By Louis Medina
An old adage in the real estate industry says that the top three determinants of a piece of property’s current and future value are location, location, location.
In a similar way in the nonprofit sector, what determines the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization is transparency, transparency, transparency.
Transparency applies to such things as:
• Program and service visibility, for easy client outreach and referral purposes;
• Organizational structure, operations and administration, to avoid possible conflicts of interest and facilitate networking and partnerships with other nonprofits, for-profits, and government agencies or representatives; and
• Financial reporting, so that nonprofits can remain accountable to their grantors, donors and the Internal Revenue Service.
Nonprofits are held to high transparency standards because their 501(c)(3) status affords them such benefits as tax exemption on earned income—including fundraising, monetary donations and in-kind gifts — and the eligibility to apply for private, state and federal grants.
One of the goals of Kern Community Foundation’s Nonprofit Strengthening Initiative is to help Kern County’s charitable organizations attain a superior level of transparency in their work. We do this by requiring agencies that register for services or apply for grants from the Foundation to achieve a Silver or higher transparency rating on GuideStar.org, the world’s largest database on nonprofits. GuideStar is a tool often used by grantors to gauge a nonprofit’s organizational and financial health before deciding on funding.
Thanks to a partnership with the Kern Alliance of Nonprofits, another local nonprofit strengthening effort begun in 2016 by Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, who is himself at the helm of a local community based organization, representative payee agency Stewards, Kern nonprofits can participate in a series of free workshops to help them progress to GuideStar’s highest level of transparency: platinum.
Along the way, they learn how to craft an impactful mission and vision statement, recruit and build an effective board of directors, create a budget, implement contingency planning and more.
“While serving on a number of boards,” Gonzales said, “I realized that a lot of nonprofits struggled with the same questions about how to build and strengthen their organizations. At the same time, I recognized my own personal desire to continue learning and building my own capacity as a nonprofit executive. My hope is that KAN can serve as a vehicle to help nonprofit managers learn, grow, and network with colleagues.”
“KAN trainings are for nonprofit executives, board members and others who are interested or just starting a nonprofit,” said KAN Education Committee Chair Jessica Mathews, executive director of League of Dreams, a nonprofit that offers adaptive sports for children with physical and developmental disabilities.
Offered monthly from September through May, the workshops aim to help charitable organizations “be the best they can be while making sure they are following state and federal guidelines,” Mathews said.
Strategic networking is further facilitated through KAN’s quarterly social mixers, where nonprofit representatives can exchange ideas in an informal setting, over drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The mixers are organized by local nonprofit power couple Amy Smith, executive director of Bakersfield Museum of Art, and her husband, Zane, executive director of Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County.
“I am very pleased with the progress of KAN,” Gonzales said. “We have a fantastic steering committee of people who care deeply about our community. We all have a role and responsibilities within our own organizations, but we still make time to build KAN.”
For her part, Mathews said: “I love nonprofit work and I love my job. Doing what I do not only grows League of Dreams, but grows the community. When we have strong nonprofits to give to and support, it makes the community a better place.”
Indeed, KAN’s mission is, “To strengthen the community benefit organizations of Kern County,” and its vision is, “To create a strong community benefit sector that plays a vital role in a healthy, prosperous and vibrant Kern County.”
For more information on KAN mixers and the workshop series, which is now in its second year, visit KAN’s page on Kern Community Foundation’s website, kernfoundation.org, or KAN’s Facebook page @kernallianceofnonprofits.
Louis Medina is manager of community impact for Kern Community Foundation.