CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: Grillo's Pickles

If you haven't been to the Grillo's Pickles website, you should. There, you'll find the fantastic story of how this company began. We've copied part of it here to save you a click.

Grillo's Pickles began with a pickle cart, just a small wooden stand in downtown Boston, where Travis Grillo and his friends would sell two spears for one dollar. Travis would make the pickles by night using his family's 100-year old recipe - one he'd memorized from making pickles every summer as a kid. In the morning, Travis would bike to the Boston Common and set up the cart with his buddies. They'd hang out all day, urging people to try the simple Grillo family pickle. It was a small business but Travis worked hard for it. He made more pickles, biked more miles, and slept less hours than he ever had before.
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CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: Factory Five Racing

Factory Five Racing was founded in 1995. Over the years they have grown from a start-up business in a small garage to become the world's largest manufacturer of "build-it-yourself" component car kits. They employ a full-time crew of about 40 people, and are located in Wareham, Massachusetts (about an hour south of Boston). They make their products right here in the USA, in the heart of New England where American manufacturing was born.
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CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: Luca + Danni

Fred and Danny Magnanimi grew up watching their father create beautiful, handcrafted jewelry in the family's Cranston, RI jewelry manufacturing business. When the boys grew up, Fred moved to New York and began working on Wall Street as an investment banker, while younger brother Danny, still enamored by the family business, stayed home. Increased competition from overseas businesses created significant challenges for the business, but Danny was confident he could find a way for the family business to evolve and thrive. This was his mission, this was his passion.
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        "The War on Charity: Nonprofits Should Take a Page from the For-Profit Handbook to Survive & Thrive"

        Nonprofit organizations do good, improve lives, strengthen communities, and lighten the burdens of government and society as a whole. Unfortunately charities are, more than ever before, facing exponentially growing needs, but competing for the same shrinking pool of dollars from donors and public and private funders.

        To add insult to injury, the federal government is targeting charities to raise additional revenues. The President’s 2015 budget proposal would cap charitable deductions for wealthier taxpayers. A bill introduced by the Republican chair of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee would, among other things, make charitable deductions more like the deductions for uninsured health expenses, subject nonprofits to a 25% surtax on executive compensation, require money in donor-advised funds to be paid within five years, and impose a 1% excise tax on large private colleges’ and universities’ endowments. These changes, if implemented, could significantly impair charitable giving.

        These proposals have little or no chance of passing during a midterm election year, but they should not be ignored. Fewer and fewer dollars left to fund greater and greater need, and more and more policymakers are viewing charitable giving as a source of government revenue. In this environment, mission and quality alone are insufficient. For a charity to survive and thrive, it should take a page from the for-profit handbook, and learn to mind its M’s and A’s.

        Measuring

        One of the most common ways that for-profit organizations measure success is return on investment (“ROI”). The ratio of resources invested to benefit obtained shows whether the product/service/program is effective and has value.

        Nonprofits historically have not been required to demonstrate mission-related ROI, but that is changing rapidly. Donors, funders, and evaluators are increasingly focused on mission-related results, and demanding accountability. Charities cannot prove positive outcomes unless they measure them.

        Most charities are in the early stages of measuring and reporting results. But measurement is not a luxury. Measuring ROI is the primary way that non-profits can assess – and more importantly, demonstrate - their effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and value to the community. Comprehensive measurement systems that confirm a strong ROI make a charity more competitive and attractive to the shrinking pool of private/public funders.

        Marketing

        Marketing is an unfamiliar concept for many charities. Unlike traditional fundraising, it goes beyond identifying interested parties and asking for money. Marketing means carefully defining the target markets, identifying their needs, designing products/programs/services to suit their needs, measuring customer satisfaction and adjusting products/programs/services accordingly, and communicating all of that to potential customers and others. And nonprofit marketing is more complicated than for-profit marketing, because nonprofits have at least two “target markets” whose needs do not always overlap: clients on the one hand, and donors/volunteers on the other.

        Effective marketing requires analysis, planning, and measurement, to devise and implement a plan that incorporates who the charity is serving, what they want/need, what criteria they use to judge success (and if they think the charity is successful), who else provides the same products/services/programs, and how the charity can distinguish itself from its “competitors”.

        Charities that want to survive and thrive in a competitive environment should strive for successful marketing.

        Advocacy

        Effective advocacy also is necessary for charities to survive and grow despite the war on charity. Effective advocacy is critical to combat budget cuts such as the “reforms” described above. It also allows charities to communicate their message, enlist partners, create momentum for change, and have a voice at the table on policy issues key to achieving their mission.

        Charities can – and should - engage in advocacy, despite legal restrictions on legislative and lobbying activity. In most cases, representatives of charities can attend public hearings, contact public officials to express their views, provide resources for clients, donors, and volunteers to do the same, provide expert testimony or educational support to public officials on subjects concerning their mission and funding, and educate the public to garner support for the charity, its mission, and its funding.

        Mergers & Acquisitions

        Over 2600 public charities are located in Rhode Island, approximately 1 for every 300 adults in the state. Donor fatigue is not just understandable, it seems unavoidable, and some Rhode Island charities are struggling to survive. Nonprofit mergers and acquisitions are one option to increase operating efficiencies, create synergies, decrease competition for resources, protect charitable assets, and do more good.

        Nevertheless, charities have been reluctant to consider M&A. They may be fearful of alienating loyal donors and employees. They may associate M&A with aggressive and predatory behavior unsuited to the nonprofit world.

        The key question is simple: could a single entity better achieve the charitable mission than two (or more) entities operating independently? Charities need to seriously consider that question and, if so, seriously evaluate M&A.

        Conclusion

        Charities are starkly different from for-profit businesses: they are designed to do good, not make money, and that shouldn’t change. But in order to survive and thrive, charities should look to the for-profit world. Charities that mind their M’s and A’s - through strategic consideration and/or implementation of measuring, marketing, advocacy, and mergers and acquisitions – will be the ones with sufficient strength, resiliency, and appeal to fulfill their charitable missions, despite the war on charity.