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Showing posts from September, 2008

Fear Factor

My email and phone has been really quiet the last two days. My messages to people have been going unreturned. The only topic people want to talk about at work and around town is the craziness of Wall Street. In the last few days, job seekers with felony convictions have been changing their tune from how difficult their search has been to how the economy is making it impossible. The reality is that it’s always been almost impossible for felons to find jobs. These recent days are reminding me of the time shortly after 9/11. We all seem rattled by current events.

But we need to take a step back from the cliff and regain our perspective. Fear seems to be gaining an unhealthy place in our lives. And like a tennis player ready to make that game winning shot, we are in danger of letting fear and stress tighten our muscles causing us to hit the ball into the net. At this moment, we must not underestimate the role unnecessary fear has in hurting our economy further. One of my regrets from my un…

FDIC Rules

I've been asked today what are the rules governing FDIC deposits. With today's news on the failure of the bailout bill, it's a smart practice for businesses, nonprofits and individuals to take a look at their bank accounts. The FDIC has a handy calculator called "Edie" that you can enter all of your bank account information and it will tell you whether you are covered or not.

If entering your information online makes you nervous, a couple of rules to remember for business FDIC coverage:

FDIC offers coverage of $100,000 per person, per entityLLC's and Corporations are separate entitiesA sole-proprietorship is not a separate entity so business accounts and personal accounts are added together and only insured to $100,000A corporation or LLC with several accounts at the same bank is only insured to the $100,000 on all the accounts together.This information is by no means comprehensive. I am not an attorney or accountant. I just wanted to give some preliminary guid…

Where Theory Meets Practice

I recently wrote about how handling difficult customers can provide the skills to improve an individual’s personal relationships. Ironically, the very moment I was drafting my post, key members of our staff at Bud’s Warehouse were being yelled at by an angry customer. (So much for my comments that we very rarely have to deal with angry customers.) The experience became a God-given teaching moment for the staff where theory meets practice. Indeed, one of the top benefits of a work-based job-training program is the on-the-job-experience from real life situations. We don’t just teach skills…we live them.

The next morning we spent our 30 minute teaching time reviewing our talk from the previous week on how to handle an angry customer. We identified points where we blew it. We commiserated about how ridiculous and angry this particular person was. We celebrated that we resolved the customer’s problem and earned an additional large sale from the person. We talked about ways to avoid the prob…

Innovation Awards

Check out the latest award winners from the Drucker Institute and the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. These innovative solutions to challenging problems will get your creative juices going.

2008 Drucker Innovation Awards
1st- Kickstart
2nd- Hidden Harvest
3rd.-Calvert Foundation

2008 Social Entrepreneurship Awards

William E. Simon Lifetime Achievement Award: Doe Fund

Social Entrepreneurship award-winners:
Careers through Culinary Arts Program

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services

Beacon Hill Village


St. Bernard Project


Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

A Time to Focus

The economy seems to be entering a season of high anxiety. Though the problems have mostly been limited to Wall Street and residential real estate up to this point, it may hit Main Street harder in the near future. Indeed, many non-profit organizations are beginning to see a dramatic decline in monetary donations, though some thrift store type organizations are actually seeing a counter-cyclical increase in sales. So what does this mean for faith ventures, businesses that seek to use profits to serve individuals or communities rebuilding lives from addiction, prison, homelessness or poverty? I think there are a couple of key points to remember:

A recession leads to more individuals needing job training and communities needing assistance
An economic downturn tends to hit unskilled workers first. Individuals with felony convictions or others issues related to poverty are usually the first to go. In addition, the steady flow of offenders leaving the prison system will find it harder to sec…

Happy Anniversary Providence Network

Yesterday, I attended a luncheon celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Providence Network. Over my last 9 years at Belay Enterprises, Providence has been one of our top partners in urban ministry. Many of our job-training employees have been residents of one of Providence Network’s transitional homes. We have discovered over the years that individuals have a much higher chance of success at rebuilding a life when they receive 24 hour care between our two organizations: they work at one of our projects and they live at a Providence home program. The next benefit of our relationship is the gradual step-down of services between our two organizations. An individual usually either graduates our program or the Providence Network program first, allowing for a gradually integration into full self-sufficiency.

