This testimonial was created as a guest blog for The Patterson Foundation‘s Initiative News published on May 27, 2015.
The Epilepsy Association of Central Florida is a 50+ year-old, 100% local, not-for-profit healthcare agency based in Orlando. Over time, we had become far too dependent on our contract with the Florida Department of Health, which is funded by state general revenue dollars and could be lost during any legislative session. We knew we had to diversify our funding, and also wanted to create a reliable source for it. Yes, we do special events and write grants, but who knows from year-to-year what they will produce in order to have a consistent income stream to support our mission.
Several years ago, we decided to use technology to reach far beyond our geographic boundaries, and created an “online epilepsy community.” Along with www.EpilepsyU.com, we now have a very strong worldwide social media presence.
We always knew we wanted to leverage those followers and somehow turn them into income. While sitting in a training session conducted by No Margin, No Mission at the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (FAFCC) Annual Conference, it came to me…create a social enterprise leveraging our social media followers! A gold mine we had never considered.
By adding income from a social enterprise to our funding mix, we could become less dependent on our Florida Department of Health contracts and find a way to continue our services like individual/family case management, epilepsy-related medical care for those that have nowhere else to turn, and continue our epilepsy prevention and education programs.
We had a vision with no focus and no plan. We had a small “tab” on our community website where we were attempting to sell a few epilepsy awareness items. In a couple of years, it produced less than $2,000 in income. We were fortunate to receive a grant from the FAFCC to fund an intensive, 6-month consulting engagement on earned-income business plan development and implementation with No Margin, No Mission.
So it was born — the idea of TheEpilepsyStore.com – a one-stop online store for epilepsy awareness merchandise, assistive devices, and educational materials for those affected by epilepsy and seizure disorders.
The Epilepsy Store would offer “purple” awareness items featuring a new trademarked purple “E” ribbon on jewelry, wearable clothing, license plate frames and other usable consumer items. We wanted to distinguish epilepsy from other causes that use the generic purple awareness ribbon. We also wanted to serve those affected by epilepsy by offering select and proven assistive devices such as bed movement monitors, alarms, padded helmets, etc. along with educational materials.
We were a little unique in the world of No Margin, No Mission’s process since we couldn’t wait for the business plan implementation phase of work to physically create our new online store. So we built it from the ground up while we were also working on the business plan, thanks to the talents of our in-house technology guru Allyn Bencen. As a result, we already have impressive sales for the first quarter of 2015, and are happy to report that in just three months (without any marketing support), we have more than doubled all of our agency’s merchandise sales from the past two years combined!
What has this earned-income journey meant to us? It has given our organization the opportunity to work one-on-one with experts to get us focused, guide us, and drive us to build something we are now very proud of. Along with developing a new income stream, it has been a great team project for our agency that had our staff and board working together. We have always done a great job in delivering services but we had become stagnant in many ways. This process changed our culture, brought us together as a team in a new way, re-ignited our creative juices, and created a new sense of excitement with every new accomplishment.
Our agency’s staff and board are excited about what we have accomplished, and are thrilled with what our future has in “store.”