Innovation Opportunities for a Social Enterprise

Exploring new services, experiences and business models

Overarching Challenge

After losing one of their largest sources of funding from a private donor in 2015, the FBCO expressed concerns of being so heavily reliant on donor funding and wanted to explore innovative ways to maximize the potential of their current enterprises. We partnered with the FBCO to identify sustainable revenue models that also aligned with its mission to alleviate the impact of poverty by providing furniture to families in need.


Cost of NOT Finding a Solution    

The FBCO recognized that having such a heavy focus on where funding comes from hindered their ability to make long-term strategic decisions and prevented them from maximizing their full potential for impact in the communities they serve. If the FBCO could rely on a sustainable source of revenue, they would have more flexibility to expand operations and grow stronger relationships within the community. 

General Situation 


The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio (FBCO) was established in 1998 as material assistance providers (MAP) to help furnish the homes of people emerging from homelessness. As a member of the Furniture Bank Association of North America, they are one of the largest furniture banks in the country and have earned numerous awards for their program, including the Columbus Foundation Award in 2013. 


In their 20 years of operation, they have served more than 60,000 families – totaling more than 184,000 individuals – right here in Central Ohio. They continue their efforts with the help of over 7,000 furniture donors, 2,500 volunteers, and over 75 social service partners.

Client: Furniture Bank of Central Ohio

Date: Fall 2018






We first identified key issues and target users, as well as analyzed how other non-profits generate revenue.

Once we were familiar with nonprofits, we focused on understanding the FBCO, visiting their facilities to observe their operations. We also interviewed members of the organization, as well as community members who they partner with and serve.

These were our key findings from the initial research:

  • There is very little brand awareness around the FBCO and its mission


  • The FBCO coordinates and picks up all furniture donations from individual donors with their own trucks, which represents their highest expense


  • The FB has a wood shop used to repurpose and build furniture, but its capacity is low and inconsistency in volunteers makes operations difficult to manage


  • The FBCO is struggles with excess furniture inventory that they can't move fast enough, housed in three different warehouses plus the thrift store, causing money losses in storage and moving furniture around locations


  • The FB has two social enterprises: Furniture with a Heart (thrift store) and Downsize with a Heart (service to help families with moving and downsizing in exchange of their unwanted furniture)


Strategic Ideation Session


After conducting the primary research, we brought together several members of the FBCO and well as some of their community partners to co-create the future possibilities. 

The co-creation session agenda was:

  1. Openly discuss the research findings and invite the participants to add and comment

  2. Brainstorm the problem spaces that are more critical to solve

  3. Prioritize those challenges using a Feasibility vs. Desirability Matrix


As a result, three opportunity spaces emerged to move forward:

  1. How might we create a nurturing home environment for children?

  2. How might we grow our partnerships?

  3. How might we  maximize our current assets?

In today's  environment,  we're under increasing pressure not only to contain costs while achieving greater results. This often means more than just improving, but transforming for the future of how we operate - within present resource constraints.  CCAD's MDES students met this challenge multiple times by researching and designing new value propositions that leveraged our existing capabilities with practical and sustainable innovations directly aligned with our mission to reduce the impact of poverty for individuals struggling with severe life challenges. Our board members were impressed how the students understood not only our mission, but also our metrics.  I don't know of any other higher education program as insightful and innovative.

- Steve Votaw

President Furniture Bank of Central Ohio


Opportunity Spaces

Columbus College of Art & Design | Master of Design 2020