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Updated: September 4, 2023 Focus on Diversity & Inclusion

Building nonprofits: Entrepreneurs are finding community investment, advice to to build sustainable and inclusive missions

A man stands in front of a mural at his offices. Photo | MATT WRIGHT Ronald Waddell launched his own nonprofit to pursue his commitment to Worcester area youth on the margins.

When Ronald Waddell made the move to start turning his concept for Legendary Legacies, a gang rehabilitation and re-entry program, into a nonprofit, all that made up his business assets were a couple of polo shirts, some business cards, and an idea.

Waddell spent the beginning of his career in the corporate world and had his first experience working with nonprofits in 2015. By 2018, he had a vision to start his own nonprofit, working to empower young men on the margins, to develop community relationships and skills to help former gang members re-enter and re-situate their lives.

When administrative concerns and funding prevented Waddell from continuing his work as part of larger community organizations, Waddell saw starting his own organization as the solution.

Moving his nonprofit from the startup phase to a solid place has been an grueling endeavor, an experience not singular to Waddell and Legendary Legacies. Across Central Massachusetts, entrepreneurial individuals with community mindsets look to start nonprofits, but access to resources can be challenging.

“It’s hard to get trust from grant givers as a young nonprofit,” said Waddell.

Teaching business skills

Waddell had deep ties in the Worcester community when he launched Legendary Legacies, having been a staff member at the Worcester Community Action Council. Since 2019, Waddell has secured for Legendary Legacies grants of ascending value, with multiple topping $100,000, and has relied on those relationships with other nonprofit leaders for guidance.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Waddell.

Legendary Legacies used its first grant to hire a consultant to provide guidance for a strategic plan, Waddell said, which jumpstarted next steps, but the complex world of grant applications and grant requirements has meant Waddell continually leans on his community for resources. Now, his nonprofit has $756,481 in annual revenue and $334,454 in assets, according to its 2021 tax filings, the most recent year available on nonprofit data website Guidestar.

But not every nonprofit-starter has mentors in a position to provide that kind of guidance.

One resource for startup nonprofits in the region is The Organization for Nonprofit Excellence, ONE Worcester, which is expanding its operations to help area nonprofits build themselves up with an eye toward access and inclusion.

ONE Worcester provides consulting and business skills training to area nonprofits to help them succeed as business entities. The organization is in its eighth year of operations, and in July brought on its first full-time executive director. Helen Segil, who now leads ONE Worcester, is reupping the organization's efforts to help nonprofits develop strategic plans, aiming to lower the barriers preventing less-experienced nonprofit leaders from accessing necessary resources.

A photo of Helen Segil
Helen Segil, ONE Worcester executive director

ONE Worcester has partnered with more than 100 organizations, Segil said. The organization is launching a new emerging nonprofit leader cohort later this year for up-and-coming nonprofit entrepreneurs who might otherwise be kept out of these kinds of group training because of finances.

“Our hope is to focus on nonprofits and leaders in that space that might not have the access and aren't given a voice or space,” said Segil.

ONE Worcester’s primary offering, free to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, is preliminarily consulting with experts in the field, which it values at $5,000 to $25,000 per nonprofit partner.

“It has a really great long-term impact,” said Segil. “So much of nonprofit work is done on the ground. What’s overlooked is the backend of what it takes to run a nonprofit.”

ArtsWorcester is one beneficiary of ONE Worcester consulting, something that has been essential to its growth. The value of external consulting is tremendous in the nonprofit space, said Juliet Feibel, executive director of ArtsWorcester.

A photo of Juliet Feibel
Juliet Feibel, executive director of ArtsWorcester

Between 2012 and 2020, the contemporary and local art exhibitor quadrupled its operating budget and grew artist membership by over 500%, Feibel said.

“We could not have done any of that without external guidance,” said Feibel.

The market rate for consultants for corporate businesses and nonprofits can be extremely expensive and cost prohibitive, said Feibel.

“That's why ONE Worcester is so important,” she said.

ArtsWorcester now has $342,805 in annual revenue and $1.5 million in assets, according to 2021 information available on Guidestar.

Focusing on community, DEI

ONE Worcester’s mission to enable nonprofits to empower their communities is evident in its work with the HeartWell Institute, too, said Sandy Lashin-Curewitz marketing and administration operations manager at the Worcester community wellness center.

A photo of Sandy Lashin-Curewitz
Sandy Lashin-Curewitz, staff at HeartWell Institute

The HeartWell Institute, founded in 2012 by Zayda Vallejo and Bob Lenhardt, exists to bring mindfulness practices to a wider audience and break down barriers to health and wellness for underrepresented communities.Vallejo for years led mindfulness classes and workshops and noticed a stark lack of Black, indigenous, people of color in attendance.

The HeartWell Institute became connected with ONE Worcester through its webinar series on representation and access, said Lashin-Curewitz, and expanded the partnership to use ONE Worcester’s volunteer consulting services for marketing and social media.

“It really represented a leap forward for HeartWell,” said Lashin-Curewitz.

The consultation helped the organization gain focus with its marketing efforts to reach the right audience, she said.

“Without that focus, you can expend your energy in a lot of different ways and not reach the audience you want to. The work is not done, but we have the tools and the experience and resources to fall back on,” said Lashin-Curewitz.

From 2020 to 2021, HeartWell Institute grew its annual revenues from $6,786 to $394,400 and now has assets totalling $235,110, according to Guidestar.

With Segil now on board full-time, ONE Worcester is addings to its initiatives to help nonprofits build the networks they need for long term success, with particular attention to wrapping equity and inclusion into everything.

“All business topics should include DEI training, and every topic can relate to making spaces more equitable,” said Segil.

Like any entrepreneur, nonprofit leaders need to be willing to accept setbacks and ask for help, said Waddell. A deep network, access to resources, relationships, and passion can help bridge the gaps.

“You have to expect barriers. You have to have a real commitment,” said Waddell. “Running a nonprofit at that level is no different than any business startup.”

Waddell in the legendary legacies office. he is seated with his legs on the desk.
Waddell built up Legendary Legacies, in part, by using his connections in the nonprofit and business communities.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that ArtsWorcester grew its membership by 25% from 2012 to 2020. That is incorrect. The story has been updated to reflect the over 500% increase in artist membership in that timeframe.

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