How should we adapt our business model to a changing environment?

Strengthening the bottom line

In nonprofit organizations, a tension often exists between mission and margin. Good news: these are not mutually exclusive ideas. When change happens –in funding, populations served, legislation, competition, or growth – Fairmount develops business plans that marry nonprofit mission and culture with new or redefined services that meet community needs and attract revenue.

Montgomery Early Learning Centers (MELC) is one of the region’s largest and best regarded providers of early childhood education and after-school programing. With multiple locations and programs in the city and counties, MELC had outgrown its business model and needed a new organizing principle in order to continue to thrive and respond to the growing interest in high-quality early education. Fairmount was retained to develop a new business model that would assure that each location operates effectively and cost efficiently, while creating a structure that could take advantage of the growing demand for MELC’s services in more communities. The outcome was a new business model to match MELC’s ambition, resulting in a financially stable organization that has experienced substantial programmatic growth and influence in the field.

Dramatic and ongoing changes in Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act coupled with a shifting philanthropy marketplace posed serious questions for Community Volunteers in Medicine, a volunteer-driven nonprofit that provides free coordinated healthcare to low-income, uninsured individuals in Chester County. Should we accept insurance? Should we send patients elsewhere if they are insured? Should we expand or cap the number of people we serve? How can we assist patients to address social issues like housing, food shortages, and education that impact their health and wellbeing? Through a comprehensive evaluation and planning process, Fairmount probed questions like these in order to devise a plan for the future. The plan included a strategy to partner with other care providers, school districts, government agencies, and health and human services organizations; to invest in social workers to help patients access important resources; and to consider satellite locations for expanded reach.

Founded in the 1970s as a community arts hub, the University City Arts League sought to position its programming for optimal visibility and impact in the context of the neighborhood’s changing demographics and centers of activity. Through a market-driven business assessment, Fairmount evaluated UCAL’s mix and costs of programming, philanthropic opportunities, and capacity to enhance membership, advising UCAL on how it could expand enrollment through dynamic day-to-night programming and attract new audiences and revenues. The resulting plan has guided UCAL’s work and growth since 2013 with a strategy that’s both bringing more people in and taking more of its engaging programming outside of the Arts League’s walls. Outcomes include an increasing annual budget; an after-school program that has tripled in size; expansion of summer camp programming to year-round offerings; increasing enrollment revenue; new partnerships for expanded reach; and enhanced, grant-funded community arts programming in schools, senior centers, and shared public spaces.