It’s been almost a year since the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the “CommNS”) began an exciting collaboration with other leaders in the “third sector” in Wisconsin. The “third sector” is a term used to describe the range of organizations, actors, and change agents in society which are not in the business nor governmental/public sectors. Third sector organizations — sometimes also referred to as the “voluntary sector” — may include faith groups, domestic nonprofit and human services organizations, social entrepreneurs, advocacy organizations, informal community groups, international non-governmental organizations, arts and recreational groups and educational institutions, research institutes and think tanks, just to name a few!
This collaboration has been dubbed WisNRG, which stands for “Wisconsin Nonprofit Resources Group”.
WisNRG began when the CommNS along with our close campus collaborator, the Morgridge Center for Public Service, started exploring how best to respond to the inquiries that come to our respective centers from representatives of community and nonprofit organizations from across Wisconsin. These organizations were looking for accessible, free or reduced cost resources, and specific types of expertise or support they did not have in-house and were difficult to find or access from third-party sources, especially with limited resources. We wanted to make sure that we were properly fielding such inquiries and referring to the right sources, even if our own campus units could not directly help. We wanted to track the types of inquiries coming in, knowing that they offered a valuable snapshot of needs in the sector. And, one thing was very clear — nonprofit and community organizations are often doing a lot with limited resources, and must be extremely resourceful about identifying accessible, affordable, or free support to optimally move forward on their mission-based work.
We developed an intake form for inquiries, a way to track the data related to the inquiries, and we started drafting an “inventory” of the free resources and sources of expertise in Wisconsin that might be good fits for referrals.
This work led us to contemplate a bigger question — where do nonprofit and community organizations go to find accessible, quality resources to do their work, and are they able to connect with those resources? We decided it was time to branch out to get more input from other experts across the state.
We hosted a workshop at our 2016 CommNS annual event where community wisdom helped us refine the categories of resources that organizations are generally looking for. Then, we started contacting other institutions of higher education, public sector representatives, nonprofit centers, community foundations and funders, and other nonprofit sources that serve nonprofits to find out if our inventory was on point and if we were missing any known resources or information about the statewide landscape for the third sector.
We called a meeting in March 2016 of these leaders in the sector, shared updates about our work to serve nonprofits, and discussed the needs we have seen from our respective agencies in the third sector. We reviewed the inventory of resources that the CommNS had compiled with input from community partners, and fine-tuned categories and regions represented.
Here are just some of the organizations that have sent representatives to our meetings:
Since we first brought this group together in March 2016, we have had some great exchanges, broadened and deepened our network, and worked on some important steps, including:
- Refining the inventory of free resources available to nonprofit and community organizations in Wisconsin, incorporating input from various regions in the state as well as feedback from community partners about their areas of greatest need for resources.
- Drafting and proposing of an uniform intake form and database system for tracking inquiries across multiple organizations, in order to provide more responsive and appropriate referrals and to maintain data on the needs of Wisconsin nonprofit organizations.
- Identifying additional contacts and organizations that serve nonprofits and community organizations in the state, and including them in the network.
- Formulating a plan for a calendar of events, conferences, and activities that are relevant for all players in Wisconsin’s “third sector” to create a “one-stop-shop” repository so that organizations and individuals can find out about what’s happening and cross-promote their events.
- Establishing a cloud-based repository for informational materials for non-profit-serving organizations in Wisconsin.
- Informally convening Wisconsin nonprofit studies scholars at this year’s ARNOVA conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- Establishing a subcommittee structure that will allow various participants to focus on the three (3) specific initiatives that we will focus on in 2018: (1) inventory of resources and gaps for nonprofits in Wisconsin; (2) uniform intake process and shared data collection about inquiries from community and nonprofit organizations; (3) information-sharing and communications (resource repository, calendar of events, social media platforms, etc).
The WisNRG group will meet again in February to continue work on its 2018 goals. We anticipate that the collaborative work of this network will provide a meaningful statewide platform for continued exploration of and strategies for needs of the third sector in Wisconsin.
We are also thrilled to report that the WisNRG group will contribute to the April 17th “Funding and Social Change” event
co-hosted by the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the “CommNS”) and the UW-Milwaukee Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management. Registration is open now –https://uwccs.eventsair.com/fsc/reg18/Site/Register
Also, as a warm-up to this “main” event, we’ll be hosting four (4) WisNRG scholars at a CommNS Lunch and Learn to showcase some of our Wisconsin scholars’ work on funding in the domestic and international nonprofit sector — with representatives from UW-Madison, the Bader Institute, Springfield College, and UW-Whitewater.
Should you have questions about the WisNRG network or the “Funding and Social Change” event, please contact Mary Beth Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.