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Welcome to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s Inspired Giving podcast, where we spend time with innovators and change-makers in the world of non-profits and social enterprise in Tampa Bay. Since 1990, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has been inspiring creative philanthropy and leadership in the Tampa Bay region by working with donors, non-profit organization, and community leaders to build a more vibrant community.

01/29/2019 | Episode 006 | 30:41

Inspired Giving Podcast: Eleanor Saunders, Echo of Brandon

Eleanor Saunders talks shifting mindsets from nonprofit to for-purpose business, social enterprise, and ECHO's work toward systemic change

On this episode of the Inspired Giving Podcast, host Wilma Norton welcomes Eleanor Saunders, executive director of ECHO of Brandon. Saunders shares her experiences building a social enterprise (ECHO Handmade) into an existing nonprofit and shifting the nonprofit mindset. In 2017, ECHO won the grand prize of $25,000 from the Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch Business Accelerator for its social enterprise. ECHO Handmade not only upcycles existing clothing donations into handmade purses, leather cuffs, and key chains, it also gives its clients, called artisans, professional training in sewing and metal work.

Key Insights

  • Today's guest: Eleanor Saunders, Executive Director of ECHO of Brandon.
  • ECHO has been operating in Brandon for more than 30 years, but with Saunders has been at the helm in the last four years, the organization launched ECHO Handmade.
  • Saunders looked to get at the root of the reasons why clients were coming to ECHO: "When I got to ECHO three and a half years ago, I pulled our front desk workers and I was like, 'Why are people coming?'" "The overriding thing we heard over and over and over is, 'I’m either unemployed or underemployed.'"
  • ECHO got to work solving the employment problem, streamlining classes and getting people working again: "Anything from free GED, to job seekers’ program, to financial literacy, and then our back to work program, which is our social enterprise called, Echo Handmade."
  • In 2017, ECHO won SVP Fast Pitch Business Accelerator (which is a fund within the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay) and subsequently the grand prize of $25,000 in unrestricted funding.
  • Along with grand prize came extensive business mentoring from SVP Partners, "anything from finances to marketing to scaling your business to sales."
  • Big takeaways from SVP: Rethinking the structure of a nonprofit organization as a "for-purpose business." "What SVP allowed us to do was to think more strategically in like an actual business, to get out of that nonprofit mindset."
  • ECHO Handmade: "We took clothing donations because that’s what we had and we just started looking at those clothing donations as just material... then we up cycle it into cross body bags, wallets tote bags, out of leather jackets, cuffs made out of belts, and cookie sheets and that kind of thing."
  • ECHO Handmade participants: "They're called artisans and we pair them with either local artists or seamstresses from our community that volunteer their time."
  • Case studies: "Roslyn, who sews for us now, she’s our senior artisan, she's couldn’t even thread the machine when she came on and now she's sewing on a commercial machine - leather - which is tricky." "Our senior artisan, Frank, did his own market this weekend for the very first time ever."
  • "What social enterprise allows a nonprofit to do is have unrestricted operating which does allow you to be more innovative or hire staff or go to a training or send your staff to training or whatever you need to do in order to be better at what you do."
  • "Our desire is that you walk out of ECHO fully resourced, not just for food and clothes but like, 'This is my next step. This is where I’m gonna go.'"
  • Saunders' background: "Both my parents grew up in abject poverty...Both my parents lived through the depression. Both of them overcame poverty through education. Mom is a registered nurse and my dad was a civil engineer."
  • Saunders began her career in direct service at the Children's Home. While raising children, she started her own purse business, which stemmed into ECHO Handmade's tie bag design.
  • "I think the greatest achievement is just seeing how our artisans have grown and being able to provide for themselves. So like Frank, as a result of his pay with ECHO handmade, bought his first car in 11 years, pays for his own insurance, opened up a first bank account they hadn’t had in 11 years."
  • "Brandon doesn't have a neighborhood service center. Brandon doesn't have a shelter. If someone needs their rent paid, we have to send them to Plant City, Ruskin, or Tampa. I mean, the services are not there. It's on the shoulders of the nonprofit to do it."
  • "So what really does keep me up at night is lack of affordable housing and lack of shelter."
  • "A lot of this like startup type stuff, it fails. If you don’t have the guts to do it and be okay if it doesn't all work out, if you don't have that, don't do it."
  • "We’re really on the front lines of trying to change some really systemic like hard-core issues in our community."

