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Increase Nonprofit Effectiveness: Support Our Work

Washington State is home to more than 50,000 nonprofits. They are tackling problems we all want addressed like hunger, youth suicide, and domestic violence; economic development, water policy, or emergency services; drop-out prevention, stronger reading skills, and college access.  The staff, boards, and volunteers in these organizations are working hard but there is tremendous untapped potential in our nonprofits.

Because most of the funding available to nonprofits can only be used for programs, even large nonprofits have extremely limited budgets for planning, board development, operational improvement, and basic HR, technology, and financial systems.  How can we unleash their potential to make the world a better place unless we provide nonprofits with affordable access to the skills and tools necessary to overcome operational and governance barriers and grow effective programs?

In Washington State, individuals, foundations, corporations, and government have come together to surmount this problem by supporting 501 Commons.  501 Commons is a "management service organization,” a comprehensive consulting and service resource with the capacity to deliver the help needed by the region’s entire non-profit community.

In 2014 501 Commons was chosen by Seattle Business Magazine as Nonprofit of the Year (shared with our partner City Club.) We were also honored twice by America's State Commissions for our Emergency Planning program for low-income housing sites and our Executive Service Corps program.  501 Commons has also received the Evergreen Award, an annual award recognizing outstanding commitment, innovation and contribution to the sector. 501 Commons was also recognized by an award from the Minority Executive Directors Association.

One Gift Impacts More the 500 Washington Nonprofits Each Year

Over 75% of nonprofit have annual expenditures below $1 million.  Funders almost always provide funding only for direct services and programs, with no markup for overhead or support costs and no way to build retained earnings.  This means organizations doing the most important work in our society do not have access to the tools for organizational effectiveness: HR systems, technology, solid financial management, planning,…and coaching and leadership development.

Our business model is a fairly equal mix of revenue generated from fees paid by nonprofits for our services, $1.3 million per year of donated time from the skilled professionals in our Executive Service Corps, and contributions from individuals, companies, and foundations.Without the contributions of our volunteers, our funders, and donors, we would not be able to keep the other services we provide affordable to nonprofits.

A Partner for Philanthropy

501 Commons helps individuals, governmental agencies, and philanthropic organizations accomplish their goals. A gift to 501 Commons impacts more than 500 nonprofits each year.  Our innovative capacity building programs, make 501 Commons one of the most cost-effective and high-impact investments you can make in the health of Washington State.communities.

We are lucky to have nearly 40 foundations and companies in our state that understand the challenges that nonprofits face in accessing professional expertise, administrative support, and leadership development opportunities. Here are some examples of these partnerships:

  • The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation is supporting the delivery of ED Forums for nonprofit executives in Pierce County.
  • The Sherwood Trust funded the Plan IT! program in Walla Walla in 2014 and the HR Toolkit Cohort in 2015.
  • The Greater Everett Community Foundation provided several years of support for the Catalyst program for Snohomish County nonprofits wanting to expand their fundraising activities and become more sustainable.
  • The Nesholm Foundation, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, and 4 Culture support the Springboard for the Arts program. Join them in sustaining this proven program that preserves the cultural diversity of our community.
  • The Boeing Company provided early support to start 501 Commons, originally the Executive Service Corps and has provides more than $500,000 in support throughout the history of the organization including support for the Springboard and Catalyst programs.
  • Northwest Fund for the Environment contracts with 501 Commons to provide executive advisors and people with specialized expertise for their grantees.
  • The Bullitt Foundation provided funding for executive directors from five grantee organizations to work with a leadership coach. The yearlong Compasspoint Coaching Study found that significant benefits in leadership and management resulted from coaching nonprofit leaders.
  • Microsoft is continuing their support for the Plan IT! technology planning program, Free 501 Talks Tech workshops, as well as its support for nonprofit technology services.

The following are some examples of our partnerships with philanthropy

Volunteer Generation Fund

We are entering the 6th year of a federally funded partnership with Serve Washington, our state's commission for national and community service and the Volunteer Centers of Washington to expand volunteer centers across the state and to advocate for a plan to expand the impact of volunteer service in Washington State. The goals of the plan are to increase the number of people who volunteer, improve their volunteer experience, and help nonprofits do a better job of engaging volunteers, especially those with specialized and professional skills.

With the support of this fund, 501 Commons has also developed emergency plans for low-income housing facilities housing thousands of low-income people, often with the support of  veterans and active-duty military personnel.  In 2016-17 our work will focus on increasing the capacity of organizations to effectively recruit, engage and retain high-value volunteers.

Supporters of the I&R Program and Resource Directory

Nonprofits of all types have access to the first-in-the-nation directory of vetted consultants and nonprofit specialists who have been recommended by nonprofits. The Statewide Nonprofit Resource Directory also provides access to tools and best practices, "Best of the Web" links, training and networking events, a map of venues for nonprofits, and more. Plus, nonprofits can get free phone and email support from our Information & Referral (I&R) Program Manager. 501 Commons' website is visited by over 6,000 individuals (unique users) monthly, with many accessing resources and referrals found in the Resource Directory.

Our thanks to the following foundations who supported the the I&R Program, including the Resource Directory, as well as the 90+ consultants, capacity builders, and other service providers featured in the Directory:

United Way of King County's Volunteer Impact Partnership

501 Commons is proud to collaborate with United Way of King County to develop and deliver two programs through United Way’s Volunteer Impact Partnership (VIP). VIP increases organizational capacity to help nonprofits more effectively meet their missions through recruiting, engaging, and retaining high-value volunteers.

"VIP helped us to amplify our volunteer program. We are witnessing the results of a solid structure, enhanced coordination, and stronger leadership. Thank you for bringing these new skills and higher impact to Kindering." - Mimi Siegel, Executive Director, Kindering Center

95 organizations have participated in United Way's VIP 360 program between 2010 and 2015, each receiving an estimated $15,000 worth of services that enhanced their volunteer efforts at no cost to them. This is a great example of the value of the service corps model, which leverages grant funds and professional volunteers to maximized services provided to nonprofit organizations.

See the impact of VIP 360 at Real Change and the United Way Worldwide story about VIP 360 at El Centro De la Raza.

Currently, VIP Volunteer Manager Corps is mobilizing volunteers to help organizations develop the systems and processes needed to effectively engage, recruit and retain high-value volunteers. 68 organizations have taken advantage of this offering to date!