KALAMAZOO — Of the hundreds of nonprofits in the Kalamazoo area, most of them have tapped into the services offered by ONEplace at one time or another.
ONEplace is a one-stop resource for established nonprofits and individuals seeking to start new nonprofits. Housed on the second-floor of the Kalamazoo Public Library, the ONEplace space contains a resource library with materials on everything from how to create impactful fundraising campaigns to effective grant-writing techniques.
In addition, ONEplace offers a conference room for free workshops and an area for staff to meet with individual clients.
On any given day, ONEplace Director Thom Andrews may be found facilitating a workshop, advising nonprofit staff or meeting with stakeholders. He is part of a two-person staff that includes Matt Lechel, an associate at ONEplace.
“There are 10 of these capacity-building centers in Michigan,” Andrews said. “We all kind of do similar work, but we’re organized, housed and funded differently. We are the only group that offers services and resources free of charge in the state.”
During a recent meeting he attended with representatives of nonprofits from throughout the country, Andrews explained the ONEplace business model and discovered just how unique it is.
“Most of them have memberships or fees for service,” Andrews said. “We do not.”
In March 2009, ONEplace officially opened its doors with a full slate of online and print resources, plus a complete schedule of webinars and workshops. The organization formed after a task force made up of representation from area foundations and nonprofit leadership began meeting in late 2007 to develop a plan to address the persistent and growing challenges facing Kalamazoo County’s nonprofit sector.
Task force representatives looked at different models and visited several existing capacity-building entities to see what model worked best. They adopted a model used in Fort Wayne, in which the organization is housed in the library because of its central location.
Officials with the Kalamazoo Public Library said they would house ONEplace with the understanding that it would not be a part of the library, Andrews said.
The task force selected KPL to house and operate the center because of its accessibility, strong infrastructure, neutrality, information-based mission, and reputation as a strong collaborative leader. They also secured long-term funding commitments from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, with additional support from the Greater Kalamazoo United Way and the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation.
The annual operating budget for ONEplace is about $220,000, which includes financial and in-kind contributions, Andrews said.
“By the time we were in our second fiscal year, we were doing about 150 events for 1,800 people walking through the door,” Andrews said. “We had things on our website, we had a collection of books and magazines and we did direct assistance.”
ONEplace also began offering consulting and coaching resources, and in the winter and spring of 2012 piloted its first Leadership Academy to help existing nonprofit executives strengthen their skills while also addressing an anticipated loss of leadership because of retirements.
Paul Knudstrup, president of Midwest Consulting Group in Kalamazoo, and Bobbe Luce, former ONEplace director, developed this particular program.
Individuals apply to be in the Leadership Academy, which meets one day each month for nine months. Knudstrup said it is not uncommon for participants to be tapped by their boards to take on leadership roles within the organization.
“ONEplace has turned out to be a game-changer for the nonprofit sector in Kalamazoo County,” Knudstrup said. “There is a high percentage of nonprofit executive directors who are 55 or older, not just here but throughout the country. What we’re finding is the nonprofit arena might not have the bench strength for people to step into leadership roles.”
Andrews said many people and organizations are benefitting from the programs.
“These are good for folks who are new to supervision or have done it for long time,” he said.
Although the majority of workshops offered cover a single topic in a less than half-day time frame, some topics are presented in a series format spread out over a five-week session such as the Supervision Management series, which has had a waiting list for the last two years it’s been offered.
“We have some folks who are actively managing and others who work in nonprofits and look at a supervisory role as something they would like to be active in,” Knudstrup said. “It’s eye-opening stuff for a lot of them.”
A series format offers better training opportunities, according to Andrew. ONEplace offers a marketing series in April/May and just did its first presentation on public speaking. He said attendance has jumped up to 2,400 in one year.
“We kind of work ourselves around what a generic nonprofit model would be, such as planning a campaign, donor recognition and stronger board development,” Andrews said. “This jump in workshop attendance shows that people are willing to give their time and effort.”
Dana DeLuca, director of development and public relations for Residential Opportunities Inc. (ROI), said she is a self-described ONEplace “groupie.”
“What I appreciate most about ONEplace is that it provides a variety of ongoing topics that are consistently relevant to me as a fundraising professional,” DeLuca said. “Thom is especially knowledgeable about nonprofit management and has been instrumental in two recent strategic planning sessions at ROI.
“ONEplace is a gem in our community, serving as a catalyst for community success.“
A consultant in the nonprofit sector, who asked not to be named in this report, said ONEplace is changing the story for nonprofits in Kalamazoo.
“We used to have to address issues one leader and one organization at a time,” the consultant said. “ONEplace scales that up and adds a strong collaborative element.”
‘RISING TIDE OF EXCELLENCE’
ONEplace makes about 115 direct assistance contacts per month, which could be answering questions or providing information via email or phone. In addition, Andrews will meet off-site with groups who are serving in a volunteer capacity.
Sometimes he’s dealing with an individual or group that wants to start a new nonprofit. He said these requests generally come in around the first of the year or over the summer.
“Summer’s just a different time for everybody. People tend to look at that as a time of change,” Andrews said. “My work here tends to be to really help folks who have this idea to face some levels of reality. They usually have a great spirit and want to invest that to give back. I encourage them to talk to other groups that are doing something similar or work with a population that’s already being served.”
About one in 25 of these groups or individuals have a very unique take on things and they see a realistic opportunity to make the idea happen. Andrews said these people have the wherewithal and go in with their eyes open. Those who work for or volunteer with nonprofits have a high level of resolve and commitment, and a recognition that services shouldn’t just go to those who can afford it, Andrews said.
“We believe that the nonprofit sector is critical to the success of any community because it deals with every part of the community — business, faith, education, those on the margins and everyone else as donors, clients, volunteers,” he said. “By having a service at a high quality level and professional development services available to all free of charge — that’s centrally located so people can access it — we are creating a rising tide of excellence.”