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Great businesses (even without profits)

Last modified: 9/23/2012 12:00:00 AM
I started a financial planning and investment management business 17 years ago, when the top income tax rate was higher than today and state and federal regulations were more burdensome than in any other industry. Despite that, I grew my business to where it is today, so I pay attention to the talk about what would happen to small businesses if taxes are raised on the rich or more regulations are implemented to protect the public.

The most compelling startups I know personally are those amazing organizations that were started by people who didn't want to make a profit. They just wanted to provide services to people in their community, so they created nonprofit organizations and grew them to serve thousands of people over the decades. And they are businesses in every sense of the word except for what happens to the profits at the end of each year.

Consider the impact of three people whom I have known over the years, individuals who started what have become very successful local nonprofits helping people in very different ways. But these three people's successes also provide answers to the question of whether people can succeed when profit is not the goal and a wide web of government regulations are very challenging.

 Second Start


Nancy Callahan was a government-paid VISTA volunteer when she started researching the need in Concord for an adult education program. She then married a Concord-based lawyer and, with a local educator, created Project Second Start with a few charitable contributions for supplies and utilities. They used volunteers as teachers, and members of the board of directors did the organizational work for free. They offered training for people without a high school degree so they could get their GED. They rented space in a church during the week and expanded their goals to include teaching English as a second language to recent immigrants to the Concord area.

Then they successfully applied for a major federal grant and hired a full-time executive director. The rest, as they say, is history. Now Second Start (now longer just a "project") is so highly regarded that Pembroke Academy, among others, sends some of their students who can't handle normal classrooms to it. It is well known as a major educator of refugees and others who land in Concord not knowing any English, and it has a substantial staff and a large annual budget.

 The Friends Program


Rich Maxon was a young law school graduate from Denver who began his career in Concord clerking for a judge on the New Hampshire Supreme Court. He was frustrated that his work didn't seem to reach many needy people. And he also noticed that lots of teens were getting into trouble with the law, partly because they had no good adult role models in their homes. Usually there was only one parent in the household and that person was either overwhelmed with trying to make ends meet or was too busy dealing with their other children to give adequate attention to the troubled kid.

Maxon networked with many criminal-justice professionals, businesspeople and others connected with sources of charitable contributions. He got a pile of "senior Friends" - adults willing to commit 50 hours a year to one kid - from the aerobics program that he had created earlier at the Concord YMCA. He got businesses to contribute healthy entertainment opportunities for both the Junior and Senior Friends, and he got professional counselors to train and support the

Senior Friends, who had to adapt to teens who broke promises or had problems at school and even worse problems at home.

Eventually Maxon got paid for his work but only a salary set by the nonprofit board of directors. He never got any shares of stock in The Friends Program and left only when there was a similar job for a whole state, created by the governor of North Carolina.

Today the Friends Program has a large staff and two office buildings, providing hundreds of volunteers to serve youth, elders and others, but it still manages the Junior Friend/Senior Friend program - now called the Youth Mentoring Program - that is miles more effective than most Big Brother programs in other cities.

 White Birch Community Center


Lucia Evans was a young teacher in Henniker when she became concerned that there was not much developmental support for preschool children in Henniker. She got some people together and started a cooperative preschool called Crayon College in 1974. She poured herself into growing the preschool, changing its name to the White Birch Community Center in 1982.

Now it provides programs for preschool children from Hillsboro and Henniker and after-school programs for students in the Henniker Community School. It also runs programs for elders who enjoy the social events at the community center and the trips that the center's staff arranges and provides transportation for.

Today, the center is the largest nonprofit organization and licensed childcare facility operating in the greater Henniker area. It provides quality childcare for up to 85 children and provides educational and support services for families. It has an annual operating budget of $800,000 and employs 25 people and uses 75 others as volunteers.

 One person's hard work


What is common for all three organizations is that they are the direct result of one person's hard work, initiative, creativity and dedication to long-term goals. What is also true is that none of their founders needed a profit-incentive to motivate them to be so successful. And what's more amazing is that they all had to deal with heavy regulations by the city or town, state and federal governments, regulations that have increased substantially over the decades.

These three leaders, and the thousands like them who have started up successful nonprofit organizations across New Hampshire, are heroes in the minds of those who knew them. But also they have much in common with the people who have started up successful profit-motivated businesses in this state.

Those people also had a passion, a dream, a sense of what is needed in a market and the smarts to figure out how to provide services or products to that market in a way that was different from what is already being provided.

It seems to me that regulations to protect the public and a fair tax rate to cover needed government services will never stop such creative and hardworking people from turning their passions into successful organizations, for profit or not.

(David Woolpert of Henniker heads a three-person investment and financial planning firm in Concord.)


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