Community Shares' new socialenterprise will help clients with paperwork, funding.

When volunteers with the animal rescue organization, Stop the Suffering, were looking for a way to increase their outreach and raise awareness, they joined Community Shares of Mid Ohio. Being affiliated with the local nonprofit that helps social justice organizations raise money and build relationships has made a tremendous difference, says Stop the Suffering Executive Director Lynne Aronson. “I don't think we would be alive if it weren't for them,? she says.

Founded in 1992, Community Shares helps other nonprofits in a variety of ways. The organization works with employers to facilitate workplace giving opportunities for its members, offers seminars designed to help nonprofits operate more efficiently and helps members build beneficial relationships with other community agencies. The goal is to improve the community by working with charities that boost the region's health, welfare and progress, says Community Shares Executive Director Teresa Trost.

Community Shares is in the process of launching a new service that will help small to mid-size nonprofits process important paperwork. Equally important, she says, is that the endeavor will operate as a social enterprise—a business created to further a social cause—and demonstrate to members the value of finding a revenue-generating business to fund their good works.

“Identifying a service that other organizations need and finding a way to offer it to them that will generate income for Community Shares just made sense. In order to be successful long-term, organizations need to be thinking about ways to generate revenue that's not related to fundraising or grants,” she says. “We think adding a social-enterprise element to our organization will increase our financial stability and allow us to be a greater asset to our members.”

It's also a good example to set, she says. “If members see us having success, it may encourage them to adopt the social enterprise model.”

Finding a social enterprise venture to fund operations is vital to the success of a nonprofit, adds E.J. Thomas, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity MidOhio.

Lower government funding and increased competition for grants means charities really need to look for social enterprise opportunities, Thomas says. “Nonprofits that don't do what they can to create a social enterprise are gambling with their survival long-term,” he says.

Under Trost's direction, Community Shares is developing a process to help nonprofits—members and nonmembers alike—file the necessary permits and paperwork required by the state and the city of Columbus to run their operations and solicit funds. The documents must be filed and updated on regular schedules for nonprofits to remain in compliance with state and local regulations. Compiling the data and completing the paperwork can be a challenge for charitable organizations that run on limited budgets and with small staffs, she says.

Trost, who has a background in compliance, says she often fielded calls from members asking for help with the process. “I would often hear: ‘Can't you just do it for me?'” she says.

After discussing the idea with her board, they did market research to determine if the idea was viable. There seems to be a lot of interest in the service that she hopes will appeal to organizations with budgets ranging from $100,000 to $2.5 million.

No other company currently offers the service, Trost says, and it will allow charities to spend more time focusing on their missions. Trost anticipates being able to offer the new service in the fall.

She says launching Community Shares' own social enterprise will create a secure revenue source for the agency, which is one of the tasks she was given when she took the helm of the organization in late 2011. The additional income also will allow Community Shares to reduce the service fee it charges for fundraising, meaning more money will go to members.

“It's exciting. My goal is to make things easier for our members,” she says. “I can't solve our community's problems, but they can.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.