Great Start-ups: A Green Umbrella Success Story
New social ventures have problems getting started. No matter how wonderful their motivating ideas, start-ups face a chicken-and-egg dilemma. They need funding to get organized but cannot accept most kinds of support until they legally exist as tax-exempt nonprofit corporations.
Green Umbrella offers nonprofit start-ups the advantage of our tax-exempt status. Their successes show how collective impact and a strong “backbone” organization can support aligned activities.
Red Bike may be the most visible example. The idea of a bike-share program came from Leadership Cincinnati, our region's flagship leadership-development program. A start-up team approached Green Umbrella for help in 2012. With a fiscal sponsorship agreement in place, grants and other commitments developed quickly, and funds transferred through Green Umbrella. In addition, Green Umbrella lent board members. The President of Red Bike’s Board of Directors said the initiative had “gotten off to a dream start.”
When Red Bike was ready to hire an executive director, Green Umbrella managed the logistics of the search process and played a leadership role in the selection. An attorney on Green Umbrella’s board volunteered his time to apply for Red Bike’s independent nonprofit registration.
Look at the results: The bike-share system opened to the public in the Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and Uptown neighborhoods in September 2014 with 35 stations and 260 bikes. Now it has 56 stations and extends into Northside and Northern Kentucky. Red Bike regularly exceeds participation goals and has won recognition as the most fiscally sound bike-share system in the country.
Here are some other examples of Green Umbrella’s history of incubating start-ups:
Taking Root is an initiative that addresses the current historic loss of our region’s trees. The aim is to plant two million trees by 2020 and promote better tree management and conservation. Green Umbrella was a founding partner in the campaign and the fiscal sponsor before Taking Root obtained legal status as a nonprofit. Nearly half a million tress have been planted to date, and Taking Root won a national award for volunteerism in 2016.
Outdoor Adventure Clubs of Greater Cincinnati takes urban teens out into nature for healthy recreation — hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, fishing, climbing, skiing, and more. Green Umbrella acted as fiscal sponsor for OAC in 2015. Now an independent nonprofit, OAC provides no-cost outdoor activities for 2,500 area high-school students each year. The focus is on underserved areas where access to safe outdoor recreation is difficult. The adventures take many participants out of their neighborhoods for the first time. These youngsters can become the next generation of advocates for the environment. In 2016, Green Umbrella transferred Ohio River Paddlefest, the largest padding event in the nation, to OAC to serve as an annual fundraiser for them.
Sidestreams Foundation builds gardens and launches food projects in collaboration with people living in food-desert communities. Beginning in 2011, this was the first of Green Umbrella’s fiscal-sponsorship undertakings. Today Sidestreams is creating farms from vacant urban land, building group and individual gardens, and sponsoring educational programs. Sidestreams’ 686 gardens in Madisonville and Newport provide thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables and eggs to individuals, food pantries, and farm markets.
Green Umbrella, our region’s alliance to maximize environmental sustainability, looks forward to enabling many more great initiatives to benefit our community.
Written by Bob Temple, longtime member of Green Umbrella's Board of Trustees.
Green Umbrella is the leading alliance working to maximize the environmental sustainability of Greater Cincinnati. We drive collaboration to fuel measurable improvements in key areas of sustainability. Our vision is to have the region recognized as one of the top 10 most sustainable metro areas in the nation by 2020. For more information or to become a member, please visit www.greenumbrella.org.