Shoestring Gardening

This case study looks at how business planning helped Shoestring Gardening to adopt a more business-like approach, improve volunteer recruitment, and attract increased funding.

The challenge of operations and finances

In 2010, not for profit group Shoestring Gardening was facing a volunteer shortage and operational and financial challenges.

Looking for inspiration, coordinator Karen Bembridge attended a business planning seminar for not for profit organisations. Following on from the seminar, Shoestring also received four business planning mentoring sessions.

Support through business planning and mentoring

Between November 2011 and June 2013, the former Office for the Community Sector, in partnership with Small Business Victoria and the Small Business Mentoring Service, delivered the Business Planning for Not for Profit Program.

The Program featured ten business planning seminars and individual business mentoring sessions across Victoria to support not for profit community organisations improve business practices. This case study was one of the participants in the program.

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Benefits of business planning for Shoestring

Shoestring’s business plan, developed with the help of the mentor, delivered a number of benefits. It:

  • Clarified Shoestring’s vision (including strengths, weaknesses and opportunities)
  • introduced a more business-minded approach
  • aligned individual activities with Shoestring's mission
  • improved Shoestring’s understanding of its financial status and objectives.

New recruitment program = more volunteers

One of the major outcomes from the planning process was a redeveloped volunteer recruitment program, designed to match volunteers’ skills with Shoestring’s needs.

While Shoestring had historically struggled to find volunteers, the new program succeeded in attracting dedicated, qualified and effective volunteers. For example Shoestring was able to recruit a website professional to manage its website.

“We were struggling to bring in volunteers and our mentor helped us focus on what we needed and how to attract some serious volunteers, who have greatly helped us progress.” Bronwyn Riddell, Program Coordinator

New services = more income

Shoestring has also adopted a more business-like approach to securing income, identifying fee for service opportunities such as charging for workshops. Shoestring has identified new revenue-raising services it can offer, including:

  • Presenting talks and seminars to schools, garden clubs and other groups
  • selling plants to the community.

As their mentor explained, becoming more business minded was vital to ensuring Shoestring’s future.

“I will always remember something Martin [our mentor] said. He said, ‘Do not be scared to earn money, to make money. You’ve got to make money because that money is how you sustain yourself." Karen Bembridge, Coordinator

New financial literacy = more funding

Mentoring and planning also gave Shoestring a better understanding of its finances, and the professional language needed to effectively convey its message to grant-giving organisations. This has improved its standing with the local council and other organisations, leading to increased funding.

“It has given us a credential in relation to how we interact with council. We are now on that business pedestal where we can see the outcomes we are seeking being realised. For example, last year we went for a grant and initially we were rejected. But once we had the plan in place we had a much stronger argument and were able to secure over $9000 funding from the council.” Karen Bembridge, Coordinator.

About Shoestring Gardening

Since 2009, Shoestring Gardening has worked with local residents, cultural groups and organisations to promote ecological sustainability across the Wyndham community in Melbourne's outer west. See Shoestring Gardening for more information.

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