Hartford Foundation Program Boosts Nonprofits’ Earned Income Potential

Up to $120,000 in Matching Gifts Will Fuel Six Organizations’ Social Enterprises

Nonprofit organizations across the Greater Hartford region face an increased demand for services, while finding it difficult to raise enough money. Several local organizations are proactively meeting this challenge through social enterprise: selling a product or service that complements their mission and supports the financial sustainability of the organization.

This self-supporting approach to revenue generation is new to many nonprofits in Greater Hartford. In response, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and its Nonprofit Support Program (NSP) launched the Social Enterprise Accelerator, designed to help organizations expand beyond traditional grants and donations. The first cohort of ten nonprofits started the program in 2019; the second cohort of six is currently engaged in the process.  

The Foundation just announced a matching challenge: for every dollar of start-up capital raised by the nonprofits in the second cohort, the Foundation will match dollar for dollar, up to 50 percent of each organization’s goal, not to exceed $20,000. The announcement followed “Fast Pitch” sessions on March 1 and March 9 when organizations presented their business plans to current and potential donors and made a direct ask for financial support toward startup capital needs. The matching challenge runs through June 8.

“The enthusiasm and effort that area nonprofit organizations have brought to the Social Enterprise Accelerator program has exceeded our expectations,” said Director of Capacity Building and Nonprofit Support, Melanie Tavares. “While the creative ideas these organizations have brought forward are truly exciting, we were even more impressed by their level of commitment to developing detailed and viable business plans. Nonprofits in Greater Hartford have an appetite for social enterprise and a need for new revenue sources; we are proud to help them meet that need.”

This three-year program began in the summer of 2021 with a series of four intensive workshops on social enterprise. Of the 28 agencies that began the program, six were accepted for additional business plan development, implementation support and fundraising coaching. The Social Enterprise Accelerator is provided in partnership with No Margin, No Mission, a national consulting firm dedicated to helping nonprofits increase their earned income and entrepreneurial capacity.                                                   

The mission of End Hunger CT! (EHC!) is to eliminate hunger and promote healthy nutrition through outreach and support, public education, and legislative and administrative advocacy. EHC! works closely with local food banks which serve as the primary source of food assistance throughout the state. Beyond food banks, there is no coordinated support system for food assistance agencies to purchase food, efficiently share food between organizations, support logistical needs for supplies and services, or share information, problem solve and communicate with one another.

To respond to these challenges, EHC! has created the Full Shelves Initiative, an entrepreneurial venture designed to support food assistance agencies in efficiently and cost-effectively feeding their communities. The initiative involves:

  • a wholesale buying group offering contract pricing for food, including delivery,
  • a proprietary online resource, “The CT Food Exchange,” allowing agencies to coordinate surplus food sharing,
  • a comprehensive resource of best practices, supplies, and services,
  • an online forum for communicating and crowdsourced problem-solving.

EHC!’s target market includes all food assistance agencies in the state: food pantries, soup kitchens, mobile pantries, senior outreach and home-bound assistance programs, and after school/ summer/weekend backpack programs.

The concept of the Full Shelves Initiative started when the pandemic highlighted gaps in our state’s food assistance needs,” said Julieth Callejas, Interim Administrative Director of End Hunger CT!. “Connecticut’s food bank system provides so much valuable and necessary assistance to pantries, soup kitchens and other non-profit agencies, but we noticed these entities often need further support in purchasing and communicating with one another about additional supplies to meet the increased needs of their communities. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Hartford Foundation and No Margin No Mission to provide groundbreaking support for our hard working food assistance agencies.

Since 1978, the Hartford Food System (HFS) has had a mission to fight hunger and improve nutrition with the goal of creating a healthy, culturally responsive, just, resilient, and sustainable food system that meets the needs of all residents. The HFS social enterprise involves the creation of the Hartford Harvest Farm Share, an aggregated CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), focused on farmers of color.

This effort engages local farmers to provide fresh produce to residents and will help small and mid-size growers generate new revenue and reach new customers. Families buy shares for $30 per week. HFS accepts several payment methods including SNAP, with income assistance available to qualifying families. HFS piloted the effort in 2021, engaging seven farmers, including three urban growers, providing local produce to 25 families over 16 weeks. In 2022, HFS is seeking to engage at least ten farmers and reach 90 families, providing two pick-up locations and extending the season to 18 weeks.

“Creating a new revenue stream and the opportunity to think more like a business rather than a nonprofit has allowed us to strategically begin developing models that might further support other programs,” said Hartford Food System, Inc. Executive Director Billie C. Scruse, M.P.A. “Communicating with potential investors about our priorities and navigating how we execute successful next steps going forward have been a resourceful tool. We appreciate the support of the Hartford Foundation, and our team is enthusiastic about the future of our social enterprise, Hartford Harvest Farm Share. We can now envision other diverse project investment ventures to come which will help us grow, feed, and educate our community!”

In addition to End Hunger CT! and Hartford Food System, four other nonprofit organizations (and ventures) are part of the three-year program:

Established in the late 1980s, the Nonprofit Support Program (NSP) at the Hartford Foundation is key to the Foundation's capacity-building efforts, annually serving more than 200 nonprofits and giving $2 million in grants. NSP's close contact with Greater Hartford's nonprofits provides it with a unique understanding of the trends within the sector.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding towns. Through partnerships, the Foundation seeks to strengthen communities in Greater Hartford by putting philanthropy in action to dismantle structural racism and achieve equity in social and economic mobility. Made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations, the Foundation has awarded grants of more than $894 million since its founding in 1925. For more information, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.