"If you have an idea, there’s just not a lot of air for failure in this whole system. And in order to be innovative, you have to be allowed to fail."

"I think a silo is a luxury, and we can’t afford that luxury in unincorporated Eastern Hillsborough County; we just can’t afford it. The need is way too great."

Table of Contents

(0:00 – 2:16) Introduction

(2:16 – 4:46) Social Venture Partners Experience

(4:46 – 5:08) Classes for Developing a Business Model

(5:08 – 7:06) What is Echo Handmade?

(7:06 – 7:31) Clients and Sales

(7:31 – 9:47) Advantages of SVP

(9:47 – 10:22) Stresses of a Startup Business

(10:22 – 11:57) Client Scale

(11:57 – 14:43) Work and Life Background

(14:43 – 15:54) Greatest Echo Achievement and Vision

(15:54 – 18:04) What Gets You Up in the Morning?

(18:04 – 19:08) What Keeps You Up at Night?

(19:08 – 20:03) Organizations and Collaborations

(20:03 – 21:20) Getting a Better View of Nonprofit Organizations

(21:20 – 22:28) Building Trust

(22:28 – 25:42) Recommended Resources for Social Enterprise

(25:42 – 28:23) Social Venture Partners

(28:23 – 29:53) The Essence of Echo and Echo Handmade

(29:53 – 30:14) Connect with Echo and Echo Handmade

 

Full Transcript: 

WILMA: Welcome to another edition of the Inspired Giving Podcast from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Our guest today is Eleanor Saunders from ECHO of Brandon and Eleanor, hello and welcome.

 

ELEANOR: Hello.

 

WILMA: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about ECHO and what you do to help our community.

 

ELEANOR: Awesome so Echo has been around for 31 years, and we provide emergency food and clothing and connections to community resources. Last year, we served over 16,000 local residents. In addition to that, we don’t just provide food and clothes, we provide opportunities for our neighbors to provide for themselves.

 

WILMA: And that’s what’s very exciting about your program. So, talk a little bit more about that.

 

ELEANOR: Okay, so that all takes place in our Opportunity Center. And when I got to ECHO three and a half years ago, I pulled our front desk workers and I was like, “Why are people coming?” Like what’s really the root of…? It’s usually not because people are starving, it’s because there’s something else going on that makes purchasing food almost like an impossibility to them. So what is it? And the overriding thing we heard over and over and over is, “I’m either unemployed or underemployed.” So we really streamlined any classes that we were offering at the time. We got rid of a couple that were near and dear to a lot of people’s hearts but we just really wanted to streamline it so that it just focused on helping people get back to work.

 

ELEANOR: So anything from free GED, to job seekers’ program, to financial literacy, and then our back to work program, which is our social enterprise called, Echo Handmade. We just want to create opportunities for people to be able to provide for their families.

 

WILMA: We got to know each other because you were a participant in Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch Business Accelerator for Social Enterprise last year and SVP is a fund within the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and we provide some prizes for that fast pitch competition, but more than that. It’s a business training for the nonprofits who participate. So I wanted to you to share with everyone a little bit about how that worked. What you learned and what that’s meant for your social enterprise and for Echo.

 

ELEANOR: Okay, great.

 

WILMA: That’s a question, so go!

 

ELEANOR: So we applied for the Social Venture Partners and we became one of the finalists which we were overjoyed about. Part of the program is you have to attend six different incubator classes, anything from finances to marketing to scaling your business to sales. That was super helpful for me because in the nonprofit world a lot of times, you can kinda get on that. It’s like almost like… I don’t know how to explain it, but just this wheel that it’s hard to get off of. We have a program idea; we know we need to fund this program. We’re gonna write a grant for it. If we don’t get the grant funding, we’re probably not gonna do the program because we don’t have the funding. It’s just this this constant cycle of if you have a successful program not knowing if you can continue to fund it. If you have an idea, there’s just not a lot of air for failure in this whole system. And in order to be innovative, you have to be allowed to fail. What Social Venture Partners with those classes really allowed us to do was to think more strategically in like an actual business kinda get out of that nonprofit mindset. I found that to be the most helpful thing above all.

