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During the last decade on business school campuses nationwide, business plan competitions had become a vital part of the academic scene as more and more students vied for venture capital monies, corporate recognition, and academic rewards. Yet nonprofit organizations developing earned-income ventures had limited opportunities to share their experiences or learn from others in the field. In addition, many nonprofit managers lacked the business skills required to launch or otherwise grow successful ventures.

Yet, despite these challenges, the movement toward income generation continued to build as an increasing number of nonprofits investigated and initiated business ventures. Some of these ventures succeeded, yet many more fail to meet either their social or financial goals. Clearly, the field lacked well-defined criteria, standards, and strategies for achieving success in this area.

Recognizing a growing national trend among nonprofits, The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned Cynthia W. Massarsky , an expert in the field of revenue generation for nonprofits, to research and study the landscape of nonprofit business ventures.   Massarsky conducted the landmark study, " Enterprising Nonprofits: Revenue Generation in the Nonprofit Sector ," w ith the aid of colleague Samantha Beinhacker, and paved the way for the development of the first-ever National Business Plan Competition for Nonprofit Organizations.

With results of the study in hand, in the fall of 2001 The Pew Charitable Trusts made a three-year $3 million grant to the Yale School of Management to house the Competition, and Massarsky and Beinhacker were asked to work with Yale faculty directors Sharon Oster and Stanley Garstka to co-direct the program.

Shortly thereafter, The Goldman Sachs Foundation joined with a two-year $1.5 million grant to launch the Yale School of Management - The Goldman Sachs Foundation Partnership on Nonprofit Ventures. For the next several years, The Partnership and its Business Plan Competition would provide targeted guidance and resources to nonprofits most capable of launching and operating revenue-generating business ventures. Through its ongoing research projects and resource center on its website, The Partnership would also encourage sound business practices, provide the sector with important guidelines for achieving scale, sustainability and impact, and serve as a positive vehicle for communication among practitioners and funders.

Winners from the First Competition were selected in May 2003, the Second Competition in May 2004, and the Third and Final Competition in June 2004. In each of the three Competitions, four grand-prize winners received $100,000 each in seed capital and hundreds of hours of technical business planning consultations to assist their organizations to move their ventures forward. Four semi-finalists received $25,000 each in seed capital as well as technical business assistance.

September 2005 marked the close of the National Business Plan Competition for Nonprofit Organizations under the auspices of the founding partners - The Yale School of Management, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and The Goldman Sachs Foundation. The Partnership on Nonprofit Ventures successfully demonstrated the viability of for-profit venturing as a source of funding for nonprofits.

And so, Massarsky has taken up the challenge once again and created SocialReturns , a new organization that will carry on the tradition she started some five years ago. SocialReturns will sponsor a series of Social Enterprise Business Plan Competitions, a new University Consortium on Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, and other related activities for the field.

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