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UW-Milwaukee - Center for Economic Development

Technical Assistance Report Abstract

Milwaukee Non-Profit Venture Fund Planning Document, 9/98, by Marc V. Levine and Lauren A. McHargue

Executive Summary

In recent years, non-profit organizations across the country have become increasingly important institutions in meeting community needs and helping alleviate social problems. Milwaukee's non-profits are no exception, and in an era of shrinking government resources and highly competitive foundation funding, local non-profits face the daily challenge of "doing more with less." As a result, several Milwaukee nonprofit organizations have planned or launched business ventures, with three main aims:

  • Generating income to support all aspects of the organizational mission,
  • Creating community wealth, by launching businesses in neighborhoods plagued by disinvestment and low-levels of business activity; and
  • Meeting organizational "social missions," by providing employment and job training opportunities to clients and hard-to-employ community residents.

The Milwaukee Venture Fund Initiative (VFI) was created to nurture "social entrepreneurship" in the local non-profit community and help non-profits start, operate, and/or expand business ventures. The VFI emerged in three, somewhat overlapping phases over the past year. First, beginning in August 1997, exploratory meetings were held with Milwaukee-area foundations, corporate leaders, nonprofit organizations, and potential technical assistance providers, to gauge local interest in non-profit business development. These meetings, coordinated by the Helen Bader Foundation, Inc. in tandem with representatives from the Nonprofit Management Fund, revealed sufficient local interest to move forward with a venture-development planning process.

As the local "convener" of the VFI, the Helen Bader Foundation identified five local nonprofit organizations as participants in the project. These were the following:

  • The Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • The Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC)
  • Martin Luther King Drive Economic Development Corporation
  • Milwaukee Community Service Corps
  • The YWCA of Greater Milwaukee

All but one of these organizations was already operating a business venture prior to their participation in the VFI, while the other (the MLK Drive Economic Development Corporation) had begun business planning. Organizations taking part in the VFI were not chosen on the basis of sales, sectoral, or business experience considerations. Rather, the selected agencies represented a cross-section of capacity and sophistication in Milwaukee's non-profit community, marked chiefly by an interest in participating in what was characterized as a "demonstration project." The ultimate objective for each of the participating agencies -- and hence their incentive to take part in an extensive and time-consuming planning process -- was to:

  1. secure "customized" technical assistance, targeted to their particular business needs; and
  2. obtain capital for enterprise stabilization and growth through some type of "venture fund."

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