How nonprofits are using entrepreneurial skills, strategic thinking to change the world

Whether you pull out your checkbook to make end-of-the-year donations or whip out your credit card on #GiveMiamiDay Nov. 15 – and we hope you do both — you likely want to make sure your hard-earned dollars help as many people as possible.

Charities and nonprofits do too, and they are increasingly finding donations and grants aren’t enough to ensure their sustainability and make a larger community-changing impact.

Today, you’ll find startup social ventures hatched in co-working spaces and mature nonprofits like the 63-year-old Arc Broward (see related story) employing innovative revenue-generating business models, bringing in more dollars to fund their missions and ultimately help more people.


Daniel Diedrick, 22, a student at Arc Tech, works to safely dispose of hard drives in a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale. Arc Tech, one of three social enterprises of Arc Broward, uses its hard drive disposal fees to support people with disabilities.


At the same time, some ventures are aligning with organizations that provide a team-mentorship approach to help them think bigger and scale up their impact.

In South Florida’s tri-county area, 23,730 nonprofits employing 160,772 people compete for donations, grants and government support, according to statistics compiled by the Florida Nonprofit Alliance. And those sources of support have been slowing or decreasing, a nationwide trend.

Some of the innovative nonprofits sell products or services, providing job training to those in need and much more. Lotus House Thrift, a division of the recently expanded Lotus House, the Miami shelter for homeless women and children, was launched to clothe women and their children who were coming into the shelter, provide a way to furnish their homes when they leave the shelter and create a retail and barista job-training program within the thrift store for the women.

Every year, Lotus House Thrift collects donations valued at about $1.5 million, said Constance Collins, Lotus House’s president and executive director.

“Imagine if we had to raise the money to clothe hundreds of women and their families every year? The impact is triple mission for us. There is no aspect of what we do that is not essential to the success of the women and children we service,” Collins said. “The thrift store also serves a community role — awareness that these women and their families should not be forgotten and deserve a life that offers dignity and self-sufficiency.”

Step into most any Miami co-working space and you’ll find young non-profits mingling and collaborating with their for-profit startup brethren. You’ll also find them participating in an increasing number of programs and contests aiming to accelerate social entrepreneurship in the arts, education, the environment and social services.

One of the programs, Radical Partners, has been putting nonprofit and for-profit social ventures through their Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for five years, where they collectively learn about goal setting, team building, marketing, fund-raising and more. Many of them work on honing revenue-generating strategies so they do not have to rely so heavily on donations.

“If we want to solve the most pressing issues of our day, we need to identify the leaders who are launching ventures that solve those issues, and we need to help them scale. We need to nurture and sustain our best leaders, and we need to help them make smart decisions as they grow their impact,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, who founded and runs Radical Partners.

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Rebecca Fishman Lipsey has been running Radical Partners’ Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamps for five years.

Radical Partners

Radical Partners has worked with 72 organizations through its bootcamp and Leadership Lab. Three-quarters of them have already expanded their programs significantly. Previous bootcamp cohorts have included, which pulls trash from South Florida’s coast, and also builds awareness of the harmfulness of single-use plastics.

The nonprofit takes in revenue by taking corporate teams out to the beach, providing “days of service” to companies that want to give back to the community and do team-building exercises.

“It’s good for our shorelines, and it’s great for both of their bottom lines,” said Lipsey.

Another is Young Musicians Unite, which provides free music programming to underserved youth, with a focus on creating rock and jazz bands. The nonprofit earns revenue through ticket sales, ads in programs and fees for their student bands to do performances at events, and all that goes back into their mission, Lipsey said.

TransSOCIAL, launched in 2016, supports transgender individuals as they transition. It began humbly as a resource website, but founders Ashley and Morgan Mayfaire saw a community need to be a one-stop shop for support.

TransSOCIAL currently provides name change assistance — a lengthy and expensive process — healthcare referrals, social and support groups, and cultural sensitivity training.

Last year, founders Ashley and Morgan Mayfaire began charging businesses, healthcare providers and community organizations a fee for its sensitivity training. Part of the fee pays its trainers, and the remainder goes to TransSOCIAL as general use funds. The trainings help their bottom line, and also create a more welcoming environment for trans individuals, thus furthering their mission.

The need is great because nearly a third of Florida’s transgender population has been fired, denied employment or denied a promotion because of their identity and about 22 percent of the community is unemployed, Ashley Mayfaire said. TransSOCIAL already serves clients all over the country, and it hopes to go beyond South Florida with its trainings.

Many nonprofit executives are seeking social impact investors to contribute not only money, but time, expertise and networks to help them scale.

In other words, they are running their nonprofits more like well-oiled businesses to increase returns and employ innovative ideas for growth, while keeping their mission focused on the social good.

That’s the case with Mind&Melody, a Miami nonprofit that creates therapeutic music programs for older adults, particularly those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Today, Mind&Melody works with more than 40 healthcare facilities in Florida, sending musicians to the facilities and to patients’ homes.


Participants with dementia in the Mind&Melody enrichment program learn to play piano and basic music theory. The program is offered through Plaza Health Network’s South Pointe Plaza Center in Miami Beach.

Miami Herald file photo

But it wasn’t easy getting to today. Founder Cristina Rodriguez recalls how she and her co-founder Lauren Koff started the nonprofit with $300 and spent too much time on its first fundraiser that reaped nearly nothing.

“We thought, how can we make this sustainable and have a larger impact?”

That’s when Rodriguez sought help from business programs and mentorship offered by Jim Moran Institute, FAU Tech Runway, Quantum Foundation and SCORE, where she learned business basics.

But it was Radical Partners’ Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp that gave her access to a helpful network and resources tailor-made for social entrepreneurs, she said.

Social Venture Partners Miami, launched last year, surrounds selected social ventures with a team of experts and provides funding and guidance on growth. SVP, part of a robust global network, continues to support the organizations for at least three years.

Last year, SVP chose Guitars Over Guns for a $100,000 grant and the expert guidance, and has been working with that organization to make sure it has the financial systems and funding strategies in place to fuel Guitars Over Guns’ national expansion.

“Once the right systems are in place, our partners will start helping them test and hone different earned income strategies so that they will not be solely reliant on grants and donations,” said Lauren Harper, founder and president of SVP Miami.

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Guitars Over Guns, which offers music education and mentoring to children in disadvantaged neighborhoods, is one of the first nonprofits supported by Social Venture Partners Miami.

Jason Koerner Photography SVP Miami

SVP is in the process of selecting its next investee and, in addition, SVP selects a couple of local organizations to work with on a project basis.

Harper points out that just 2 percent of the world’s GDP comes from charitable giving. That 2 percent has been stagnant for decades, while the world’s problems grow.

“The possibilities here are tremendous,” said Harper. “We just need more business-minded people to team up with those that are intimately familiar with our world’s social and environmental problems. Together they can create financially sustainable social enterprises that really make an impact.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and email her at

How to help

Grant Resources for Nonprofits: Miami-Dade County’s resource site.

Nonprofit Central: The Miami Foundation’s community resource site with a database of local nonprofits.

Give Miami Day: It’s Nov. 15 this year. Last year, 20,000 people donated a total of $10.1 million to 700 nonprofits.

Impact Miami at Miami Dade College’s Idea Center: Learn all about customer discovery, rapid prototyping and cost assumptions for your social venture in five days.

Center for Social Change: A nonprofit co-working and event space.

Social Venture Partners Miami: SVP Miami is part of global network of 3,500+ venture philanthropists in over 40 cities, who have collectively contributed more than $63 million to 840+ social ventures since 1997.

Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp: A program for high-impact leaders working to solve the region’s most pressing problems