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UNCW aims to boost nonprofits

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By Leslie Williams

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Officials at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington have joined forces with area leaders to form an initiative that seeks to strengthen the area’s nonprofit sector from inside and out.

The initiative, Quality Enhancement for Nonprofit Organizations, or QENO, has been a long time in the making, says Lynn Smithdeal, faculty liaison for community engagement programs at the Division for Public Service and Continuing Studies at UNCW

The initiative was started as a think-tank through the university, she says, merely as a study of how to strengthen the region’s nonprofits, both large and small.

As a next step, the university has brought the community’s major grantmakers to the table to serve as steering committee members, funders and advisers for crafting the initiative’s programs.

“The key part of our success to this point is that we’ve brought in all of the key funders in this area,” Smithdeal says. “They’re very invested in this.”

Partners in the effort so far are Cape Fear Area United Way, the Community Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina, the Southeastern Alliance for Community Change, the Landfall Foundation, the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and Cape Fear Memorial Foundation.

So far, the partners have provided the initiative with $70,000 in cash, much of which will go toward keeping its programs affordable for nonprofits, Smithdeal says.

The initiative has begun to offer workshops to area organizations at a cost of no more than $25 for registration, a cost that Smithdeal says the initiative’s steering committee hopes to sustain.

Last year, the group hosted sessions on professional development and preparing an agency for an audit.

And this month, the partnership delivered the second session in a two-part series that aimed to help executive directors conduct organizational assessments.

Ideas in the works for the coming months include a speaker series on exemplary management practices and a mentoring program to connect executive directors with seasoned business leaders.

Such projects are still under development, and Smithdeal says partners in the initiative are seeking the advice and expertise of other groups throughout North Carolina.

“We’re trying not to invent services ourselves, but develop a plan based on what other people have tried that has worked,” she says.

The group is working to reach nonprofits through direct contact in many cases, e-mailing flyers to organizations and writing letters to executive directors.

Another goal of the effort is to bolster nonprofits by increasing giving by community shareholders.

“We see QENO as a vehicle for supporting philanthropy in our community,” says Stephen Meinhold, board chair of the Cape Fear Area United Way and associate dean of research at UNCW. “We want to help everyone in the community understand that nonprofits are a vital part of the community and that they do a good job.”

The initiative can accomplish that by bringing organizations together to spread the message that problems can be solved locally by giving locally, he says.

His United Way is particularly interested in this aspect of the initiative, Meinhold says, because it recently moved from a traditional partner-agency model to an open and competitive funding process.

“We’re in the same position of many foundations and other large donor organizations,” he says, “where we want to make sure that the organizations we are supporting are efficient and effective.”

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