Page last updated
October 01, 2008
to Serve the Nonprofit Sector
The article below,
"Establishing a Management Support Organization to Serve the Nonprofit
Sector," was first published here and in the Cape Cod Times
in December 2003. We are reprinting it now, in October 2008,
because the current turmoil in the financial markets has the
nonprofit sector heading into a serious financial storm.
Last week, in an
article published on September 22, the Boston Globe highlighted that nonprofits will face
constrained giving by their usual funding sources. There's no time to
dawdle now. We need to come together and find ways that reduce costs and
potentially add new sources of revenue.
One way would be to promote the existence of the Community Directory and
its list of individuals interested to be engaged in the Cape community.
This is something we had not developed at the time of the first printing
of the article below in December of 2003.
Another way would be to become part of the Massachusetts Nonprofit
Network (MassNonprofitNet.org), which also did not exist in 2003 and is something that is
patterned after discussions that we helped prompt at that time about the
need to collaborate.
The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MassNonprofitNet.org) is hosting its first conference
October 24 at Bentley College, for which Gloria Larson, the president of
Bentley, will be giving the keynote address. The
conference will be organized similarly to the Volunteer Expos the Cape Cod Center
for Sustainability has held in the past.
Cape Cod involves a lot more than attention to the Cape's natural
environment. Equally important are the people who live here, the factors
that affect their ability to make a living and to use each day to fulfill their
interests and ambitions. In this context, one sector of the Cape's economy
that tends to be overlooked is the region's active and extensive nonprofit
Over the past several years, the
Center for Sustainability has been working with many of the nonprofit
organizations that direct their efforts to serving Cape Cod and its
residents. These organizations define their missions in terms of the
economy, the environment, health concerns, and social welfare. Many have
been struggling recently. Some have even closed. These events compel the
effort to determine if there is anything to do.
discussions and observations, we've concluded that there is an outline of an
idea that merits closer scrutiny by others who have knowledge and
expertise. We suggest that there is a void in the nonprofit sector that
could be filled and lead to improved administrative and operational
efficiency. Doing so would provide economic and operational benefits that
could help sustain our nonprofit sector.
organizational tasks provide the context in which technology advances as well as
specialized professional services could be used in ways that would save money by
realizing efficiencies of scale and by providing access to a deeper reserve of
managerial experience and counsel. These savings could be applied to the
programmatic purposes for which any particular charity was formed.
parlance of the nonprofit sector, the idea is to form a Cape Cod–oriented "management support organization," a term that
describes an organization whose purpose is to
enhance both the operations management of nonprofit organizations and their
compliance with the regulatory structure by which they derive their tax-exempt
If the term
"management support organization" is not a familiar one, consider that
it performs functions that are quite similar to an "operations center"
that connects a bank with its branches. There are many differences, to be
sure, but the idea is conceptually consistent. A “management support
organization,” like a bank operations center, performs routine tasks that cut
across the operations and administration of each of its branches. It
connects its nonprofit branches with professional services firms, foundations,
individual donors, businesses, and nonprofit organizations in the effort to
realize a higher standard of operations as well as administrative
premise of this discussion is not a particularly rosy one: It stems from
the view that nonprofits often struggle to realize their charitable objectives
because they are operationally weak. While nonprofit directors and
executive officers are often passionate about their organization's mission, they
are also often less skilled and experienced in operations management and less
attentive to their compliance requirements.
There is no fault to attach here, just a perception that
throughout the sector, nonprofits often possess managerial skills that are not
equivalent to the size of their budget or comparable to the competency they
display in the conduct of their charitable tasks.
As one example, consider
the information technology (IT) function. Overall, the nonprofit sector has far
more computer power and software capacity than many of its individual
organizations either understand or actually use. If a management support
organization developed and maintained an information system to provide database
expertise while at the same time also reducing the need for hardware, there
would be a sizable budgetary savings realized throughout the sector.
Consider also that
nonprofits often lag in meeting their filing requirements at the attorney
general's office. This noncompliance raises real regulatory concerns. Fund
mismanagement, purposeful or not, may go undetected entirely or detected too
late to realize any realistic chance of recovery. If a management support
organization helped nonprofit organizations to file reports in a more timely
fashion, the nonprofit sector overall would suffer fewer losses due to
mismanagement or actual fraud. And as with the IT function, the savings could be
applied to each organization's own particular passion.
support organization operates generally along the following lines:
Professional firms in law, accounting, public relations, IT, grant writing,
marketing and communication, events planning, and so on serve as
"advisors." In this capacity, advisors present regular programs
that lay out the sector's best practices and update managers on these
"members" of a management support organization are the nonprofit
organizations themselves. As members, they gain access to the expertise of
the advising firms as well as an opportunity to share experiences and
information with their peers.
"Sponsors" of a management support
organization are well-established for-profit businesses, large nonprofit foundations,
and even individual donors. By sponsoring the establishment of a
management support organization, these businesses, foundations, and individual donors
realize greater efficiency in their own giving as well as an increased
assuredness that any specific grant will be one that a recipient will use as
intended by the donor. A management support organization reduces the
possibility that a charitable donation may be misused and result in embarrassment
to the donor rather than goodwill.
Management support organizations
are distinguishable from other well-established
and purposeful entities like a community foundation or the United Way in that
their primary focus is on nonprofit management and
operations. In contrast, community foundations have primary responsibilities that focus more on
grant giving and fiduciary duties. By contrast, a management support
organization focuses specifically on ways to improve operations management and
In the nonprofit sector nationally, there are several
models of management support organizations to study. Other states that
have set up support organizations of this type include Minnesota, Maryland,
North Carolina, and Georgia.
There are several Internet sites one can go to for
background information such as
a site maintained by the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, which can
be found at www.ncna.org, and a site
maintained by Community Wealth Ventures, which can be found at
Establishing a management support organization
for nonprofits in the Cape Cod region would be
relatively straightforward assuming that the will to do so existed. And
that's really the question. To answer it, we need to convene professional
nonprofit managers and lay out the concept in greater detail. An initial
survey would go a long way to determine whether or not this idea is appealing
and whether it is one that nonprofit organizations would participate in as
The Center for
Sustainability, operating on the web at www.SustainCapeCod.org,
is interested to explore this concept further and undertake steps that may lead
to the formation of a management support organization. If you have a
desire to assist and suggestions how best to proceed, we'd like to hear from