Nonprofits increase cooperation in tough economic times

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Capital News Service
LANSING – When the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development realized that Upper Peninsula school districts didn’t have enough money or staff to help students, the nonprofit helped form a program to give youth a sense of belonging.
The program, which will begin in November, will send four AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to plan service projects addressing youth problems such as drug and alcohol use.
The program is a joint effort by the Marquette-based center, AmeriCorps VISTA and the Dickinson-Iron and Eastern Upper Peninsula intermediate school districts.
On their own, school districts cannot get AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, which is where the nonprofit center comes into play.
“We’re accomplishing the intersections of each other’s missions,” said Kristina Beamish, EUP field associate for the center. “We’re being forced to collaborate to get work done and share human and financial resources.”
Kyle Caldwell, president of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, said collaboration among such organizations is a growing trend.
“Nonprofits want to demonstrate how they can make donors’ money go further,” he said. “Michigan has always been a rich collaborative state for nonprofits.
“What’s happened recently with the downturn of the economy is beyond collaboration. Nonprofits are looking at how to share services and personnel to preserve resources,” he said.
There are 1,200 registered nonprofit organizations in the U.P., according to Ann Gonyea, the center’s director of marketing and public relations, and more are joining forces.
“Geography is a challenge, as is funding to the U.P. We don’t have the densely populated area that often attracts funders,” she said. “One of the things that is second nature to the U.P. is collaboration.”
Programs in human services, elder care, education and the arts are in demand, which raises concerns about shrinking resources, Caldwell said.
“But we know nonprofits adapt,” he said. “The U.P. has really worked hard to make scarce resources go far.”
Gonyea said many nonprofits come together to do things outside their initial mission, which is an appealing concept to funders.
Beamish said, “We’re pursuing funding as a collaborative effort. It’s strengthening our grant application because it shows a strong interest rather than us being out there like lone rangers.”
Barbara Reed, administrative assistant for the United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula in Sault Ste. Marie, said collaboration helped local nonprofits. The United Way is involved with two collaborative groups, the EUP Continuum of Care for homelessness advocacy organizations and another for all advocacy groups.
Reed said 35 organizations belong to the multipurpose group, ranging from mental health care providers to the Salvation Army. Together, they promote each other’s activities and write letters of support for grants but don’t jointly apply for them.
EUP Continuum of Care members do seek grants together.
“What’s going on in the grant world is that we’re seeing that nonprofit collaboration is becoming more and more mandated,” she said. “It saves money on administrative costs when a number of agencies come together as one.”
Lori Pieri, executive director of H.O.M.E, a nonprofit in St. Ignace that develops housing in remote areas for low-to-moderate income families in Mackinac County, said her agency’s success comes from AmeriCorps help.
As the only paid employee, she doesn’t have the funds to hire people, but depends on volunteers.
“We would not be able to offer the services without support,” Pieri said.
Her volunteer provides foreclosure counseling, a service she couldn’t offer otherwise. The volunteer helps homeowners look at their budget, provides financial assistance and refers them to local resources.
“It’s this person who can help walk them through the process. It’s overwhelming — some people would walk away without it,” Pieri said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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