The speakers at yesterday’s event offered a couple of lessons learned from 20 years of Providence Network experience which apply to traditional non-profits or faith venture business as mini…

How to Handle an Angry Customer and Change Your Life

In phase one of our job training program at Bud’s Warehouse, employees are introduced to the soft skills of employment: How to show up on time, do your best, dress appropriately for work and be honest at all times are a few of these employee basics. These are skills that individuals rebuilding lives from prison, addiction or homelessness may need to tune-up for future success. One of the most important of these soft skills is the ability to resolve conflict in a healthy manner. Whether we like it or not, conflict can be a frequent part of the work world and individuals coming out of jail are not the only one’s that need help in this area.

Conflict can be as simple as a disagreement over a workplace strategy or as complicated as a long-simmering dispute between an employee and his or her spouse that carries over into lost productivity in the workplace. The reality is that in a fallen world where individuals are prone to look out for their own interests, competing desires can result in c…

The Non-Profit/ For-Profit Decision

A major part of a business plan is defining the market for your service or product and then determining how you will provide it to your customer. But if you are starting a business to serve disadvantaged communities there is one question you must resolve before all the others: will you structure your business as a for-profit or a non-profit?

A few years ago, the structure question involved dealing with two very different entities. But in the last few years, the two organizational structures have begun to move towards what some writers have called a blending. Today, there are for-profits that are organized around social missions and there are non-profits that are running very large and profitable businesses. And for Christ-following entrepreneurs, whether they are running a faith venture or not, the distinction almost becomes non-existent. If all resources are God’s resources then the Christian business owner is just a steward of what is really God’s. They need to prayerfully seek God’s…

Faith Venture Focus Events: Oct. 16 and Nov. 6, 2008

This fall, Belay Enterprises and Faithventure Forum will be hosting two Faith Venture Focus Events at 11:30 am on Thursday, October 16, 2008 and Thursday, November 6, 2008, at Bud's Warehouse in Denver, Colorado. Bud's is located on the north frontage road of I-70 between Dahlia and Colorado at 4455 E. 46th Ave in Denver.

Followers of Christ with an interest in entrepreneurial ventures are invited to attend one of these information and brainstorming events. Together we will explore the intersection of faith and enterprise on behalf of disadvantaged communities during a two-hour lunchtime event. The focus session will seek input on what it takes to run an entrepreneurial enterprise. We want your advice on what you wish you had learned before starting.

Belay hopes to build up a network of relationships and expertise that together can help incubate a network of entrepreneurial faith ventures creating opportunity for individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, prison, homelessness,…

A Faith Venture Future

Belay Enterprises was started by Mile High Ministries in 1994 by a group of businessmen and urban pastors with a heart towards business as ministry. The faith venture organized itself around the mission of partnering with the local church to create businesses that employ and job train individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, prison and homelessness. Though its mission has remained unchanged since its early days, the organization’s priorities and strategy have changed over the years reflecting changing economic and ministry realities. Any nonprofit organization wanting to act entrepreneurially needs to keep an eye on the environment it operates and make changes when necessary.

Belay Enterprises was originally conceived as an organization with several employee training businesses that would fund a central microenterprise program. Belay kicked off these efforts in late 1994 with its first business as ministry, Bud's Warehouse, as well as making some initial micro-loans to urban bu…

The Faith Venture Three Customers Principle

A basic principle of a business plan is defining your customer. In order to succeed, a business needs to have a clear understanding of the wants and desires of its customers as well as knowledge of what makes them unique. For most for-profit businesses, the answer is pretty clear-cut. The customer is the individual or business that has a specific need for your product. A contemporary rule of marketing is to make sure your product appeals either to a targeted niche of customer or to a large section of the broad market. So you have businesses marketing targeted services like Christianbooks.com or companies offering broad services like Amazon.com.

