Rachel Light

Brewing Non-Profit – For-Profit Partnerships


I recently read about an exciting new partnership between Starbucks, a for-profit company, and the Queens Community House, a non-profit, multi-service settlement house with 25 sites in 11 neighborhoods in New York City.  I was intrigued.  

Queens Community House solidified a partnership with Starbucks to create the first US-based "opportunity café," which will be located in Jamaica, Queens. The new store is an example of Starbucks' nationwide initiative through which it seeks to deepen its commitment to communities by hiring local staff, engaging area vendors and providing a dedicated in-store training space for use by non-profits.  In this new “opportunity café,” QCH will provide training to young adults who are interested in the food sector in order to provide unemployed youth with the skills and experience they need to launch a successful career in the food sector.  

Reading about this partnership brought to mind a few other interesting ways food organizations are giving back to their communities by working together with for-profit companies.  Panera Cares, is operated by Panera Bread, the bakery / restaurant, and is a chain of community cafes in neighborhoods around the country where the restaurant provides suggested donation amounts for all menu items and customers pay what they can and the excess goes to charity, and where one can earn a meal voucher by volunteering in the cafe.

Recipe for Change, run by Chef Bruno Abate from Tocco Restaurant in Chicago, is a course that teaches prison inmates everything from knife skills and kitchen sanitation to recipes for pastas, sauces and desserts — key job skills they can use when they're released and looking for employment.  The program builds self-esteem and teaches inmates about good nutrition.

Hot Bread Kitchen, a bakery and non-profit social enterprise in Brooklyn, aims to build lasting economic security for low-income, immigrant and minority individuals by training and supporting them in achieving jobs and fair wages in the culinary industry.  Two-thirds of the organization’s operating budget is funded through sales of bread and rental of commercial kitchen space, and is used to train and educate individuals so they can turn their passion for cooking into a profession that can be used to achieve economic security.

This kind of partnership not only is exciting for what it will do for the neighborhoods and the participants involved, but is good food for thought as to how non-profits and for-profits can work together in creative ways to better communities and make a positive difference in the world.

Bon appetite!

Four Ways to Address a Problem that Won’t Go Away

We are currently working with a client that provides services for victims of crimes, particularly victims of family violence such as domestic violence and child abuse.  Family violence is a persistent issue upon which it seems almost impossible to make a dent. And so, our client wanted to know how they can have greater impact.   To find possible approaches to answer this question, we looked at how other organizations strive to have impact in the face of an enduring, seemingly insurmountable, problem.

Four aces picture

We found four possible approaches employed by other organizations, which we coined, “go upstream,” “a banner to march behind, “expand the picture,” and “strength in numbers.” 

The National Audubon Society typifies what we called “go upstream.”  This organization began with the mission of protecting birds and their habitats.  But soon an important challenge became clear:  all habitats were increasingly impacted by climate change, leading to negative consequences for birds everywhere. The “go upstream” approach posits that one’s mission is served not only through intervention services aimed at solving certain issues, but also by working on the environmental factors which cause the issues to occur in the first place.  So, The National Audubon Society decided to “go upstream” from the bird territory and now has a more general focus on protecting the environment with the downstream goal of saving birds’ habitats.  What could this mean for our client?  Perhaps they address those things that contribute to family violence occurring in the first place, like poverty. Or, they work to prevent the perpetuation of the cycles of violence by helping abused children heal from their trauma, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will grow up to be re-victimized or will abuse others.

“A banner to march behind” is well exemplified by The March of Dimes.  The assumption behind this approach is that to make a greater difference, one must mobilize the public to develop awareness and a sense of outrage about the issue.  For The March of Dimes, the mission of decreasing birth defects and pre-term birth would not be accomplished with medical research alone, and thus The March took to the streets to get the public involved with fighting for this cause.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is also a good example of an organization which used “a banner” to realize impact, namely a significant reduction of alcohol-related traffic accidents.  Our client, therefore, could consider starting a movement to generate awareness and outrage to help combat family violence.

Terracyle is an example of “expand the picture,” which posits that to make more of a difference, one must engage all involved components of the problem to be part of the solution. Terracyle started out working to eliminate food waste by using it to create quality fertilizers.  The fertilizers reduced some waste, but landfills kept filling, and so TerraCycle sought to make a broader impact.  Today, Terracyle focuses on eliminating many kinds of waste by creating new product lines and mobilizing people to recycle.  For our client, expanding the picture could mean not just working with the primarily low-income, female population it currently serves, but adding services for batterers, wealthy victims, or victims who choose to stay in relationship with their abusers.

