Nonprofits can use Miami-Dade County to gain competitive advantage
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Although many local nonprofits may not know it, they have a powerful friend in Miami-Dade County's Department of Procurement Management.
This was one of the lessons to take away from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's "Billion Dollar Secret" seminar last week at the Four Seasons Hotel on Brickell Avenue.
The event attracted a group of about 30 from the non-profit and for-profit sectors to discuss how charitable organizations can continue fulfilling their missions on a reduced budget.
Among them are a program the county's procurement department offers governmental, quasi-governmental and non-profit organizations that allows them to leverage the county's purchasing power to meet their own needs.
The county's "User Access Program" is a joint-purchase and a revenue-sharing agreement that, at the moment, is only being used by one nonprofit, according to Jill Klaskin Press of the county's procurement department.
"It's the best-kept secret in Miami and it shouldn't be," she said. "There's no way they can get the volume discounts we get when we put contracts into place, nor do they have the manpower to put out as many contacts as we do."
Participating organizations can file as many or as few purchases as they want and settle their debt with the county on a quarterly basis.
The program, Ms. Press said, was supported by the county's general fund when it began in 2003. Now a 2% deduction from the overall cost of each purchase gives organizations an invaluable means of saving money.
The chamber seminar also focused on relationship building as a path to success on both sides of the spectrum.
A panel, consisting of Catherine Penrod, CEO of Switchboard Miami Inc., Jim Williams, owner of Aquarius Press Inc., Laure Hitzig, director of catering and conference services for the Four Seasons Hotel, and Gloria Danovitz, chapter advancement officer of the American Red Cross of Greater Miami & The Keys.
WPBT2 CEO Rick Schneider led the discussion. He began by asking, "When a nonprofit calls, do you expect it to be a profitable deal?"
The answer turned out to be yes and no.
Ms. Hitzig said that although working with a nonprofit is generally less profitable, it provides valuable exposure to the greater community.
"Even this event is great exposure for us," she said, referring to the seminar.
Mr. Williams, of Aquarius Press agreed, saying that while he knows he won't make as much money on a nonprofit's job, he can often attach something such as his company's logo to a printed piece which provides him with additional advertising.
The representatives of the for-profit sector also emphasized the importance of being an efficient, honest vendor who offers expertise to a non-profit to help it get the most value for its dollar.
"A lot of times people will want to spend your money," Mr. Williams said. "Sometimes you're only as good as the knowledge you have."
And more often than not "[companies] have been giving suggestions that could be wrong and costly," he added.
Meanwhile, the non-profit representatives said most charitable organizations have a stable of reliable vendors they call on to provide their goods and services.
Becoming a regular vendor for a nonprofit, Ms. Danovitz of the Red Cross noted, hinges on relationships built on trust both in business dealings and general conduct.
"One of the things we appreciate is when a vendor points out something we may not have known," she said. "It inspires trust."
"If a vendor doesn't serve our purpose or represent us well we don't use them," she added.
And while she said nonprofits always welcome a donation, they don't expect them regularly from vendors.
An added bonus to doing business with nonprofits, the panel said, is that it often opens up more business opportunities for for-profit and non-profit companies.
"There are a lot of business relationships that start through us," the Red Cross' Ms. Danovitz said. "Vendors are working to get business from each other and us."
Still, Ms. Penrod of Switchboard Miami, said that no matter what a vendor has to offer, if it does not provide reliable service and a good product, it won't be used.
"Small businesses may not realize that every time we deal with a vendor it's a relationship," she said. "We want businesses to tell others about us and vice versa."