Non-profits can now turn to new association for aid


November 02, 1992|By LESTER A. PICKER

Whether due to their own failings or the sad state of the economy, non-profit organizations are dealing with tough times. The problems are not only financial. Non-profits were caught by this recession just as they were beginning to deal with changing work conditions, a disappearing volunteer base and organizational management issues. In most cases, these issues were forced upon them by enormous and successful changes in the way the for-profit sector does business.

A nagging question has always been, where could a charity turn to for help in implementing new management structures? More importantly, who could speak for the non-profit community as a whole? Up to now, there have been few resources available, short of hiring sometimes expensive consultants. Now, the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations is up and running, and non-profits have a rich resource available to them.

After touring the as-yet-unfinished downtown offices of Maryland Nonprofits, I spoke with Executive Director Peter Berns and Director of Finance Nancy Hall, two dedicated professionals with a wide range of experience in the non-profit sector. Both were enthusiastic about the organization and the services it has begun to offer.

Maryland Nonprofits, as they prefer to be called, is a membership organization, with dues set on a sliding scale based on an organization's annual budget. But, in a nice twist, other categories of membership allow consultants and businesses wishing to support the work of Maryland Nonprofits to join. In fact, the organization is now compiling a consultant data bank for member agencies.

I arrived on the heels of a round table discussion offered to chief executives of non-profits, one of the many helpful touches that Maryland Nonprofits offers its members (and non-members, too, for a nominal fee). Having run such groups myself, I know how well received these discussions are for participants. Here, without subordinates or board members present, CEOs can lay their professional concerns on the table for colleague input.

Maryland Nonprofits offers cooperative buying for member agencies, focusing primarily on employee health, dental, life and disability insurance at the present time. However, Hall is now exploring the possibility of offering retirement benefit plans, Section 125 plans that provide dependent care, and property, casualty and liability insurance. Other cooperative buying, in non-insurance areas, is also being investigated.

Maryland Nonprofits intends to eventually develop an on-staff capability to assist non-profits in a wide variety of areas, from organizational management to fund raising and board training. For now, the consultant data bank will fill the bill. However, Hall already offers technical assistance in the financial arena. Several smaller member agencies use Maryland Nonprofits to issue checks and maintain their books.

A neat adjunct to the technical training is the creation of incubator spaces, where fledgling non-profits can rent space and use office equipment from Maryland Nonprofits, all for very modest fees.

Naturally enough, the organization will serve as a clearinghouse, enabling members to network, share information and access a wide variety of print and electronic resources. Even here, Maryland Nonprofits has some creative ideas, which will help non-profits in Maryland help each other. For example, Berns plans a computer room, where software applicable to the non-profit environment will be on display, so managers can make more informed purchasing decisions.

Perhaps the most critical of the organization's functions will be its advocacy role. Reflecting Berns' expertise in the legislative arena, Maryland Nonprofits monitors legislation affecting non-profits and advises members on appropriate actions. It recently sent advisories to members regarding proposed postage increases and proposed legislation regarding registration of charities.

In a nutshell, Maryland Nonprofits provides a much needed forum and advocacy function for non-profits throughout the state. Non-profits interested in joining the organization should call (410) 727-6367.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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