Jan. 11, 2010
UI resource center celebrates 10 years of helping Iowa's nonprofits
Now in its 10th year, the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center has helped thousands of nonprofit organizations in the state provide needed services to Iowans.
Founded in 2000, the center provides free legal and management assistance to Iowa's nonprofit and charitable organizations. Its primary service is helping new start-up organizations work their way through the myriad of state and federal tax laws that govern nonprofits.
Richard Koontz, the center's director, said the challenges of the law mean that many potentially valuable charitable non-profit groups might never get past the planning stages without help.
"The tax code should not be an obstacle to providing a valuable community service," said Koontz. "Taxation laws shouldn't be an impediment, and an organization shouldn't have to spend a significant portion of its budget on legal assistance. That's how we try to help. We hope to build smarter community-based non-profits."
Since its founding, the INRC has provided assistance of some type to nearly 4,000 non-profit and charitable organizations. Most clients are small, community-based organizations that provide a variety of community development and social services in areas like social work, domestic violence and substance abuse. Clients include homeless shelters, regional economic development organizations, a film festival, a jazz festival, a music education group and an AIDS awareness project.
Koontz points out that the center's work has an important economic development dimension, too, as the nonprofit sector is a large part of Iowa's economy. An INRC study in 2007 found that nonprofits employ 9 percent of Iowans and account for 8 percent of wages earned by the state's workers. The study found that the organizations had more than $8 billion in annual expenditures.
"We help to recognize the vital role our charitable nonprofit organizations play in the social and economic vitality of our communities," said Willard "Sandy" Boyd, law professor and former University of Iowa president, who founded the INRC shortly after returning to the UI law school from a tenure as president of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. One of the courses he taught upon returning was nonprofit law and he wanted to extend his classroom experience to provide hands-on assistance to nonprofit and charitable organizations.
In 1999, he conducted a survey of nonprofits around the state to see what their needs were, and found they had many. Tax questions, fundraising, information technology and board relations were issues that managers found particularly vexing. Given there were only a handful of agencies in the state providing nonprofit assistance, he organized the INRC and it opened in 2000. The program's centerpiece was a certificate course for nonprofit managers, Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness, taught at UI.
Koontz said the center was greatly helped in 2004, when Mary Hubbell Waterman, the widow of Davenport attorney and UI law grad Larned A. Waterman, provided a $2.5 million gift in his name to establish an endowment that would help the center maintain its level of operations.
"The gift was a wonderful cornerstone that will help us continue," Koontz said.
Since then, the center has expanded into offering other services, both legal and management, utilizing the services of the college of law and the Tippie College of Business. Boyd and Koontz focus on providing assistance with legal issues, while Jude West, a Tippie professor of management who specializes in nonprofit management, helps clients improve their operations.
The center has also added an online version of its centerpiece course, conducts up to 15 workshops across the state every year, and published Boyd's book, "The Governing Board of Iowa Charitable Nonprofits."
The center also oversaw the creation of "Iowa Principles and Practices for Charitable Nonprofit Excellence," a set of guidelines that help nonprofit organizations improve their management practices, conduct themselves ethically and maintain public accountability. Released in 2005, INRC representatives have traveled the state since then to meet with nonprofit leaders and show how the guidelines can help strengthen the state's public sector.
Koontz said that the INRC's future plans include a redesigned and expanded Web site and programs designed to help nonprofits cope with the loss of donations due to the poor economy. The center also received a grant from the Mansfield Trust to continue its work measuring the economic impact of nonprofit and charitable organizations.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
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