For a faith venture, where business and ministry are linked, one must expand the definition of customer three-fold. Like a traditional for-profit, a faith venture needs to know who will purchase its product or service as the first level of customer. But unlike most businesses, a faith venture seeks to serve disadvantaged communities through its …

Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Texas

I recently posted about how difficult it was for felony offenders to find employment when released from jail. I saw developing entrepreneurial options for some felons might be the only possible route to employment in the future when insurance requirements make it impossible for businesses to hire them.

A story in the September 2008 issue of Christianity Today, tells of a faith venture organization called Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) that provides inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with entrepreneurial training from Ivy League MBA students. (Thanks to Business as Ministry Blog for pointing the way) This selective program only accepts participants who deeply desire change from past negative lifestyle choices. These inmates then receive extensive training in business and develop a comprehensive business plan. The program also provides teachings in Christian values and morality but does not require a faith commitment from participants. PEP was started in 2004 by C…

National Thrift Store Clothing Donations Down

After my recent post on how home improvement thrift stores tend to be counter-cyclical with the economy, a Chronicle of Philanthropy blog directed readers to an article on new problems facing retail thrift stores. A story in The New York Timesshared about how thrift store chains like the Salvation Army and Goodwill were experiencing an increase in sales similar to our experience at Bud’s Warehouse. But unlike our home improvement thrift store, they were also seeing a sizable drop in product donations. Some were worried about the possibility of running out of product later in the year.

At the Salvation Army, sales were up by 5% to 15% with donations down by 10% to 25%. Goodwill was seeing increases of 6% in sales but a donation decline of 5%-10%. The organizations pointed to several factors contributing to these trends. Like at Bud’s, the slow economy has caused consumers to seek low-cost bargains at thrift stores. But at the same time, individuals with extra clothing have increasingly …

Felony Entrepreneurship

American society finds it difficult to give felony offenders a second chance in the area of employment after they are released from jail. Business insurance requirements and owner liability concerns make it difficult for businesses to hire individuals with felonies. Yet, the post-incarceration success of offenders is directly related to their ability to secure employment.

At Belay Enterprises, we’ve had success placing non-violent felony offenders into real jobs in the community after they’ve completed 6 months to one year in one of our employment training businesses. Private businesses are willing to hire offenders after they’ve proven themselves with an employment history and the successful completion of a program. But for offenders with a violent felony offense, future employment opportunities are almost completely nonexistent. This is the case even though, in our experience, there are significant degrees of variance in the seriousness of violent offenses. For instance, running into…

Down is Up: Home Improvement Thrift Store Runs Countercyclical to Economy

Everyday in the news there are stories of non-profit organizations struggling with a decline in donations. The current housing crisis has impacted giving patterns to many charities forcing some to cut programs and lay-off staff. In the midst of this economic environment, thrift store faith ventures may provide one of the few refuges from a down-turn.

Over the last ten years, Bud's Warehouse has experienced some of its best sales results during times of economic troubles. In the months following 9/11, Bud's had a period of sales growth. We are seeing that same pattern occur right now in the midst of the housing crisis.

It seems that thrift stores provide a hedge against the economy because of their inherent countercyclical nature...especially thrift stores that specialize in home improvement. When individuals are feeling pinched economically, they are more likely to shop at a discount store. At Bud's, we've also seen a counter-intuitive rise in product donations. People a…

Life Gets in the Way

In a business start-up, an entrepreneur must be able to wear many different hats. There is the sales hat, the marketing hat, the bookkeeping hat and more. In a faith venture, where you are seeking to accomplish both good business and ministry on behalf of disadvantaged communities, the number of roles explodes and rarely diminishes over time as the enterprise grows. A faith venture has two bottom lines: profits and life change. These two aims are not always positively related and sometimes impose costs on each other.

