As government shrinks, social entrepreneurs launch charities

As funding for state and federal programs shrink, many cause-minded people are starting non-profit organizations and charities in attempt to meet their communities’ growing needs.

The number of charities registered in Washington rose 49 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to Rebecca Sherrell, charities manager for the Washington Secretary of State office.

That was evident at the secretary of state’s one-day symposium for charities and non-profits on Nov. 8 at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center in Everett. More than 200 people registered in advance with another 45 wait-listed to engage in training and education.

“The symposium and similar training done through our office is especially valuable for new charities and non-profit organizations,” said Teresa Glidden, charity and nonprofit coordinator for the secretary of state’s office. The office also supports existing organizations with best practices and compliance training.

Starting a non-profit is just as difficult — if not more so — than starting a small business. Glidden has been working with education outreach for charities since 2010.

“We want to help them succeed in every way they can,” Glidden said.

When asked about the significant growth, Glidden said she thought much of the increase was due to greater need.

“There are so many great causes that need support. And with many cuts to government programs, people with heart and passion are stepping in to make a difference. I am just amazed by the generosity of those I come in contact with on a daily basis,” she said.

Some participants at the symposium were looking at a startup. For example, Nancy Miller is semi-retired and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Her goal was to access all the information necessary for the formation of a Puget Sound chapter of the Cherokee community that will maintain and promote ties to culture and community for nearly 4,000 registered Cherokee members in our area.

“I learned so much that will help me build the regional network to mirror 28 other Cherokee groups operating nationwide,” Miller said. “There was plenty of actionable information that was truly beneficial to me.”

Emerging organizations were also gleaning wisdom through the symposium.

Following a career in construction that was cut short by injury, Jack Woods returned to school with the hope of finding something that fit with his passion to help people.

Woods connected with another student, Kitten Burgett, at Edmonds Community College who had similar interest in helping local charities. They joined forces, pursuing their dreams while creating an enterprise to support others in need.

Woods is now the CEO of There’s Always Something We Can Do, which raises money through a thrift store — Always Something — on Everett Mall Way that opened in August 2012. The group is positioned to raise money for several charitable causes.

“Our biggest challenge has been around board development and creating a strategy that will help us to connect with community leaders who see great value in our mission,” Woods said. The training included tips about that topic.

Donna Vanderheiden, longtime member and board president of Unity Whidbey Island, came to the symposium to learn about the various rules and laws governing religious nonprofits. Her concern as a board leader was that the work being done through board leadership is in step with how the state expects programs to operate.

“There is just so much information and materials that will help organizations achieve their mission,” Vanderheiden said. “I came away from the sessions with so much valuable knowledge. It was certainly time well spent.”

There’s tremendous value in learning from the experts. Presenter Lorri Dunsmore, a lawyer at Perkins Coie, one of Seattle’s prominent law firms, set out to train on the roles of board members and the need for high standards in governance.

Emphasis on duties of care, loyalty and obedience were high on the list of board member character traits. Risk exposure, liabilities and indemnification were also significant topics of attention.

Presentations by representatives from the Department of Revenue, the Washington State Gambling Commission and the state Liquor Control Board were also quite enlightening.

Clearly there are many critical facets for those entering the world of nonprofits and charities. Even seasoned veterans discovered new and better ways they’re able to make a difference through their work.

The office of Secretary of State is committed to education and serving their constituents. Resources and upcoming trainings and symposiums around the region can be found at the following website. Visit www.sos.wa.gov/charities/training to learn more.

Juergen Kneifel is a Senior Associate Faculty in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu

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