 

WILMA: And that’s what we hear from a lot of nonprofits is, nonprofit doesn’t mean not making any profit.

 

ELEANOR: Yeah, exactly.

 

WILMA: It’s just, it’s really more of a tax classification; it’s not a description of how you should operate.

 

ELEANOR: Yeah, I started calling us just a for-purpose business.

 

WILMA: That’s a great phrasing.

 

ELEANOR: We’re for for-purpose business. That’s what we do. Social Ventures what I liked, too, is that brought together like 13 nonprofit professionals that were just really thinking outside the box as well, Just rubbing shoulders with them there was real camaraderie to our class. I found that incredibly encouraging.

 

WILMA: I think you can feel like you’re out on an island doing your thing.

 

ELEANOR: Absolutely.

 

WILMA: And it doesn’t matter what your mission is you have a lot of the same issues.

 

ELEANOR: Absolutely.

 

WILMA: So, what kinds of classes helped to you in developing your business model?

 

ELEANOR: I think for us, with Echo Handmade, we upcycle excess clothing donations. And so for us, the two classes I found most helpful were the ones on sales, actual sales, and then scaling. Joe Finney taught on how to scale your business and I found those two to be most helpful for us.

 

WILMA: Talk a little bit about what Echo Handmade is because you guys do some really interesting, and creative, and cool things.

 

ELEANOR: Okay, so we knew we had a lot of people that were out of work. They come and see us every single day. We have a glut clothing donations. We put the best of the best for our families. They each receive, I mean, an enormous clothing for each family; we’re still left with excess. Stuff the ripped one out to date, whatever, dog hair everywhere; whatever you wanna do. So we do what every nonprofit that deals with does – we salvage it. Just like an end-salvage company for pennies. Any and so we tried to figure out away how can we marry these two? People who are going to our jobseeker’s class that are still struggling. How can we help them really give them on-the-job training, pay them for their work, and take something that is excessive at ECHO and turn it into abundance.

 

ELEANOR: We took clothing donations because that’s what we had and we just started looking at those clothing donations as just material; it’s just material. Some instead of going to Joanne Fabrics, we go into our recycling bins. We just see this material and then we up cycle it into cross body bags, wallets tote bags, out of leather jackets, cuffs made out of belts, and cookie sheets and that kind of thing. So that’s what Echo Handmade is.

 

WILMA: Then the people who participate in your program, they actually make the item, correct?

 

ELEANOR: Right. They’re called artisans and we pair them with either local artists or seamstresses from our community that volunteer their time and they learn like Roslyn who sews for us now, she’s our senior artisan, she’s couldn’t even thread the machine when she came on and now she’s sewing on a commercial machine – leather – which is tricky.

 

WILMA: Right.

 

ELEANOR: And then Frank who is our other senior artisan. He does all the metal stamping and leatherwork. He’s recovering now of homelessness, but we paired him with a local artist to teach you how to do those skills and now they’ll teach more artisans coming up.

 

WILMA: And then you sell these items and I really love the leather cuffs they made out of the belts and the cookie sheet. That’s incredible.

 

ELEANOR: Thanks.

 

WILMA: You sell those items, do your clients that you serve, are they involved in learning sales and that sort of thing?

 

ELEANOR: Okay, so our senior artisan, Frank, did his own market this weekend for the very first time ever. So he was with one of our committee members who handled all the money but Frank did all the direct sales so that was really new for him.

 

WILMA: So you’re teaching those kinds of skills too?

 

ELEANOR: Yup.

 

WILMA: Now, before you went through the Social Venture Partners program. This program already existed. Going through this program, what kind of advantage has this been for that business that the money goes back in and then to help your enterprise?

