Social Impact Feature: Furniture Bank launches second social enterprise to help seniors downsize

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The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio recently launched its second social enterprise, Downsize with a Heart, a full-service business designed to help seniors and their loved ones plan for and implement a transition strategy. Whether their client  simply needs to relocate or is moving into an assisted living situation, Downsize with a Heart provides a customized approach to ensure these changes are as easy and efficient as possible.

As opposed to a for-profit business that outsources various moving and relocation tasks, such as organizing, packing and auctioning off items, the Furniture Bank’s Downsize with a Heart team performs most of these services in house. Revenues generated from these services will go back to the organization, supporting their mission of providing families in need with furniture and household items. Furniture Bank launched its first social enterprise in April 2016, Furniture with a Heart, a thrift store that sells gently used furniture and home décor.

“With Downsize with a Heart, we saw a great opportunity in the downsizing business model that aligned nicely with our organization’s mission-based initiatives, as well as our Furniture with a Heart thrift store concept,” said Steve Votaw, President, Furniture Bank. “We then added the social enterprise component, where consumers purchase a service they need—that also benefits others in need.”

Why two ventures in less than one year? The impetus behind the Furniture Bank’s goal to launch multiple social enterprises came as a result of a change in a long-time sponsor’s giving structure. The Furniture Bank had to find a way to replace $1 million in lost philanthropic revenue.

“The Furniture Bank’s Strategic Initiatives Committee, along with the full support of the board, has worked diligently to launch these two ventures,” said Mr. Votaw. “Many community partners, including AEP, The Columbus Foundation, Nationwide Foundation, LBrands, Duke Foundation and Safelite AutoGlass Foundation, were extremely generous in providing the start-up capital needed to adequately explore and launch these concepts, so that we could generate the funds needed to maintain the organization’s mission.”

Throughout 2016, the Strategic Initiatives Committee conducted market research that pointed to approximately 40,000 prospective customers for the downsizing concept in Franklin County alone. The organization then decided to pilot the concept for further refinement. Noreen Murphy of Upper Arlington, a pilot participant, describes her experience:

“I called the Furniture Bank to clean out my mom’s condominium. She was heading to assisted living. They were a life saver as we needed to get her into her new place. They did an excellent job; they were quick and took care of everything we were giving away. This was such a stressful time for our family and they made it all happen so smoothly.”

By 2020, the Furniture Bank’s two ventures are projected to yield a surplus of approximately $800,000 annually—80% of what was once an annual gift will now be self-sustainable revenue, independently generated by the nonprofit. Additionally, these two social enterprises have resulted in the creation of 18 jobs throughout Central Ohio: a total of nine full-time employees, and nine part-time employees.

“For us, the process of launching Furniture with a Heart, and Downsize with a Heart has transformed our entire organization’s approach to solving not only budget-balancing challenges,” said Mr. Votaw, “But it has also reframed how we apply innovation to all aspects of our operations to better fulfill our mission.”

The Downsize with a Heart team currently operates out of Furniture Bank’s headquarters, located at 118 S. Yale St., Columbus, Ohio 43222. Visit DownsizeWithAHeart.org, call 614-545-3844, or send an email to Todd Cordetti to learn how Downsize with a Heart can help you or a loved one transition seamlessly to the next living situation.

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