Thirty years ago this September, The Gathering Place (TGP) was founded to help homeless women and their children to be able to go to a safe place during the day after the night shelters closed. The tagline for The Gathering Place, A Refuge for Rebuilding Lives, reminds us that to rebuild a life takes time and a great deal of inner and outer resources. TGP provides a safe place, meeting basic needs, personal growth programs,
and a community of hope, respect, and dignity – help members to rebuild and transform their lives.
They are called “members” because the women who frequent The Gathering Place take pride in their sense of community and belonging. A special emphasis of TGP’s mission is to motivate and help members become self-sufficient. Art Restart was a logical, and fairly brilliant, the concept for TGP’s social enterprise. For the past 25 years, the organization has been producing greeting cards, hand made by its members – some with commercial level talent and others with a story to tell and needing a way to express themselves. Launched in 2014, Art Restart, a non-profit social enterprise, provides customizable greeting cards from about 90 artists, who also receive services from TGP, Denver’s only daytime drop-in center for women, children and transgender individuals experiencing poverty or homelessness. Called the “Card Project,” every year TGP featured the unique and original designs of its members as a fund raising tool. Original card designs were sold to many businesses in the Denver area, and the Card Project did reasonably well. “In 2014, it came time to reinvest in the TGP mission with earned revenue that would continue to add services and job opportunities for our members who fervently want to become self-sufficient,” says Leslie Foster, president of The Gathering Place. “In the process, we have established a creative way for businesses to demonstrate a commitment to being socially responsible while directly helping women in need.” The strategy behind Art Restart is to provide corporations with an opportunity to use marketing dollars to support a charitable cause, while at the same time directly benefitting the people receiving services.
Through the sale of high-end, bulk quantity reproductions of the art created by local women and transgender individuals, large companies, small businesses, politicians, entrepreneurs, foundations, and organizations are purchasing cards for all types of occasions. Holidays, birthdays, wedding packages, “Thank You” notes, and more can be customized and cobranded with TGP, communicating a combined business and socially responsible message directly with key audiences. “It sends a powerful message to an organization’s audience about who they are,” Foster says. “If we know anything about consumers and customers today, it is this: when given a choice between virtually equal service and product options, almost 90 percent will choose the one that links to a social mission.” Foster has spent decades in the
nonprofit sector and knows firsthand the challenges that nonprofit organizations face. Having recognized how business concepts can be brought to bear on these challenges, Foster’s team and board of directors, made the leap to take a calculated business risk and establish a social enterprise that had the potential to create a stable funding stream for the organization. “We did an immense amount of research on social enterprises and talked with our cohorts in Colorado and across the U.S. to build the Art Restart social enterprise program right the first time,” Foster explains.
According to industry experts, most social enterprises and even small business start-ups struggle to reach immediately profitable growth. Art Restart was profitable from the start, increasing net profit 61 percent by the end of its second year of operation. Even more important, Foster says,“Participating artists not only earn income, they also are learning how to produce commercially viable artwork.”The artists Foster refers to are part of the TGP community. At TGP, women, children and transgender individuals experiencing poverty or homelessness have become a community. These members are among the most vulnerable in our society, seeking a refuge to rebuild their lives -lives that have been severely challenged and damaged because of hard times, domestic violence, addiction and even sheer bad luck. Art Restart’s business goals are simple and address five key areas: Financial: Art Restart’s financial target is to comprise at least 3 percent of TGP’s operating income. Access:As with most start-ups, the ability to transact online can be essential.
Art Restart launched a new website in 2015. It features an e-commerce platform, online fulfillment, full catalog of customizable designs, and bulk ordering availability. Social: Participating artists not only earn income, they also are trained in a skill that they can continue to use to earn a living. And in some cases, is
the only consistent means of income they have. Sustainability: In the first two years of operation, Art Restart landed 60 businesses, individuals, and organizations as customers. The sales team at Art Restart hopes to grow that customer base and encourage repeat business.
Community: TGP’s strong reputation in the Denver community helped to encourage its stakeholders to support Art Restart. Additionally, many new clients and stakeholders who never previously supported TGP have become new donors, volunteers, and supported fund raising events. “We will grow as we touch more people, businesses, and organizations,” says Teresa Densmore, director of Art Restart. “Considering that greeting cards are often about expression and inspiration, every person or entity that uses our cards will be directly helping homeless women and their children. Just doing so may also inspire the people being marketed to through Art Restart products, to participate in this very easy, low-cost way to help change the perception that homelessness cannot be reversed, changed or mitigated.” The social enterprise business model is helping TGP generate revenue and is demonstrating that the organization can build a sustainable future. “At a time when accountability is severely-challenged,” Densmore says. “Art Restart proves that we can positively impact the lives of those we serve, help fund TGP’s mission, and be true partners with our sponsors and donors.” “But that’s not all,” Foster says. “We are also providing a simple way the public can engage and support the homeless.”
Editor’ note: For more information about Art Restart, email Teresa Densmore,Teresa@tgpdenver.org or visit the Art