 

ELEANOR: Okay so we won, which was phenomenal, like 25 grand. But then, I was also assigned mentors George and Joan Lang, and that was incredibly helpful because George has a financial background, so he really impressed upon me because I’m passionate, I have vision, and he’s like, “You can have that all day long but unless you know how to put together pro forma you’ll never sell that to investors.”

 

ELEANOR: He really put my feet to the fire and made me really be very, very disciplined that this isn’t just a great idea and it’s not just that feel-good but this is really a viable business and the gross margins are phenomenal. If you/we get right we could really do a lot of good with it. So the mentoring aspect of the program really, really helped us. And then, what that prize money allowed us to do is I could hire a coordinator. Because before, in our first couple of years, it was just me. So I’m leading ECHO as the organization were growing as an organization and now I’m leading the social enterprise so was a lot of hours and I was getting really tired. So I knew in order to grow the enterprise, I had to have help so that’s what that prize money allowed us to do, it gave me a buffer for two years.

 

WILMA: And our listeners, if you met Eleanor, you would know for her to say she is tired, she’s this incredible high energy person. But I think those are some of the struggles that a lot of nonprofits have is that they spread themselves very thin when they have a good idea.

 

ELEANOR: And you have to like that sort of saying before in the nonprofit sector, it’s so hard sometimes to innovate because your margins for error so slim. Funders want… they want to give me $20 to buy 80 boxes of macaroni and cheese at cut rate, and they want me to serve 40 families on a Tuesday. It’s incredibly specific, some of the funding, most of the funding. So, what social enterprise allows a nonprofit to do is have unrestricted operating which does allow you to be more innovative or hire staff or go to a training or send your staff to training or whatever you need to do in order to be better at what you do.

 

WILMA: I know that there is stress and trying to basically kick off this startup business.

 

ELEANOR: Yeah, it is.

 

WILMA: Is that less stressful than wondering where every grant dollar is going to come from?

 

ELEANOR: It’s a different kind of stress. It’s just different stress.

 

ELEANOR: But the cool thing is, because I have to think like a for-profit business on the ECHO Handmade side, it has bled over into the ECHO side, which has been super helpful because in business, sales are king but you have to control your expenses. Same with me on the ECHO side, funding is king but I have to control my expenses. That’s really helped me quite a bit.

 

WILMA: That’s great. How many clients do you serve? Give us a little idea of the scale.

 

ELEANOR: Okay so we just opened our second location two months ago. And we usually would average 20 families day at our North Brandon campus. About five or six at our new location because we just opened. But something dramatic has happened in the last three weeks, unfortunately. We’re still trying to figure out what it is. We are averaging 35 families a day and our new location has already seen 14 families in a day. For the first time in our history, we’re needing out this point to put a sign out on our door that says, “The first 30 are the ones that are gonna be served today.” Because with over 30 families in four hours, it’s just too much for volunteers and it’s too much for our front office staff. Our desire is that we don’t just do food and clothes and talk to them about our classes. Our desire is that you walk out of ECHO fully resourced, not just for food and clothes but like, “This is my next step. This is where I’m gonna go. These guys are gonna help me financially. These guys are gonna help me find housing. These guys are gonna help me with case management.” Whatever it is. And we can’t do when we’re seeing such a high volume. So that’s what been going on lately. Unprecedented growth, which is great, but in our business, to see that many families really struggling.

 

WILMA: One of the things that I think is appealing about a program like yours is that it’s that classic not just give people a fish, teach them to fish and we need to find another adage or metaphor, or whatever that is. But you really are helping people learn skills and those kinds of things.

 

ELEANOR: Yeah.

 

WILMA: How did you come to this work?

 

ELEANOR: How did I come to this work?

