Turn a Profit

This competition for nonprofits encourages for-profit ideas.
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This story appears in the June 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Can charity be profitable? Yes, when you're talking about the National Business Plan Competition for Nonprofit Organizations, held annually by the Yale School of Management-The Goldman Sachs Foundation Partnership on Nonprofit Ventures. The competition aims to encourage nonprofit organizations to create for-profit divisions or subsets of their organizations, providing the nonprofit entity with more funding sources.

Started in 2003, the competition has been well-received, attracting about 500 entrants annually, says co-deputy director Samantha Beinhacker. "Nonprofits have long done this type of earned-income activity," Beinhacker says. "The competition helps them put a structure behind it."

Business consultants and experts help the 20 semifinalists sharpen business plans that can heighten their success, so even if a nonprofit doesn't win, it still receives valuable business guidance. While substantial cash prizes are awarded to winners ($100,000 each to four grand-prize winners, $25,000 each to four runners-up), entrants also consider the feedback they receive on submissions and the consulting and guidance they gain throughout the competition as highly prized elements, says co-deputy director Cynthia Massarsky.

As a 2004 grand-prize winner, San Francisco-based VolunteerMatch received yearlong consulting services, helping it thrive. The online service, started in 1998 by Jay Backstrand, 37, allows volunteers to match themselves with organizations that need their help. According to VolunteerMatch's president, Deborah Dinkelacker, the consulting services "helped us see the real guts of our service and innovate the VolunteerMatch corporate service." The company's for-profit service, which brings in over $650,000 annually, provides volunteer matching for corporations.

Finals of the third annual National Business Plan Competition for Nonprofit Organizations are scheduled for June 9-10. Click here for more information on this year's winners and application requirements for next year's competition.

Edition: July 2017

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