ANTSgiving 2017: Building Social Enterprises that Make a Difference

On November 15, the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation, and the ANTrepreneur Center held their second ever ANTSgiving panel. 120 students were packed into the Paul Merage School of Business Auditorium, where nonprofit and business leaders shared their experiences and inspired attendees.

The first panelist, Chad Trainer, is the co-founder and CEO of ProBoKnow, a nonprofit that connects clients with attorneys working for free (a.k.a. pro bono attorneys). The organization is paired with LoBoKnow, a directory of lawyers willing to defend clients at a reduced price. Chad explained how even after graduating from a top law school in 2008, he struggled in finding a job. Following business pursuits in Russia, he seized the opportunity to use technology to enable attorneys looking for experience to serve defendants in need. The nonprofit gained so much traction that attorneys with experience in the courtroom applied to help, too.

But since ProBoKnow connects lawyers working for free to low income individuals, the organization needed to address costs. Thus, LoBoKnow was born. “Without that business, I don’t think we could run a nonprofit,” Chad admitted.

Our second panelist, Sandy Hi, shared her experiences as a student and as co-president of Anteater’s Habitat for Humanity. During her second year at UC Irvine, the Public Health Science major joined this on-campus organization, which strives to better inform and engage students in humanitarian aid and conservation efforts within Orange County. For Sandy, the club’s work to build homes and provide aid also struck a personal note.

“I wanted to make an impact, and help join clubs that build home for people like me,” she said.

Much of her work involves engaging and retaining students in the club, while handling common student responsibilities: midterms, 8 am classes, group projects, and long nights of essays.

“Ya’ll get it,” she joked.

Another one of our panelists, Jack Toan, Wells Fargo regional vice president and community relations manager, made a point to show that social good is compatible with businesses. He has a strong history in social enterprise, including volunteering to teach young children martial arts and holding a position on the Team Kids advisory board. For Wells Fargo, Jack ensures that the bank philanthropizes through financial contributions across the board, from large nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross, to small local businesses.

The decision for businesses to give back isn’t random, however. Market research reveals that between two companies selling identical products, 74 percent of customers are more likely to purchase from a company with strong social ties, Jack recalled.

Our fourth and final panelist, Lara Fisher, shared the difficulties of balancing needs against budget as the Executive Director of South County Outreach, a nonprofit that provides for the hungry and homeless.

“501(c)(3) is just a tax status,” she argued, referring to how organizations like hers are categorized under tax law. “You work strategically in the same way as a business.” In fact, nonprofits face an additional restriction; these institutions are expected to not take in profit, so they cannot rely on typical streams of revenue to sustain themselves.

South County Outreach, as a result, must rely on unconventional and unique methods to raise funds. For instance, the money raised from thrift shop sales may be diverted towards marketing, operational costs, or food. Yet, Lara still encouraged attendees to remain persistent. “Find something in which you’re passionate about,” she stated. “The money will come.”

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