From the American Guild of Organists to the Lexington's Youth Commission, Nonprofit Net Inc. has managed to bring together nonprofit organizations and town commissions in a way that has never been done before.
This localized umbrella group that just recently celebrated its third anniversary is uniting donors, volunteers and civic-minded associations across Lexington.
Narain Bhatia and David Kessler founded Nonprofit Net on Jan. 26, 2004, and since then they have held 25 free educational and networking seminars, published a directory of 326 local civic groups, created state-of-the-art Web site that connects volunteers with the organizations who need them.
"The heart of the whole thing is helping the people who want to do the good work," said Bhatia.
Nonprofit Net holds a new seminar for members every month, free of charge, and attendance has increased significantly. According to Bhatia, when they first started to hold the seminars, only seven or eight members would come. Now the seminars, which are held at the Cary Library, attract over 50 attendees, from Lexington town selectmen, to executive directors and non-profit board members not only from Lexington and surrounding towns but Boston, Worcester and Cape Cod as well.
The next seminar is "Communicating Your Message: Media and Public Relations for Nonprofits," which is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Gail Rogers, the director of development at the Edinburg Center, has been a member of Nonprofit Net for two years and sees the seminars as must-attend events.
"They have unbelievably good workshops for people in the nonprofit world," Rogers said. "I see them as an invaluable resource."
The seminars are not only educational; they allow the various nonprofits that attend to become familiar with each other, and begin to network. Barbara Ciampa, who is a social worker and serves on the board of the Lexington Symphony and the Lexington Art Council, is also on the steering committee of Nonprofit Net. She believes that the half hour at the end of every seminar is an essential part of each lecture.
"There is a lot of networking going on," she said. "People under the same circumstances get to meet each other and talk."
That is not meant to detract from the speakers that Bhatia is able to secure.
"[Bhatia] reaches into the atmosphere and gets very good speakers," said Ciampa, "He is very resourceful."
Every speaker who lectures at a seminar does so for free. Bhatia believes they also see it as a networking possibility. The experts are speaking to the people that are their potential clients. Bhatia's previous success in the business world helps drive Nonprofit Net, but it hasn't always been easy.
"When we started, it was said that [creating a nonprofit umbrella group] could never be done," Bhatia said, "because nonprofits compete, not cooperate, for the same dollar."
However since its inception, Nonprofit Net has had nothing but success.
"The genius of it is that it is all localized. We are creating a community," said Bhatia. "Local people rather give locally than nationally. We are trying to utilize local philanthropic resources to support local causes. No other umbrella group has taken on such an extensive network so locally."
A shining example of the local connections can be found on Nonprofit Net's Web site, www.nonprofitnet.us. Each of the nonprofit members can post their volunteering needs on the site, much like as job posting. That way potential volunteers, or donors, who are looking for the organization that best fits their skills, interests and desires can browse a long list of groups that are in need of help. The Web site also features forums for nonprofits that are moderated by former speakers, e-registration for the next seminar, and an e-newsletter that is sent via e-mail monthly.
Members of Nonprofit Net are not forced to pay, as many small nonprofits can't afford large payments. Dues are voluntary, and there is a suggested scale for yearly dues based upon the organizations yearly income.
On Dec. 20, 2006, Nonprofit Net held a luncheon to honor the Lexington Symphony, Research Institute for Learning and Development (ILD), and Kessler, for their significant contributions to Nonprofit Net and the town of Lexington. Kessler, a co-founder, created their first Web site from scratch, and served as president until the end of 2004. The Lexington Symphony was honored for its contributions to the Lexington community, making it a great home for the arts. Research ILD does cutting edge work in the field of learning disabilities, and since it was founded in 1995, has published six books and several articles in peer-reviewed journals. It has been one of the most successful non-profits based in Lexington.
Bhatia sees Nonprofit Net's future to hold more volunteer to nonprofit matching, better donor services, and more funding opportunities, such as grant-writing specialists. Bhatia also would like to see it become a self-sustaining organization with a full-time employee; right now, Bhatia donates around 40 hours a week of his own time to keep Nonprofit Net running.
Bhatia doesn't mind, however, as he sees it as his way to give back to the community he has been a member of for 33 years. It's just another example of the whole spirit of Nonprofit Net, which Ciampa of the steering committee was able to put quite simply.
"It spreads knowledge and conviviality. It's volunteers helping volunteers."