Dorcas’ Huddle Success Story

How a Non-profit Made $1 Million
By: Cayla Mackey
July 1, 2015

Social Enterprise Greenhouse was recently given the Community Partner Award by Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island for their work with the agency’s translation service branch, iiTranslates. Thanks to help from Social Enterprise Greenhouse, iiTranslates brought in over $1 Million in sales in their 2014-2015 fiscal year, making it one of the largest interpreting and translation service businesses in Rhode Island. At their Spring Forward event, Dorcas honored Social Enterprise Greenhouse for their hard work in helping grow the organization and for their outstanding service to the community.

In 2014, Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (DIIRI) participated in Social Enterprise Greenhouse’s Huddle program. The Huddle is an intensive strategy session for high potential, later stage social ventures in collaboration with the Harvard and Wharton Business School Alumni Associations of Southeastern New England. Through The Huddle, Dorcas was offered management advice, technical assistance and network support designed to address key challenges or opportunities and take the venture to the next level. Dorcas’ Huddle included two three-hour general sessions in July and August, and two more customized sessions thereafter.

iiTranslates provides valuable interpreting and translation services to medical offices, law firms, and other businesses. For recent immigrants and non-native English speakers, access to a professional interpreter can make a huge difference in their lives. An intereter helps connect this especially vulnerable population to services and resources they need to get off on the right foot. iiTranslates currently has a network of over 200 interpreters speaking over 60 languages ranging from Farsi to Finnish.

Mike Chea, Director of iiTranslates, participated in The Huddle with Kathleen Cloutier, CEO of DIIRI. As he says, “It was very informative–lots of brainpower. Very smart people gave us very good advice.” That’s hard to imagine considering that Mike has been with Dorcas for about 10 years. Prior to being the Director of iiTranslates, he was an intern, then an interpreter, then the Program Coordinator. Sometimes being too close to an organization can prevent its staff from accurately seeing problems, and effectively addressing them. This is the true point of The Huddle.

As Kathleen says, “The Huddle was a tremendously successful experience for us. To be able to look at our businesses as outsiders was invaluable. We forget that, to outsiders, sometimes what we as nonprofits do doesn’t make sense.”

The Huddle is often a non-profit’s first experience with intensively applied business principles and in-depth business consulting. These basic foundational elements are key in non-profits’ financial health. WIthout them, it is impossible to grow. Kathleen agrees. She says, “The business perspective that the Huddle provided allowed us to make crucial changes to our business structure and set us on a strong foundational path for business growth.”

Mike cites several big changes that they made to the organization as a result of The Huddle. The first was the definition of a clear vision. He says, “The best advice was to choose my battles–pick what I think is best for the business instead of trying to please everybody.” The second was clearly defining staff roles and responsibilities. Mike explains, “Before, everybody was doing everything. We repositioned each person’s responsibility. Now, we have repositioned our staff. It’s much better now that we’ve done that.”

Dorcas is currently poised for growth. Since they have broken $1 Million in annual revenue with iiTranslates, they are hoping to reach $7 Million in 5 years. They recently hired two additional staff members–a full-time translator and a part-time interpreter  / part-time office assistant–and are planning on hiring more to help them reach their goal. The extra labor is needed to keep up with the increased demand for their services.

For Kathleen, The Huddle was an invaluable experience that allowed Dorcas to increase its revenue, contributing to long-term sustainability and stability for the non-profit. As she said at the Spring Forward awards ceremony recognizing Social Enterprise Greenhouse, “We wouldn’t be where we are today without Social Enterprise Greenhouse and the wonderful work Kelly and her team are doing both for us and for the greater community.”

Dorcas is a vital part of the Providence ecosystem, and all Rhode Islanders benefit from its success. As Mike says, “This state has a reputation for being open to all people, to anyone that speaks any kind of different language in the world. We welcome them with open arms and we have a large foreigner population. Because of that, the business community thrives and we thrive. We are always here to help break the communication barrier.”

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Cayla Mackey
University Initiative Director

As the Social Enterprise Greenhouse University Initiative Director, Cayla helps college and university students get involved in social enterprise. The University Initiative is a program funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Innovation Grant to retain students and recent graduates in Rhode Island through enabling them to work on and in social enterprises. Learn more about Cayla here.