Group aims to boost mountain nonprofits

By Remy Adams

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Nonprofits in the mountains of western North Carolina have a new resource to help them become more effective.

WNC Partners for Nonprofit Success, a group of five philanthropic organizations, was formed to help nonprofits improve the way they handle tasks ranging from creating a development plan to building their public relations.

The partnership offers classes and consulting for nonprofits, all geared to meet their specific needs.

“A number of us have all been trying to do capacity building for nonprofits,” says Pat Smith, president of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. “We felt that by joining together we could put together a more comprehensive program.”

Kim McGuire, a consultant for the partnership, says it grew out of concern among its members about the pressures on nonprofits in the face of increasing government scrutiny and demand for accountability.

“Most importantly, they’re concerned with the issue of effectiveness,” she says.

A key player in the new partnership is the certificate program in nonprofit management offered by Duke University, which has agreed to give credit towards the certificate to nonprofits enrolling in classes offered by the partnerships.

Although the program has been offered for years throughout North Carolina, its local enrollment has tripled since the partnership was formed this year.

“By strengthening the capacity of nonprofits, we’re making better use of our grant funds, and that’s the bottom line,” says Smith.

The partnership designed based on ideas from nonprofit leaders in the region, and on model programs throughout the U.S., McGuire says.

“What we’ve learned is that we need group training and individual tailored consultations,” she says.

An important role the partnership aims to play, she says, is to link nonprofits that can be isolated by geography.

“We are hearing that there is a need for additional skills and connections between nonprofits,” she says, “We want to make sure that whatever WNC Partners does is very responsive to the needs of nonprofits.”

Nonprofits serve a critical role to the mountain community, officials of the partnership say.

“It’s often the nonprofits that create the systems and programs to address issues in times of community needs,” says Smith.

That need, she says, is growing as government reduces its role in community services.

Bill Massey, vice chancellor for alumni and development at UNC-Asheville, says the traditional and culture of the region are rooted in “the strength of and the ability of nonprofit organizations to do that which neither the private sector nor the government find in their portfolios to do.”

The prominent role of nonprofits in the region stems from its traditional focus on self-reliance, he says.

And the partnership aims to help nonprofits strengthen that role, says Smith.

“I think in this age of increased scrutiny, we just want to be there as a resource,” she says. “We want to be their advocate.”

McGuire says a way to measure the partnership’s success will be whether nonprofits “can do their jobs better.”

The partnership held its first classes Sept. 22 at Mars Hill College, and it may be some time before the region sees any tangible results to these courses, organizers say.

But with the difficulties facing many nonprofits, any results will be welcome, they say.

Partnership members include the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Mission Healthcare Foundation, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, and University of North Carolina at Asheville.

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