United Way of R.I. to launch nonprofit resource center in fall, names Wolanski director

PROVIDENCE – Nancy Wolanski feels Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector is overlooked, under resourced and there are not enough adequate investments in the capacity of the sector.

But, she hopes to bring nonprofits in the Ocean State to the forefront of discussion through advocacy and offer such organizations needed support as the new nonprofit resource center’s inaugural director. The United Way of Rhode Island formally announced Monday that Wolanski, who for the last eight years has been the executive director of the Grantmakers Council of Rhode Island, will take the reins to lead the new resource center that will launch in the fall.

The resource center’s development – part of United Way’s $100 million Live United 2025 planhas been in the works since early last year to address a specific need for sector advocacy and developmental resources for nonprofit organizations that had not previously existed in the state. Wolanski had served as a consultant during the resource center’s design process.

Providence Business News spotlighted in a July 31, 2020, cover story where some local nonprofits felt the sector might benefit when it comes to training and funding by the creation of a singular organized voice or advocacy group. United Way CEO and President Cortney Nicolato previously told PBN there is “absolutely a role” for a similar one to be in place in Rhode Island after looking at similar resource centers in 42 other states in the U.S.

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Nicolato in a statement said Wolanski understanding the nonprofit sector is in her DNA. When one combines that passion with Wolanski’s experience, plus a willingness to listen, “you have a formula to empower our nonprofits like never before, making Rhode Island stronger in the process,” Nicolato said.

Wolanski recently told PBN that there are some existing resources for nonprofits “in little pockets around the state.” However, the new resource center, Wolanski said, plans to provide nonprofits with existing information about those resources in one place, as well as address gaps within the sector. Plus, Wolanski feels it is really important for the center to help the state, the funders and the public gain a better understanding of what the sector is, its impact and its importance to Rhode Island.

“We’re looking to bring the sector together to create partnerships and develop a more sustainable, equitable sector,” Wolanski said.

Wolanski said the hub will operate in three equal ways. One is supporting people in the nonprofit sector, such as providing professional development for everyday operations, advocating for better employee wages or supporting improved worker pipelines. She said nonprofits are currently seeing people leave the sector but there is no “strategic organized effort” to bring new employees into nonprofits.

Another aspect the resource center will provide, Wolanski said, is strengthening local organizations. The hub will assist nonprofits by increasing available funding resources to help organizations receive more charitable giving to support their operations. Also, Wolanski said the hub will provide nonprofits pro bono expertise, such as offering tools to develop online giving platforms.

Additionally, the hub will do more engagement bringing nonprofits led by Black, Indigenous and/or people of color and funders together to increase the BIPOC-led organizations to those funding networks, including increasing their capability to apply for state and federal funding, Wolanski said. The new center will be more of a “linker” to funders in lieu of directly providing nonprofits funding for their operations, a la the Rhode Island Foundation, Wolanski said.

The R.I. Department of Health, Wolanski said, will also partner with the resource center to do a sector analysis because nonprofits lack data on the sector itself.

The center will also serve as an advocacy voice for nonprofits, as well, looking to speak on any issues the sector is facing and bring them to the attention of local and state elected officials, Wolanski said. Previously, individual nonprofits would testify at the R.I. Statehouse about issues affecting their clients, and Wolanski said there has been “no mobilization” of the nonprofit sector – one of the largest such workforce sectors in Rhode Island – to address nonprofits’ issues affecting the whole sector. This hub, Wolanski said, plans to change that.

The new center will be incubated under the United Way and start operating primarily out of the United Way’s office on Valley Street, Wolanski said. The center will also have events in other counties to meet with nonprofits across the state, she said. Two people when launched – Wolanski and a member engagement coordinator – will staff the center at the start and it will build operations from there.

While an operational budget is still in the works, Wolanski said the center did receive a $118,000 grant from R.I. Commerce Corp. for the design process and $1 million from Pappito Opportunity Connection over four years to help with operations.

Wolanski also said there is a goal for the center to become its own independent entity down the line. However, she said there is “a need for ongoing philanthropic support” to maintain its operations.

“We’re looking to maybe do an endowment or something to make sure we have ongoing support,” Wolanski said. “There will be some fee for service and some membership dues, but it will be a mix of all of those.”

Wolanski also said the new center has started partnering with a national startup called “impala” to provide data for nonprofits on funding opportunities and webinars for other assistance that will be launched with the center in the fall. That will be a free service for all nonprofits to receive, she said.

Other elements the center will offer will be membership-based when the center launches, Wolanski said. She doesn’t immediately have a numeric goal of how many nonprofit members for the new center, but wants to include as many organizations as possible.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.