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Wells Foundation, College of Social Work seeking to help nonprofits boost their funding

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Stillman Hall houses the College of Social Work. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

The College of Social Work is partnering with the Wells Foundation to host a workshop for nonprofit leaders who want to learn to access more funding and run a more efficient operation.

The three-day Social Enterprise/Impact Investing Executive Education Program is set to be held from March 29 to 31 at the Blackwell Inn and Conference Center. By providing a business-heavy introduction to social enterprise and impact investing, or ways of generating funding without compromising a nonprofit’s mission, the program hopes to make nonprofits more influential and stable.

“There’s a lot of discussion about how nonprofits are funded and how they will continue to be funded in the future,” said Sara Friedman, the director of continuing education for the College of Social Work. “We’re partnering with the Wells Foundation to offer something that will help organizations not always be dependent on either government funds or grant funds.”

The Wells Foundation, a Columbus-based organization that invests in social enterprises with the aim of developing social innovation models, developed the course to help nonprofits become more independent, said Patrick Westerlund, an education and impact investment consultant with the Wells Foundation, which is run by Tony Wells, a professor at the Fisher College of Business.

“We want to help nonprofits be sustainable and further their mission,” he said. “We’ve designed this course to help them understand how to invest for impact as well as financial return.”

Even when nonprofit leaders know what social impact investing is — investing in nonprofits and companies that aim to have a positive impact on society, such as Toms Shoes or ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s —  they face their own internal and technical barriers to access that type of funding. By partnering with the College of Social Work, the Wells Foundation hopes to bridge this knowledge and organization gap, Westerlund said.

The program aims to help participants understand the social-impact investing ecosystem while learning about various types of available funding and the legal, tax and financial issues their organization might face.

“It really empowers people in social services, like social workers,” Friedman said. “We spend a lot of time learning about the social issues, but this information really empowers us to be able to move forward without having to depend on somebody else to help us get that message across.”

While the program targets nonprofit directors and their boards, if it is successful, there is the potential to host similar events for undergraduate students. As the nonprofit landscape shifts, many students are learning about social enterprise and impact investing and asking for more opportunity to learn about it, Friedman said.

“After this initial course, our plan is to sit back down with the Wells Foundation and think about how we can integrate it into our curriculum or expand our professional development opportunities, so people are really getting this information,” he said.

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