Maria Santiago marries for-profit and nonprofit in a strategic plan to meet the needs of those she passionately serves
WORDS // Amelia Reiling
A mother who once lived in a car with her children now works as a property manager with no welfare assistance. A young waitress was unable to support her children, but now works and attends school—both full-time–and is able to provide for her family. These are the stories of life change through Chosen Ministries, where career coaching and hands-on experience give single mothers a second chance at fully realizing their forgotten dreams.
“Seeing people change is motivation,” says Maria Santiago, founder of Chosen Ministries, a not-for-profit where the battle cry to potential clients is “I am chosen to live a better life.” She also owns the for-profit company M. Santiago Group.
“My dad was a refugee and my mom came to this country on a student visa,” says Maria, who was born in the United States, but whose parents are originally from Mozambique, Africa. Maria says her parents struggled in their life here in the U.S., and so at age 12, they moved back to Mozambique, even during a civil war. “It was there that we ended up homeless, couch surfing from family member to family member,” explains Maria, who dropped out of school “because there was no money to pay for education, let alone our basic needs.”
Maria’s uncle, and only remaining relative in the U.S., bought her a plane ticket when she was 15 to return to the States to finish her education. She lived with him while going to school, working and even sending money back to Mozambique to help her brother get an education as well.
Maria credits the change in her trajectory to her uncle, whom she considers her first real mentor in the fight against multi-generational poverty that had become a reality in her family.
As a result of her experiences, Maria found herself compelled to help single mothers as they struggle to break similar cycles of systemic and multi-generational poverty. Through Chosen Ministries, Maria organizes a wholistic approach to fighting poverty that includes mentoring, career coaching and comprehensive job training. It is a next-step ministry and initiative where single mothers move past welfare aid through a program called Earning While Learning. Through this program that was developed by Chosen Ministries, women are given the opportunity to work in a tailored, on-the-job paid internship.
Maria describes those who seek Chosen Ministries as women who are motivated and hungry for change. “Our clients are courageous, some working full-time while attending school and raising children by themselves.”
But while Maria’s heart is in the mission of her nonprofit and those it serves, she also felt compelled to start a for-profit. One of her main goals in creating for-profit M. Santiago Group was to help fund the nonprofit. In this unique dual-business model, Chosen Ministries is able to be fiscally efficient. “I wanted to marry ministry and business,” she explains. The purpose behind M. Santiago Group isn’t far from her heart either. The staff writes resumes, career coaches and offers nonprofit consulting for startups.
M. Santiago Group not only pours part of its finances into Chosen Ministries but also strategically and conveniently plugs its services into the specific needs of Chosen participants, thus eliminating the need to outsource.
Chosen Ministries fills gaps in traditional welfare assistance, and M. Santiago Group is filling the gap for Chosen Ministries. M. Santiago Group is financially crucial in allowing Chosen Ministries to offer their comprehensive approach and extend their services past mentoring and paid internships to also offer financial literacy, transportation to and from jobs and even childcare assistance that are all so crucial to the overall big picture of the family’s success.
Maria elaborates on the motivation behind starting and leading Chosen Ministries and M. Santiago Group. “The Lord brought me through a lot. It’s not just a job. It’s not just a hobby. It’s worship for me.
Are you considering ways to fund a non-profit? Hear from Maria on why she chose her particular path:
“I was writing resumes on the side before I started Chosen, so I essentially developed my side gig into an LLC that is now helping professionals in multiple states. As a young nonprofit, I needed a way to fund my philanthropic endeavors and help my nonprofit with some of its administrative costs. I wasn’t getting paid consistently and after a few years, I had to make a change while pursuing my mission. I felt like it was a good fit since I was already overseeing resume writing for single mothers receiving services through Chosen Ministries. Rather than having Chosen Ministries hire a resume writer or a career coach, the LLC absorbs that portion of the program.”
Maria advises that when considering this alternative funding model vs. solely relying on traditional methods, ask yourself these important questions:
- Can you create a business that closely aligns with your nonprofit mission? We resume write and consult on both the for-profit side and the nonprofit side. We are doing the same thing for two completely different demographics.
- Will your social enterprise be owned by the nonprofit organization or will it be a stand-alone entity?
- Develop a leadership strategy for both companies: Is the Executive Director both mission and business savvy or do two leaders need to emerge?
To learn more about Chosen Ministries, visit iamchosen.org