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Nonprofits discuss ways to meet needs in today's economy

As nonprofits face challenges in today's economy, they also have opportunities to work together.

Area nonprofit leaders recently met in Bemidji for a Nonprofit Survival Summit to discuss the challenges and opportunities nonprofits face.

The United Way of Bemidji Area, in cooperation with Community Resource Connections and Beltrami Area Service Collaborative, held the summit March 20 in Bemidji. The summit drew 67 attendees, mostly area nonprofit leaders.

"I thought it was very effective," said Ashli Bowen, executive director of the United Way.

With the current economic situation, more people need human services, she said. At the same time, she said, nonprofits are facing budget cuts.

The summit provided time for structured discussion about the future of nonprofits and offered details of Beltrami County's new strategic plan, which outlines some parameters for county partnerships with nonprofit agencies.

Bowen said the main focus of the summit was to get honest feedback from nonprofits to identify some of the challenges and opportunities they face.

At the summit, attendees identified many challenges area nonprofits face in serving clients and many opportunities for working together not only to get through these economic times, but to end up stronger.

Among the top challenges was volunteer management, including recruiting, the aging population, oversight, training and transportation costs.

Other top challenges identified at the summit included paying for administration, and community awareness of what nonprofits are in the area, what services they offer and the impact they have on the local economy and quality of life.

Cash flow, cultural awareness, facility space, increased reliance on fundraising, increased client need, legislative uncertainty and staff stress were also among the top challenges identified.

The top opportunities identified included developing an analysis that identifies gaps, overlaps, assets and the impact of nonprofits. Training in outcome management was also identified as an opportunity.

Getting the word out about Community Resource Connections was also among the top opportunities identified. CRC is an area nonprofit membership organization that facilitates collaborative efforts among 42 area nonprofits.

Also included in the top opportunities were developing a mechanism for getting nonprofit information to the community, forming a grant writing collaboration and offering an online eligibility calculator to screen clients for services.

Another top opportunity identified at the summit was offering a transportation summit that would focus on what local services are available and try to address the transportation needs of clients.

A city-county feedback loop that would strengthen open dialogue between nonprofits, cities and the county was also identified as a top opportunity.

The summit attendees identified the following next steps:

-- Identify and apply for a grant that will assist in an asset/impact analysis of all area nonprofits.

-- Meet with the media about doing more articles on nonprofits and their value to the community.

-- Nonprofits need to attend a CRC networking event.

-- Identify grant opportunities for bringing in outcome measurement/logic model training and cost benefit analysis training for nonprofits.

-- Create a listerv for area nonprofits to expand communications and share knowledge and resources.

A nonprofit coalition will develop a management plan to address the next steps as well as some of the top opportunities and challenges identified at the summit. The coalition will also determine which organizations within the coalition would take on some of the top opportunities and challenges.

The coalition includes Bowen; Patrick Grundmeier, executive director of Beltrami Area Service Collaborative; CRC Director Ruth Sherman; and nonprofit consultant Jeanne Edevold Larson.