Counseling Today, Online Exclusives

Nonprofit News: A place for nonprofit counselors

By “Doc Warren” Corson III June 16, 2015

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 NonprofitNewscolumn 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
  • Financing
  • 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

 

****

 

Dr. Warren Corson III

Dr. Warren Corson III

 

“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 docwarren@docwarren.org, particularly to let him know which topics you’d like future articles to cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Comments

  1. Theresa Highsmith

    Hi Doc,
    I read your article in (A Publication of the American Counseling Association) online and let me tell you a little about me. I have a B.S. in Business Administration, MBA in Human Resource Mgt. and I own a transitional home for women who are substance abusers and trying to get their life back on track. Now, i was married for 10 years and my ex-husband was strung out on crack-cocaine and i did not understand it at the time, but i left my marriage and several years later started this home. I thought i would become rich doing this but as i got my feet wet , I realized that would not happen, however i am very comfortable in working with these ladies. Some of them have been rehabilitated, returned to their children and making a positive impact on the community, and now I know it is a calling from God. So many times I have to go in my pocket and provide but God blesses. I am now in search of how to become a nonprofit organization, because I was going to close it due to finances, but the ladies nearly cried and begged me not to because they really didnt have anywhere to go at this stage of their recovery. I have just ordered the book (Nonprofit for Dummies) to get started, also I dont have any degrees in counseling but it seems that I am good at it and have thought about attending Walden University for a Phd. in counseling. Oh yes, I have been in the field of Public Health for over 25 years and have worked as an receptionist to several clinics, but now a Environmental Health Specialist. I live in the county of Dekalb, the state of Georgia and worked closely with the Drug Court Process, and they do pay a little stipend, but not nearly enough so that is why i have to work full-time. If you could just help put me on the right path, I would be so grateful because I do not know where to start. Thank you for your article and your time.

    Sincerely,
    Theresa

    Reply
    1. Doc Warren

      Great to hear from you and so quickly after this went live! Your work sounds exactly what is needed and I do hope you stick around! I have a word document that is a handbook for writing bylaws. It focuses on New York State but can be easily tweaked to be used as a template for writing your own bylaws. I used it for writing mine. simply save it as it is and then save it as your template, changing what you need to make it work…
      If you are interested in it just email me at docwarren@docwarren.org and I will send you a copy. There is no charge of course, just pay it forward.
      -Doc Warren
      P.S. good luck with the Ph.D. goal. YOU CAN DO IT!

    1. Doc Warren

      Thanks! They will be released monthly. In the mean time I still will be blogging for the ACA and hope to have one out in the next week or so.
      -Doc Warren

  2. Loren Harmon

    Hi Doc, I too consider counseling service to be a calling for service to fellow man, and I am working on developing a nonprofit in my small hometown. I have a B.B.A in Accounting, an M.Ed in Education and will complete my M.Ed in Clinical Mental Health this August. My biggest concerns are establishing partnership relationships with the local DHR and courts as I am not a well connected person and, even more so, for funding. I saw ‘grant writing’ as a possible future topic and I am very interested in that. Grant finding and writing for absolute beginners! Thank you for this colu, I look forward to future editions! Sincerely, Loren

    Reply
    1. Doc Warren

      Loren,
      Glad you like it! Grant writing for beginners will definitely be addressed as soon as I can as will marketing. For what it’s worth, I had no real connections in the area when I opened as went to college, grad school and doctoral programming in VT and live in CT and had always worked many miles from where the office opened. There is much we can do though to make an impact. Good quality service can be king.
      -Doc Warren.

  3. Peter Farrelly

    Great article & I look forward to the next instalment. I am in New Zealand & 6 years ago left a 25+ year career in Banking & Fiannce & retrained as a Pschosynthesis Counsellor. I co own a small wellness centre & so am slowly building my own practice alongside my business partner who is an excellent Massage & Deep Tissue Therapist. I am interested in your thoughts on the possibility of developing a non profit entity to provide sliding scale affordable counselling to those who need it desperately but simply can’t afford it. I’m wondering how possible this really is while still growing my paying practice so that I am at least comfortable & can have the freedom to spend some of myy time in low cost or pro bono work ( I already do a small amount myself in my own practice on a case by case basis where I can & where I see urgent need). I guess I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the challenges in this model & the potential conflicts or pulls between the 2 practices. I want to give back to my community & know there are so many people needing help at the moment & that Counselling can be a very motivating & transformative tool to help people access their inner talents & strengths to create the life they want & need. I think my ideal non profit model would be a cooperative of a number of therapists to spread the load & allow us all to still “Work” & support ourselves & our families . Thanks again for sharing your thoughts & experience in this area. Appreciate your efforts & energy. :-)

