I’ll Drink to This Idea

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 20th, 2013 in Thoughts & Commentary

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There must be something good in the Southwest region’s water supply that should be leaked into drinking water across the country.  Folks there are doing some great outside the box thinking!

It has been a long time since I have gotten excited about a new nonprofit.  Most new nonprofits rile me because while they are a new organization, they simply don’t have a new mission.  Rather than join up with an existing nonprofit providing the same or similar services, those founders have to do their own thing.  For reasons that baffle me, they think they have a new twist, can do it better, and fail to realize what’s really involved.

When I read about ArtBar by Catalyst Club, however, I was delighted—and impressed.  ArtBar is just that—a bar; but then everything else about it is different.  Its proceeds fund the arts in Albuquerque.  But it gets better.  ArtBar sells memberships. that gives  you and up to 10 guests on any visit access to the bar (which seems to be a really cool place, if you are into bars.)  But, more importantly, from a nonprofit and personal perspective, members decide what organizations receive the funds.  The lucky and deserving nonprofits don’t just receive money (six of which have been identified as the winners of equal shares of grant dollars earned over the course of the next 12 months); they also may use ArtBar’s space for free for special events.  And though ArtBar has just opened, its FaceBook page reports they’ve already surpassed 300 members, and the reviews are raves.  Can anyone say “Cha ching?”

The beauty of this model is that folks who like to hang out in bars get to that and be philanthropists at the same time.  For the fast majority of individual donors, the gifts they give nonprofits come from their discretionary dollars.  Understandably, to many, socializing, hanging out with friends, drinking, etc., holds a higher place on the list of “How to Use Discretionary Dollars” than often does giving to charities.  ArtBar allows folks to do both, and greatest gift—drum roll, please, not feel guilty about the hanging out.  In addition, I have to think that there may be a contagion effect and those who become members or hangout at ArtBar on the membership of friends will be more likely to give in other areas of their lives as well.  And I would hope that those twentsomethings who chose ArtBar as their hangout spot will become (bigger) philanthropists than they might otherwise have done if not for the ArtBar influence.  Socialize, learn to be a philanthropist, give to charities, support arts and culture in your community.  Win-win-win-win.  Kudos all around.

It has also been a long time since I have gotten excited about a nonprofit’s new social venture (with the exception of some of the ideas my MBA students have designed). This time it is in Phoenix.  AZ LeaderForce is an initiative of the Collaboration for a New Century.  Essentially, AZ LeaderForce matches leaders in the community (called coaches) with six nonprofits each year that it has identified as having an impact in the community but which could also benefit from the expertise of these coaches to make the organization even stronger and better able to deliver its impact.  That, in and of itself, not to take anything away from it, isn’t terribly novel.  It is done in many different forms all across the country.  But AZ LeaderForce went one step further.  It contracted with a local coffee provider to create its own coffee beans—called Café Esperanza.  Proceeds of the sale of this coffee go to the six nonprofits with which AZ LeaderForce coaches are working with that year.  I haven’t yet tried the coffee so I cannot attest to its goodness., but I can attest to the creativity.

Just as those who wish to start a nonprofit should do some market research before launching the nth nonprofit in a two-block area with the mission to solve the world’s problems, so should those nonprofits wishing to start a social enterprise.  There are probably enough thrift shops; most space rentals sill aren’t accessible to most nonprofits; and the market is starting to be a little glutted with note cards made by the participants (of any age) in nonprofit programs.  That doesn’t mean that social entrepreneurship—a program/service that a nonprofit creates and runs to provide a steady source of unrestricted revenue for itself—has peaked.  Far from it!  What it means is those thousands of nonprofits that have the calculated risk tolerance, the human and capital resources and the ability to think outside of the box, have to think really outside the box to find a niche where few have dared to go before!

Go drink the water in the Southwest!

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