Wednesday, June 19, 2013
OGUNQUIT — Common Good Ventures is not one of Maine's better-known nonprofits. But few have a wider reach.
Chad Sclove, a managing director at Common Good Ventures, hands out awards at a Program for Nonprofit Effectiveness peer learning session in 2010. With Sclove are, from left, Jan Phillips and Joan Macri of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College and Amie Hutchison of Youthlinks.
Diane Wren photo
Common Good Ventures’ Chad Sclove said many nonprofits want help “adapting to a changing environment.”
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
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.
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