May 2, 2011 | last updated June 1, 2012 10:06 am

Nonprofits show value with four-day event

Donald Williams, left, president pro tempore of the state Senate, was among the legislators who visited the nonprofits exhibit. Pictured with Williams are members of the Horizons Program team, from left, Shannon Flannery, self-advocate; Janice Chamberlain, associate executive director; Olessya Karabelnikova, educational support services, and Chris McNaboe, executive director.

With Connecticut state legislators trying to address the state's $3.4 billion budget deficit, the Legislative Office Building in Hartford has been a bustling place this spring.

It got even busier during the recent 'Connecticut Nonprofits Week at the Capitol,' a four-day event organized by the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits designed to educate policy makers about the services and economic impact of the state's nonprofit sector.

In total, nearly 50 nonprofit groups — representing health and mental health, the arts, education, and youth development — participated in the event, according to Ron Cretaro, executive director of Connecticut Nonprofits "Many of the organizations involved in the event provide 'safety net' services," Cretaro said. "We want our legislators to understand that those services are a good investment for the state."

To make that case, many organizations had staff and clients on hand to personalize the impact that their agencies are having in communities across Connecticut. "It's good for organizations to be able to connect with their state reps," Cretaro said, noting that foot traffic to the nonprofit display tables was steady.

But the impact of the state's nonprofit community is greater than simply the services it provides. The sector also represents nearly 11 percent of Connecticut's total employment, according to the state's Department of Labor. Despite their collective size, many nonprofits are leaner today than they were pre-recession, and with state unemployment hovering above 9 percent, many organizations are also seeing increase demand for services, Cretaro noted.

Helping the state's elected officials understand the realities in the nonprofit trenches, Cretaro contends, can help better prioritize the state's investment in nonprofits and improve efficiencies in areas like state contracts to make it easier for nonprofits to provide state services.

That isn't achieved, Cretaro knows, in one week at the Capitol, so his organization — whose membership includes more than 500 nonprofits statewide — hosts multiple, regional events throughout the year in communities across Connecticut, including an awards event, which recognizes a handful of legislators for their advocacy of the nonprofit sector.

His organization also worked collaboratively with policy makers, nonprofit groups, and state agencies to craft a state commission report on nonprofit health and human services. The report, which was released in April, provided an assessment of the status of the non-profit sector and included a series of recommendations to improve nonprofit collaboration with the state.

Coming out of the recession, many organizations are still fragile, Cretaro noted. But some trends — such as an up tick in corporate and foundation giving — have been positive.

State funding is also a work in progress. Many organizations that have relied heavily on government funding in the past, Cretaro pointed out, are building fundraising departments and looking to diversify their funding. Seems it's good to know your legislators, but with a $3.4 billion deficit, it's also good to have a Plan B.

Mystic Seaport gets a hand

More than 300 travel, tourism and hospitality industry professionals from around the country will take part in a one-day, major "give back" initiative May 6 to help revitalize Mystic Seaport: Museum of America and the Sea.

The participants will volunteer their labor for the day to address a wide-range of deferred maintenance projects around the grounds of the maritime museum to enhance the visitor experience. The Tourism Cares Volunteer Project Program is internationally recognized as the most innovative "give back" program in the travel industry. This is the ninth consecutive year of this nonprofit program. Among the projects planned for the volunteers are:

• Applying a water-based preservative to the Charles W. Morgan, the museum's 1841 whaleship;

• Painting the hull of the 1882 ship Joseph Conrad;

• And cleaning, painting, and otherwise "sprucing up" the public areas of the museum, which will be closed to visitors for the day.


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