Counseling can be, and often is, a profitable business to be sure. There have been years when I’ve grossed in excess of $150k on my own. Make it a group, clinic or larger program, and profits can go through the ceiling.
Plenty of people write about how to make profitable practices, and that is great. But what about the folks who see counseling not as a money generator but as more of a calling? This new CT Online column will seek to give these counselors a voice and help them develop a nonprofit, or help them expand one, in the process. It will focus on the many issues found in the nonprofit world of mental health based on your feedback and questions.
You may already know me through the blog I have written for the American Counseling Association since 2011 under the heading “Doc Warren” (counseling.org/news/blog). Or you might know me from ACA Conference panels and presentations, or via the books I have contributed to, including one that focused on designing, building and running a successful practice.
Many may not know that I founded a nonprofit in 2005 through a $7,000 loan, seeking to serve people who were not privileged. At the onset, the charity only worked with folks on state insurance, but after a contract dispute with the company that managed the state program, it broke ties and opened its doors to private insurance holders, while always maintaining a great deal of pro bono and sliding scale services. The nonprofit has never focused on money. Instead, it has focused on service. This focus, in and of itself, helped it go from a nonentity to a sought after program that often overflows with clients, potential interns and eager volunteers who want to help make their world better than they found it. Practices from as far away as Australia have consulted with me in an effort to incorporate some of the nonprofit’s many facets into their own practices.
Starting a nonprofit is daunting. My company started out without such basics as a fax machine. But it has grown — without federal funding — to two thriving locations: the original 1,500-square-foot location and the 50-acre Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm that, though currently being remodeled, will offer almost 8,000 square feet of programming space over three floors.
Some see counseling as a business like any other. You have a service, set a price and provide that service to those who can afford it. Others see counseling not as a business in which to make money but as an opportunity to make a real difference in this world. The focus on making money is shifted to that of making a positive change.
I personally see it as answering a call from above. Years ago, bedridden and in very poor health, I found myself making many prayers. Some were for improved health, and some were for help to find meaning. After starting recovery from my surgery, I found I was receiving messages from everywhere that I should enter the field (more than one boss in my career has called me a preacher, a counselor or a shrink).
One of the final straws was being called into the factory office by a boss who was concerned that I was gaining a real following in the shipping and receiving area where I worked. It seemed to him that “everyone in the factory” was coming to me for guidance. At one point, he made it clear that I had not been hired “to be the company shrink” and informed me that I had another job to do. It dawned on me in that moment that he was right. I remember thanking him, telling him he was right and then telling him that I quit. It wasn’t until I got into my work van that I realized I didn’t have any idea about how to go to college. After all, no one in my family had ever done so.
My sister died at age 35. She was poor and lacked proper access to care. That was when I pledged to do what I could to prevent others from having to go through the same thing. I had no interest in becoming a medical doctor or specializing in what had taken my sister because I knew I was meant to be a doctor of counseling. So at that moment, I dedicated myself to finishing my education and founding a charity that would seek to level the playing field for all those in need.
To me, money is a necessary evil required to pay off mortgages and student loans. Otherwise, I do not care for it. I do, however, love serving others.
Your interest in nonprofits may differ greatly from mine, as might your idea for a preferred setting. Regardless of your desire, this column seeks to help you help others.
Let me know which of the following topics you’d be most interested in having me focus on in future columns.
- Considerations for designing and opening a nonprofit
- Credentials: Are you qualified to practice in your state?
- Identifying the type of nonprofit you want to open
- Selecting a space
- Registering your nonprofit
- Staffing issues
- Advertising for nonprofits
- Documentation requirements
- Capital improvement campaigns
- Grant writing
- Personal safety/security in a growing nonprofit
- Issues related to medication management in nonprofits
- Billing services or in-house billing department?
- Getting referrals/basic marketing
- Website development and maintenance
- Brochure writing and development
- Opening a nonprofit on a shoestring budget
- Supervision and other ethical responsibilities for clinical nonprofits
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling of Central Connecticut Inc. (docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (pillwillop.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, particularly to let him know which topics you’d like future articles to cover.