Nonprofits Collaborate for Community Good

In the wake of tropical storm Irene in 2011, leaders of several community organizations began to discuss the need for coordinating volunteer efforts. These conversations led to their forming the Woodstock Area Nonprofit Network (NPN), which has continued to convene regularly to find ways to collaborate.

Recently, the NPN commissioned a study by the Tuck Student Consulting Service (at Dartmouth’s business school) to learn more about how nonprofits benefit the community. Based on survey responses from twenty organizations, their report shows that these groups provide nearly 200 jobs and oversee almost 30,000 hours of volunteer work each year. All this people power is supporting work in education, the arts, services for seniors and low income residents, economic development, and other vital tasks that are often beyond the reach of local businesses and government.

Each year around town meeting time, some citizens wonder why nonprofits ask for public funding for their work. The survey found that only 15% of their funding comes from town budget lines or special articles. Much more support comes from user fees, state and federal grants, and voluntary donations or grants from local supporters.

“We wanted to be able to tell our funders, the voters, and the community at large what level of services we provide and the amount of outside funding we bring in,” said Jackie Fischer, executive director of Ottauquechee Community Partnership (OCP). “We wanted to show how the community’s support translates into jobs, services and number of volunteer hours.”

Elizabeth Craib of the Woodstock Area Job Bank asserts that nonprofits  “are really businesses that bring things to the community. If we weren’t here, this work would not be done. There would be a big hole in our community.” Matt Powers, head of the Woodstock Historical Society, added that “every nonprofit in this town contributes to our shared identity.”

There are 65 registered nonprofit organizations in Woodstock  (though many of them are very small and specialized). The NPN is working to coordinate their efforts so that funding can be used and services provided as efficiently as possible. “Let’s share our efforts rather than multiplying organizations,” says Craib, who gives as one example a combined volunteering center which could be coordinated by the Job Bank. Another example of coordination: the survey confirmed that various organizations’ fundraising events and mailings are spread out through the year so that potential donors aren’t hit with an overwhelming flurry of requests all at once.

Sherry Thornburg of the Ottauquechee Health Foundation would also like to see the NPN “share resources such as knowledge, professional development opportunities, board  development, office space, and bulk purchasing. . . and identify one place or media where we can post all local events for community members that is accessible to all and easy to read.”

Powers, who came to Woodstock last year, says that “as a newcomer, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Woodstock’s nonprofits had organized a network with the mission to partner, collaborate and communicate for mutual benefit. Far too often, individual organizations attempt to tackle issues by themselves. Even if participation means to simply attend the meetings to understand the myriad perspectives, it is time well spent.” He and Thornburg both expressed the hope that more nonprofit leaders will get involved. As the Job Bank’s Craib put it, “we can help each other out better if we know about what we’re all doing.”

Nonprofits can sometimes find themselves in competition, especially when it comes to securing funding. According to Fischer of OCP, working together for several months built up a level of trust that enabled nonprofit leaders to share sensitive information for the survey. Sally Miller of Sustainable Woodstock says that nonprofits are “learning how to connect. We’re better able to share resources and do things collectively.” The survey, by bringing scattered information together, “helps us continue the conversation.”  Powers  hopes that the NPN will now survey nonprofits’ supporters and volunteers to learn what they think.

Sustainable Woodstock supports the NPN’s efforts and encourages all community groups in our area to get involved.

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