Maryland Nonprofits sets strategy for boosting sector's presence


October 31, 1994|By LESTER A. PICKER

One of the most exciting developments in years for the nonprofit sector is just now beginning to unfold in Maryland. A group of 40 volunteers, known as the Nonprofit Policy Agenda Project and coordinated by the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations (Maryland Nonprofits), has just published the Partnership Platform 1995-1998. The report represents eighteen months of intense effort. Its release was timed to coincide with the current election campaigns.

Maryland Nonprofits remains on the cutting edge of policy development for its members, which is critically important in today's fast-paced world.

The fact is that nonprofits barely have time to focus on their own programs and policies, let alone ones that affect the sector as a whole. What Maryland Nonprofits does so well is keep the radar constantly turning, watching for legislative and judicial actions that may affect its members and then recommending appropriate actions.

Due to its enormous success, Maryland Nonprofits has grown at a phenomenal rate, now more than 350 members, from tiny upstarts to large, well-established organizations.

Its newest work, Partnership Platform, is a development agenda for the nonprofit sector. Aimed at politicians and other policy-makers, it advocates a five-part strategy that could make Maryland the international headquarters for nonprofits, much like Silicon Valley is for the American computer industry.

As the report illustrates, $6.1 billion dollars flows from the state's 12,000 nonprofits into our economy. More than 180,000 Marylanders are employed in this sector, about 7.3 percent of the total work force.

The report suggests that there is a capital opportunity to grow the nonprofit sector here, creating jobs, expanding the economy, and bringing in educated and creative people.

The first recommendation, to make Maryland an international center for the nonprofit sector, makes eminent sense. With infrastructure support, the nonprofit sector represents a potentially excellent opportunity for the kind of business base governments seek: relatively nonpolluting, heavy on brains and talent, and committed to their communities.

One of the conundrums for government has always been the tax-exempt status of nonprofits, which typically excludes them from property taxes and selected other taxes. While the report does not deal with that issue directly, it does list the many other economic benefits to be gained from encouraging the sector.

The second strategic recommendation to policy-makers is to strengthen the infrastructure for nonprofits in Maryland, thereby making the state attractive to those nonprofits seeking to relocate. Partnership Platform advocates financing and bond programs, training and technical assistance, stepped up efforts to eliminate charitable fraud, tax incentives to encourage giving and volunteering, and other incentives.

The third strategy suggests increasing everyone's knowledge and understanding of the nonprofit sector by requiring the reporting of existing data on nonprofits that is kept by governmental entities. I know that such efforts would also be beneficial to for-profit entities, such as banks and financial institutions, which develop product lines for the nonprofit sector.

The fourth strategy suggested by the report's authors is to improve communication and cooperation between government and the nonprofit sector. The nonprofit sector has much to offer government in planning, design and implementation of social programs. The report's specific initiatives are geared to improving that line of communication, to the benefit of our communities.

Finally, the report recommends greater participation of nonprofits in government policy-making and program design, two areas in which nonprofits can make invaluable contributions.

Partnership Platform is available free from Maryland Nonprofits by calling (410) 727-6367.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202; (410) 783-5100.

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