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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Innovation Infusion Review: Lee Herrin

Topic: Enterprising Non-profits: Revving up Revenues for Not-for-Profits.
Time: 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.,Thursday April 14th, 2016
Location: Building 300-Room 401 (Royal Arbutus Room)

This is a story of success through social entrepreneurship. Started in 1979 as a community centre which provided childcare and family programs, the organization now is called the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group (Fernwood NRG), operating two licensed daycares, managing ten affordable housing units, owning one community newspaper, holding two annual community festivals, and operating two social enterprises.

This is also a story of empowerment through social entrepreneurship. By generating profits, the organization empowers itself to grow, to decide its own future, and to directly respond to the needs of the community without waiting for external financial support. A stronger financial position through entrepreneurial practices enables the organization to deliver enough qualified programs and services that could better fulfill its social mission.

Mr. Lee Herrin, the Executive Director of Fernwood NRG, showed the organization’s entrepreneurial characteristics during the Innovation Infusion presentation. “We are acquisitive. We didn’t walk past opportunities or look those gift horses too closely in the mouth. We just grabbed them.”

“We are investors,” addressed several times by Mr. Herrin: “we are investing in our neighourhood. And we are setting up various activities from the point of view of making an investment, an investment that improves the lives of people in the neighbourhood, and hopefully also improves the long-term financial sustainability of our organization.”

According to his presentation, criteria for investment includes 1) the potential for strengthening relationship with the community; 2) the alignment with the organization’s values; 3) relatively low complexity; 4) low costs for start-ups; 5) high operating margins; 6) the possibility to operate within the organization’s own space.

In terms of the role of leisure in community development, Mr. Lee Herrin illustrated with examples where festivals and public space contribute to the individual and community well-being. This viewpoint was similar to that of the former Innovation Infusion speaker Dr. Susan Hutchinson regarding the role of third places.

“People love this event (Fernfest, the annual Fernwood fundraising festival), not just me by the way. There are thousands of people in Victoria that have never heard of Fernwood and certainly never heard of Fernwood NRG, but they know about Fernfest. Because they come down there and have a very great time every year.”

Speaking of the salon business, “people spend 16, 90, 120 minutes sitting in the chair in there. What do you think they do? They talk! This is our listening post on what’s going on in Fernwood,” laughed Mr. Herrin, “we learn more about what’s going on in the neiborhood through the salon than we ever do with anybody walking in my door.”


Although owning two businesses in Fernwood, Mr. Herrin stressed at the end of the presentation that for nonprofit organizations, “it is all about the mission. Don’t forget that. It’s not all about the money.”

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