Participants, mentors, and supporters came together on May 8, 2019, to celebrate the completion of the first Nonprofit Accelerator at Great Road on Main in downtown Christiansburg. An initiative of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley (CFNRV), the Accelerator aimed to apply the Silicon Valley concept of a startup accelerator to regional nonprofits, helping organizations with limited budgets and small staff achieve rapid progress on important goals by providing tailored support.
The Accelerator brought together staff and board members from seven nonprofit agencies in an inaugural cohort. These agency teams worked with mentors drawn from business and higher education communities to review their core missions, articulate their value, identify challenges, develop 30-60-90 day plans to address some of those challenges, and begin making progress on their plans.
The Accelerator kicked off on January 23rd and 24th with a two-day workshop at the Floyd Event Center led by Chris Bennett and Sarah Milston of The Spark Mill, and nonprofit participants have worked diligently since the kickoff to complete the program. At the celebration, participants shared presentations on their progress and program takeaways.
Shelly Fox, Program Director of Blue Mountain School, found that the Accelerator helped her organization affirm their values and develop strategies to address important goals. Fox said, “The structure of it really facilitated setting some important goals that we might not have set if we hadn’t participated in the program…I think it was a great platform for us to put our values into action with each other.”
Christopher Sanchez, Executive Director of Christiansburg Institute, Inc., used the Accelerator as an opportunity to reexamine key organizational documents and his agency’s board structure as part of advancing their goals. Sanchez said, “The Nonprofit Accelerator Program…produced robust and lively discussion about our organization’s purpose and function, as well as help identify a more inclusive and sustainable approach to our work. We emerged stronger as a board with a greater sense of clarity in terms of our mission and immense conviction to preserve the history of the school and develop Christiansburg Institute as a national tourist destination for African-American history in rural Appalachia.”
Mentors also saw the benefit of the program, both to the nonprofits they supported and as a rewarding volunteer opportunity. Henry Bass, President of Automation Creations, Inc., felt that the Accelerator was a valuable success. Bass said, “I have participated in startup clinics and for-profit business accelerators at various times in the 23 years of my company…I can say without reservation that this first run of the Community Foundation’s non-profit accelerator was even better than these because of the flexible curriculum, the follow-up opportunities, and group accountability…Being a mentor in the CFNRV non-profit accelerator gave me a unique perspective on the great community organizations in the NRV, and , with just a little nudge, they grow and improve our entire region.”
The 2019 Nonprofit Accelerator was a pilot program meant to compliment and build upon the CFNRV’s long-running Third Thursday Society and educational workshops on topics in nonprofit management, all in an effort to provide community leaders with practical information to help their agencies succeed. Jessica Wirgau, CFNRV Executive Director, noted that the Accelerator offered depth to the CFNRV’s existing leadership programs.
Wirgau said, “We were thrilled with the progress our first set of nonprofit teams made during the 2019 Accelerator. We are all so busy and taking the time to really evaluate our strengths and our challenges, and to plan a path forward as nonprofit agencies can be difficult when we’re just trying to meet day-to-day demands. We’re grateful to the nonprofit teams for piloting this program with us, to the mentors who provided critical guidance, and especially to Drs. Norman and Nancy Eiss who provided the financial support to run this year’s Accelerator.”
Bass believes that the partnership between CFNRV and nonprofits in the region, including those participating in the Accelerator, will continue to make a difference. Bass said, “I believe the Community Foundation has a winning combination of both building the leadership and funding the non-profit missions of our region so that we all benefit from an improved quality of life.”