Jill Warren Lucas
If he didn’t have a solid business empire backing up his bravado, Mike Mann might seem like a TV huckster pitching a get-rich-quick scheme. Except he’s using his considerable acumen and wealth to help nonprofits address important social issues.
“I’m not a businessman turned charity. I’m a charity person turned business,” says the fast-talking Mann calling from his home in an upscale Florida suburb. “The reason I have all these successful businesses is that I want to fund charities. My employees are all on board. They have no choice. They can’t work for me otherwise.”
Mann, a self-described social capitalist and serial entrepreneur who made his first fortune trading domain names, has three for-profit corporations listed among the 2012 INC 500 fastest-growing companies in America. He invests what he calls his “business winnings” into a pool of his own nonprofit organizations to help other charitable enterprises establish strong business models and, in turn, expand their service missions.
“We seek projects that are lightly funded but have the potential to help tons of people,” Mann says. “And we’ve got 200 employees to help make sure they are successful.”
While many respondents to Philanthropy Journal’s first Trend Spotters report in November complained that they lack the time and resources to keep even generic websites current – let alone constantly feed social media – Mann says reluctant technology users typically discover that their jobs become simpler.
“If you remove technology from the equation, you’re totally screwed,” Mann says bluntly. “It’s a matter of natural selection. Over time, it’s the person with the social media, with the Google optimization, who will have the donors and the visibility. You get scale and the ability to compete.”
Mann adds that nonprofits “tend to think of themselves as not competing, but they need to follow smart business practices if they want to be seen, trusted and become the recipient of enough funds to make a difference.”
If your nonprofit does not qualify for a grant from this or other charitable enterprises he manages, Mann suggests joining Grassroots.org – his free online community which boasts its ability to help charities to “extend your reach instantly!”
Indeed, Mann wants more nonprofit leaders to huddle around his virtual desk to scour the insider tips, learn the best practices and harness the common sense chutzpah he uses to succeed. He likewise encourages other enterprises that can share knowledge and resources to do so.
“Test out all the free and cheap stuff first,” Mann advises. “There are all sorts of websites and apps that hardly cost anything but go a long way in teaching people to do social philanthropy.”
Of course, not every nonprofit’s staff is hip to Twitter and Facebook or knows how to optimize a brand for maximum bounce on Google. If hiring a communications guru is not feasible, Mann suggests enlisting the volunteer services of a goal-oriented, smartphone-using high school or college student who might jump on a project for community service credit or to beef up a slim résumé. Or apply to Interns.org or Changetheworld.org, more of Mann’s projects, to connect with a qualified student consultant who can build a marketing plan that will drive donors to your site.
No matter how your nonprofit opts to engage in modernizing its approach to data collection and communications outreach, Mann says the result will be improved documentation and increased exposure for your cause.
“You can pay consultants to do it for you, or you can use the same practices we’re giving away free,” he says. “The bottom line is to help charities spend their time more effectively in addressing fundamental needs that improve lives.”