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MCN expects busy year with recovery, more services

Jackson — The Mississippi Center for Nonprofits is in business to help member organizations help Mississippians. Lately that assistance has been helping nonprofits on the Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina.

“Katrina changed the dynamic,” said executive director Mark McCrary. “We’ve expanded our services. We’re waiving membership fees for Coast nonprofits. That’s the least we can do to help out. Also, any Coast nonprofit can get a scholarship to our workshops.”

Additionally, nonprofits in the disaster area can receive six-months free subscriptions to The Foundation Directory Online Platinum, a Web-based research tool that includes information on nearly 80,000 U.S. grant makers and half a million recently awarded grants. The center has compiled a list of 14 relief funds that are being established to make grants for damages suffered during the storm.

McCrary says requests from organizations in the disaster area have slowed down a bit as more people get more of a sense of stability. “At first people were shell shocked, wondering where to go next. Many couldn’t find their employees,” he said. “We created a matrix of needs and donors on our Web site.”

The matrix, called Operation Rise, is a clearing house that must be kept updated. A visitor to the Web site can click on a map and an area of interest. Clicking on an interest — such as arts and humanities — will allow the visitor to check out areas of funding. There are also disaster relief funds that have been restricted to organizations that work with early childhood care.

He said the center will conduct some disaster recovery and training workshops. He feels that even those nonprofits outside the Coast must be prepared to minimize risks of all kinds of disasters. Many didn’t have such plans but McCrary thinks that will change.

With 30% of its members not having Web sites, McCrary said the center wants all its members to increase technology.

“That’s the message we’re trying to get some of the smaller nonprofits to understand. Many young people donate online, and these members must be technology savvy,” he said. “It’s a public trust thing, and we’re promoting best practices.”

He says it’s important for members to understand their role in public trust. To that end, the Center for Nonprofits will create a guidebook which members can use to measure themselves on best business practices. It’s expected to be unveiled in April of next year.

“We haven’t had a lot of problems in Mississippi like other places, but people expect nonprofits to be run like businesses,” he added.

The center now has six full-time employees and one part time. A new office opened in Tupelo last year with the goal of opening more offices to provide service within a 90-minute drive from home for all members. They are looking for office space on the Coast.

“Long drives to meetings and workshops limits members’ time to be trained,” McCrary said. “We have a plan in place to meet this goal and are looking at one other office. It must be where there are concentrations of members.”

The center is interested in having some legislation passed while state lawmakers are in town. They would like to increase the amount of nonprofits’ budgets requiring audits by CPAs from $100,000 to $250,000. McCrary says the measure has the support of CPAs and the Secretary of State’s office and that passage looks good. Another measure of interest would change the rule regarding nonprofit service by individuals who have been convicted of crimes.

Also, the center will have eight town hall meetings across the state. “We expect this year to be incredibly busy,” McCrary said. “The biggest challenge facing us is continuing to recover from the hurricane and keep contributions coming.”

Membership provides organizations with a number of services, including networking and information, training and technical assistance, cost-saving opportunities, advocacy and technology. “Members can save thousands of dollars with membership, and we’ve added some benefits by providing discounts through vendors,” he said.

Heading the nonprofit center for 2-1/2 years, the executive director said the 420 members run the gamut of organizations. Dues are based on a member’s annual budget beginning with dues of $60 for budgets under $50,000 annually. The largest amount of dues is $500 for budgets of $4 million and higher. Annual operating budgets include all organizational expenses except grants to other organizations.

The center can provide a list of members to interested parties and gets calls from all over requesting that information.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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