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Friday, May 23, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Conference puts spotlight on what makes nonprofits successful


By MaryBeth Matzek
Nonprofit organizations may not like to think of themselves as businesses, but they are an industry. An essential one at that, according to Vicki Clark of BoardSource, a national organization focused on board governance.

Clark was the keynote speaker at the innovative Enterprising Nonprofits conference held Wednesday in Appleton. First Business Bank-Northeast pulled the first-time event together to educate business leaders, executive directors and community partners on what it takes to make a nonprofit be successful.

"Nonprofits are a vital industry in this country," Clark said. "I know nonprofits don't think of themselves as an industry, but they are. They play a big economic role."

First Business Bank-Northeast President Mickey Noone said the bank works with a lot of nonprofit organizations and saw the conference as a way to bring people together and bounce ideas off each other.

"If you have strong nonprofits, you have a stronger community," he said. "There's also very close ties between nonprofits and businesses in this area. Many business leaders sit on nonprofit boards and get very involved so we also saw this as a networking opportunity, too."

Noone originally hoped 150 people would attend the day-long event, which featured breakouts and panel discussions on a variety of topics, including fundraising, responsibilities of nonprofit board members, and how businesses can get employees involved in volunteering.

"We had more than 300 people sign up. This turned out to be a lot bigger than what we expected, but that's great," Noone said. "We had a strong line-up of presenters and it's all about educating members of our community so they can do a better job at what they do."

Maria Turner, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Fox Cities, said the conference was an affordable training opportunity that most non-profit organizations don't have access to.

"The conference emphasized two important components of the nonprofit industry. First, that the success of nonprofits hinges on finding the right collaborative mix of board members to govern, an executive director lead and volunteers to do," she said. "Second, a reinforcement that nonprofits are an integral piece not only to our community's enhancement of human services or the arts, but also to our professional business community."

Clark, who travels around the country consulting with nonprofit organizations and their board of directors, was impressed with what she saw at work in Appleton.

"This is something special. You don't always see businesses and non-profits coming together like this," she said. "That can only lead to stronger communities."

Swimming with the sharks

Bankmybiz, a company that helps small businesses find lenders, is one of 25 semifinalists in a national competition sponsored by Miller Lite featuring Daymond John, an entrepreneur and an investor from the TV show, "Shark Tank."

Bankmybiz, which is just over a year old, and other participants in the Miller Lite Tap the Future business plan contest will participate in live-pitch competitions to win the $200,000 grand prize.

Representatives from the Madison company will compete in Atlanta on June 10.

Innovation awards

Innovative businesses and ideas will be in the spotlight on Aug. 26 for the inaugural Wisconsin Innovation Awards.

Nominations are currently being accepted for outstanding products, services and ideas across industries around Wisconsin. A panel of industry experts will review the nominations and hand out the awards at the 2014 Wisconsin Innovation Awards Ceremony on Aug. 26 at the Memorial Union in Madison.

Nominations are being sought across all sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, non-profit, government, education, it/web/software, and healthcare, and from companies of all sizes. Nominations will be accepted until June 30. A nomination form is available at http://www.wisconsininnovationawards.com.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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