 

ELEANOR: So both my parents grew up in abject poverty. My mom, their family had six children at one point were homeless. Up in the wintertime in Canada and lived in a warehouse behind a general store at one point. Both my parents lived through the depression. Both of them overcame poverty through education. Mom is a registered nurse and my dad was a civil engineer. But my parents always lived well below their means, so that meant I grew up in a very poor area of Indianapolis, Indiana. That’s just where my parents are most comfortable. Even though we always had food in fridge, the best friend that I have still to this day that I grew up with, she didn’t have food in her fridge. Since my mom is a nurse, anytime somebody got hurt, had a huge gash in their leg, whatever it was that came to our house because they couldn’t afford to go to a doctor or the hospital, to see if my mom could fix it. One time in particular, we used to have two tables in our kitchen, one was like a little table that my brother and I would have snacks at. I came downstairs one day and the neighbors were pulling out our little dinette table and I asked my mom, “Why are they taking our table?” And she said, “Because we have two and they have none.” I just grew up in a family like that, and I think it really impacted me to not grow up in a family that was poor but grow up in poverty, if that makes sense.

 

WILMA: That does make sense.

 

ELEANOR: So I kind and could straddle both worlds and was exposed to both worlds, and I was raised in a Christian home, a very strong Christian home. That just left a huge impression on me that we’re supposed to help.

 

WILMA: So you’re going into your fourth year.

 

ELEANOR: Fourth year as the executive director, yeah.

 

WILMA: What did you do before that?

 

ELEANOR: Well, my first job ever was with the Children’s Home up in Illinois and I was a case manager. I did home visits and loved it. I love direct service, so I loved it. And then we moved to Texas and I stayed home for 12 years because I had three babies in three years and I started a purse business. So the tie bag at Echo Handmade were actually from my little bag business. I learned a lot of business through all of that, just working my own business.

 

ELEANOR: So, I ran my little business, raised my kiddos and then we moved to Florida 15 years ago. And as soon as we did, we moved to Brandon and I was like, “Who’s doing it?” I found ECHO and I started volunteering at ECHO and I was hired at ECHO, became their center director then went and work for junior achievement and actually church for about six years and then came back to ECHO.

 

WILMA: Your path has been toward this whole life.

 

ELEANOR: Yeah, my whole life. I’m one of those weird ones that went to college knowing exactly what they wanted to do and I’m still doing it.

 

WILMA: That’s awesome.

 

ELEANOR: Yeah.

 

WILMA: And when she says the tie bags, they make these cross body bags out of neckties; they’re really beautiful.

 

ELEANOR: Vintage ties and suit coats.

 

WILMA: They’re really beautiful.

 

ELEANOR: Thank you.

 

WILMA: So what do you think is the greatest achievement of the whole ECHO Handmade and ECHO in recent times, and what’s your vision?

 

ELEANOR: I think the greatest achievement is just seeing how our artisans have grown and being able to provide for themselves. So like Frank, as a result of his pay with ECHO handmade, bought his first car in 11 years, pays for his own insurance, opened up a first bank account they hadn’t had in 11 years. What I thought was so amazing, he drove that car to Jacksonville and reconnected with his biological family. One of the things that keeps people in homelessness is that disconnection from family and so that’s huge. Roslyn who is our she’s our seamstress, she’s our artisan that sews, she continues with her GED, she’s regular in all her GED classes. She has such a strong social connection now in a group that she knows she can depend on. She takes care of her elderly sister who is really, really ill and now she has money of her own. So I think that’s the greatest success. I mean, we had success in as far as sales, and people love our staff and that’s really great, but I think the biggest success is just seeing it actually impacted our artisans.

 

WILMA: So I always ask people and I think you’ve already shared some of this, what gets you up in the morning? What gets you going? Why do you do what you do? You’ve told us a little of that.

 

ELEANOR: What gets me up in the morning is opportunity. I just feel like opportunity is everywhere, and if we can catch those opportunities, we can really make our community a better place for the people in our community. So that’s what keeps me going. I’m just like there’s so many things to solve, right? I just feel like if we all collectively work together, we can do it.

 

WILMA: As you’re talking, I am thinking, I think of Brandon as this sort of middle-class, upper middle-class suburb, do you fight that all the time?

