Nonprofits profit from Iowa center
It is Musicks Feast, an early music ensemble.
We were singing Monteverdi and decided we wanted to put on a concert, she says. So in the spring of 1999, they organized a performance, and at the last minute put out the hat for a free-will donation for Habitat for Humanity. They pulled in about $400.
Happy with the event and excited by the money they raised, the six-member ensemble decided to explore the possibility of becoming a formal organization with a two-fold mission: to provide high- quality music performances and to raise money to help alleviate world hunger.
But that required a move beyond the hey, kids, lets put on a show! phase.
We were trying to figure out how to structure an organizational entity that would provide logistical support for managing a concert series and handling our budget. I consulted a lawyer, but we needed someone who specialized in nonprofits, and I felt like were on our own, Aubrey says. Were good at what we do, as musicians. But we dont know the legal pitfalls and procedures.
Then, at a dinner party last summer, a gift just fell in my lap.
I mentioned the idea for Musicks Feast to another guest, Sandy Boyd, Aubrey says. He suggested I talk with Richard Koontz, the coordinator of the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center.
My eyes practically bugged out when I heard about the center, Aubrey says. It was just the kind of help we needed.
Koontz, the former general counsel for the Field Museum, says the year-and-a-half-old Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center is a Sandy Boyd idea. Boyd, a professor of law and president emeritus of The University of Iowa has been teaching courses on nonprofit issues since he returned to Iowa City in 1996, from his position as president of Chicagos Field Museum. The classes are interdisciplinary in nature, bringing together experts from around campus to share their knowledge with graduate and undergraduate students who will be working with nonprofit organizations in a variety of disciplines, including law, business, nursing, library science, theater, social work, urban and regional planning, religion, and others.
The idea behind the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center is to take that expertise a step further, and share it with organizations around the state. According to Koontz, there are approximately 2,800 tax-exempt groups in Iowa.
Most of these are small, community organizations, he says. These are organizations with wonderful ideas, and they face regulatory burdens and tough financial and management issues.
In an effort to learn just what kind of help these groups needed, one of the centers early projects was a survey of Iowa nonprofit organizations.
Not surprisingly, the number-one request is for information about fund raising, Koontz says. There are also concerns about governancehow to develop a board and run an effective meeting; strategic planningnonprofits need to project three years ahead even before they start; human resourceshow to enlist and manage volunteers and when a nonprofit grows, how to move to an employee level; and technologygetting computer software and hardware and using software developed just for nonprofits.
Now the center hopes to use the data to offer the appropriate resources that will help nonprofits throughout the state meet these needs.
To that end, the center, along with a similar group at Iowa State University, is offering its first multidisciplinary, off-campus course. United Way member organizations of east-central Iowa were invited to attend some or all of the 14-session series. Future series are being considered in the Quad Cities.
Another project in the works is beefing up the centers web site (http://nonprofit.law.uiowa.edu) as a way of sharing information among organizations that are geographically distant.
Nonprofits face similar issues, Koontz says. If someone has a problem but has no one to talk with about it, and someone six counties away had a similar problem and solved it, we want to get a dialogue going so they dont have to reinvent the wheel.
But some of the most rewarding work at the center takes place when someone like Aubrey calls, and a new nonprofit takes shape.
Elizabeths project was one of the first taken on by Pat Cain [professor of law] and her students in the legal services clinic, Koontz says. Working together, they turned Musicks Feast from another great idea into a nonprofit corporation that took in nearly $6,000 in ticket sales and donations in their 2000-01 season. The money was distributed among the Johnson County Crisis Center Food Bank, Table to Table, the Free Lunch Program, the Salvation Army, the Linn Community Food Bank, and Heifer Project International. Their first concert this year earned more than $1500, which was donated to Americas Second Harvest in support of its relief work for the victims of Sept. 11.
Becoming a nonprofit has allowed us to present ourselves honestly when we say every penny we earn goes to hunger relief, Aubrey says.
I think the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center is one of the most exciting things the University has committed resources to in recent years, she continues. There are hundreds of organizations like ours in every state and county and some of the most wonderful, helpful things are accomplished by nonprofits.
by Linzee Kull McCray