Social entrepreneurship is revitalizing the third sector

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Today’s nonprofit landscape is drastically different than it was just five years ago. Ever-shrinking funding sources and increased competition mean a fierce environment for smaller agencies. So what’s the third sector doing to recession-proof their agencies? One local nonprofit has gotten creative.

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County (JFS) is entering their twentieth year as one of the county’s most reliable sources of assistance for individual and family needs. As they look to celebrate this milestone, the agency is focusing on creating long-term financial stability, so that it can continue to serve the community.

That’s why JFS has, with Carol Amster, founded The Herb Amster Center. The Center is tasked with creating revenue-generating, profitable lines of businesses. What will a nonprofit do with all that profit? “Use it to subsidize JFS programs that are suffering due to funding cuts, or the increased number of agencies competing for grants,” says Anya Abramzon, the executive director of JFS, “Our goal is not to line our pockets, it’s to ‘do good things, but remember the bottom line so we can do more good things’ as Herb Amster taught.”

Herb Amster was a well-respected, innovative leader in the business and nonprofit community, as well as a mentor to many. His legacy is The Herb Amster Center, a division of JFS that is responsible for the development and implementation of these profit-generating businesses, consistent with JFS’ mission and reflective of Herb’s philosophy.

This social entrepreneurship model is a perfect solution to a scary reality for residents of Washtenaw County: a logical answer to the community’s needs through monetizing some of JFS’ services. “We’re starting with what we know,” says Sarah Okin, director of The Herb Amster Center, “and scaling up projects like Partners in Care Concierge. We’re pitching the program nationally and locally, approaching insurers, hospitals and other organizations. The program has been around for years, and when we talk about it people get excited. The problem is, we’re a nonprofit, and we don’t charge for it. That means we’re limited in the number of people we can serve by the number of dollars we receive in grants.”

Partners in Care Concierge (started 2007 as ‘Patient Partners’) exists to make JFS’ clients’ medical appointments more productive. Volunteers meet with clients before appointments, transport and accompany clients to appointments, support clients by ensuring medical professionals answer the client’s questions and that the client’s concerns are addressed, and afterwards provide a report on what transpired. This report is essential to caregivers who live far away or can’t accompany the patient themselves.

This program, like all JFS programs, is open to all Washtenaw County residents regardless of religious or cultural background.

For more information, contact Sarah Okin at sarah_okin@jfsannarbor.org; or call 734-769-0209.

  • Sally J. Spies

    Bravo!

  • I know the Herb Amster Center is in good hands if they have Ms.Okin on their team!