Philanthropic Impact & Insight: Nonprofit entrepreneurship and third parties

Like many of us Dan Cohen wanted to help others, specifically people suffering with Alzheimer’s. When people like Cohen reach out to help, a small idea can birth a business. His “Music and Memory” organization helps people suffering from Alzheimer’s unlock memories through music. Like many small businesses, logistics and a strategy were needed for his 501(c)(3) organization to succeed. Cohen’s entrepreneurial challenge was to supply personal iPods and program the devices for each individual with songs that tap into their memories.

The documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory was featured last fall at the Milwaukee Film Festival. The movie explores Cohen’s work and its impact. For someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, music can enhance their quality of life. Specific songs can unleash parts of the brain not affected by the disease, setting “music memories” free.

At the Cedar Lake Health and Rehab Center you can see the program at work. The center has completed certification for Cohen’s Music and Memory program through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The ipods and digital music devices they receive for residents are making a difference.  Activity director Lisa Kelling remarks, “Someone who’s agitated can change immediately when we put on the headphones.”

While we tend to focus on the benefits service organizations provide, nonprofit work often inspires, even requires, entrepreneurship. Nonprofits must have a strategic business plan in place, set realistic goals and maintain cash flow. Like the corporate world, the structure must be in place in order for the nonprofit to provide its product, service. Cohen could never have helped so many without a business plan.

The real difference between nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneurs is tied to philanthropy. There is a third party paying for a product they do not receive. Instead of consumers paying for a product, philanthropists pay to provide a service that benefits others, like people with Alzheimer’s. Development professionals facilitate this connection between philanthropists and services. The Association of Fundraising Professionals helps organizations equip their teams with ethical tools to raise the revenue that fuels nonprofits and assists business partners to do their part.

As Cohen’s program shows, nonprofits transform lives. And, through that entrepreneurial spirit, nonprofit programs assist a myriad of needs in our community. They fill a gap left by government and the corporate sector. But they could not do it without the philanthropic partnerships that include the corporate sector; fulfilling a human need we all feel to help others.

Peter Zehren is vice president of communications for the AFP SEWI as well as editor of the AFP SEWI’s “Philanthropic Impact & Insight” column.

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