit community well-equipped to face the challenges ahead.”

STSM is also looking forward to the collaboration and learning experiences the conference offers.  “Earning revenue and adopting other strategic ways of running our organizations can help nonprofits serve more people and become stronger financially,” said Hayes.  “SC needs a strong nonprofit community, and the message from 1,000 Feathers and Venture Carolina will help us all to better fulfill our missions.”

In addition to these panel discussion opportunities, the conference will also host a smaller event that day called the Innovation Challenge, which is a Shark Tank-like competition. Nonprofit organizations are encouraged to submit applications to the Innovation Challenge by Aug. 16, with a description of a profitable idea to help advance their organization’s mission and programs. The top three applications will be selected, and those organizations will have the chance to present their ideas to a group of funders and investors at the conference. One winning organization will be given a $5,000 check that day to help start the development of their organization’s new fund-collecting venture.

The “Taking the ‘Non’ Out of Nonprofit” Conference will also host several guest speakers, including Amy Lucia, vice president of corporate brand and communications for Blackband, who will deliver the keynote address. Alton himself will also speak, along with VentureSouth’s Charlie Banks, Paul Clark, Matt Dunbar, and Mac Lackey; Holt Chetwood, the president and business banking manager of Wells Fargo’s Midlands market; Walt Frye, the interim executive director for the Charlotte Regional Fund for Entrepreneurship; Hadia Ghandour, a business instructor at Columbia College; Anna Lewin of the SC Community Loan Fund; John Osborne of Harbor Entrepreneur Center; Paul Sparks, the president of RealOp Investments; and Joe Waters, the founder of Capita, among others.

Charlie Banks is the co-founder and managing director of VentureSouth and the executive director of Venture Carolina. “We are excited about this conference and hope this topic will continue to resonate throughout the nonprofit industry,” said Banks. “A fundamental shift is certainly needed, and it begins with folks getting together, having open conversations, and sharing best practices.”

More information about the “Taking the ‘Non’ Out of Nonprofit” Conference may be found at www.venturecarolina.org/events.

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