Submitted by Jean Butzen on May 31, 2012 - 09:47

Local Library or Management Service Organization?

  Many foundations believe their grantees could be more effective by partnering and merging resources with other organizations such as sharing back office services between two or more organizations, or having a small nonprofit consolidating into a larger nonprofit in order to spread their costs more effectively. When nonprofit leaders seem uncertain or scared to try these strategies, what can a foundation do to make them relevant to nonprofits? Cheryl Taylor, President and CEO of the Foellinger Foundation in Fort Wayne Allen County, Indiana decided to make an example of her own foundation to show the benefits of collaborations.
In 1999, the foundation was looking for a way to mark its millennium anniversary. "We don't do parties," said Cheryl, so the foundation determined that it wanted to make a gift to the Allen County Public Library and make a positive impact on the nonprofit sector in some way. "We decided that the library is really like a freestanding management service organization (MSO)," said Cheryl. A Jointly Held MSO is usually an umbrella nonprofit that provides services - facilities management, accounting, human resources, IT, fundraising, etc. - on a  fee-for-service basis to the individual organizations that are its members and customers. The members compose the board of directors and in that manner, control the mission and activities of the MSO in the same way any board governs a nonprofit organization. MSOs are very customer-service oriented and achieve economies of scale through pooling budgets. Examples of MSOs abound in the healthcare industry but lately, have begun to spread into other areas of the nonprofit sector. One interesting example is the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center in  Sarasota, Florida known as the Campus of Caring. This unique MSO focuses on shared occupancy costs, housing 17 health and human service agencies completely rent-free on a campus with 13 buildings. With an emphasis on shared services among the partners, The Campus of Caring partnership also includes advanced academic training for staff through the University of South Florida, and soon a children's health facility will be built on the campus.
The Foellinger Foundation realized that nonprofits might be able to use the library in a similar way to an MSO. A library is customer service oriented; it specializes in managing and distributing information and training to a wide variety of people and institutions; it is a center for learning which people are already accustomed to. The library budget covers the overhead and infrastructure and with some additional funding, could expand its offerings, so there would be no need to fund an independent nonprofit. A year later, the Nonprofit Resource Center (now the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center) was born. Staffed Monday through Friday, the center offers a wide variety of completely free sources to nonprofit organizations in Allen County, including:

  • Monthly classes on basic grantwriting
  • Philanthropy Funders' forums to bring together donors and grantees
  • Collaborative workshops and seminars on a variety of topics of interest to the broader nonprofit community
  • Board governance and youth leader training
  • Electronic dissemination of information to nonprofit leaders for proposal deadlines and upcoming presentations at the Center
  • Consulting services for Nonprofits provided by the Center
  • Reference and circulation services specificially for the publications related to the nonprofit sector

This is a great example of what can be done with some creativity and a collaborative approach. Have you ever thought of your library as an MSO? What existing institutions or resources are in our communities that we could better leverage and use to innovate?