Nonprofits plan strategies for lean times
Lean economic times and increasing competition for available dollars provide challenges for nonprofit groups, particularly smaller Vineyard organizations. On April 16, 79 board members and executive directors from 32 Island nonprofits attended a day-long workshop designed to provide them with the tools to remain strong.
The Martha's Vineyard Donors Collaborative provided the workshop at Outerland at the airport with the sponsorship of the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation. Chuck Loring, an expert in nonprofit governance and fundraising issues, led the workshop.
Peter Temple, executive director of the Donors Collaborative, said attendees learned how the role of the nonprofit board is changing in the current era of accountability and transparency brought on by the Enron and other scandals and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. They also learned how donors are becoming more demanding and how philanthropy will change as baby-boomers retire.
According to Mr. Temple, a significant factor that affects the Vineyard is the tremendous increase in the number of charitable organizations as nonprofits step in to meet the needs created by cutbacks in government funding and services. From 1996 through 2006, the number of public charities in the U.S. increased 69 percent, he said. Massachusetts saw a smaller increase, 57 percent, but Dukes County increased 87 percent, going from 106 to 198 public charities in 2006.
Mr. Temple said that the increase results in more competition for a limited supply of funds, volunteers, qualified board members, experienced managers, and public visibility. The impact is heightened in a small isolated community like the Vineyard.
Those who attended found the workshop very useful, according to Mr. Temple. Much of the discussion focused on challenging the size and make-up of current boards and addressed the best use of committees, board members, and staff. "This was valuable not only because of its content, but because it sparked a conversation our board will continue to have with itself," said Dan Waters, a trustee of the West Tisbury Free Public Library. "Mr. Loring forced us to ask hard but critical questions and this self-examination has made us a stronger, more effective board."
Photo by Peter Temple
Another focus was fundraising and how organizations can use their boards for maximum effectiveness, including board members who do not want to fundraise because they dislike asking for money.
Mr. Temple said many executive directors were pleased to have an outside expert clarify for their boards the roles of board versus staff, and he emphasized that the role of a board is not to micromanage.