More than two decades of service

A Center Created By and For Nonprofits

Children need advocates. Communities need health services. The human spirit needs art and culture. People of color, women, and many others need a voice. The environment needs protection. North Carolina's nonprofits meet an array of needs, but who serves those who serve in nonprofits?

Who helps those who help? Jane Kendall began wondering this in the 1980s. As executive director of the National Society for Experiential Education in Raleigh, she'd long experienced the daily challenges facing nonprofits. She began talking with nonprofit peers across the state who also wondered. In 1987-90, she used a Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship to learn more. She interviewed almost 300 nonprofit leaders in the U.S. and other countries -- including 125 in North Carolina. These convinced her that nonprofits in all fields have much in common. As she talked with board and staff members in all types and sizes of nonprofits, the case for the sector to have its own support structure became more compelling.

In 1990, she convened a diverse "Concept Group" of 38 nonprofit practitioners, and the N.C. Center for Nonprofits was incorporated October 2, 1990. John Dornan, Martin Eakes, Andrea Harris, Judi Lund Person, Carol Spruill, LeRoy Walker, and Jane served as the Founding Board. But which of the many challenges facing nonprofits could a statewide Center best address?

For the answer, we again turned to our constituents -- those working in the nonprofit trenches. To set the Center's priorities, we held 20 town meetings from Spruce Pine to Wilmington, launched a statewide survey, conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews, and held roundtables for foundations and businesses that fund nonprofits.

In all, 2,153 people from all 100 counties across the state provided the grassroots input that determined the Center's mission and priorities. Serving as a statewide brain trust, the Concept Group analyzed what you told us about the sector's most critical needs and then forged a strategic plan.

We began this ambitious plan of action in June 1992 and invited nonprofits to join. The goal was to have 600 Members in 10 years. But amazingly, 238 nonprofits took a quantum leap of faith by becoming dues-paying Founding Members in '92, and 315 more became Charter Members in '93.

Meanwhile, the work had outgrown Jane's kitchen – the Center’s first home. In 1991, Phyllis Matthews had joined her in donated office space. Trisha Lester and Leslie Takahashi Morris came on staff a year later, and the Center was up and running.

Now about 1,500 nonprofits are Members, and about 84% renew each year. With dues, fees, and the purchase of publications, nonprofits support a third of the cost to provide the Center's services. The rest is raised each year.

As Members, you're investing in yourselves and your sector. You're demonstrating interest in accountability to your stakeholders and in effective leadership and management. And, you're showing you understand the importance of the nonprofit sector standing strong and united.

So our story is all about you. It's a story of those of us in nonprofits organizing to meet our own needs and to unite our voices. It's a story of many people, of collaboration, of persistence, and most importantly, of nonprofits working together for a better North Carolina. The work you do is the reason the Center exists.