July 30, 2013

Fund Your Most Difficult Challenge

“If we used government money,” said Joe Carbone, CEO of The Workplace in Bridgeport, Connecticut, “some businesses wouldn’t have been interested. They fear the potential interference.” Three years ago The Workplace successfully launched a new program:  Platform to Employment (P2E). To pilot P2E, The Workplace raised $600,000, over half from corporations. Supporters sponsored individuals at $6,000 each.

Born in the Great Recession, P2E provides those who have been unemployed longer than two years with five weeks of classes, the services of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and an eight-week paid internship. Participants had recently exhausted their unemployment and were motivated. Most were college educated and in their 40s and 50s. At the end of the program, seventy percent found employment, compared to a national average of ten to fifteen percent for the same cohort. The success of P2E is being shared. It will be started in four additional cities this year with plans in place for twenty-five more cities next year.

For nonprofit leaders like you, P2E’s design contains a number of replicable components, including:

  1. Creating Results Based on Customer’s Needs. As the Recession progressed, staff at The Workplace, who provides workforce development services, found that they were serving growing numbers of people experiencing long-term unemployment. The needs of this group are different from other job seekers: they faced more self-esteem issues and workforce prejudices. Many employers assumed they were lazy or unemployed for a reason. Staff designed P2E to overcome these and other barriers by offering P2E participants classes to sharpen their skills, EAP services to enhance their bruised self-images, and an internship opportunity that offered employers a low-risk, close-up preview.
  2. Solve The Most Difficult Dilemma. As they planned the program, staff at The Workplace faced a challenge. Participants needed jobs, but The Workplace didn’t have any. The Workplace did, however, have influence and connections with local employers. When area employers advertised jobs for which P2E participants were qualified, The Workplace staff offered them an eight-week paid intern. The Workplace paid the first four weeks; the employer was asked to split the cost for the second four. To reduce the employers’ risk, at any time the internship could be terminated. P2E would handle the separation. The solution provided internships in vacant jobs that the employers were actively filling. It solved an employer’s need, saved them money, and made them active participants in doing social good.
  3. Use Cash When Necessary. Once the program was designed, The Workplace needed community support. It presented the idea to individuals and at meetings throughout the community. Sponsors were offered an opportunity to be part of a national model to help people who had been tax-paying citizens to regain their place in the American Dream. The Workforce used the funds to pay the intern’s salary at the position’s full salary. When underway, however, The Workplace found that only fifty percent of the employers elected to take the funding.
  4. Craft Funding Request to Meet Donors’ Needs. When Joe Carbone went out to seek sponsorships for P2E, he understood that for some corporations and people, government funding created anxiety. He eliminated it from the program.

How to Use the Ideas in this Model

Be inspired to boldly design programs that serve your customers’ needs. What are the critical areas in your program design? What do your customer’s need most? How can you obtain the resources, i.e., jobs, for the long term unemployed that you need? Raise money as a tool to fund your most challenging components as necessary.

This month’s strategy explores one way a nonprofit solved its customers’ needs by creating a program that reduced their barriers to employment. Platform to Excellence is worth examining for its success, its design, and as an example of a traditionally funded government nonprofit that created services without government funding. What results can you create using this model?



Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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