From the minds of a few bright local business leaders, an idea was born and a partnership formed that has the potential to be just what local nonprofit organizations faced with budgetary constraints need.
When one participates in the local professional development program Leadership Southern Maryland, said Executive Director Denise Foster, part of the curriculum is working on projects that nonprofit agencies submit for consideration. Participants can pick and choose the projects that best suit their professional interests and personal passions.
The nonprofits aren’t terribly limited in the scope of what they can submit, Foster said, so they frequently receive a wide range of proposals, although LSM does ultimately select which ones move forward for classwork.
Last year during her LSM tenure, California-based attorney Jacquelyn Meiser was working on a group assignment with fellow LSM enrollees Chrisie Mulcahey, Chris Weller, Maria Thorpe and Chelsea Brown. For the assignment, the group was tasked with creating a plan for the Tri-County Youth Services Bureau, which Meiser said was facing an issue unfortunately common among smaller nonprofits — retaining its board members.
“In completing that project, we realized there’s a void for nonprofit boards where the resources aren’t available to them at a reasonable price,” Meiser said. “What I believe sometimes happens is these nonprofit boards, when they go to recruit, they look for potential members in [legal and financial] fields to fill these seats on their boards. We wanted a way to let them focus more on free recruitment when they fill their vacancies, rather than looking for a specific type of professional.”
With that in mind, her group decided to see how they could expand their project into something more permanent and far-reaching. Ultimately, she contacted the Nonprofit Institute at the College of Southern Maryland, which has served as a resource for local groups since 2011.
From there, the Professional Services Hub was born.
The PSH offers pro bono legal, financial and insurance assistance to nonprofits in need. Organizations can solicit the aid of LSM alumni who volunteer to make their services available for a two-year term, Meiser said. Currently, she is one of two attorneys offering aid, along with three accountants and two insurance representatives. The services aren’t intended to be too in-depth, Meiser noted. For example, pro bono legal advice is always available, while full court representation is not.
Harriet Yaffe, NPI coordinator, said so far not very many local nonprofit organizations have sought the services of the hub, but that is something she attributed more to lack of widespread knowledge of its availability rather than a need for its presence. As the former executive director of The Arc Southern Maryland, Yaffe said she knows firsthand just how vital these services can be for small organizations without the budget to achieve these ends alone.
“I’d think a small nonprofit that really needs help could benefit,” Yaffe said. “You may not even know if you need this particular help. Let’s say you’re a brand new board president of a small organization, and you don’t know the tax implications of fundraising. You can make a quick call and get your question answered.”
Yaffe went on to further explain how she considers the availability of the hub to be a boon for LSM, CSM and Southern Maryland nonprofits. “It’s a perfect fit on a lot of levels,” she said. “It’s a great enhancement of the relationship between LSM and the NPI. We also want to provide support to organizations of all sizes, and about 30 percent in Southern Maryland are small and all volunteer, so they don’t have the resources a larger organization has access to.”
Foster said she’s similarly excited about the possibilities this new partnership holds. “I think it’ll be wonderful. I’ve worked in volunteer and paid capacities … and I know how much these services are needed, but some can’t afford them. We’re graduating more people every year, and if it’s popular, I hope we can add even more services and expand outside of the law and accounting realm.”
Meiser said she hopes to see more professionals lend their services through the hub, but has been very pleased with the outcome so far. She said she hoped the Nonprofit Institute Conference, which was scheduled for Feb. 21, would help in getting the word out about the new resource.
“Everybody has been very giving of their time,” Meiser said. “I hope it creates an ongoing resource for these groups to seek these services.”