BUSINESS MONDAY: Berkshires non-profit center hosts online awards ceremony

The Berkshire Nonprofit Awards took place last Tuesday, and in addition to honoring the most diverse cohort in the ceremony’s four-year history, the event was also a programmatic and financial success for the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires ( NPC).

Founded in April 2016 by Liana Toscanini, a longtime nonprofit worker and former Director of Development and Marketing at Community Access to the Arts, NPC supports the sprawling nonprofit industry in Berkshire County, an area that ranks 27th in the country in terms of nonprofit employment rate.

In five years, Toscanini has increased NPC’s operating budget by over 200% to $ 185,000, hired a full-time employee, and implemented over 20 programs for the Berkshire non-profit community. While these steps may seem modest, it’s the kind of growth that, at one point, seemed unattainable for Toscanini.

“I want to congratulate everyone who is honored today, and I also want to thank you for all the wonderful work you do to strengthen Berkshire communities every day,” said US Senator Elizabeth Warren in a special video pre-recorded. as part of the 2021 Berkshire Nonprofit Awards. Image courtesy of The Berkshire Nonprofit Center

“I really came from an entrepreneurial point of view,” she said of starting the organization from scratch after recognizing the need for a resource and advocacy organization to non-profit organizations. “Now, after five years, we are legitimate. “

This year’s Berkshire Nonprofit Awards was a fitting way to celebrate not only Toscanini’s success, but also the success of all of the Berkshire nonprofits that have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statement from the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires Regarding the Effect of COVID on Nonprofits
Graphic courtesy of the Berkshires Nonprofit Center

Eight individual awards were presented in advance, and the prerecorded award presentations, performances and interviews of the winners were brought together into a beautifully produced video that was released online. But many event speakers place particular emphasis on recognizing the sector as a whole.

“Twenty-five percent of our workforce here in the Berkshires work in the nonprofit sector,” said State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, host of the event. “Not just to say it’s the third largest industry in Massachusetts, I would say with anyone that it’s the economic engine of Berkshire County.”

“Indeed, one of the main strengths of Berkshire County is the depth of its non-profit community,” said Peter Taylor, presenter of the Board of Directors Leadership Award, Chairman of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. “The volunteer leaders on nonprofit boards of directors work tirelessly with a dedicated staff to guide organizations through these extraordinary times. “

A graphic from the Nonprofit Awards of the Berkshires
Graphic courtesy of the Berkshires Nonprofit Center

According to the results of the Berkshire nonprofit healthcare sector survey released in December 2020 by the NPC, 60% of organizations surveyed had to dip into their reserve funds last year, around 45% did so. to budget cuts, 23% reduced working hours and 87% lost a certain amount. of income.

“People were in panic mode,” Toscanini said. “Suddenly we focused on the hub and fundraising. Like any infrastructure organization, [our members] we were looking for information because it was so fast and furious and hard for people to catch up with.

NPC has been able to respond to demand. The organization created a COVID resources webpage, hosted a legislative assembly on COVID relief programs, and offered 14 webinars in 2020, half of which focused on fundraising and sustainability. In January, NPC hosted a strategic planning workshop that was the busiest workshop ever, Toscanini said, followed in March by a remote roundtable on in-person / hybrid fundraising events. Virtual and 21st Century Grant Writing Workshop in May.

A graph showing how many people have been served by the Berkshires Nonprofit Center
Graphic courtesy of the Berkshires Nonprofit Center

As the membership of the NPC increased in the months following the onset of the pandemic, the organization faced its own financial challenges. Free webinars offered by national and national resource organizations such as Nonprofit Hub, Massachusetts Nonprofit Network and Philanthropy Massachusetts have made it difficult for Toscanini to justify paid workshops, even if “we have to earn income or we will be bankrupt,” she said.

The revenues of other nonprofit organizations represent 50 percent of NPC’s revenues. Of that half, 18 percent came from memberships last year, with nonprofit participation in programs and services accounting for 32 percent. The remaining 50 percent is contributed income, including grants and individual contributions.

Toscanini is sensitive to the possibility that, as a non-profit organization itself, NPC may compete with its members for funding. “In Berkshire County there is enough money for everyone,” she said, “but we are always looking for other sources of income.”

New programs can provide additional income while meeting an ever-changing set of needs for the nonprofit community.

“Everyone wants us to create back office services” to share, such as human resources, accounting and social media, she said, reflecting a growing trend towards outsourcing of staff. . In response, NPC is piloting a new fundraising service that will help nonprofits with development planning, grant writing, grant verification, and event orientation for an amount of $ 250 per month.

“We are not replacing development departments,” she said. “We teach you, automate things for you, and connect you to resources. We know it works; we just don’t know what kind of demand there is.

Dennis Powell, Head of the Berkshire County NAACP, received an award from the Berkshires Nonprofit Center
“I don’t go out everyday doing what I do expecting something in return,” said Dennis Powell, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient at the 4th Annual Berkshire Nonprofit Awards. “So to find that, in a low-key way, people really did recognize you and your impact on the community, I had tears in my eyes.” Photo courtesy of the Berkshires Nonprofit Center

The NPC’s tax sponsorship program, on the other hand, has already found some traction. The organization works with fledgling nonprofits to develop a budget, board, statutes, financial reports, and other legal necessities while enabling them to accept grants and deductible donations from tax. NPC keeps seven percent of the startup’s revenue, which Toscanini says is lower than what other tax sponsors charge. (Fractured Atlas retains eight percent while the New York Foundation for the Arts’ fee schedule ranges from eight percent to four percent depending on the size of the budget.)

She started the program a year ago with the Youth, Education & Sport (YES) initiative and has expanded to serve Berkshire Busk! and Latinas 413. “If someone has an idea and the will to implement it, starting a nonprofit is a bit expensive,” she said. “Fiscal sponsorship can also be a vector of equity, by making BIPOC organizations take off. “

Equally important to Toscanini is financial fairness within the non-profit sector, and she is committed to developing a pay survey to make pay imbalances more transparent. The Change Berkshire Culture Instagram account has in recent months revealed a few instances of wage inequality at Berkshire cultural institutions, although these accounts are individually and anonymously reported.

Liana Toscanini from the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires with her Marketing Manager Elizabeth Stone
“The most important thing I did was hire Elizabeth [Stone, NPC marketing manager]”Toscanini said.” It has enabled me to triple the number of programs. It’s about capacity building and that’s what donors will not fund.

“Change Berkshire Culture has been successful in bringing attention to the issue,” she said. “People need to know what people are doing to [executives and board members] can make smart decisions and take action. But they only echo a sentiment that has already been expressed.

Between the development of new sector surveys and programs that support Berkshire County’s 1,160 nonprofits, Toscanini continues to receive many calls. Can you set up a gala schedule? What is the increase in the cost of living? Where can I post a job offer? And make plenty of consultant recommendations for nonprofit workers. She’s just happy with NPC’s proof of concept.

“There is a lot of momentum and also a lot of needs,” she said. “I’m really happy with the success of NPC and how the nonprofits feel supported, that was the whole point. “

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