 

ELEANOR: I fight it with people who don’t live in Brandon. There’s so much poverty, just to the north of us in Seffner, so much drug use and we have a huge problem with homelessness. The interesting thing about Brandon in that unincorporated thing that they do here in Florida which I still don’t understand is that it falls on the shoulders of the nonprofit community. Brandon doesn’t have a neighborhood service center. Brandon doesn’t have a shelter. If someone needs their rent paid, we have to send them to Plant City, Ruskin, or Tampa. I mean, the services are not there. It’s on the shoulders of the nonprofit to do it. It’s a flunky little place that we call home.

 

WILMA: And I think there are pockets like that in all of our counties in our service area. I mean, I live in St. Petersburg and I can also think of the Lealman area has had some attention paid it recently but…

 

ELEANOR: My friend, Neil is out there.

 

WILMA: That’s right. Has been kind that same way. It’s sort of where that unincorporated pocket sometimes are where people end up who don’t have a lot of opportunity.

 

ELEANOR: Right.

 

WILMA: I think people don’t think about that people who are listening to this may think of Brandon only as the mall and the Top Golf.

 

ELEANOR: Exactly. But if you go farther than the top golf… When you look at all the exciting building that’s going on in Tampa, where are those people going? They’re coming east.

 

ELEANOR: They’re coming out to Brandon.

 

WILMA: That probably feeds into what keeps you up at night then. I think I can guess where that’s going.

 

ELEANOR: So what really does keep me up at night is lack of affordable housing and lack of shelter. What breaks my heart especially are these kids. I call them kids with these young 20s, they’ve nowhere to go. If you’re a 22-year-old girl with no kids, Salvation Army downtown, there’s nowhere to send them. We had a 22-year-old transgender kid come in the other day and I’m sitting back my office, and I’m hearing them talk to her front desk crew and I just started crying because I was like, “Man, I wanted to take him home.” The kid is working at Subway, he’s sleeping in the park. That’s what keeps me up at night; there has to be solution to all this. We have to be able to get better answers on the frontlines and we’re still trying to figure out what that is. And that’s why I’m really into this whole concept of collective impact and figuring that out because it can’t just ECHO that solves a big problem, it’s a huge problem has to be attacked on multiple fronts.

 

WILMA: So what other organizations do you work with because I know you’re a very collaborative spirit as well.

 

ELEANOR: Yes. So, Men’s Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center, St. Vincent De Paul and Family Promise. I would say out in our part of the county, they are very best friends, they’re our best friends. I have them on speed dial. Metropolitan Ministries just moved out an office with their first hug and we’re still folding them in because the executive directors, all of us, we are very close friends and we trust each other and serve a lot of the same families.

 

WILMA: I think that’s something you mentioned from the SVP experience and something at the Community Foundation, we are encouraged to see more of, is sort of that breaking down of silos, that recognition that none of us can do this on our own.

 

ELEANOR: It’s a luxury. I think a silo is a luxury, and we can’t afford that luxury in unincorporated Eastern Hillsborough County; we just can’t afford it. The need is way too great.

 

WILMA: I don’t think probably any of us can afford that luxury. What do you think would surprise people who are not too in tune to the nonprofit community and how it works? What kinds of things should people know to have a better view of what the nonprofits are doing in our area?

 

ELEANOR: I think you need to look at the nonprofit and really see their impact. Like for us at Echo, we are convinced that if we ever disappeared, our community will feel it within hours. We know we make that impact; we are that safety net for our community. I think people need to understand the ROI. You know there’s a huge return on investment like when you get to something like Echo or Women’s Resource or Family Promise. There is such a huge return on investment about what we’re creating for the community. I also think they really need to understand that we can be trusted with their dollars, that they don’t have to be so worried that if it’s not spent on mac & cheese that it’s good to be wasted. We still need to pay payroll, we still need to pay our TECO bills, we still need to pay insurance in the dumpster fee and all that kind of thing. Just letting nonprofit professionals that you really trust have the freedom to do what they know is best. We’re all governed by boards. It’s not like you have like the Lone Ranger, executive director out there doing whatever they want. It’s a collective leadership.

 

WILMA: If someone is interested in the kind of work that you do, how do you help them build that trust? What kinds of things would you suggest that they do to be sure that they are good with handing over some of their time or their dollars or whatever?

