The 4 S’s of the Modern Nonprofit

The modern nonprofit has a laser-tight focus on making a difference through one specific lens. Forget the 30-second elevator pitch: the new breed of nonprofit can be summed up in one compelling sentence.

by Matthew Fieldman

I never thought of myself as a social entrepreneur – until I co-founded Cleveland’s first-ever nonprofit restaurant. So, how did this nice Jewish boy end up working closely with hardened ex- cons?

Until 2012, I enjoyed working in traditional, established nonprofits: two Federations, in DC and Cleveland; two Hillels, Maryland and the International Center; three overseas aid agencies, including the JDC and JAFI; and more. But suddenly the opportunity came to help a local culinary celebrity pursue his dream, and I went for it. Co-founding EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute with a nice Catholic boy, Brandon Chrostowski, brought me completely out of my comfort zone – and taught me a lot in the process about what defines the modern successful nonprofit.

Recently, I spoke to a group of former TEDxCLE speakers, and realized there were a lot of parallels between our two organizations that are worth exploring and comparing. It’s not a knock against traditional nonprofits, but the EDWINS and TEDx models of social entrepreneurship have a lot to offer the philanthropy industry as a whole. The modern nonprofit can be summed up, in my experience, by the “Four S’s” below:

  1. Simple: The modern nonprofit has a laser-tight focus on making a difference through one specific lens. Forget the 30-second elevator pitch: the new breed of nonprofit can be summed up in one compelling sentence. The TEDx movement is about convening conversations and sharing ideas that can improve the world. EDWINS trains formerly-incarcerated men and women for careers in fine dining, with the aim of reducing recidivism and enhancing the city’s workforce. EDWINS, and social enterprises like ours, can communicate our mission succinctly, which is refreshing and inspiring to volunteers and funders alike. It’s one of the reasons we raised over $450,000 in just six months.
  2. Scrappy: Along the way, EDWINS has been about as grassroots as any nonprofit I’ve ever come across. We’ve proven that you don’t need that third “w” – wealth – for a successful Board; hard work and wisdom will find a way to raise money. At various fundraising events, our volunteers cooked crepes, washed dishes, painted walls, you name it. We worked on our personal laptops, out of a donated office space or at our dining room tables, with no pretense at all. Margaret Mead would be proud, because our small group of volunteers – fueled only by passion, a charismatic leader, and a lot of French wine – really are changing the world.
  3. Sustainable:  Far more than a buzzword, social enterprises (like those members of our partner organization, Catalyst Kitchens) are built with revenue generation at their core: create a product or service that people will buy, and make sure you’re doing good in the process. For example, TEDxCLE is so popular that they sold out a 700-seat auditorium in 14 minutes. EDWINS is so popular that you can’t get a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night, and we were profitable after our first month of operations. In addition, funders love hearing that we will never come back to them for funding – well, at least not until we open another location! It’s not easy, but with the right mix of outstanding leadership, a product or service that people want to purchase, and excellent execution, social enterprises can revolutionize the way our society delivers social services.
  4. Selfless: Despite running Cleveland’s hottest restaurant, already recognized nationally, no one is going to get rich off of EDWINS. Our organization is devoted to our students, and every nonprofit we partner with must also be committed to helping their successful re-entry. We know very well that helping ex-offenders towards a successful re-entry is a complex, multi-faceted issue, which is why we’ve recruited partner organizations to support our students; we’re not the experts in social services, so we’ve found partners who are. Already, we have a student heading to France this Spring to apprentice for a well-known chef in Normandy – just one example of how every dollar we earn is immediately reinvested into our students.

After my first career in the Jewish world, my new avocation has been incredibly inspiring and refreshing; taking the skills I developed as a fundraiser and bringing them to EDWINS has been incredibly rewarding and inspiring. I hope that other passionate nonprofit professionals, whether aspiring social entrepreneurs or not, will find these “Four S’s” helpful in this new era of social enterprise.

With 13 years of experience working in nonprofits all over the world, Matthew Fieldman moved to the for-profit world of digital marketing in 2012 as a leader in Fathom’s healthcare practice. In his free time, Matt is Board President of EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute and consults for nonprofits on fundraising, revenue generation, and online marketing.