There are more than 200 registered nonprofits on Martha’s Vineyard, running the gamut from ACE MV to Habitat for Humanity to the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group to the Stone Soup Leadership Institute. There are nonprofits that support youth soccer, sober living, the environment, and even the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs. Peter Temple, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, has some advice for those looking to create a new nonprofit on the Island: “Don’t do it. It’s about the last thing we need on the Island,” he said with a chuckle.
“Because we’re a small community — even though we’re bigger in the summer — all the nonprofits are competing for the same funds, and all the nonprofits are competing for board members,” he explained.
Mr. Temple suggests that before forming a new nonprofit, people should do some research to determine if there might be another, larger nonprofit with a similar mission on the Island, and then approach them to see if it’s feasible to use their 501(c)(3) status. That larger nonprofit becomes the new entity’s fiscal agent, which means they handle the bulk of the paperwork and the oversight while the smaller group still operates with its own board of directors and mission.
He cited the recent partnership between the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA and the Martha’s Vineyard Arena as an example of what two nonprofits coming together might accomplish.
“The collaboration between the YMCA and the Ice Arena makes so much sense,” Mr. Temple said. “Why do you need two nonprofits both trying to fundraise? Pairing with Y makes sense, and it’s right on the same campus.”
After a failed attempt at acquiring a significant grant to support extensive renovations, the Martha’s Vineyard Arena took a different approach, and recently partnered with the well-established YMCA to achieve its goals. “While we’re not seeing as many mergers as we’d like to, we are seeing more collaboration, more working together to solve specific issues,” Mr. Temple said.
“Organizing a nonprofit can seem overwhelming,” Mr. Temple said. While smaller groups with revenues around $25,000 require minimal paperwork after the initial filing, larger nonprofits require more significant and regular oversight.
“Forming a nonprofit corporation in Massachusetts involves putting together a board of directors, creating and approving articles of incorporation, bylaws, and a mission statement,” Mr. Temple said. Then the charitable organization needs to create a name, and check for exclusivity for that name. Then it requires an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the IRS (just a few of the letters of the alphabet that will become familiar over time); must file for incorporation with the Secretary of State, Corporations Division; open a bank account and get insurance in the name of the corporation; and register with the IRS and the Massachusetts DOR (Department of Revenue) for payroll taxes; and then hire staff if it’s required.
The nonprofit files for tax-exempt status with the IRS, and once a letter of determination is received, the nonprofit can file with the Massachusetts DOR for a sales tax exemption certificate, and file with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office for a certificate of solicitation before any fundraising takes place. Then there are the annual filings.
Island attorney Ron Rappaport said the application process can be “a workout.”
“Any group of people thinking of going through that process should ask if there is an entity here already that it can accomplish its charitable goals with,” Mr. Rappaport said.
All the paperwork aside, once the nonprofit is up and running, Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative can be a valuable resource. The collaborative was formed more than a dozen years ago by a group of people who were almost all serving on nonprofit boards, Mr. Temple said. “They saw the nonprofits competing head-to-head over summer fundraising,” he said. “We try to advocate, to stand up and remind people how important nonprofits are here. This is not a paradise; there is a food pantry.”
The Island is isolated, he said, and the donors’ collaborative strives to help nonprofits do their jobs better. “It’s hard to get off the Island to take advantage of trainings,” he said.
Through the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, nonprofits can access an extensive database at the Oak Bluffs library of foundations that offer grants. The collaborative offers workshops on the role of the board of directors, governance workshops, and workshops on grant writing.
Nonprofits may have the best of intentions and a passion for their missions, but unless they can raise funds to sustain themselves they won’t be a success, Mr. Temple said.
“If you’re going to start a nonprofit, you need to know something about grants,” he said. “Otherwise you’ll be spinning your wheels. You can have the status, but if you aren’t able to fund it, you won’t have programs.”
This is where foundations such as the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard come into the picture. The Permanent Endowment awards grants to nonprofits in the fall and scholarships to Island high school seniors in the spring. Founded in 1982, the Permanent Endowment has awarded approximately $2.8 million to more than 200 Island nonprofits. In November, the Permanent Endowment hosted a ceremony at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center where it awarded grants for the arts, the community, the environment, and human services.
Emily Bramhall serves as acting executive director of the Permanent Endowment, and explained that this year, there were 40 applicants vying for approximately $100,000 in grants.
“We whittled that 40 to 20; some we could fully fund, but not all of them,” Ms. Bramhall said. “It’s a rigorous process that takes the better part of a month.”
She said the board of directors reads every application, asking for supportive documents and two letters of support. They meet with applicants, and then think it over independently before gathering again for discussion to determine the grantees.
“Donors who want to make a bequest to the endowment can be assured that the money will be spent in a very wise and judicious way,” Ms. Bramhall said.
For those who want to make a difference by supporting the Island nonprofits that are already in place, the Permanent Endowment is an option. Ms. Bramhall said there are now 39 different funds within the endowment, some with a general purpose and others where donors have designated that the funds go to a very specific cause. Anyone can contribute any amount to one of the existing endowment funds. An initial gift of $20,000 is required to establish an endowment fund, meaning the donor’s gift is a permanent source of funding for the community, with grant money being generated from the interest on the capital. An initial gift of $5,000 is necessary to establish a non-endowed fund, a fund that is used in its entirety and after the money is used for the intended purposes, the fund is depleted. The Permanent Endowment accepts cash, stocks, real estate, life insurance, and other securities.
“If someone loves the environment and wants to support efforts to protect it, they can create a fund for open walking trails or beach access,” she explained. There are funds that support recreational activities, the arts, health and wellness, and many other specific causes.
With the Permanent Endowment, people can give to one cause or to a general fund, and you don’t have to be wealthy to contribute to the Island community.
“The first fund was started with $60,000,” Ms. Bramhall said. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to create a fund that has a lasting impact for the residents of the Island.”
To assist nonprofits by giving directly to them, look for the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative Wish List inside the Times this holiday season, or contact the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard at 508-338-4665, or visit endowmv.org.