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Mutually beneficialMaking money from nonprofits, and helping them, too

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From right, YWCA Lancaster CFO Angie Lightfoot Roth and writers Matthew Kelly and Alison Racilla visit a YWCA program funded by a grant that provides child care assistance to teen parents finishing their education. On July 1, YWCA Lancaster took over a grantwriting collaborative that serves local nonprofits. Photo/Amy Spangler
From right, YWCA Lancaster CFO Angie Lightfoot Roth and writers Matthew Kelly and Alison Racilla visit a YWCA program funded by a grant that provides child care assistance to teen parents finishing their education. On July 1, YWCA Lancaster took over a grantwriting collaborative that serves local nonprofits. Photo/Amy Spangler

Business, the old saw goes, is all about location — and at least three ventures offering their services locally have set up shop at the juncture of profit and philanthropy.

One of these businesses serves companies across the nation and has been in existence for years. One of them is a fledgling local firm. The third is not a business but a branch of a nonprofit that serves qualifying businesses along with nonprofits.

Instead of making a profit so they can aid nonprofits, they want to aid nonprofits so they can profit. They believe that if they make aiding nonprofits central to their operations, people will throw business their way, and everyone will win.

The veteran

Sixteen years old, First Financial Merchant Services is based in Minnesota, and Jay Barry admits that its Giveback program is a marketing ploy in the cutthroat world of credit-card processing.

But, he says, he has seen it help both nonprofits and businesses, and he would like to see it help more of them. He feels so strongly about it that he serves as a First Financial agent just so he can facilitate that, he says, donating his commission for new accounts to the charity of the customer's choice.

Barry owned the former James W. Barry Funeral Home in Millersville from 1983 to 1990 and currently owns Lancaster-based Titan Lighting Equipment Distributors LLC.

The concept is simple, he says: First Financial processes credit cards and will pay $100 to any prospective customer if it can't beat the rates they're currently paying for the service. For customers that choose to participate in the GiveBack program, First Financial sends 10 percent of its profits to the charity of the customer's choice.

Even better, Barry says, is that nonprofits that need credit-card processing can sign up with First Financial and have that 10 percent sent back to themselves.

The signup process is not complicated, he says, and although the fees saved and amounts donated may seem small compared to an organization's overall budget, looking at them in comparison to what each individual donor is asked to contribute strengthens the argument for joining.

"I don't see why more nonprofits don't do it," he says.

According to First Financial's website, organizations receiving its GiveBack funds include the Alzheimer's Association, American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club of America and Toys for Tots.

The newbie

Steve Goble started The Goble Group in 2011 in Akron, offering professional development services. His goal for the business this year is to send $30,000 to area nonprofits by donating 30 percent of his fees for Mastermind Groups to recipients of the client's choice.

A Mastermind Group consists of five to 15 people who come together to develop their critical thinking skills, brainstorm and become better leaders. Businesses may send a group of leaders, associated organizations can send representatives to work toward greater synergy, or someone could even pay to have a team from their favorite charity learn from the experience.

"It's kind of an idea that's a little bit different," Goble says. "That's how I'm hoping to separate myself from competitors."

He also thinks participants themselves will profit from the groups.

"I'm a firm believer that a business is only as strong as the people working in it, and the business will grow as the people grow," he says. When the economy dips, training and development often get cut, and these groups represent a way for companies to grow their employees.

"Individuals who complete the Mastermind Group build their leadership skills and network with other individuals who have an interest in positively impacting their personal and professional lives," he says. "The community benefit organization receives additional funding and exposure with minimal extra work. And I am able to support my family while impacting my community in a positive way."

The nonprofit

Writing grants is a good job for English majors, according to Alison Racilla and Matt Kelly. And as the resident writers of the Lancaster Grantwriting Collaborative, that's exactly what they're doing.

The collaborative was formed in 2009 through a Lancaster County Community Foundation Innovation Fund grant to serve area nonprofits. It had been operated in SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, but in July it moved to the offices of YWCA Lancaster.

Maureen Powers, executive director of the YWCA, says that when it assumed responsibility for the collaborative, it moved the grant writers from part time to full time. Last year, there were nine organizations participating in the program; this year they would like to have 12, but if they don't get enough, "the YWCA will have to pick up the slack" in funding.

But, Powers says, she thinks once the word gets out about what the collaborative offers, partners will appear. In addition to expanding the hours the grant writers work, the YWCA also decided to offer its services to any qualifying nonprofit in the United States. Businesses also will be considered.

To qualify, an organization's purpose must be compatible with that of the YWCA: to promote peace, justice and dignity for all. For $10,000 a year, the collaborative will research and write a minimum of 10 grants for an organization.

At last report in June, grants written by the collaborative since 2009 had pulled in more than $341,000, including one $250,000 grant.

"YWCA got $50,000 over the past two years, and we still have some outstanding. It's been well worth it for us," Power says. "If you have any kind of decent case, that $10,000 shouldn't be hard to recoup."

Dorothy English, director of development at Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services, says her organization used the collaborative before it moved to the YWCA. SVPS was just getting into grants, and really liked what the collaborative was guaranteeing at that time: that it would secure at least as much in grants as it paid in fees.

English says SVPS received three grants for its Cradle & All initiative and one for an ultrasound machine. The machine isn't there yet, she says, but although they expected a used one valued at about $8,000, it appears they actually will be receiving a new one worth about $40,000.

"We have definitely received what we paid for," she says, noting that she was impressed by how Racilla took the time to get to know the organization and handled all details of the process.

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