Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nonprofits get lesson in sustainability

Philanthropy expert sheds light on ‘nonprofit ecosystem’

Express Staff Writer

To stay healthy, nonprofit organizations need to share expertise with others in their community, John Smith, a consultant from Philanthropy Northwest, told an audience of more than 100 people at The Valley Club near Hailey last Thursday. The lecture was the highlight of a meeting hosted by the Wood River Women's Charitable Foundation, a group of women who donate money to various nonprofit groups.

Smith spoke to a packed room of valley nonprofit directors, Wood River Charitable Foundation past and present members and Wood River Charitable Foundation grant recipients.

Smith focused his lecture and discussions on the elements needed for a "nonprofit ecosystem," which keeps a nonprofit group healthy and strong for the future.

"Nonprofits are the cornerstone to a healthy, democratic society," Smith said. "In rural communities, the challenge is distance and isolation."

Smith said many factors contribute to the success and sustainability of a nonprofit organization. He talked about a nonprofit "ecosystem" framework, which includes eight essential elements. He said that if all the elements are in place, a nonprofit should sustain a healthy future.

The elements include ongoing access to information, leadership development, in-depth help when an organization needs it, trusted sources of information and referrals, infrastructure of volunteers, the ability to use technology, a capacity for organizing and advocacy, and a healthy climate for funding and fundraising.

"Knowledge and expertise are needed throughout the community to help [the nonprofit] grow," Smith said.

Attendees of the event revealed a need to use more resources, such as the Idaho Nonprofit Center in Boise, Webinars and the 4-H program at the University of Idaho in Blaine County. Carter Hedberg, executive director of the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, said he would like to gather all nonprofit leaders at the garden south of Ketchum to continue discussions about building a healthier nonprofit community in Blaine County.

The Wood River Charitable Foundation has given more than $200,000 in grants since its inception and has 103 members. The foundation uses the Idaho Community Fund to bank and distribute its funds.

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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