 

ELEANOR: We strongly encourage ride-alongs. We want people to come and sit next our front desk staff or we want people to work in our pantry. We want people to come and take two hours and tutor on our GED. We’re really proud of what we do and we’re really proud of the level of excellence that we provide for our families. Over and over, anytime anybody has a tour of Echo or gets to volunteer at ECHO, they say, “I had no idea,” or, “Oh my goodness, this is so clean and organized. I just thought that I’d find like piles of clothing.”

 

ELEANOR: Nope. We encourage ride-alongs. Absolutely. Pull 990s. Every nonprofit has to do a 990. Just pull 990s, see how they’re spending their money, and who’s getting what, and where it’s going.

 

WILMA: I know you probably have an opinion on this, too. We have other people who’ve been here who talk about don’t just look at the 990, however.

 

ELEANOR: Right? That’s why we encourage ride-alongs. Just come and see what we’re doing.

 

WILMA: Are there resources you would recommend both to people who are in your position as running a nonprofit that wants to get into more of a social enterprise, finding ways to feed the mission, but also make money, or for someone who’s interested maybe in becoming a donor to know more about? Are there some resources that you would recommend?

 

ELEANOR: There’s the Social Enterprise Alliance. I went to one of their conferences like 10 years ago. They were talking about the definition of social entrepreneur. I remember sitting there with my friend who is also an executive director and I banged her really hard and I’m like, “That’s what I am!” She was like, “That’s what you are!” That was great. So if anyone’s really interested in social enterprise, I would highly recommend Social Enterprise Alliance, SEA. Also the Children’s Board is a phenomenal business plan competition. We did that first. And it’s also like a six week course, boom, boom, boom. And they make you write every single section of an actual business plan. So helpful. And then you have to do a pitch, as well. And then Social Venture Partners, that’s a great resource now that we have locally. Phenomenal. So that’s what I would encourage people at their social enterprise. And then just do some research and really see what people are doing and who’s doing it well. The thing that we have to understand the social enterprise, like 80% of all food trucks fail within the first 24 months. A lot of this like startup type stuff, it fails. If you don’t have the guts to do it and be okay if it doesn’t all work out, if you don’t have that, don’t do it.

 

WILMA: Right.

 

ELEANOR: Don’t do it. It’s so much work.

 

ELEANOR: It can be amazing for your nonprofit but know that there is risk involved. There just is and then your board has to be on board to wear you through it until you can be profitable because not every small business like right out the gate is profitable, they’re just not. So most social enterprises are not gonna be profitable right out the gate. We had to buy sewing machines. We had to buy supplies and cutting boards and rotary. There’s all that kind of thing. So anyway, that’s what I would encourage with social enterprise. And then figure out who’s doing it and then go visit them and see how they’re doing it. I have found that most people involved in social enterprise are very generous with their information, with their failures, with their lessons they’ve learned. I’m working with a couple of nonprofits just trying to help them like I was learning from everything we’ve done wrong so you don’t do it. I’ve a friend in Miami. She runs the largest homeless ministry in Miami. Her name is Hilda, she’s amazing. Once we get a little more ECHO Handmade in a box, proof of concept, I want one more year. And then we’re gonna franchise it to her because it’s something that anybody who deals with clothing could do. We’re still figuring out if this is the best pattern to use. This is how you cut leather. These are the best machines to use. That kind of thing. So that’s what encourage people with social enterprise. As far as nonprofit, I just did tons of internships. I mean, I just got as much experience as I possibly could and even from a very young age, just volunteer as much as I could. That’s how I got my first job at ECHO. I was a stayed home mom and I started volunteering at ECHO. Just volunteer and get yourself out there and see what people are doing and if it rings true with your passion in your heart then go for it.

 

WILMA: I wanted to follow-up that with a little commercial for Social Venture Partners for people who might not know what that is. Social Venture Partners contribute money each year into a fund at the Community Foundation but they also commit to give of their time and their expertise to be mentors, to offer what they have learned in their careers to nonprofits. We’ve watched that program grow now over the past three or four years and just had the most recent pitch competition that featured 10 nonprofits that went through the business plan, training, and the mentorship and the pitch competition. So I hope that Shepherd’s Village which was the winner this year.

