OGUNQUIT — Common Good Ventures is not one of Maine’s better-known nonprofits. But few have a wider reach.

The Portland-based group works behind the scenes, coaching and advising other, more visible nonprofits. Its work has supported everything from youth programs to homeless shelters to wildlife protection.

And given the challenges these days with reduced private donations and cuts in government services, a lot of nonprofits are looking for advice, said Carole Aaron of Ogunquit, a volunteer adviser with the group.

“It’s a tough environment for not-for-profits, no question,” she said.

Common Good Ventures is a 10-year-old agency that is supported by foundations and corporate and individual donors. Its mission is to bring the best practices of private industry to Maine’s nonprofit agencies, which often have lean staffs and budgets and little opportunity for soul-searching.

The group collaborates with other agencies that support the nonprofit sector, including the Institute for Civic Leadership, the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Association of Nonprofits. Common Good Ventures’ range of services include individual consulting for a fee as well as free programs that connect nonprofits with volunteer advisers from the business community.

The group has four full-time staff, dozens of volunteers and total annual revenue of about $515,000.

“We’re seeing a lot of need for supporting organizations around strategizing and adapting to a changing environment, as well as with the ongoing challenges of managing operations and financial planning,” said Chad Sclove, a managing director of Common Good Ventures.

One of Common Good Ventures’ core services is Springboard, a consulting process that culminates in 90-minute brainstorming sessions with a panel of about a dozen business and nonprofit executives and experts.

“It’s like a group of high-priced consultants that come in for a couple of hours,” said Aaron, who is a media consultant and has sat on about seven adviser panels in a little more than a year. “There’s not one of these people who haven’t seemed to come away and say, ‘Wow, I never looked at it this way,’ or ‘I never would have been able to get this advice.’ “

Aaron was on the panel one recent morning when the Springboard advisers turned their attention to the latest nonprofit to ask for help – the York County Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Council.

Laurie DuPaul, the agency’s executive director, told the panel she has a dilemma. The group’s name has been around for decades, but it may now be holding back the nonprofit, she said.

Some people incorrectly assume the council is part of the government or gets state support.

Others avoid the group – which teaches kids about safety, promotes family communication and discourages bullying – because of the shame and stigma attached to the words “child abuse,” DuPaul said. “No one wants to talk about it.”

The council is considering using its familiar tagline – “Kids Free to Grow” – as its name, she said.

The panelists, including bank executives and managers of large nonprofits, had no shortage of advice, which quickly covered a large bulletin board.

Some said the words “child abuse prevention” provide the needed sense of urgency and clarity about the group’s mission. A few said the name should make it more clear that the group isn’t a state agency and relies on private funding. And others suggested using more positive, hopeful words such as “safe kids.”

Carole Aaron suggested using a celebrity spokesperson who could share a personal story and show that “it’s OK to talk about this.”

While the discussion began with the name of the group, the panel offered advice on everything from focusing the group’s mission to expanding community partnerships. The advice wasn’t sugarcoated.

Ben Willauer, a financial portfolio manager in Portland, even critiqued DuPaul’s body language while talking about child abuse. Willauer said she should be more upbeat about the group’s work because people will support something that’s fun, as opposed to all “doom and gloom.”

DuPaul welcomed it all.

“There was so much information coming at you,” DuPaul said a few days later. “There were some really good pieces that came forward.”

While there was no unified answer on a new name, DuPaul is sure the process will help the organization. She planned to sit down with Sclove and with members of the council’s board of directors to talk about next steps.

DuPaul, who has been the agency’s director for nearly three years, said she also learned a lot while working with Sclove to prepare her presentation. “It made me go back and really look at the history of the council,” she said.

The five or six weeks of research and consulting sessions to prepare for a Springboard panel can be just as helpful as the advice, Sclove said.

Common Good Ventures has done well over 50 Springboards around the state with such groups as the Girl Scouts of Maine, Maine Audubon and the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter.

Sail Maine’s director, Jeff Cumming, went through a Springboard in February to get advice about its financial model. The Portland-based group raises money so it can make sailing accessible to kids who otherwise could not afford it.

“The process itself of creating the questions and then talking about it with the panel was so helpful that even if we don’t take the panel’s advice, it still catapults Sail Maine forward,” he said.

Cumming said he hopes to work with Common Good Ventures again. “We’re young and rapidly growing and smart enough to know we don’t know everything yet.”

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]