[INTERVIEW] Want to be an Innovative Nonprofit? Learn from Beespace

Terri Harel
StayClassy Marketing Associate

Beespace is a nonprofit incubator based in New York City. Modeled after tech startup incubators, Beespace guides and supports innovative, promising nonprofit organizations. Current participants include The Malala Fund, The Adventure Project, Practice Makes Perfect. For more information on incubees and application instructions, visit BeespaceNYC.org

Marissa Sackler is the Founder and President of Beespace. Her lifelong passion for nonprofits led to the formation of Beespace. She is a founding sponsor and activist for charity:water and serves on the Board of Directors for Invisible Children, Dia Art Foundation and the Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation. She is also a published photographer and works on an array of social injustice issues.

Beespace is such an awesome idea and program. How did it come to fruition?

After spending over a decade in the nonprofit space as a consultant and field photographer, I was frustrated by the number of nonprofits I saw struggling to turn their undeniable enthusiasm and goals into scalable action. I concluded that early-stage nonprofits too often lacked the operational structure, leadership and resources needed to make lasting change.

While discussing this observation with friends and colleagues from an array of industries, a light bulb went off when one friend who started his own tech incubator said, “why don’t you start an incubator for nonprofits?” From there, the idea for Beespace was born. Utilizing the tech incubator model, Beespace provides early-stage nonprofits with a co-working office space, in-house operational support, mentorship and enrichment programs.

How did you identify the need for a nonprofit incubator? Why is it important for nonprofits, and not just tech start ups, to have this kind of environment?

There are other nonprofit incubators out there doing good work, but I believe Beespace provides a more comprehensive model through our three pronged approach. This method helps our organizations, known as Incubees, scale and increase their impact. First is our co-working space. It’s important to have a variety of organizations learning and working side by side.

The second prong is our internal agency of support — an executive director, PR, tech, design, development, finance/accounting and fundraising experts. Each member of the team is integral to helping our Incubees grow and reach their full potential. We also have resources in social media, marketing, and HR available.

Finally, the third prong is the broader Beespace community which we bring together bi-monthly around our “Bee Talk” lecture series by leaders across sectors. Beespace also connects each Incubee with a nonprofit and for-profit mentor from our community who help guide the developmental process.

What do you hope Beespace will achieve for the nonprofit sector? What’s the vision for the next 5 years? 10? 20?

My goal is for Beespace to help foster high-quality organizations that can sustain and surpass their goals all while profiting the world. In the immediate, we’re thrilled to welcome our fourth Incubee into the program this month. Additionally, we are continuing to accept and review applications from early-stage nonprofits and encourage interested groups to visit www.beespacenyc.org to apply.

In the future, my dream is to one day emulate the Beespace model in new locations and help more early-stage nonprofits reach their potential and sustain success.

What is your definition of “the next generation of nonprofits?”

Over the last decade, the charitable sector has grown tremendously. Alongside this growth, has been the rise of a small set of forward-thinking organizations that are utilizing branding and technology to dynamically engage donors and supporters.

While online and peer-to-peer fundraising and engagement have become standard practice in the sector, the implementation and adoption of new technologies and approaches lags far behind the start-up world.

Through Beespace’s support and programs, we are seeking to bridge this digital divide by equipping our fledging nonprofits with the skills and infrastructure to be able to innovate and engage at the same level as their for-profit counterparts.

What kinds of organizations do you accept into Beespace? Can you talk a bit to the criteria?

Beespace looks for early-stage organizations who can benefit from the resources provided by our team to grow, scale and profit the world. Most importantly, we assess the leader, the issue they address and their organizational structure. While we’re geography and issue neutral, we look for groups with a strong organizational vision and an innovative strategy that can create real change and solve issues at scale while keeping the integrity and effectiveness of their programming on the ground.

Do you assist nonprofits with web development and marketing? If so, what best practices might you recommend for an organization?

Yes, part of our in-house support includes access to experts in design, development, fundraising and engagement. Some of the key objectives our team communicates to our Incubee’s are the importance of clear and consistent visual communication, how to attract donors and keep them engaged and best practices to create meaningful partnerships.

You require nonprofit organizations to raise a certain amount of capital before graduating from the program. What kind of support systems are in place to help ensure organizations can fundraise?

Beespace houses early-stage organizations for up to two years or until an organization is in the process of hiring its seventh full time employee. While the Incubees are in Beespace, they are required to save four months of operational runway in order to be best positioned to succeed and operate independently. To prepare them for this time, each Incubee commits to benchmarks and goals that are reviewed with the executive team on a monthly basis.

What is one fundraising best practice you recommend to all nonprofit organizations?

Engagement is key. Organizations should provide opportunities beyond conventional fundraising outreach for supporters to interact with their efforts. By connecting with the work, existing donors understand the impact of their gift and potential donors have a better understanding about what their support can do. A great way to achieve this is through partnerships where ideas and actions are valued as much as financial contributions.

How can a new nonprofit secure longevity in a rapidly changing nonprofit sector?

There are six main challenges that impede on the success of early-stage nonprofits: financial management, leadership, communication, programs, fundraising and staffing. Our in-house operational support works to tackle all of these. One way for organizations to differentiate themselves is by investing in the power of effective communications, branding and storytelling. A clear understanding of who you are and what you strive to do, will help you build support and connect with fundraisers and supporters.

Anything else in particular you’d like people to know about Beespace?

An important aspect of Beespace’s mission is education. We strive to better prepare our Incubee’s, but also to inform our community. We recently launched, “Bee Talks,” our speaker series created to reflect our founding value of cross-industry collaboration. The program features top social entrepreneurs and leaders from a variety of fields including social media, international policy, the arts, social enterprises and nonprofits. Past participants include: Azita Ardakani, founder of Lovesocial and Scott Harrison, CEO of charity: water. “Bee Talks” is open to the broader Beespace community and attendees can go to beespacenyc.org for more information.

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Images courtesy of Beespace

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