Fiscal agency: Being smarter with our community’s resources

Please raise your hand if you think we need more nonprofits in Greater Nashua? You might be surprised to learn that a simple search on GuideStar shows that there are over 400 registered nonprofits in our community. Some of these are very large with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, and others are tiny with little or no budget at all. I would venture a guess that most of them are striving to make our community a better place to live and am certain that all of them are committed to their missions. They are here, quite simply, because there is a need. Even in the world of nonprofits, the economic rules of supply and demand apply. So, I would propose that our nonprofits are filling a need to make our community stronger, safer, healthier, and smarter. But that was not the question… the question isn’t whether there is important work to be done or not, the question is do we have too many nonprofits, just the right amount, or not enough?

Over the past 3 years we at United Way have been asking this question more deliberately and have begun doing work in supporting our community through fiscal agency. This is an approach which allows for the nonprofit work to get done, without the need to create a new nonprofit. If you consider what is necessary to run a nonprofit organization, generally speaking, you will have at minimum the need to file and maintain your status with the State of New Hampshire, you need to file an annual tax return called a 990, you will likely need liability insurance and insurance to cover your officers, as you grow it becomes necessary to do a financial audit, you need bi-laws, a board of directors, a means for taking in donations and giving your donors tax receipts for their deductions, and the ability to account for your finances. All these activities, taken collectively, can have the effect of doing two things: costing thousands of dollars and taking many months to put in place. You must ask yourself, is it worth it? What if you could simply do the work you want to do in the community and let somebody else deal with all this accounting and administrative burden. That’s where fiscal agency comes into play.

So, let me share with you a story. It’s the story of Justin Munroe, Director of Grow Nashua. I ran into Justin about 2 years ago at a meeting and he happened to mention his desire to start a nonprofit to help create urban gardens and farms in our community. He wanted to help people to become food sustainable and wanted to know what he needed to do to start his nonprofit. My question to Justin, at the time, was first what type of work he wanted to do and second, why he wanted to start a nonprofit. These are not the same question. There wasn’t a clear answer as to why a separate nonprofit organization would be needed to do the work of creating food access in our community. So, we brought Justin and Grow Nashua on board as a “fiscal agency” which essentially means that he can run his program as a program of United Way and take advantage of all the accounting, insurance, tax filing, etc. that we already have in place. As a result of this arrangement, Justin saved a lot of money and time and as a result was able to get his program up and running right away. To date, we have taken this approach with a large number of programs, including the Nashua Prevention Coalition, which focuses on drug abuse prevention for youth, One Greater Nashua, which focuses on health equity through being a welcoming community and integrating immigrants, Sinfonietta Strings, which does strings music education in the schools for low income children, LHIFA/ISC, which provides high quality soccer coaching accessible to people of all income levels, Meals for Kids, which works to create food access for children outside the school day, and most recently the new Meals Matter initiative, working to bridge the food access gap for high schoolers so that eating lunch is available to all students. There have been others, such as the Legacy Playground, which raised over $150K to put in place the accessible playground down by Fairgrounds Middle School and the Friends of MBK, working to create equality of opportunity for our community’s youth, and the Rohingya Society for Greater Nashua helping some of our refugee families to gain a toehold in our community.

When we think of all these programs, taken collectively, it is impossible to imagine the work getting done as effectively if each one of them had to “start their own nonprofit business.” Along the way, we are also proud and thankful to have received grant funding from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to continue this fiscal agency work, helping to pay for about half of our costs. Neither United Way nor NH Charitable believe that we need a lot more nonprofits, but we also believe that there is a better way to do more work with less resources. So, the next time you hear somebody express their dream of doing something for our community and you hear them say that they want to start a nonprofit to do so, first thank them for their enthusiasm and then ask them if they’ve heard of fiscal agency to get their program off the ground. Then have them reach out to us for some advice. We might be able to help them out getting started, keeping in mind that Great Things Really Do Happen When We LIVE UNITED! Wishing you a Happy, Safe, and Bountiful Thanksgiving.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.