Finally, “strength in numbers” is typified by East Meets West (EMW).  The premise here is that one organization can’t make a significant difference on large issues by itself; working together with others with similar missions means that the impact is exponentially increased.  East Meets West started out providing grassroots humanitarian aid in Vietnam, but they soon realized the problems were too big for them to significantly affect on their ownEMW transitioned from offering humanitarian services to building a network of similar organizations that share back-office capacity and learn valuable skills from one another.  Our client could realize this approach through creating a network of similar organizations or employing a regional or national expansion strategy to have a greater impact.

The problem of a persistent societal struggle is one that many non-profits face. These four approaches show how some nonprofits have addressed such struggles in ways that can be applied by others.

Keep Your Eye on the Goal

Keep your eyes on the goal
Keep your eyes on the goal

I think it's human nature for people involved with a successful, strong organization to want it to grow or to see growth as a measure of success.  In the non-profit arena, however, growth may or may not be the right objective, particularly if there are others serving the same or similar space.  I’ve found it interesting and heart-warming to see organizations that have made decisions that serve the larger good, even when those decisions did not enlarge their organizations. We recently worked with Hole in the Wall Gang Camp which offers summer overnight camp and year-round programming for thousands of seriously ill children in the Northeast.  Founded by Paul Newman and with a legacy of offering incredibly powerful and transformative experiences for kids, their fundraising and investment management ability has put them in a solid financial position.  In serving the greater good, they have consistently used some of their funds to support sister camps which offer similar summer camp programs for seriously ill children.  In the end, what matters to Hole in the Wall is getting more kids with life-threatening illnesses to camp, wherever they happen to be.

Another organization which made a similar kind of decision is Citymeals-on-Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound elderly New Yorkers primarily on weekends and holidays.  During our work with them, we realized that despite their great work, there was still a huge unmet demand for food for the elderly who could not otherwise access it.  Clearly they would make efforts to fill that gap, but a key insight during the work was that a large number of people who were eligible for food stamps weren’t using them.  In their population, this could likely be because they couldn’t get to the store or other places to access the benefits; in other words, funding was available for these New Yorkers’ food but was going unused for this population.  So, in addition to their own programmatic efforts, they invested effort to enable more of the homebound elderly to access food stamp benefits and therefore get the food they needed. This investment didn’t accrue benefit to the bottom line for Citymeals, but had the potential to make a huge difference in reducing the number of elderly residents of New York City going hungry.

A third organization that comes to mind is the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico, the largest food bank in the state.  With a list of 40,000 residents being served by the organization throughout New Mexico, they were reaching a huge number of people in need.   Roadrunner Food Bank’s executive director realized that this connection to these clients was an asset that agencies in public health, family planning, etc. were spending a lot of time and money to recreate.  And that if there were a way to collaborate effectively with these agencies, the well-being of her clients would be better served.  As a result, they are in the beginning stages of exploring the collaboration possibilities to improve service and benefits throughout New Mexico.

Organizations have 

natural tendency to think about how to do more of what they do, as opposed to taking a look at all the players in the field and assessing what the need is.

Amidst a sea of socially-minded organizations, the challenge for today’s non-profits is to keep their eye


 on the larger goal even when it means doing that which is not as self-serving.

How to influence your field? Be shaped like a “T”

The Letter T
The Letter T

If your organization wants to have broad impact on its field, consider this: Success often comes when an organization can use direct program experience to inform its position of thought leadership.

Here’s a case in point. Consider the Brazelton Touchpoints Center that helps improve care for very young children. They had a question: Should they continue to deliver in-person training and consulting to health care workers and parents, or should they focus on disseminating their ideas broadly to influence such people all over the country?

As we worked with the Center, it became clear they needed both. The direct interaction with those engaged with young children provided concrete experiences and a fertile ground for testing new ideas, which in turn informed the organization’s disseminations to the field. Moreover, such experience added credibility to their message.

You can picture this combination of direct service with broad ideas dissemination as the letter “T.”  The stem of the T represents in-depth direct-service work conducted in specific locations, going narrow and deep. Here the organization provides direct service to people, delivers training, conducts programs, or provides coaching and consulting. The organization can use these “laboratories” to develop innovative approaches, and evaluate its results.

We have seen a number of organizations use this T-shaped structure to advantage, including Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, a university think tank bringing innovative approaches to early child care, Garrison Institute, bringing the wisdom of meditation to social change efforts, Glynwood Center, a land-use organization helping to preserve farmland, and the Child Health and Development Institute, an advocate for high-quality children’s health care. In each case, the organization engages in direct-service program work, training health care practitioners, running a grass-fed beef operation, or hosting meditation retreats. These in turn strengthen the organization’s ability to develop and disseminate really useful ideas that others can employ.The cap of the T is the dissemination that brings proven ideas to the field, going broad and wide through publications, social media, or public presentations.

So, if you want to influence your field through well-founded, practical ideas that others will use, one good way is to be shaped like a T.