Whether it’s housing the poor, educating children, or feeding the hungry, nonprofits exist first and foremost to serve their beneficiaries and fulfill their stated mission. To achieve this purpose, most nonprofit organizations rely on a variety of funding sources including grants, individual donations, government contracts, and sometimes client fees.

Leaders and managers in organizations that rely heavily on grants and donations often operate with an “all or nothing” mindset, dependent on the success of a given grant proposal or donor fundraising campaign. This funding model can create a “scarcity mindset” limiting potential growth opportunities due to the continuous pursuit of grants and donations needed just to sustain the work they are currently doing.

Last month, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County (CCSCC) gathered together 20 staff members, representing 11 different program areas including housing, education, immigration legal services, health care, and refugee foster care. Gregory Kepferle, CEO at CCSCC wanted to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship as a model for expanding social impact while improving the organization’s financial sustainability.

“…by encouraging program leaders to start thinking like social enterprises, we can fulfill our mission and begin to reduce the need for donor funding.”

— Gregory Kepferle, CEO at CCSCC

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, in partnership with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara (CCSCC), created a customized 10-week program for program leaders, specifically designed to challenge their thinking about revenue sources, business models, and financial sustainability for the programs and services they deliver. Through a combination of structured curriculum and executive mentorship, each of the 11 teams will deepen their understanding of business model concepts and financial terms, identify key drivers of financial performance and impact, and develop “what-if” analyses to explore new approaches for programs and funding.

The program and the partnership with CCSCC is part of Miller Center’s ambitious new initiative to advance social entrepreneurship through partnerships with religious orders and institutions. The CASE (Catholic Action for Social Entrepreneurship) Initiative, which launched last year, intends to transform Catholic social ministries into social enterprises, create social entrepreneurship leaders and influencers within religious orders, and engage youth by providing opportunities to pursue social entrepreneurship as a vocation.

Can traditional nonprofits learn to develop an entrepreneurial mindset? Can they learn to think like a social enterprise? The signs are promising. The shift in philanthropy away from continuous annual funding and toward funding initiatives with the potential for long-term financial sustainability may make this an imperative for their future.