Business of Social: Bringing the Entrepreneurial Mindset into Nonprofits

Social impact took centerstage Tuesday morning at Dallas Startup Week as Dallas-based leaders gathered to talk about the role of social entrepreneurship in nonprofit organizations.

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Social impact took centerstage Tuesday morning at Dallas Startup Week as Dallas-based leaders gathered to talk about the role of social entrepreneurship in nonprofit organizations.

Catherine Cuellar, right, makes a point while Cynthia Nevels looks on. [Photo by Katie Kelton]

In the panel, So You Want to Do Some Good, speakers discussed the pros and cons of running these organizations similar to for-profit businesses, and the ways in which different business models can impact an organization’s success. The panel further explored the shift to now referring to donors as investors, and the potential negative consequences of implementing seed funding competitions in an already competitive industry.

The speakers also examined the best methods to launch new nonprofits, and the criteria an organization must meet in order to stand out and meet a specific need within the community.

The panel ended with a brief Q&A with the audience where the speakers responded to questions regarding the common pitfalls of startup nonprofits, how to successfully pitch to potential investors, and how to network within the Dallas community in order to expand opportunities. 

Here’s a few takeaways from the speakers: 

Cynthia Nevels, senior partner at Integrality LLC: “The mindset needs to change within the nonprofit organization where they need to understand how to operate the nonprofit business. Encouraging the executive directors and the board to think more entrepreneurial is a movement happening right now because of necessity. It is imperative that nonprofits start to think and act and operate like a business.”

Suzanne Smith, founder of Social Impact Architects and Flywheel: “In the nonprofit space, we want to work together. In fact, we want there to be as many people coming together around solutions as possible, which means that no one owns a solution in a social space. We should all be borrowing, and stealing, and leapfrogging as far as the different ideas that are out there.”

Catherine Cuellar, Director of Partnerships for RefillWise“One of the greatest misnomers of nonprofits is that all nonprofits have to be profitable. Calling it a nonprofit doesn’t mean you’re not going to have revenue and you’re not going to cover your cost. It’s just you’re paying your dividends to the community instead of giving those dividends to shareholders.”

Tony Fleo, CEO of Social Venture Partners Dallas: “The vast majority of philanthropic dollars in the U.S. go to libraries, universities, churches; they do not go to frontline social enterprises or charities where needs still need to be met. So there’s something really disruptive that needs to be done in that space.”

Kate Knight, director of the GroundFloor program at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas: “There’s passion in the for–profit business, there’s passion in the nonprofit business. I think the difference is that in the nonprofit world, the businesses are started on passion alone.”

Updated April 4, 2018: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed Catherine Cuellar’s quote to Nissy New, director of income impact at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

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