At Bud’s Warehouse, we attempt to support our operation through the sale of donated building materials at the same time employing individuals starting over again from prison or addiction. That creates a very interesting dynamic. When you hire someone who is rebuilding a life from addiction or prison, there are labor premium costs that hit your bottom line. Bud’s employees are dealing with significant problems and need extra support in order to succeed on the job. As a resu…

The Business of Catch 22's

Joseph Conrad popularized the idea of the no-win situation in his book Catch 22 in the 1960’s. Over the last 9 years at Belay Enterprises, I have joked that our faith venture businesses of Bud’s Warehouse, Baby Bud’s and Freedom Cleaning Services have been in the business of Catch 22’s.

Indeed, the most obvious Catch-22 provides one of the top reasons for the creation of our employee training businesses. Felony offenders in community corrections programs are required to find a job or else they face a possible return to jail. Unfortunately, securing a job with a felony conviction is like finding your car in the Denver International Airport outdoor parking lot after a major blizzard. Many employers won’t even consider hiring someone with a prior felony conviction. Bud’s Warehouse exists as a transitional employer that will hire felons and then graduate them to jobs in the community. We have found that companies are more likely to hire a felon after being successfully employed in our prog…

Roadside Blessings

I have a friend who sometimes stops to help motorists stranded on the side of the road. He carries enough tools in his car to handle basic roadside mechanical issues. And if he can’t solve the problem, he assists them in finding help. Somewhere in his time with the stranded motorists, he always mentions, “If you had known me ten years ago, I would have never helped you.”

That statement always draws an inquisitive question, “What do you mean you would have never helped me?” My friend then shares how a decade ago he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was only interested in his own selfish pleasure and goals. “I wouldn’t have even noticed you stuck on the side of the road. But then I met Jesus and things could never be the same.”

He tells how God cared for him when his own life was broken down on the side of the road. And now he wants to share that love with others.

I thought of my friend’s roadside activities as we explored the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-26. This particul…

On the Road to Job Success with the Good Neighbor Garage

For individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, prison or poverty, two of the most important ingredients to future career success in the Denver metro area are qualifying for a driver’s license and purchasing a car for transportation. This reality provides the reason behind the creation of the Good Neighbor Garage in 2004.

In communities like Denver where public transportation does not adequately serve outlying areas that provide high-quality entry-level job opportunities in construction, a car means the difference between a well-paying job or a lower-quality day labor position. Traveling by bus or light rail just doesn’t accommodate an industry where job locations frequently change and start-times are often very early. And for individuals with children, their attempts to juggle child-care, schooling, and traveling to a job site without a vehicle becomes nearly impossible.

Marc Veldhuizen, in partnership with Belay Enterprises, started The Good Neighbor Garage as an innovative faith ven…

A Relationship Built by Craig

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Never underestimate the power of relationships or new technologies. And when you can link them together...look out.

Recently, a local manufacturer was introduced to Bud's Warehouse by a neighboring business. They were discontinuing a line of composite decking and did not know what to do with 100,000 linear feet of the former product line. A business across the street suggested donating the product to Bud's...a company that was in the business of recycling and had developed a relationship with Bud's over the last five years. With one single recommendation, our job-training program received one of its largest product donations of the year.

It reminded me of the circumstances of the biggest donation in Bud's history. Over a million dollars worth of cabinet doors were rescued from a trip to the landfill by a similar suggestion from someone witnessing the load on its way to the dump. The dirty little secret of the building industry is the large amount of waste. It's safer…

Faith Ventures Close the Revolving Door of Incarceration

If you were in charge of reducing the recidivism rate in your community, what factors would you point to as decreasing the odds of a former inmate returning to prison?

Since drug addiction is a major contributing factor to felony convictions, some might urge that enrollment in drug and addiction programs would reduce the rates of return to prison. Others might suggest that adult education classes or family services programs would decrease recidivism. Some might recommend the provision of mental health services.

In fact, a 1994 study of successful community corrections outcomes and 2 year recidivism rates for offenders leaving the Colorado penal system showed that all of these factors contributed to a decrease in return trips to prison. Individuals who successfully completed community corrections were older, educated, employed and participating in community programs. 75% of individuals who successfully completed community corrections remained crime free after two years. But one factor st…