 

ELEANOR: My buddy from Sewn Apart got second.

 

WILMA: I hope that I’ll be able to talk to some of them, too because that’s one of the goals of this podcast and of ours is to help more nonprofits understand the social enterprise space.

 

ELEANOR: One thing we’ve realized about social enterprise that we never really… We get so busy trying to figure out like what are we gonna make that people actually want to buy all that good stuff? ECHO Handmade has been a marketing boon for ECHO. It’s put us on a stage we are never before. When I got to do Social Venture Partners, the first pitch, it put me on a stage in South Tampa. People never heard of ECHO; they had no clue how many people we were helping, no clue what we’re doing out there, no clue that we’ve been there for 30 years. So that’s phenomenal. And then most of the people who buy our products love them and so now, they become advocates for the cause. So our ECHO Handmade label is all over the place now, and it just draws it right back to the mothership ECHO which was really cool. We could never really have forecasted that because we’re so kinda I think down in the weeds. But we’re at Junior League gift markets and Gasparilla music festivals, and very nontraditional places that you usually would not typically find a nonprofit with the booth setup. But Echo Handmade takes us to those places; we’ve made phenomenal contacts that way.

 

WILMA: You’ve not only sold merchandise, you’ve gotten volunteers and donors and that sort of thing too?

 

ELEANOR: Yup.

 

WILMA: I encourage everyone to go to the website. Eleanor’s gonna tell us what it is here in a minute. But as someone who takes giant bags of clothing to assorted places, I often feel somewhat guilty. Number one about how much stuff we have, but also knowing that sometimes that is a burden on the organization you’re taking it to as much as it is a gift. It’s really awesome that you have found a way to make lemons out of lemonade.

 

ELEANOR: We especially love ugly ties and leather jackets. Yes.

 

WILMA: So what else would you like to folks to know about ECHO and about what you do with ECHO Handmade?

 

ELEANOR: I think as far as Echo that we’re growing. so just to be supportive in that. And I think for us in the Southeastern Hillsborough County, what we’re looking at more and more is not just ECHO does food, clothes, resources, women’s resources, case management, Family Promise does homeless shelter for up to 14 individuals, families. I want people to know that ECHO is really not just thinking about ECHO, we’re thinking about our entire county as an incorporated part of the county and how can we be a thought leader in our space so that we really can end hunger. So that we really can end chronic homelessness, that we’re thinking bigger than just that. People who have known ECHO for years are like, “Oh, you’re the food pantry.” I guess I just want people to understand that we’re just so much more than just a food pantry. We’re really on the front lines of trying to change some really systemic like hard-core issues in our community. So that’s what I want people to know about ECHO. What I want people to know about ECHO Handmade is, yes, it’s cool, they’re cool products and we’re really proud of them but that every time somebody purchases something cool, it’s really just a donation back to the cause. So while I’m happy that people like our stuff, I want them to understand that they’re giving us a gift every time they buy something and they’re creating opportunities for our artisans and they’re creating opportunities for people that are coming through to get our other services. So it’s just such a win-win, win-win across-the-board. So when you buy something with ECHO Handmade, you should feel really good.

 

WILMA: You can feel really good by going to…?

 

ELEANOR: echohandmade.org.

 

WILMA: This stuff beautiful and to find out more about Echo?

 

ELEANOR: echofl.org. But both websites talk to each other. So if you go in echohandmade.org, it’ll take you over vice versa.

 

WILMA: Excellent, excellent. Well, thanks so much for talking with me today. We’ve come to the end of another Inspired Giving Podcast. I’m Wilma Norton from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Please listen again next time.

 

ELEANOR: Thank you.

 

WILMA: Thanks.

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About the host

Wilma Norton joined the Foundation in 2014. She was a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) for more than 20 years. Most recently, she was assistant director of public information at St. Petersburg College. Wilma has a BA in journalism and political science from Western Kentucky University and an MBA from Florida International University.


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