Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: September 23, 2019

Scaling Up

Photos / Courtesy of Tree Street Youth Tree Street Youth provides Lewiston young people with free afterschool programs in teen leadership, college prep and professional internships. About 60% of those accessing the services are recent refugees or recent immigrants to the Lewiston-Auburn area.

One of the biggest challenges a nonprofit can face is how to grow responsibly over the long-term while staying true to its mission. Nonprofits have the operating costs of a business — they have payroll to make, employees to manage, clients to serve and expenses to pay — yet the core mission of a nonprofit is not to generate a profit. Instead, the mission is to serve the community in some way.

The tension of needing to both run a successful business and serve the community in a way that does not organically generate a surplus often leaves nonprofits in a constant state of fundraising. The prevailing question for most nonprofits is this: Where is the money going to come from to support the mission?

Identifying where sustained income will come from to fund future growth is more complicated for nonprofits that can’t rely solely on a market-driven value proposition.

Jennifer Hutchins Maine Association of Nonprofits

“A nonprofit may apply for a grant for an infusion of capital to help it grow, but those sources of funding are often short-lived, so there’s the problem of how to fund the work when the grant ends,” said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director for the Maine Association of Nonprofits. “Identifying where sustained income will come from to fund future growth is more complicated for nonprofits that can’t rely solely on a market-driven value proposition.”

In Maine, several nonprofit organizations have been successful in achieving longterm success in expanding their services and programs over the years, drawing on funding from individuals, foundations, grants and government. Their success is also due to strategic partnerships and their ability to evolve programmatic offerings as culture and populations have changed.

Here, we profile three of these nonprofits and consider how they have met current funding challenges while continuing to augment the services they offer communities in Maine.

Planted seeds grow for Tree Street Youth

Each day in downtown Lewiston, 120 to 150 children and young adults come through Tree Street Youth Center’s front doors on Howe Street. They come to Tree Street for its free afterschool, summer, enrichment, teen leadership, college prep and professional internship programs. Tree Street Youth Center’s services are open to all children and young adults from the Lewiston area, most of whom need a safe place to go after school, help with homework or mentorship into their phase of life. Approximately 60% of those accessing Tree Street Youth Center’s services are recent refugees or recent immigrants to the greater Lewiston-Auburn area.

The idea for Tree Street was born over a decade ago when current executive director and co-founder Julia Sleeper-Whiting interned in a Lewiston Middle School English-as-a-second-language classroom while a student at Bates College. Lewiston’s demographics were changing at the time, as refugees from Somalia and other East African countries settled in Lewiston. Sleeper-Whiting and fellow Bates student and co-founder Kim Sullivan saw a real need in the community for added academic and social support — and decided to do something about it. They created Homework Help, a tutoring and support assistance program that began in a basement of a local church with Sleeper-Whiting, Sullivan and two other Bates students and eight teenage students from the community.

As word spread about its free tutoring assistance, Homework Help quickly outgrew the church basement and eventually moved to a rented space at 144 Howe St. in 2011. Growth of Homework Help’s programs continued and in 2014, thanks to donations and support from the Lewiston community, Sleeper-Whiting and company were able to purchase the Howe Street building and call it a permanent home, officially launching Tree Street Youth Center that year as a nonprofit.

For the last five years since, fundraising efforts for Tree Street have focused on a multi-phase campaign to overhaul the Howe Street facility, which was originally a paint retail store and preschool. In August of 2019, construction was finally complete, thanks to a five year, two-phase $2.4 million fundraising campaign. Both phases of the fundraising campaign were started with significant seed gifts: phase 1 with a $400,000 Next Generation Foundation of Maine grant and phase two with an individual donation. In phase 1, more than 300 individual contributors gave to the campaign. According to Sleeper-Whiting, Tree Street still has $120,000 more to go before officially meeting its fundraising goal.

At the end of the day, we are just loving the kids and helping them to grow and be successful in the future.

Julia Sleeper-Whiting Tree Street Youth

Sleeper-Whiting reports that Tree Street’s continued success, expansion of its programmatic offerings and ability to meet its fundraising goals are rooted in the local support provided by the Lewiston community. Part of the organization’s mission is to create unity in the community, while also recognizing cultural differences. Providing academic, social and emotional support to children and young adults, regardless of cultural background, is an idea that the Lewiston community has rallied around.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how passion can spread in a community,” says Sleeper-Whiting. “One thing that resonates with everyone is supporting kids. At the end of the day, we all care about the future.”

Now that the Howe street facility has been renovated, Sleeper-Whiting and her staff of 21 are excited about the potential to launch new program offerings that encompass work force development, new learning pathways, partnerships and educational opportunities. Among these is Tree Street’s newest program, Next Step High, a pilot program that is being offered in collaboration with Lewiston Public Schools. The program is designed to re-engage high schools students who are struggling in a traditional academic setting, pairing students from the program with local businesses.

“With Tree Street, we’ve created a safe space where kids can come in, whether they are having the best or worst day of their lives and know that we will receive them,” says Sleeper-Whiting. “At the end of the day, we are just loving the kids and helping them to grow and be successful in the future.”

Maine Boys to Men shares curriculum to extend its reach

U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that men and boys are responsible for 90% of all violent acts. Men also have higher rates of self-harm, substance abuse, suicide and incarceration. For the last 21 years, Maine Boys to Men has been targeting the cultural causes of violence committed by men and the associated emotional detachment. The nonprofit offers youth and adult workshops that help attendees rethink their definitions of masculinity and become engaged in ending gender-based harassment and violence. Maine Boys to Men’s primary goal is to help boys become non-violent, emotionally healthy men while confronting narrow gender assumptions that limit all genders.

