CHRISTIANSBURG — Local community groups are taking a page out of Silicon Valley’s book, enrolling in a nonprofit accelerator they hope will give a boost to their causes.
It’s modeled after the increasingly common concept of a startup accelerator: Young companies are put through an intensive boot camp to train the founders and give the fledgling companies a running start.
But instead of widgets and smartphone apps, this accelerator hopes to lend a hand to nonprofits with tight budgets, slim staffs and big ambitions.
The accelerator, organized by the Community Foundation of the New River Valley, launched at a two-day workshop last week with its first cohort of seven nonprofits.
Most nonprofit leaders have expertise in their field, whether that’s education, domestic violence or mental health, Community Foundation Executive Director Jessica Wirgau said. What many lack, however, is formal training in the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit and what it takes to pay the bills.
“Folks are working at these nonprofits because they believe deeply in the mission,” Wirgau said. “But they might not have that expertise and background. So creating an environment where they can learn that is critical.”
Each participant set goals and has been paired with an expert mentor. After four months everyone will present their progress at a final celebration event.
Wonder Universe, formerly known as the Children’s Museum of Blacksburg, is using the time to strategize its move into a new space in the mall. The Lyric Theatre is planning for long-term sustainability. The Christiansburg Institute hopes to find a way to move forward with renovations of its historic building. A coalition of Pulaski art nonprofits are trying to come up with a way to coordinate efforts.
The Montgomery Museum of Art & History (recently changed from Montgomery Museum & Lewis Miller Regional Art Center), meanwhile, is hoping to boost its membership by 500 new people.
It set that goal years ago, but has made little progress. As part of the accelerator, the museum’s leaders now have a strategic framework and 30-day, 60-day and 90-day action plans in place.
“They guided us through a process that kind of blew our minds,” museum Director Sue Farrar said. “We get together and try to solve the problem and we all look at the solution at the end. They taught us how to go through the steps to get there.”
The Montgomery Museum has already begun following the road map crafted during the opening week of the accelerator.
The museum plans to launch an outreach campaign through the media, schools and civic groups. And if the students can’t come to the museum, they’re putting together tubs of artifacts that teachers could borrow for classroom activities.
“All nonprofits do is struggle,” Farrar said. “So we’re grateful to be accepted into that program.”
At the end of the four-month accelerator, Wirgau said she hopes participating nonprofits will walk away with boosted progress toward their goals, but also a network of local organizations to compare notes.
“We both want to provide some real specific, technical content, but we also want to create the relationships that are going to help sustain these organizations long-term,” Wirgau said.