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Local Library or Management Service Organization?

Indiana’s Foellinger Foundation is using free library services to boost grantee effectiveness.

Many foundations believe their grantees could be more effective by partnering with other organizations—for example, sharing back office services or even merging into a single, larger nonprofit to spread costs more effectively. When nonprofit leaders seem uncertain about or scared to try these strategies, what can a foundation do to make them relevant to nonprofits? Cheryl Taylor, president and CEO of the Foellinger Foundation in Fort Wayne Allen County, Indiana, found a creative way for grantees to take advantage of the benefits of collaboration—at the public library.

In 1999, the foundation was looking for a way to mark its millennium anniversary. “We don’t do parties,” said Cheryl, so the foundation determined that it wanted to make a gift to the Allen County Public Library while also making a positive impact on the nonprofit sector in some way. “We decided that the library is really like a freestanding management service organization,” said Cheryl.

For those unfamiliar, a jointly held management service organization (MSO) is usually an umbrella nonprofit that provides services—facilities management, accounting, human resources, IT, fundraising, etc.—on a fee-for-service basis to the individual organizations that are its members and customers. The members compose the board of directors, and control the mission and activities of the MSO in the same way that any board governs a nonprofit organization. MSOs are very customer-service oriented and achieve economies of scale by pooling budgets. Examples of MSOs abound in the healthcare industry and are beginning to spread into other areas of the nonprofit sector. (One interesting example is the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center, which focuses on shared occupancy costs, housing 17 health and human service agencies completely rent-free on a campus with 13 buildings; it also offers advanced academic training for staff through the University of South Florida and will soon build a children’s health facility.)

The Foellinger Foundation realized that nonprofits might be able to use the library in a similar way to an MSO. A library is customer service-oriented; it specializes in managing and distributing information and training to a wide variety of people and institutions; and people are accustomed to it operating as a center for learning. The foundation saw that the library budget could cover the overhead and infrastructure, and realized that with some additional funding, the library could expand its offerings and eliminate the need to fund an independent, service-based nonprofit.

In 2000, the Nonprofit Resource Center (now the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center) was born. Staffed Monday through Friday, the center offers a wide variety of completely free sources to nonprofit organizations in Allen County, including:

  • Monthly classes on basic grantwriting
  • Philanthropy forums that bring together funders and grantees
  • Collaborative workshops and seminars on a variety of topics of interest to the broader nonprofit community
  • Board governance and youth leader training
  • Electronic dissemination of information to nonprofit leaders for proposal deadlines and upcoming presentations at the center
  • Consulting services for nonprofits
  • Reference and circulation services specifically for the publications related to the nonprofit sector

This is a great example of what can be done with some creativity and a collaborative approach. Have you ever thought of your library as an MSO? What institutions or resources already exist in our communities that could we better leverage and use to innovate?

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COMMENTS

  • BY Marilynn Fauth

    ON June 1, 2012 08:12 AM

    Wow! This is a great article about a super idea, thanks!

    A disclosure is in order here. I’ve been the Coordinator of the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center since its inception, and the Foellinger Foundation’s innovative idea has become a valuable asset in our community.  We’re extremely grateful to our funding partners for their continued generous support. Marilynn Fauth, GPC

  • BY Cynthia Bailie

    ON June 1, 2012 09:19 AM

    Jean: 

    Thank you for this article!  The Foundation Center is privileged to include the Paul Clarke Resource Center in Fort Wayne as one of its 475 member organizations in its philanthropy information centers network (Cooperating Collections). They do great work and are contributing to a thriving nonprofit sector in Indiana!

    Our network is growing globally, and your reader can find out more about it here: http://foundationcenter.org/collections/

    Cynthia Bailie
    Director, Cleveland Office and Special Information Initiatives
    The Foundation Center

  • BY Lettie Haver

    ON June 1, 2012 01:40 PM

    Woot! I am geeking out to see this work noticed! In my favorite publication!?!!

    I’m not sure of the numbers, but most Cooperating Collections (CC) of the Foundation Center offer support and services via a part-time (dedicated, wise, and likely over-worked and heroic:) librarian.

    It’s important to note that ACPL has had a CC since 1984. In 2000, we changed dramatically with Foellinger’s vision and investment - and that of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, as well.

    The difference for local nonprofits is our dedicated staff and established community partnerships.

    Because of the outside funding, our library can offer the skills and knowledge of an experienced nonprofit professional. As a librarian, I can impact organizations with good information and training - but I have limitations. With a coordinator - and with both of us working full-time specifically supporting nonprofits, we’re able to do so much more.

    Case in point, the Kalamazoon Public Library visited us in February of 2008, a week or so after I started this job. Their library leadership and community funders spent a day with us - and Foellinger foundation to talk about the benefits of this partnership. They have since taken their Cooperating Collection and added a nonprofit professional to expand services.

    We’ve been joyfully watching the results grow in Kalamazoo’s ONEPlace:  http://www.kpl.gov/ONEplace/resources/at-one-place.aspx

    We’d love to see- and help- libraries move in this direction.

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