Photo / Courtesy of Maine Boys to Men, Biden foundation
Maine Boys to Men targets the cultural causes of violence committed by men and the associated emotional detachment. The nonprofit offers youth and adult workshops that help attendees rethink their definition of masculinity and become engaged in ending gender-based harassment and violence.

In 2018, Maine Boys to Men was awarded a grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women in the amount of $350,000. This is the third round of three-year funding that Maine Boys to Men has received through the program. The first round was used to build out its Reducing Sexism and Violence Program (RSVP) for boys and girls in high schools. RSVP is grounded in evidence-based practices that help shift attitudes about gender equity, male power and interpersonal relationships.

The second round of funding allowed Maine Boys to Men to extend RSVP into middle schools, bring its programs to at risk populations and begin similar work with adults. With its current third round of three-year funding from the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women, Maine Boys to Men is working with adults who play a pivotal role in how children develop conceptions around masculinity — with a major emphasis on working with fathers, educators, coaches and refugee communities across Greater Portland.

With ever-increasing demand for its programs and curriculum, the question facing Maine Boys to Men’s leadership two years ago was how to deliver programs more efficiently and make the programs accessible to more communities. Several strategic decisions have helped Maine Boys to Men achieve both goals. Two years ago, after seeing tenfold growth in their programs, Maine Boys to Men concentrated its direct delivery of programs to greater Portland.

“We also partnered with the University of New Hampshire and Rutgers University in a study of our work to show the outcomes our programs are providing,” said Matt Theodores, executive director for Maine Boys to Men. “The positive results from this study and the interest that followed led us to develop a train-the-trainer program to share our curriculum, which is where we see future growth. We’ve been pleased to see the work we’re doing locally gain so much interest across Maine and beyond.”

In its training programs, teachers, coaches, administrators, high school and college students and others learn to deliver the Maine Boys to Men RSVP curriculum independently. According to Theodores, Maine Boys to Men has received a decent amount of foundation money as result of the training programs. The ultimate goal is to bring its RSVP middle school program to tens of thousands of middle school students across Maine and beyond.

“Middle school is a critical age to confront unhealthy views of masculinity,” said Theodores. “The study by Rutgers and UNH found that our work in middle schools can shift attitudes regarding male power and privilege, gender equity in relationships, and the use of coercion and violence in relationships. It showed that our multi-day program in middle schools can significantly change how students think about masculinity and violence prevention.”

Maine Woodworks provides nonprofit with revenue, jobs

At first glance at its website, you might mistake Maine Woodworks for another high-end furniture maker that specializes in classic, custom-made pieces. In this case, there’s much more to the story. Maine Woodworks is a self-described social enterprise owned and operated by Creative Work Systems, a Maine-based nonprofit that supports 400 to 500 people with disabilities in southern and central Maine. Job placement is one of the services offered by CWS, which is where Maine Woodworks’ story begins.

Photo / Jim Neuger
Scott David Bogdahn at his workstation in the Maine Woodworks workshop in Saco.

In 1991, CWS founded Maine Woodworks to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities and to generate revenue for CWS. Since then, Maine Woodworks has evolved from a small operation making unfinished pine furniture into a $1.5 million furniture manufacturer with a 14,000-square-foot production facility that employs 18 people, approximately half of whom have a disability. Proceeds from Maine Woodworks’ sales are used to fund CWS programs and to pay Maine Woodworks’ employees.

Maine Woodworks in an unusual entity because it has all of the challenges of any other manufacturing business in a competitive marketplace. It is both a social enterprise and a business. It doesn’t receive any state funding and is self-sustaining. Three years ago, the organization and its board made the decision to invest time and resources in the branding and marketing for Maine Woodworks. They decided to make Maine Woodworks’ social mission a bigger part of its story and shared that story as widely as possible.

One part of that story is that it is often very difficult for people with disabilities to find employment on their own and Maine Woodworks and CWS are both helping to address that problem. Maine Woodworks’ employees receive rigorous training, learning how to build furniture to spec. Having the opportunity to work and earn an income can be transformative.

“When people with disabilities have the opportunity to work, it opens a whole world for them to live a fully integrated life in the community, just like anyone else,” said Heidi Howard, executive director of Creative Work Systems and Maine Woodworks.

Maine Woodworks’ rebranding efforts were paired with a Lean Six Sigma initiative that helped make its shop floor as efficient as possible, which has allowed the workshop to increase production. The organization is hoping to eventually have a national footprint and is starting to see significant interest from interior decorators and designers.

Creative Work Systems has more than doubled its size in the last four years, which is a strong rate of growth for a nonprofit — most human-centric nonprofits grow at a rate of 2% each year. Today, CWS offers residential support, day programs, case management, care coordination and employment services to people with disabilities from Waterville to Southern Maine. While Maine Woodworks is not the sole reason for this growth, it certainly has played a role in CWS’ ability to expand its services.

Leadership at CWS/Maine Woodworks hopes that as more businesses and employers hear about Maine Woodworks’ success, that they will become interested in hiring people with disabilities.

“The individuals with disabilities who work at Maine Woodworks are such motivated and dedicated employees,” says Howard. “Our hope is that more organizations in the future are able to recognize this and integrate people with disabilities into their workforce.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF