As Austin evolves, so does Austin philanthropy, and the nonprofit organization Mission Capital has helped lead the way by creating new ways to finance nonprofit projects. This summer, Mission Capital’s CEO, Matt Kouri, leaves the organization after 10 years, having moved it away from strictly nonprofit-support services to an organization with a bigger stake in the community.
With almost 6,000 nonprofits in Central Texas, the need for support services is what drove the creation of what was then called Greenlights in 2001. In the beginning, services included professional training on things like QuickBooks and grant writing, but Kouri says as this kind of information became more readily available online, it had to rethink its business model.
“We were struggling with transitioning ourselves from a great startup to a stable business model that could create lasting change,” he said, admitting, “I knew a little about that but not a lot. We spent a couple years figuring it out.”
After dropping some of its less profitable services and increasing its research to help shed more light on the sector, in 2014 Greenlights merged with an organization called Innovation+, a group of venture capitalists who invest their business knowledge and capital in nonprofit programs that need a boost of support to increase their impact.
“For years, we had been working to strengthen nonprofits, and that was great work,” said Kouri. “But maybe the changing social sector required different approaches. Maybe it wasn’t tapping into all the resources we could tap into.”
With the merger, Mission Capital has found its most successful strategy for growing the impact of nonprofits, and it takes its cues from the business world. The “accelerator” program is a months-long bootcamp that helps nonprofits grow a specific product or service. While most nonprofits rely on philanthropic fundraising to finance their work, the accelerator program helps them identify and create a business plan for a model that relies on fees for a where a valuable product or service it can sell to a community. The program also includes a financial “investment” or donation into the new project.
For example, in 2014, Mother’s Milk Bank participated in the accelerator to develop a new, safer type of human-based breast milk for infants that it can sell to hospitals. Kim Updegrove, executive director of the milk bank says it could not have developed this product without the accelerator program. “It really helped me see how we expand our business but keep our mission-focused services,” she said.
Heather McKissick, a vice president at University Federal Credit Union and a client of Mission Capital’s, says Kouri’s organization has filled a need in the nonprofit sector that other service or “umbrella”-type organizations don’t.
“One of their greatest values has been the research they’ve done they’ve done to advance the social sector,” said McKissick. “It almost became a kind of chamber for nonprofits.”
Kouri’s departure in August will leave a void at Mission Capital that will be hard to fill, said, McKissick, though he will continue as a consultant on current projects and later on his own. McKissick says Kouri’s “nonprofit heard” and his “heavy-hitting business consulting background” is a unique combination that has helped Mission Capital stay ahead.
Thomas Miranda, a technology consultant and Mission Capital board member since 2014, agrees, but says the board and other core leaders each have their own in-depth knowledge of business and nonprofit sectors. “With a new leader, we hope to stay the course by responding to what the community tells us it needs,” said Miranda. “We’re at a pivotal moment in this approach and want to keep that going for the community.”