Find Your Aces: Turn Your Disadvantages into Advantages

Your Ingenious Nonprofit
February 2014
Karen Eber Davis

Our location is terrible. . . . The competition has all the benefits. . . . We don’t have enough money. . . . Our employees won’t be able to compete. . . . How often do you hear arguments like these about why you can’t earn more income? And because of them or other competitive advantages, do you pass up opportunities to increase your income?

For too many nonprofit leaders, these and similar arguments persuade them that earning more income is impossible. These senior leaders do want to help their organizations earn more. Their organizations need the income. Unfortunately, too many leaders look at their deck of cards and see only a two of spades, a three of clubs, and a four of diamonds. Everyone else it seems has kings.

Yet many nonprofits with competitive challenges discover ways to create more mission and more income. How? By embracing three critical mindsets: 1. They accept all their cards. 2. They recognize that some cards even with low value can be played as trumps. 3. They remember that cards come in decks. Since decks have face cards and aces, they seek them out.

The Economy and Job Challenges  

Opportunity Village in Las Vegas serves developmentally delayed adults. One of their goals is create employment opportunities for these adults. The Village faces significant challenges finding appropriate jobs:

  • The prospective employees are low skilled.
  • Most have never had jobs.
  • Until their personal experience proves otherwise, many employers will be concerned about the supervision and their work quality.
  • The deuce of spades? Nevada is plagued with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.

Opportunity Village hunts for places where they will have market advantages and can provide excellent value. To provide stability for their employees and the organization, they pursue work that can never be off-shored. One solution is to provide cleaning services in hyper-secure locations such as military bases. Here, teams trained and supervised by Opportunity Village tidy up and safeguard secrets.

In top-secret spots, what competitive advantages do Opportunity Village employees provide? Team members easily pass security clearances. Once hired they rarely leave. These two issues plague other cleaning services.

The work is top notch because of Opportunity Villages’ approach to cleaning. Teams support each other by working together and each team member performs just one task, such as vacuuming the floor or emptying the trash.

Opportunity Village also has three high value cards to play:

  • The first is the pureness of heart of the team’s employees. Cleaning jobs that bore most employees remain valuable, interesting, and stimulating to team members.
  • The setup is nearly impossible to infiltrate for espionage purposes.
  • Finally, employers who hire Opportunity Village Teams will be seen as models of corporate responsibility. They provide employment for local citizens with special needs.

By recognizing their competitive disadvantages and finding places where they can be reduced or augmented by advantages, Opportunity Village fulfills its mission. It generates employment opportunities for 1,500 people at $9 an hour. In turn, the contract revenue the employment service produces is 50 percent of Opportunity Village 25 million-dollar annual budget.

Funding An Old Building and Distant Location

Likewise, Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida combined two challenges to create Karen’s Platinum Nonprofit More—more mission and more income. For several years, the staff and the board at the Gardens mulled over what to do about a 1929 mansion located adjacent to the Gardens. Like many old building it took buckets of paint and money to keep it up. Unfortunately few people could be enticed to spend an extra six dollars to tour it.

The Gardens’ second disadvantage, from some perspectives, is its location. It’s 37 mostly rural miles from Disney World and the other Orlando tourist destinations. Before enjoying the Gardens, visitors must take a bit of a rambling drive.

The trump card Bok Tower Gardens found came by linking the drive and the opportunity to view the mansion together. Staff decided to sell the mansion tickets at the front entrance instead of the Visitor’s Center. Now, right after the drive, when they have their credit cards out, visitors are asked, “Would you like a combo ticket today? It includes both the Gardens plus the Mansion.” In essence, the Gardens transformed the fast food question, “Would you like fires with your burger?” into a query that created for them the Platinum Nonprofit More. In this case, 300 percent more visitors paid an extra $6 for a combo ticket—during the Great Recession.

Lack of Money As The Reason

Another common nonprofit disadvantage is a lack of money. Instead of letting this be a barrier to more money, this roadblock motivated the Houston Arts Alliance. Now, the Alliance is well on its way to meeting its goal to raise $250,000 annually by providing other entities great online calendars. The University of Houston and others are customers. The Houston Arts Alliance’s high value card? Their expertise at creating great calendars for the local arts community. The Alliance didn’t need to make a large investment to begin since staff had already attained the skills. While the service does not directly create more mission—art in the community—the income it earns does.

You

As a nonprofit do you have competitive disadvantages when it comes to earning income? Yes, without a doubt. Are you letting them stop you from earning more income? That’s up to you. Take a second look, and a third, and fourth, as necessary. Find your advantages. Discover places where your disadvantages can be played as trumps. Find you face cards. Mix cards together to create win. Believe opportunities exist. Go find them.