    Reply
  4. Doc Warren

    Hi Peter!
    thanks for the support!
    As a guy who has hardly left new England USA in his life I am not sure of the tax exempt laws in New Zealand but will explore it on a generic level with the caveat to please review it with someone who is versed in the laws of your country (as we all should do no matter where we are from because I am no barrister). The short answer is that yes, a part time nonprofit could and has worked for many, at least here in the states. What folks tend to do is either pay for dedicated space for the charity OR simply loan it some space in your existing practice. It will require some paperwork to make it a private entity, a sign, forms etc. but it could work. The nonprofit aspect could be sliding scale and utilize volunteer or part time clinicians that are paid from donations or other means or who agree to work for a percentage of what is paid for their work (that is what I did for 10 years or so and I was able to maintain my home, have vacations (simple ones) and live comfortably enough). In time, with increased donations or sponsorships you could pay a set wage to your clinicians.
    One thing to point out about nonprofit work: though you will not make what you would make in the for profit sector, many folks can and do live comfortably. While I personally am paid much less than the average doc, my take home pay still puts me comfortably in the average to middle class range (it seems less when you consider the huge expense of student loan payments that many poor Americans are enduring, but that is another topic entirely). My wife an I both have descent albeit used cars (hers is a Volvo that is less than 6 years old, mine is a Mercedes that is 16 years old that I picked up from an auto salvager last year on the cheap).
    We are always looking for local, licensed professionals to join us. Cooperatives are the way to go in my opinion though there needs to be someone that serves as the defacto leader to help steer the program.
    -Doc Warren

    Reply
  5. Dawaune Latiefth Ellis

    Hello Dr. Warren, I am a recent graduate with a B.A. in psychology, and I have been hired to work at a Nonprofit Counseling program, as a counselor. However, I don’t have my master’s or Ph.D. yet, I do have over twenty years of counseling “on the cuff” sorta-speak. In the state of Colorado you don’t have to be licensed to practice therapy, however additional education is mandated to be considered certified. I plan on continuing my education; however, my question to you is, how can I go about developing a “practice” (clientele base) to satisfy the financial requirements of keeping the Nonprofit’s doors open?
    I would greatly appreciate ANY feedback you have to give.

    Reply
  6. Doc Warren

    Hi Dawaune, I am writing this after just completing a presentation at the ACA conference and walking all over creation. I hope this makes sense.
    There are a few ways that I can think of off the top of my head: as a nonprofit you can apply for grants. We do this with some success, Though limited in scope at times, grants can help fund some parts of paid positions and related costs. We lack a grant writer but still managed raise between 30-40k last year. I can only imagine what we could do if we had a dedicated writer…
    Another option is to try fundraisers. Though we are not big on this aspect either we had had success in raising funds through doing sales of local raw honey, jams, jellies and related items.
    Depending on the laws of your state, you would likely need to deemphasize the clinical work if working independently until you have the required credentials though. Some folks do go the fee for service “life coach” way but I personally am not a big fan. IF however, I read your note correctly, it seems like your state WILL allow you to have a limited practice. If this is the case, be sure to check all the requirements such as outside supervision, documentation, malpractice insurance etc. I would try a fee for service practice with a sliding scale as no insurance company will pay a private practice clinician that is unlicensed (clinics and hospitals can though). Be sure to have clear guidelines as to who is eligible for the sliding scale.
    http://docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html This link also has a host of free information on building a practice, marketing, documentation etc. It is all free. Just remember me when you are rich and famous.
    Good luck my friend.

    Reply
  7. Faith

    Would love to learn from you… my mom is a licensed mental health counselor and is talking about opening her own place. In order for her current loan repayment plan to continue, she has to be employed by a nonprofit 501c3 org. I want to start getting the ball rolling so she can start practicing on her own. I know it can take several months and costs $500-600 in my state to be granted state and federal nonprofit status.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Counseling Today Post author

      Hello Faith,
      Doc Warren’s email is listed at the end of this article — feel free to reach out to him directly.

  8. Perry Griffin

    I am currently a therapist operating as a sole proprietor in North Carolina. I am on of 4 partners in a non-profit group, Galilee Center, where I have low overhead (I pay 5% of profits as rent). I am a community mental health provider and see clients with and without insurance. I do a lot of bro-bono work as well. I accept Medicaid. My business is operated like a non-profit in that most of the profits are put back into business to pay for interpreters and translation services. My practice’s focus is trauma and works in the refugee community as well. I am looking into options for non-profit status or collaborating within Galilee’s non-profit.
    Do you know of any resources that would be good to check out? Are there similar practices (it’s just me right now).
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Counseling Today Post author

      Hi Perry,
      Doc Warren’s email is listed at the bottom of this article — feel free to contact him directly as well.

  9. Doc Warren

    It sounds to me that you would be a great candidate to become a 501 c 3 not for profit. I can email a manual that i used to write my bylaws with. Though I am not the author I have permission to share it. Though you have a unique spin, I believe the author of the manual offer something parallel. they are, or were in NY.
    If you know a local accountant and or lawyer that works with nonprofits, they can offer a lot as well.
    Even if you work independently, provided you do the proper paperwork etc. you can be a nonprofit that rents from another nonprofit. This is common.
    good luck!
    *please note that I am not a lawyer or accountant and am speaking from practical experience.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *